The Memorial Chorten, also known as the Thimphu Chorten, is a chorten in Thimphu, Bhutan, located on Doeboom Lam in the southern-central part of the city near the main roundabout and Indian military hospital. The chorten, built in 1974 to honour the 3rd King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck is a prominent landmark in the city with its golden spires and bells. In 2008, it underwent extensive renovation. It is popularly known as "the most visible religious landmark in Bhutan". It was consecrated by Dudjom Rinpoche.
This chorten is unlike other chortens as it does not enshrine the mortal remains of the King. Only the King’s photo in a ceremonial dress adorns a hall in the ground floor. The King when he was alive wanted to build "a chorten to represent the mind of the Buddha".
The Memorial Chorten of Thimphu was conceived by Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche according to the Nyingmapa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. It was erected in 1974 in memory of the 3rd king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck who had died in 1972. The main patron was the King’s mother, Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden Wangchuck.
The architecture of the chorten has been designed to present it as “one of the most visible religious structures in Thimphu”. The Memorial Chorten, in the heart of the city, is designed is a Tibetan style chorten, also called as the Jangchup Chorten, patterned on the design of a classical stupa, with a pyramidal pillar crowned by a crescent moon and sun. The feature that is distinct here is the outward flaring of the rounded part to give the shape of a vase unlike a dome shape. The chorten depicts larger than life size images of tantric deities (wrathful deities with their female consorts), in large numbers, and many in embarrassing (to the visitors) explicit sexual poses (one count puts the number of such images at 36).
The chorten is a large white structure with a golden spire crowning it and a smaller golden spire above the front porch. It is approached through a small garden and a gate decorated with three slate carvings. On the exterior of the gate are representations of the three protective Bodhisattvas – Avalokiteshvara Manjushri (the symbol of knowledge) and Vajrapani, the symbol of power. On the interior are slates engraved with the image of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the historical Buddha and Guru Rinpoche. Large prayer wheels are located to the left. The chorten attracts many elderly Bhutanese on a daily basis who circumambulate the chorten, whirl the large red prayer wheels and pray at the shrine. It has four entrances but only one entrance is open for devotees to visit the shrine.
The chorten is decorated with richly carved annexes facing the four directions, and contain mandalas, statues and a shrine dedicated to the third king. The ground floor of the chorten is consecrated to the teachings of the deity Phurpha. It has four shrines, each with different pictures of the king; with the eastern shrine housing a Buddha image. From the ground floor, a staircase leads to two more floors and each floor has four shrines. A centrally placed large wooden carving covers all three levels, behind the shrines; a large number of wooden carvings mostly depict wrathful looking protective deities. The roof of chorten is accessed from the second level and a protective railing covers the terrace on the third floor. The second floor is dedicated to Kagyu teachings, to subdue eight varieties of evil spirits and the top floor is dedicated to the teachings of Lama Gondu. Combined, these three floors form the esoteric teachings of the Nyingmapa sect. All of the texts were once hidden by Guru Rinpoche and were rediscovered by tertons in the 19th, 12th and 14th centuries respectively. The top floor has paintings depicting various deities of the Nyingmapa school, and visions which appear in the bardo. Above the top floor there is a gallery, which can be walked around the circumference of the chorten and which offers spectacular views of the city.
Religious practice and festival
The Chorten, held in great religious fervour, is circumambulated only in a clockwise direction as is the rule for any religious structures in Bhutan.
"Moelam Chenmo," or the Great Prayer Festival is held here when the Je Khenpo (the religious head of Bhutan) addresses and blesses those who congregate for the occasion.