Tashi Choling Lhakhang is located just below the Trongsa–Thimphu highway in Tashiling village in the Tangsibji gewog of Trongsa dzongkhag. Tashiling is approximately 23 km, about a half-hour drive, from Trongsa town. The temple is a two-storey traditional building surrounded by the homes of villagers and monks.
According to Tashi Pelzang, head of Tashi Choling Lhakhang, the religious name of the temple was given by Polo Khen Rinpoche and was derived from the village’s name, Tashiling. Tashi Pelzang reports that the name “Potala” as reported by a Kuensel article covering the temple is an error due to miscommunication.
Tashi Pelzang explains that in 1965 the great Nyingma practitioner Polo Khen Rinpoche Thupten Kuenga Gyaltshen (1896–1970) came to Bumthang from India for a pilgrimage. During his return travels to India, he gave blessings to the villagers of Taktse in Dragteng gewog. When he looked from Taktse toward Tashiling village, he saw both good and bad signs. A good sign was that the hills on top of Tashiling village appeared as though curtained by white silk. Other auspicious signs were that the nearby valley, between the hills of Tsheringma drupchu and Tangsibji school, appeared as an arrow penetrating into water and also like the shape of two fish rising up from the water. As well, the centre of Tashiling village resembled a religious conch. On the other hand, there were bad signs indicating that spirits and fearful demons gathered there and harmed villagers.
Polo Khen Rinpoche suggested to Lama Ganapati, choirmaster (umdze) of the Trongsa monk body, that he establish a temple with a door facing south and statues of Chagtong Chentong (Avaloketishavara in his form of one thousand arms and eyes) in the center, Palchen Dorji Shonu (Vajrakila) on the right side, and a statue of Horsok Magdok (a wrathful form of Guru Rinpoche who repels enemies) on the left. The main purpose of building the lhakhang was to expel the evil spirits dwelling there, prevent a war in southern Bhutan, and bring peace to the country.
For 30 years, due to a lack of funds and laborers, Lama Ganapati could not fulfill the prophecy, so he finally appealed to His Holiness the 70th Je Khenpo, whereupon His Holiness appealed to His Majesty the Fourth King. His Majesty was pleased to accept this proposal, and in April of 2002 His Holiness the Je Khenpo and Lama Tshering Wangdue, head of the central monk body (Dratsang Lhentshog), coordinated its establishment with donations from the central monk body and generous sponsors.
Training Center of Fine Arts
Upon receiving a request from the Trongsa monk body, His Majesty instructed the monks to test out a Training Center of Fine Arts, where monks could learn such arts as religious calligraphy, carving, sculpture, and sewing. In 2006, with a few selected monks, the Trongsa monk body started the training center in the Tsennyi Lhakhang inside Trongsa dzong. In 2009, pleased to see the progress and results, His Majesty gave instructions to continue the Training Center of Fine Arts as a permanent institution.
The Trongsa monk body then established a permanent center with 40 monks from Trongsa dzong, but the committee found it difficult to conduct the classes within the dzong. It was not until 2010 when they found an ideal location in Tashi Choling Lhakhang, and they appealed to His Majesty for approval. His Majesty happily approved it, and the monk body began construction of the monks’ residences around the lhakhang.
On 8 May 2011, upon completion of the construction, His Holiness the Je Khenpo inaugurated both the temple and “Gerab Zorig Pelkhang,” the Training Center of Fine Arts for monks.
Earlier, there had been only a practical course in fine arts and regular course of monastic study, but His Holiness introduced two new modules: mandala drawing and theory of Buddhist religious fine arts, replacing the regular monastic school study in 2014.
According to the head lama, the school plans to introduce two new subjects: English language and Lhendup, “patchwork thangka.” The training course’s duration is six years, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) conferred upon completion. The first batch completed the course on 15 March 2014.
Eligibility for school admission requires either a class ten certificate or a completed basic course in a monastic school. However, there is an opportunity for those who have a keen interest but do not hold a certificate; a recommendation letter from the student’s teacher defining his interest and ability will be considered. The school started with 40 monks from the Trongsa dzong but the training center is now open to monks from all 20 dzongkhags. An opportunity for monks from private monastic schools was also recently advertised, but no one from these schools has yet registered. Currently, there are 48 monk students, six teachers, and one supervisor, with all expenditures borne by the central monk body (Dratsang Lhentshog).
Architecture and Artwork
The temple is a two-storey Bhutanese style house, with wood, stone, and mortar at the main base of the building. The two floors are connected by a traditional Bhutanese wooden staircase on the outside.
On the ground floor chapel, the main statue is an 8.23 m high Chagtong Chentong (Avaloketishavara in his form of one thousand arms and eyes) with Palchen Dorji Shonu (Vajrakila) on the right side and Horsok Magdok (a wrathful form of Guru Rinpoche who repels enemies) on the left. A statue of Polo Khen Rinpoche Thupten Kuenga Gyaltshen also stands on the right side.
The walls of the ground floor chapel are covered with paintings of Zhabdrung Phuensum Tsokpa’s lineage; the Eight Emanations of Guru Rinpoche are depicted on the right side; and Neten Chudruk (the Sixteen Arhats, disciples of the Buddha) and Polo Khen Rinpoche are on the left.
The main chapel occupies the biggest space on the top floor, but no statues are there as of yet.
The walls of the top floor are covered with paintings of the 35 Buddhas of Confession on the right and the lineage of the Kagyu Lamas and protectors on the left. On the top floor stands the chapel of the protective deities (gonkhang) to the side of the main chapel.
Social and Cultural Functions
The temple belongs to His Majesty, as offered by His Holiness the 70th Je Khenpo. It is cared for by a monk student, who acts as caretaker for a one year period.
Tashi Choling Lhakhang hosts the following events: