Tharpaling Drupchen Thongdrol festival is mainly a display of gaint Thangkha or Thongdrol (applique silk work with Buddhist images), preceded by prayers and ceremonies. Tharpaling and Chodrak monastery are located on a high ridge above Chumey valley in Bumthang.
Tharpaling monastery is located on a hillock overlooking the villages of Chumey and Gaytsa in Bumthang. It is less than an hour’s drive through a dirt road which winds up from the village of Gaytsa in Chumey valley. Tharpaling monastery was the place of retreat for Longchen. Longchen Rabjampa, (1308-1564) was a major teacher in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Along with Sakya Pandita and Je Tsongkhapa, he is commonly recognized as one of the three main manifestations of Manjushri to have taught in Central Tibet. His major work is the Seven Treasures, which encapsulates the previous six hundred years of Buddhist thought in Tibet. Longchenpa was a critical link in the esoteric transmission of the Dzogchen teachings. He was abbot of Samye, one of Tibet’s most important monasteries and the first Buddhist monastery established in the Himalaya, but spent most of his life traveling or in retreat. Longchen is said to have preached a dharma called Yodsel Dorji Nyingpo. In the course of his teaching he liberated many followers and gradually the place to be known as ‘Tharpaling’ or the place of liberation.
Later, the temple lay in ruins and its significance belittled for centuries. In the beginning of the 20th century, King Ugyen Wangchuck and the saint Tokden Shakya Shiri restored the temple and established a retreat centre with 13 practitioners. Thereafter, a Buddhist scholar named Kuentop upgraded the centre to a monastic institution followed by further redevelopment, creating and important monastic body of Kagyu and Nyingma sects of Buddhism.
A small shrine adjacent to the old temple is believed to have been the home for the first king, Ugyen Wangchuck where he spent some of his time, meditating in the Lhakhang. The second king, Jigme Wangchuck also carried out major renovation works and helped sustain the sanctity of the place.
Popularly known as the ‘Great cannon of Tharpaling,’ the Tharpaling cannon, is a massive phallus-carved of stone and cement. This seven foot wonder has a seemingly-strange but interesting history behind it.
According to the curator of the temple, the massive phallus was erected with its tip pointed toward the valley. Legend has it that the valley facing the temple, is in the shape of a female organ. As a result of this strange setting, it posed a threat to the sanctity of the temple there were incidences when monks from the monastery gave up their monk hood, resulting in the decline of the number of monks in the monastery.
The great cannon was erected in the dawn of the early 21st century and has, since, miraculously curbed the problem that had long been a threat to the sanctity of the temple