Dungbe Lhakhang is a privately owned temple located above Tshangkha Primary School at an elevation of 2498 m. The turnoff to Dungbe is approximately 30.5 km west of Trongsa on the Trongsa–Thimphu highway, with a further 4.5 km along a feeder road. The lhakhang is a two-storey temple built in the traditional Bhutanese architectural style with a pinnacle atop the building.
According to informant Tshering Peldon and a written document that resides at the temple, the name Dungbe refers to the conch shape of the area where the temple is located (in Dzongkha, dung refers to a conch).
Dungbe Lhakhang was built as a one-storey temple at the end of the 17th century by Lama Pema Wangchen, after he received a prophecy in his dream from Mindroling Terchen Rinpoche. The lama was then in retreat with his brother, Ugyen Jurmi Tenzin, at Gangtey Sangnag Choling, Gangtey Gonpa (built in 1613).
In this dream, Lama Pema Wangchen saw a lama with a blue hat stating: “I am Mindroling Terchen (Terdak Lingpa 1646–1714). You brothers need to come to Mindroling in Tibet to establish this religious tradition in Bhutan.” The brothers did indeed go, learned all the teachings of the Mindroling tradition, and then returned to Bhutan. Lopen Pema Wangchen was sent back with a statue of Guru Rinpoche as an inner relic for the temple, and it still remains at Dungbe Lhakhang to this day.
The temple was enlarged to three storeys in early 1882 under the guidance and support of Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck, with the physical work done by Tangsibji (sTang si sbis) and Tshangkha (Tsang mkhar) communities. Several statues were installed during this renovation: an eleven-faced Avalokiteshvara with a thousand eyes and arms (Chugchizhey Chagton Chentong) and two Bodhisattvas to its right and left; the Buddha Amitabha (Oepame); and the female deity Tara (Drolma) sized at the height of a man. A Buddhist canon and the Nyingma collected works (Nyinmai Gyubum) were donated, and an inner chapel of the guardian deity Yeshi Gonpo (Mahakala) was placed on the left side of the main statue.
There was a further renovation in 2003–2004 carried out by the late owner, Tenzin Wangdi, during which the third storey was dismantled. Financial support for this renovation was given by the 4th King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, and His Holiness the 70th Je Khenpo, Trulku Jigme Choedra. Tenzin Wangdi donated a 1.5 m tall statue of the deity Phurpa, and his relative, Ugyen Tshomo, donated the building’s golden pinnacle.
There are several sacred places attributed to Guru Rinpoche located within a ten to fifteen minute walk to the right of the temple. The artifacts located there include a stone in the shape of a drain. It is believed
that when Guru Rinpoche was trying to subdue the local demon, this demon transformed into a large snake; with his magical powers Guru Rinpoche dragged the snake, thus forming the shape of a drain on the stone. There is also a stone in a shape of a bathtub where Guru Rinpoche took his bath.
Below the temple there is a holy water source named sha’u khe, meaning “holy water (khe)” formed by a “deer (sha’u).” It is believed that Guru Rinpoche rode through on a deer, and the deer’s horn hit a stone, whereupon holy water began to flow.
Architecture and Artwork
The two-storey temple is built in the traditional Bhutanese design from stone, mud, and wood. The stairs and a balcony leading to the main entrance of the temple are constructed from wood, and a golden pinnacle sits atop the temple.
Inside, there are paintings of the Kagyu lineage with an assembly of wrathful deities on the right side of the main entrance and the Kagyu lineage with Buddha and his followers to the left.
The chapel of the protective deity (Yeshi Gonpo) houses paintings of an assembly of peaceful and wrathful deities to the left of the main statue and one of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and Guru Rinpoche on the opposite side.
Social and Cultural Activities
Although the temple is privately owned, it is used as a place of religious activity for the community. The owner and community coordinate a fasting and prayer practice called Nyungne in the 2nd month of the Bhutanese calendar; an offering to the protective deity Yeshi Gonpo in the 11th month; and an annual ritual (tsechu) from the 7th–11th days of the 7th month, with sponsorship from Tangsibji and Tshangkha communities. The rituals are carried out by monks from Tangsibji, Tshangkha, and the Trongsa dzong.