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From Living to Propelling Monuments: the Monastery-Fortress (rdzong) as Vehicle of Cultural Transfer in Comporary Bhutan

Author(s): Marc Dujardin

Journal: Journal of Bhutan Studies
ISSN 1608-411X

Volume: Vol.2 No.2;
Issue: 3;
Start page: 165;
Date: 2000;
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Keywords: Bhutan | Dzong | rdzong | Fortress

The object of study concerns Bhutan’s state-religious architecture,embodied by the monastery-fortress or dzong. Designated as Bhutan’sarchitectural tour de force, the monastery-fortress exhibits the verybest of what this particular dwelling culture can achieve at a specific time juncture. To a large extent it is the majestic and monumental character that provides the monastery-fortress with its predicate of Bhutan’s architectural frontispiece. The issue at stake here, however, is not prompted by typological nor aesthetic concerns. The monastery-fortress not only exemplifies the endurance of a ‘lived’ medieval concept; it represents Bhutan’s archetype of public, political and collective architecture. Apart from the two primary functions it is traditionally associated with in Bhutan, i.e. a political and religious one, the monastery-fortress may well be approached as a ‘propelling’monument, a culture magnet and vehicle of cultural transfer in contemporary Bhutan. To explore the ‘identity’ and ‘dynamics’ of Bhutan’s state-religious architecture over a longer period of time going back as far as 1783, the built history of some historically important monastery-fortresses will be reconstructed. By studying the practice of demolition and reconstruction associated with the monastery-fortress of Bhutan’s old winter capital Punakha, the identification and interpretation of some factors that enable the Bhutanese to organize the cultural transfer they need to further their quest for national identity and cultural uniqueness will be discussed.Three potential factors that may facilitate processes of cultural transfer and architectural transformation were identified: 1. the role of the most senior master builder as a source of inspiration to every village carpenter; 2. Bhutan’s nailless architecture based on proportional building; and 3. the role of the dzong (rdzong) as cultural centre. It is believed that by approaching the monastery-fortress as a process rather than a product, the culture-generating force of Bhutan’s monumental architecture will surface. If the process of cultural transfer, from dzong to farmhouse, represents a centuries-old system of cultural renewal, the case of Tashichho dzong, Bhutan’s capital dzong is even more revelatory about the present-day role of the dzong as a generating force. In Bhutan, the propelling monument interacts from a distance and operates at a more morpho-typological and notional level. However, the brief comparative study of the reconstructed dzong at Thimphu and its impact on the capital’s urbanized and modernized settlement tissue teaches that in the act of trend setting, the propelling monument itself becomes subjected to unprecedented innovations that are drawn from Bhutan’s recent process of modernization and urbanization.

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