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Bhutan – Buddha Dordenma: Marvel at one of the largest Buddha statues in the world

Bhutan - Buddha DordenmaThe Buddha Dordenma is an iconic monument sitting atop a forest hill overlooking Bhutan’s capital city of Thimphu. Viewable from any part of the city, the massive statue of Shakyamuni is sited amidst Kuensel Phodrang where the palace of Sherab Wangchuck (the thirteenth Desi Druk who ruled the country from 1744 to 1763) once stood. It is one of the largest Buddha Rupas (or statues) in the world measuring at a height of 51.5 metres.  Made of bronze and gilded in gold, the statue alone cost USD$47 million. Manufactured in China, the statue was cut into pieces and then transported to site through Phuentsholing (imagine the awe of wide-eyed Bhutanese villagers seeing the gigantic head of Buddha at the back of a moving lorry, priceless).Bhutan - Buddha Dordenma
This is part of a greater whole, which includes the Kuensel Phodrang Nature Park, a 943-acre nature park inaugurated in 2011 to preserve the forests surrounding the statue. The entire project, which took about 10 years to complete on 25 September 2015, cost over USD$100 million. Locals and tourists alike embrace the park, which is popular for weekend family outings and its biking, hiking and nature trails. The park also hosted the Peling Tsechu, a three-day festival held in May 2016 to commemorate the birth of His Royal Highness Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck.Bhutan - Buddha DordenmaThe three-storey base houses a large chapel, while the body itself is filled with 125,000 gold statues of Buddha. The statue is expected to be a major pilgrimage centre and a focal point for Buddhists all over the world to converge, practice, meditate, and retreat.Bhutan - Buddha DordenmaApart from commemorating the 60th birth anniversary of Bhutan’s fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck, it fulfills two prophecies. In the twentieth century, the renowned yogi Sonam Zangpo prophesied that a large statue of either Padmasambhava, Buddha or of a phurba would be built in the region to bestow blessings, peace and happiness to the entire world. The statue itself is mentioned in an ancient terma of Guru Padmasambhava himself, said to date from approximately the 8th century, and recovered some 800 years ago by Terton Pema Lingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer).Bhutan - Buddha DordenmaFor me, I am just happy to be blessed with such an amazing view.Bhutan - Buddha DordenmaThe Buddha Dordenma overlooks the Southern entrance to Thimphu Valley, and visitors can enjoy a vantage view of Thimphu nestled in the valley below.Bhutan - Buddha DordenmaThimphu being the capital city is the most developed and densely populated area in Bhutan, so this sight of closely-packed buildings is not the norm in other parts of the country which are mostly mountains, forests and farmlands. With urbanization, Bhutanese youths are increasingly migrating to Thimphu in search of white-collar jobs and a better life. I wonder how many dreams these buildings hold?Bhutan - Buddha DordenmaBhutan - Buddha DordenmaOne thing I know for sure, Bhutan is not ready to give up their unique cultural identity for modernization, and the little kingdom is gingerly treading the waters of urbanization, step by step, without compromising on the values which they have held closely for centuries. If there is a country left in the world who can find a delicate balance between culture and economic progress, it would be Bhutan.

Buddha Dordenma

Opening Hours: 9:00AM to 5:00PM daily
Website: www.buddhadordenma.org
More of my travel adventures in Bhutan

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Japan – Mikoshi 神輿 Parade at Yushima Tenjin

Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeI was fortunate enough to chance upon a mikoshi 神輿 parade when I was at Yushima Tenjin for its Plum Blossom Festival. Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeA mikoshi 神輿 is a divine palanquin or portable Shinto shrine which transports a deity while moving between main shrine and temporary shrine during a festival or when moving to a new shrine. During festivals, they bring the mikoshi around the neighbourhood to bring blessings to the area.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalSaying a prayer before the mikoshi procession. People sign up to be mikoshi bearers as they believe they can get a bountiful harvest or blessings for the year.Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeAnd off goes the parade. Such processions usually start and end at a Shinto shrine.Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeAs they parade down the street, mikoshi bearers will shout a loud chant to encourage themselves to carry a palaquin that can weigh over a tonne. There are 4 different styles of shouldering, all with a different chant. The beareres may also toss the mikoshi to ‘amuse’ the diety inside.Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi Parade
The most common method of shouldering in Japan is “Hira-katsugi 平担ぎ” where the beareres shout “wasshoi わっしょい,” and may or may not toss the mikoshi. For the “Edomae style | 江戸前” which is seen at the Asakusa Sanja Festival, bearers shout “say ya, soi ya, sah, sorya” and sway the mikoshi rapidly.Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi Parade“Dokkoiドッコイ ” shouldering style is seen in Shonan in Kanagawa Prefecture where the mikoshi is moved up and down rhythmically, and more slowly than in the Edomae style. Bearers shout “dokkoi dokkoi dokkoi sorya” and there is a song called a “jink” (lively song).

