During the first half of the 20th century, the palace served as winter residence for the second King, Jigme Wangchuck and his senior Queen, Ashi Phuntsho Choden. Due to this heritage, the Kuenga Rabten Palace is surrounded by stone walls that have spy-holes, which were used by the royal guards. A gallery runs around the courtyard on three sides, and the tall main building is located on the fourth side as two protruding aisles.
The ground and first floors were used as a granary and a military garrison, respectively, when His Majesty and the Queen were staying at the palace. However, the ground floor is now empty and the first floor has classrooms for the monks. On the second floor, there are three adjacent rooms. The main entrance leads into the central room, known as the Sangye Lhakhang, which is the main temple.
Next to the chapel was the private residence of King Jigme Wangchuck and Ashi Phuntsho Choden. At present, the King’s room is well preserved, with everything remaining as though the second King were still resident there. During the second King’s time in Kuenga Rabten, other rooms on the floor were used as guestrooms and to grant audiences.
When Bhutan was governed by Penlops and Desis (temporal rulers) in the 19th century, a conflict arose between the Trongsa Penlop Dungkar Gyeltshen and the Jakar Penlop Pema Tenzin. They were two cousins vying for the post of Trongsa Penlop. After more than three years of conflict between the two cousins, Dungkar Gyeltshen lost the conflict to Pema Tenzin, who became Trongsa Penlop. Pema Tenzin designated a small place called Tek-ka-Shong as the summer residence below the Jakar dzong in Bumthang, and Te-Khar as the winter residence in Trongsa, below what would become Kuenga Rabten.
Later, the second King Jigme Wangchuck had the Kuenga Rabten Palace built in 1929, when he was 24 years old. The Kuenga Rabten Palace then served as the winter residence to the second King and his senior Queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden. The Palace was built under the guidance of Dasho Jamyang, the lord of Chume valley in Bumthang and Ashi Phuntsho Choden’s father.
At present, the palace is looked after by monks from the central monastic body in Trongsa. Around fifty monks are living at the palace, including two teachers. The room where the Queen used to stay has been altered to be the office of the monk body. Some rooms have also been made into a storeroom for the National Library of Bhutan.
Architectural Style/School and Related Art Work
The Kuenga Rabten Palace was built as a three-storey building in the Bhutanese palatial style with woodwork and stones. The aura of the past and the contemplative elegance of the building’s structure are striking. The paintings inside the palace are very delicate and have religious motifs. Worth noting are the paintings of the 35 Buddhas of Compassion and a Zangdopelri, Guru Rinpoche’s paradise.
In the Sangye lhakhang there are images of Shakyamuni Buddha and the Twenty-one Aspects of Tara, and silver as well as a gold plated chorten (mchod rten), or stupas, which were gifts from the Nepalese King as gift to King Jigme Wangchuck during his visit to Nepal.
Social Cultural Functions
The palace fulfills a public role for the community both with regards to religious and social daily life. The religious function for the community is due to the presence of monks from the Trongsa Dzong, who live and study at the site. The monks perform daily prayers and rituals for the community. In terms of social usage, the palace grounds have a good field for archery matches, which often take place.
The site also stores books for the National Library of Bhutan, though the books are not accessible for the public.