Natural History Gallery
Bhutan boasts a great variety of plants and animals that thrive in a range of environments from tropical jungle (Southern Bhutan) to high snow bound mountains (Northern Bhutan). The Royal Government of Bhutan has created one nature reserve, four wildlife sanctuaries and five national parks to preserve and protect its extensive bio-diversity. This protected land amounts to approximately 35 percent of the country. Bhutan has also created a network of biological corridors linking all of the protected areas to facilitate animal migration and access to seasonal food supplies. The Museum contains some preserved specimens and trophies of such animals as the Takin, Bhutan’s national animal, snow leopards, deer, a crocodile, butterflies, and birds. Be sure to note the Bhutan Glory, a species of butterfly unique to Bhutan in the world. Temporary exhibition hall The building constructed in 2008 to host special and temporary exhibition also houses a museum shop on the ground floor selling authentic Bhutanese handicrafts. Amongst the four galleries, one gallery is dedicated to the natural history gallery
Below the arms and armour gallery, there are two cell rooms, where prisoners of wars were kept during the time of internal and external strife. Our first hereditary king Sir Ugyen Wangchuck was imprisoned by Paro Penlop Tshewang Norbu, when the King was a young prince was sent by his father Jigme Namgyel to quell the resurrection of the Paro Penlop. Fortunately Jigme Namgyel’s men came to know about the plot and saved the prince in the Ta Dzong. Near the exit on the ground floor are a number of large vessels lining the walls as well as items for farm use. These were used principally for water storage, or to cook food for large gatherings. These large vessels, made of copper and bronze, were kept by wealthy families. They are examples of Bhutanese metalwork without the benefit of advanced technology.
Cane and Bamboo Products, and Arms and Armour (1st Floor) This gallery exhibits both modern and traditional weapons which include guns, cannons, swords, and bows and arrows. The guns in the first room of the gallery were presented by foreign diplomats to the Third and Fourth Kings of Bhutan on the occasion of their respective coronations. Other weapons of war on display are swords, rifles, knives, helmets, and shields. There is a small collection of woven and basketry items for household use. Farming Implements, Pots and Vessels (Ground Floor) Near the exit on the ground floor are a number of large vessels lining the walls as well as items for farm use. These were used principally for water storage, or to cook food for large gatherings. These large vessels, made of copper and bronze, were kept by wealthy families. They are examples of Bhutanese metalwork without the benefit of advanced technology.
On the 2nd floor is a rich collection of Bhutanese stamps that were issued by the country’s postal service to commemorate a range of subjects including classic automobiles, Bhutanese wildlife, Royal family coronations and births, international sporting events, space travel, images of Yeti, eight lucky signs and more. Famous for their beauty and collectable, Bhutan’s stamps are highly desirable and very enjoyable to look at. There is a unique stamp on display that plays Bhutan’s national anthem when opened, and is one of a kind in the world.
Zhabdrung Gallery, Numismatic, Clothing and Jewelry Collection (3rd Floor) On the third floor is the collection of coins, historic jewelry, and traditional costumes. On this floor the visitor can see the initiation of currency in Bhutan which began with small coins. The floor also features the evolution of traditional dress for both men and women from the 16th century to the present. The women’s costume involves several pieces. The kira or dress wraps around the body and is fastened at the shoulder by two brooches, and tied at the waist by a colourful belt. Many beautiful examples of silver brooches with gold plating are on display in the gallery. Under the kira women wear an inner blouse. The outfit is topped by a short jacket. For formal occasions such as festivals or visits to dzongs, women will complement their outfit with a sash (locally known as rachu) over their left shoulder. Women’s clothing is usually made of silk or cotton and various colorful patterns can be combined together. The men’s costume is called a gho. It is a long robe that is hoisted to the waist and fastened by a cloth belt. Ghos are made of cotton or wool and during colder months, can be layered to add warmth. Alongside the men’s ghos are dance costumes from the West and Central regions of Bhutan. There is also an example of leather pants and a yak wool cape. In this gallery visitors can also see a display of amulets and amulet cases in silver and copper with turquoise and gold inlay. Some of the jewellery served a dual purpose, for example, for pinning cloaks together and as a weapon when under attack.
Inside the museum entrance on the fourth floor is a small collection of prehistoric items ranging from adzes to earthenware pots collected from different parts of the country. The items represent an important source of information demonstrating the existence of people in Bhutan since the Stone Age. Also on the fourth floor are religious items from the time when Buddhism was introduced into Bhutan in the 8th century. Items such as ritual daggers, swords and other sacred items are on display. Juthruel Zhithro Kilkhor This particular three-dimensional mandala built in the National Museum is known as the Juthruel Zhithro Kilkhor (miraculous manifestations of peaceful and wrathful deities) and is based on the Guhegarbha tantric text. It is one of the most popular mandalas in the Old School or Nyingma tradition, consisting of hundreds of deities residing inside the mandala. The principal deity couple is the yab-yum (father-mother) of Buddha Samanta Bhadra and Badri, which symbolize the union of wisdom and method of the mind nature. This Buddha yab-yum is surrounded by forty-two peaceful deities and fifty-eight wrathful deities. These deities are assembled inside the mandala along with the dharma protecting deities. It is said that these peaceful and wrathful deities are also within our body. For example, forty-two peaceful deities reside inside the heart of our body and fifty-eight wrathful deities reside inside the head. These deities appear to us in their full form when we enter the Bardo state with only our mental body after death for a duration of 49 days. No matter what form of life one has had or been, regardless of race or gender, one will encounter all these deities in the Bardo state. Consciousness miraculously takes the form of the mental body immediately after death. Most bardo beings fail to recognize these deities as their own mental reflections. They tend to be confused and sometimes suffer tremendously from fear and terror upon seeing them. Therefore, Lamas and Rinpoches build this kind of mandala in order to familiarize us and assist us in being able to recognize these deities in the Bardo state. This is also called the liberation of seeing. The moment we see and recognize them, we will not fear because we are confident that they arise from our mind like a reflection in the mirror or the moon’s image seen in water. The sole purpose of Vajrayana Buddhism is to generate benefit for others. This sacred mandala housed in the National Museum of Bhutan will contribute to making merit and generating benefits for thousands of people who will come to visit the museum in the many years ahead. Even though a visitor may not have the intention of viewing the mandala, by accidentally seeing or encountering it, visitors will benefit by avoiding the suffering associated with fear and terror in the Bardo state. Because of the karmic connection related to seeing the mandala in the National Museum, positive habitual tendencies will develop and this will bring positive results in both this life and the next. The Bardo text of Terton Karma Lingpa reads: “Kema; when the deceased is going through terror and fear, due to strong negative habitual tendency of attachment, A band of male peaceful deities will lead the deceased from the front And a mass of female deities will escort from the behind; Whereby the horrors of the Bardo will be pacified and will allow one to Go to the Buddha field perfectly.” Through gazing upon the mandala, visitors will also feel happy and free from mental stress and tension. This is due to the band of deities inside this mandala who are representations of all the Buddhas of the past, present and future. These deities have eliminated all negative causes of emotions and defects. They also possess all the qualities that the Buddhas possessed. In other words, they have completely purified themselves of all faults and delusions, perfected all knowledge and wisdom as part of self-purpose, and benefit. They also have great compassion and strength, which can help others tremendously because they lack pride in themselves and attachment to other beings. The stainless wisdom of their eyes can view all sentient beings with warmth and great compassion, and at the same time, shower a stream of blessings upon all until the ocean of samsara becomes empty. Due to this, the three-dimensional mandala represents a complete Buddha field or pure land of all Buddhas in the human world. If you view this mandala with total conviction and unwavering faith, it is as good as if you see the pure land of heaven. One final reason this mandala was constructed in 2016 was to dedicate a long and happy life to the newly born baby prince of Bhutan, Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck, and to bring unprecedented peace and happiness to the country. It is very rare to build this type of sacred three-dimensional mandala of Juthruel Zhithro in the country. It is the first of its kind. Its location is also ideal as the National Museum is a leading destination and learning center for history and culture visited by many guests from all over the world who come to Bhutan.
