The Punakha Dzong or
Druk Pungthang Dechen Phodrang Dzong
(Palace of Great Happiness)
is the most important Dzong of Bhutan, built 1637-38 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of Bhutan as one nation. In a secret temple, embalmed, he lies in state and has been venerated as a living god until today.
He was born 1594 at Ralung, Tibet, descendant from the forefather of the Monastic Drukpa Lineage of Mahayana Buddhism. He was the legitimate abbot at Ralung Monastery, the traditional seat of the Drukpa Kagyu School. Ousted by a rival and facing arrest, in 1616 he left Tibet for Bhutan. He followed a vision that Mahakala did send him to Bhutan to strengthen Buddhism there. Being a striking personality, he overcame the division of the warring rulers and soon was the supreme worldly and religious leader of Bhutan. To solidify the new power structure of Bhutan, he created a chain of 16 large Dzongs (monastery castles) in the main valleys of Western Bhutan as the centers of religious and civil authority. The Punakha Dzong is the second oldest and most majestic Dzong in Bhutan. It measures 180 meters (590 ft.) in length with a width of 72 meters (236 ft) and has three docheys (courtyards) and three utzes (temple towers).
Why did the Shabdrung choose this place for the Punakha Dzong where he lived and ruled until his death in 1651? It is attributed to a prophesy by Guru Padmasambhava:
at a place resembling the head of an elephant, the Shabdrung should build his stronghold. The mountain above the confluence of the two rivers Mo Chhu (mother river) and Po Chhu (father river) can be seen as the head, the narrow flat area between the two rivers as the trunk of the elephant on which the Dzong was built.
During winter, this Dzong is the Residence of His Holiness, the Je Khenpo, the Supreme Abbot of the Kingdom, with more than 500 monks. All the Kings of Bhutan have been coronated here. The present King, H.M. Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck on November 1, 2008. Until 1955, the Punakha Dzong was the seat of the Government of Bhutan when it moved to Thimphu.