Pangbisa Ugyen Guru Lhakhang, the temple of Tertön Sherab Mebar
July 29, 2021
Located about 15 km away from Bondey in Paro Pangbisa, the temple is a small two-storied structure on top of a hill and houses multiple relics related to Tertön (treasure discoverer) Sherab Mebar. It is a 40-minute drive on a meandering, paved road with alluring views of the Paro valley below. Till the Royal Academy, the road is very wide and is one of the most peaceful routes I’ve driven on, more so because it was a bright, clear day. The road becomes much smaller from there but is pitched and very well maintained.
From the parking lot, the temple is within a few minutes walk and a large mani dungkhor (prayer wheel) can be seen just below it. After being destroyed by an earthquake, the temple was renovated relatively recently and that is the structure that currently exists. Perched atop a hill, it provides a birds-eye view of the surrounding valleys with a small lake in a field below.
The temple at Pangbisa, perched atop a hill
The mani dungkhor and the parking lot as seen from the Pangbisa temple
The story of Tertön Sherab Mebar
According to prophecy, Tertön Sherab Mebar was foretold to discover numerous religious artifacts from various locations in Bhutan; one of which was Nub Tshonapatra, a lake in Haa valley. However, coming under pressure from powerful leaders and non-believers to prove himself as a tertön; he headed to the lake prior to the destined time accompanied by carpenters to collect a golden pillar from the bottom of the lake. With his miraculous powers, he held the water from the lake in his mouth to allow the carpenters to cut the pillar with the promise of gold shavings to be provided to them for their help. But, the carpenters, overcome by greed, started cutting in such a way that huge chunks fell off the pillar. The tertön, in an attempt to stop them, opened his mouth and the water ended up drowning them.
Following this, the enraged deity of the lake chased the tertön who started dropping the previously collected treasure to appease the deity. Wherever he dropped a treasure, a small amount of water settled down concealing it while also slowing down the furious lake and its deity. Upon reaching Tshellutsho (a place in Haa), Aap Chundu (the local deity of Haa valley) appeared to mediate peace between the tertön and the deity of the lake. As per the agreement, the tertön and his followers were to never set foot in Haa Shogona while the deity was prohibited from crossing the laptsa (pass). Because of this, the elderly residents can be seen to abide by this even now.
En route to Pangbisa
Following the incident in Haa, there were multiple unfortunate events in the tertön’s life, and on a trip to Baylangdra, he passed away. The people of Wangdue built a temple to preserve his kudung (dead body) but it was stolen by the people of Pangbisa and later reluctantly handed over to the government upon orders of the governor. The people of Pangbisa planned to steal back the tertön’s body and carved a replacement out of clay to place in the Rinpung Dzong. But, their attempt failed and they were unable to remove the body from the storage location. Realizing that they were short on time, they cut off the head and replaced it with the clay head. Later, when the governor realized what the people had done, he noticed that the clay head had gotten attached to the body so he considered it to be destiny. He allowed the people of Pangbisa to keep the severed head and in exchange made them surrender a golden cymbal (one of the artifacts discovered by the tertön) to the Dzong. This cymbal is currently used during the first day of the Paro Tshechu (festival).
A viewpoint in the Royal Academy compound (on the way to Pangbisa temple)
Relics at the temple
The kudung of the tertön was lost to a fire at the Paro Dzong and the severed head was placed in the Pangbisa temple. It is currently the main relic at the temple along with a few other artifacts discovered by the tertön during his short life. These relics are displayed for public viewing only on selected auspicious days. But, there is a stone relic believed to be a mongoose discovered by the tertön on display throughout the year.
The main statue at the temple is that of Guru Rinpoche as indicated in the name Ugyen Guru Lhakhang. According to oral history, the tertön sat on a stone and meditated while returning back from Haa valley and the Guru statue was sculpted later on the very same stone. During the sculpting of the statue, the Buddhist practitioner could not carve the head despite multiple attempts and after months of trying, two women arrived at the location with a sculpted head of Guru. When the lama tried to place the head on the carved body, it fit perfectly. He then went to offer his gratitude to the women only to find no trace of them. It is said that the women were the consorts of Guru Rinpoche himself. Later, he noticed that the head was placed slightly bent on the body and when he tried to fix it, the statue spoke and said that it is comfortable in that position. The statue can thus be seen to be slightly bent.
A closer look at the lake below the temple
Plain green pastures next to the lake
There are various other relics discovered by the tertön that the people of Pangbisa did not offer to the temple. These are currently located in the home of a local residing in a small village in Pangbisa.
Considering the religious significance of the place, it is definitely worth a visit.