According to a local legend, the sage Padmasambhava prophesized that “a person named Namgyal will arrive at a hill that looks like an elephant”. Ngawang Namgyal, 1st Zhabdrung Rinpoche, found the peak of the hill, which appeared in the shape of trunk of an elephant as prophesized, and built the dzong in 1637-38.
Built strategically at the junction of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative center of the region, Punakha Dzong has played an important role in Bhutan’s history. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored at present.
In addition to its structural beauty, Punakha Dzong is notable for containing the preserved remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the unifier of Bhutan as well as a sacred relic known as the Ranjung Karsapani. This relic is a self-created image of Avalokiteswara that miraculously emerged from the vertebrae of Tsangpa Gyarey the founder of the Drukpa School when he was cremated.