The Chapel of the Wealth Deity The Namsay Phodrang is located in the inner circular chamber on the fifth floor is dedicated to Gyalpo Namthoe Sey (Skt. Vaishravana) along with Namsey Tadgyed or eight yakshas riding on horses. Namthoe Sey is the guardian king of the northern celestial point in Buddhist cosmetology and is associated with wealth and prosperity. In Bhutan he is respectfully called Norlha Namsey and at the time of the museum’s original opening in 1968, the museum is named as Namse Bangdzod, the Treasury of Wealth-deity instead of the National Museum of Bhutan as it is now known. Some local people believe that this wealth-deity has the ability to grant blessings of wealth if your intention is pure and perfect and not contaminated with greed and always wanting for more. There is evidence that many business people came to pay their respect to these deities with unweaving faith and the intention to dedicate their good merits to others and due to this, were able to become extremely successful in business or experienced good luck. Please remember that you should not have excessive greed or an ever – wanting mind while entering this chamber and in particular, while making wishes in front of the wealth-deities. If your mind is mired with greed in this chapel, your wishes may not become fulfilled. Instead, you need to be free from any desire-attachment when you come to pay homage and respect in this chapel. The Lord of Wealth is represented by eight manifestations and each of these grants blessings of wealth to each of the four directions. The main lord of wealth or Kubera is found riding on snow lion and surrounded by his eight manifestations. For example, on the east side is located the yellow Zambala, on the south, one can find Gawazangpo, to the western side is Norbu Zangpo, and on the north is the Black Zambala. On the south-east stands Yandagshe Serpo, to the south-west, Thronyer Nagpo, in the north-western side Nyetshen Sercha is located and finally to the north-east side we have Zambala Khilwakarpo. You can make wishes silently in front of these wealth-deities. On the walls of the chamber you can also view various sacred and antique statues cast of precious metals called dzikhim including a 10th century Kadam stupa along with twenty-one Taras carved on slate. This chamber once used to be the living quarters for the Security-in-Chief of Ta-Dzong building in the olden days. The outer sphere or corridor of the Namsey Lhakhang contains thangka paintings of the Buddhas of three times, past, present and future. There are also very fine paintings displayed of the great Buddhist scholars honorifically known as the Six Ornaments and Two Excellent Ones, and the Buddha’s Sixteen Arhats. Thangka gallery The outer galleries of the 5th floor showcases Thangkpa paintings. The art of thangka painting was introduced to Bhutan as early as the 12th century C.E. and unlike other paintings, they are created to contribute to the spiritual fulfillment of a Buddhist practitioner. The subjects of the Museum’s paintings are Buddhas, mandalas, guardian deities, and tutelary deities. The collection at the National Museum contains a wide range of paintings done in natural mineral pigments. In all, 45 paintings are on display in three groupings: 1) the origin of Buddhism in India; 2) the development of Buddhism in Bhutan; 3) the main protective and tutelary deities of Bhutan. Inside the Museum entrance on the fourth floor is a small collection of prehistoric items ranging from adzes to earthenware pots collected from different parts of the country. The items represent an important source of information demonstrating the existence of people in Bhutan since the Stone Age. Also on the fourth floor are religious items from the time when Buddhism was introduced into Bhutan in the 8th century. Items such as ritual daggers, swords and other sacred items are on display.
Tshogzhing Lhakhang (Chapel of the Tree of Merit (6th floor) The Tshogzhing Lhakhang comprises of a three dimensional tree mandala rep-resenting the four major schools of Vajrayana Buddhism in the eastern Himalayan region such as the old sect (Nyingma), Black hat sect, (Kagyu), Shakya sect and Gelugpa – Yellow hat sect, spiritual masters, tutelary and protecting deities for the purpose of veneration and worship by the visitors and the public and large. It is located on the sixth floor and was created by the prominent clay master Lopen Damcho along with his apprentice arti¬sans in 1968.