Multiple mikoshi is used for the “Odawara style 小田原担ぎ where the mikoshis meet and run in a “Holy Dash”, shouting “oisah…korasah…koryasah” and there is a song called a “Kiyari” chant. Instead of swaying the mikoshi, it is moved from side to side and turning corners at full speed.Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeYushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeYushima Tenjin - Mikoshi Parade

Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeWhat caught my attention were these men in traditional fundoshi (loincloth).Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeAt 10 degrees celsius – don’t you feel cold?! *feeling shy*Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeYushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeThe palanquins return to Yushima Tenjin after the procession. It was an interesting cultural experience that I appreciated. Do try to catch one too the next time you visit Japan.


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Bhutan, Thimphu – National Memorial Chorten

National Memorial Chorten

The National Memorial Chorten is one of the most prominent religious structures located in Bhutan’s capital city of Thimphu, and a focus of daily worship for many Bhutanese.

National Memorial ChortenElderly ladies at the entrance of the National Memorial Chorten

National Memorial ChortenThe Tibetan-style chorten (or ‘stupa’ in Hindi) was built by Her Majesty the late Queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden Wangchuck for her son, Bhutan’s third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (“the father of modern Bhutan”) and built in 1974, two years after his death. It was the late King’s wish to build such a chorten to represent the mind of the Buddha and dedicated to world peace.

National Memorial Chorten

Every day from dawn till dusk old people and young alike circumambulate the chorten turning the large red prayer wheels, or chanting with their mala prayer beads or mini handheld mani prayer wheels. On auspicious days, religious ceremonies and initiations are also conducted at the chorten.

National Memorial ChortenThe Bhutanese are highly pious, and many elderly people come here from dawn and stay for most of the day, chanting.

National Memorial Chorten

National Memorial ChortenMost of the devotees come in a group, and have picnics on the chorten grounds. I would say it’s one of the best form of community bonding for the locals.

National Memorial Chorten

Almost everyone has a mani prayer wheels with them, spinning them in a clockwise direction to release their prayers to heaven. Repeatedly inscribed with Buddhist mantras, these wheels are especially useful for the illiterate since according to Tibetan Buddhist belief, spinning a prayer wheel is just as effective as reciting the sacred texts aloud. This enables the individual to become awakened and realize the Four Immeasurables of Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity, thus assisting their journeys to enlightenment.

National Memorial ChortenBoy playing with the many, many birds at the chorten’s little garden

National Memorial ChortenBhutanese child in modern attire. While the adults typically go to religious places in their traditional attire, I spotted many kids in modern wear.

National Memorial Chorten

Devotee with the statue of Goddess Ihamu at the front of the chorten. I wonder what’s on his mind…

National Memorial Chorten

Chorten literally means ‘Seat of Faith’ and this whitewashed chorten decorated with its richly carved annexes facing the four directions is an extraordinary example of Buddhist architecture and artwork with its gorgeous paintings, elaborate mandalas and intricate sculptures. All the four sides of the chorten have different mandalas & statues dedicated to the third king.

Unlike other chortens, the National Memorial Chorten does not enshrine human remains – only Druk Gyalpo’s photo in a ceremonial dress adorns a hall in the ground floor.

National Memorial Chorten

The basic structure of a Chorten consists of a square foundation symbolizing the earth, a dome symbolizing water, and thirteen tapering steps of enlightenment symbolizing the element of fire. There are eight different kind stupas, all referring to major events in Buddha Shakyamuni’s life.

National Memorial Chorten

Numerous religious paintings and complex tantric statues housed inside reflect both peaceful and wrathful aspects of Buddhist deities, with some 36 of them in erotic poses. The inside of the Chorten opens only once a year for locals & tourists during the Monlam Prayer festival, usually held during the 4th to 11th day of the first Tibetan month when the Je Khenpo (religious head of Bhutan) addresses and gives blessings the people present for the occasion.

National Memorial ChortenAll day long, devotees circle the chorten in a leisurely clockwise direction, praying for blessings. The atmosphere is serene yet relaxed.

National Memorial ChortenStudents and office workers stop by in the morning or during lunch breaks to pray for their respective needs.

National Memorial Chorten
In a reflective mood

National Memorial ChortenElderly man repeatedly prostrating

National Memorial ChortenReligion being highly embedded into the Bhutanese way of life, visiting places of worship like this one is a regular family affair to pray for good fortune, apart from pujas (religious rites).

National Memorial ChortenFor the foreign visitor in me, I enjoyed the serenity and unhurried pace at the National Memorial Chorten, while quietly admiring the architecture of the religious monuments. For a moment, I felt like I was part of the local community. Maybe I should bring some tea and join them on my next visit, I would love to hear their stories :)

National Memorial Chorten
Address: Chhoten Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan
More of my travel adventures in Bhutan