National Ceremonial Plaza
THE NATIONAL CEREMONIAL PLAZA THIMPHU, BHUTAN A new democratic nation was born in 2007 when His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk abdicated his thrown, declaring Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk to be the new King and declaring Bhutan as the latest constitutional democracy. The National Ceremonial Plaza is the iconic symbol of this historic transition. It brought national ceremonies and rituals from within the cloistered fortress monastery, the Trashichhodzong, out of palace walls to the people. The National Ceremonial Plaza is an addition to the ancient fortress monastery whose central Buddhist Temple, the Utse, dates back to the thirteenth century. Locally known as the Tsechu Plaza, this national public space is composed of tiered wood carved balconies; a large stepped plaza with a capacity to seat 25,000 participants; Green Rooms and sanitary facilities for dancers and musicians; public sanitary facilities; pavilions for serving tea; and controlled entry points. A central dance and performance arena accommodates several hundred musicians and dancers. This is a large social gathering place that performs the function of social bonding amongst people throughout Drukpa society. The focal events are the Cham Dances and the unfurling of the huge tapestry depicting a seated Rinpoche, surrounded by holy saints. This Throngdrel, or immense thangka, is unrolled before dawn and rolled up before late morning. The dances, accompanied by traditional Himalayan instruments, played by monks are moral vignettes based on the life of Padmasambhava, the human avatar of Rinpoche. The form, shape, space, motifs, colors and iconography are all integrated into a “meaning system` creating a unique ambience. The Trashichhodzong dates form from the sixteenth century. This 235 by 85 meters complex accommodates His Majesty, His Holiness the Je Khenpo and four hundred monks. For several centuries the main courtyard has been the venue of the annual Tsechu Festival (literally Tenth Day) which begins on the tenth day of the Tibetan Lunar month at harvest time. The Thimphu Tsechu is the largest and most spectacular valley festival in the Himalayas! His Majesty, the Royal Family, The Je Kenpo, cabinet ministers, ambassadors and thousands of peasants and towns people attend, often taking turns to enter the Trashichhodzong. With the growth of Thimphu, more and more citizens vied amongst one another to participate in the festival, as the space within the Trashichhodzong could accommodate only 4,000 persons. In 2006 the Je Kenpo declared that a new outdoor Tsechu Plaza be built to accommodate about 25,000 people on its steps and on the green hillocks around them. Coinciding with the declaration of democracy, it was decided to complete the National Ceremonial Plaza by early November 2008 to be the venue of the coronation ceremonies of the new young King. Accordingly an architect was appointed and local craftsmen were summoned from valleys across Bhutan including 125 carpenters, 250 masons and numerous artisans. The architects worked side by side with artisans in creating the space, as traditional construction is based on artistic temper and classical measure, not drawings. The structure is crafted totally of indigenous materials, including Dolep granite stone slabs, Blue Pine wood, brass hardware and tin roof sheets from the Terrai. Given the nature of Blue Pine the wood columns were wrapped in linen cloth and bonded with resin glue to the woodwork, prior to painting. The final traditional columns capped with flying capitals, carved beams, intricate roof purlins, wood corbels and carved motifs were then painted with local mineral colors symbolic of emotions, such as yellow eliciting a sense of wealth and royalty, red eliciting the feel of sacredness, black implying wrath, etc. Iconography depicting the lives of Rinpoche, his avatars, his human form and holy people adorn the walls. The only gestures to modernity are the sanitary fittings and 350 imbedded LED floor luminars set to welcome the dawn sunrise, as the festival begins in darkness each day. Thus, the National Ceremonial Plaza is the focal public domain of the Bhutanese Kingdom, a national icon for its citizens and a functional facility to accommodate religious and secular events of national importance. Just as the Washington Mall or the New Delhi Raj Path symbolizes millions of citizens’ roles in democracy, this public space is the “people’s place` for the six hundred thousand citizens of the world’s latest democracy!


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