One of the most well-known monasteries under Pemagatshel Dzongkhag in eastern Bhutan is the Yongla Riwo Pelbar Dargeychhoeling Gonpa or the Pelri Gonpa, widely recognized now as Yongla Monastery. We discover it on top of a ridge and as one travels over the national highway linking Samdrup Jongkhar to Trashigang, one can glimpse the temple at the junction known as Tshelingore where the road diverts and starts to Pemagatshel. From this junction, it is half an hour’s drive to the monastery.
The Role of Jigme Lingpa and Khedrup Jigme Kuendel in the Founding of Yongla Monastery
We believe Yongla Monastery to have been built by the second Yongla Lam Dorji Jamtsho in 1736. That was exactly a year after the death of Khedrup Jigme Kuendel who found, meditated, and ordained this sacred place following the instructions based on the spirit of his master Rigzin Jigme Lingpa 1729-1798, a great terton (treasure revealer) and Nyingma master.
The founder of the monastery Kheydrup Jigme Kundel was from Darlung Kha in Wang Thimphu in the 18th century. It is said that Jigme Lingpa instructed Khedrup Jigme Kuendel to determine a place resembling Tsari in Tibet that looked like a ritual dagger (Phurpa) where he was to expand the teachings and where his destiny lay. Jigme Kuendel reportedly traveled from Tibet through Bumthang looking for the destination place until he arrived at the present-day Yongla accompanied by Khandro Dechen Gyalmo.
When he called for the Khandro if this was the place foretold by his master, the Khandro said, ‘Yong Yong’, understanding ‘Yes, Yes’. Thereafter, the place came to be known as Yongla. Now positive that he was in the right place, Jigme Kundel meditated immediately. As time passed, people from the nearby villages approached him for blessings and teachings. Jigme Kundel graciously gave them blessings and teachings and over time built a meditation center.
He soon drew many disciples and centers developed around Yongla. A nunnery was also found close by and was looked after by Kudung, a disciplinarian.
Significance of the Yongla Phurpai Drubchen
The famous Yongla Phurpai Drubchen is said to have occurred right from the time of Jigme Kuendel. It, however, declined some of its significance during the successive Lams. They rebuilt it back to the past glory by Lam Sonam Zangpo, the great Yogi Master in the 1960s. Its significance peaked once again in 1970 following the visit of His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche during which His Holiness granted the present name, Pemagatsel, relating “the Blissful land of the Lotus”.
According to the elderly people of the Dzongkhag, they built the Lhakhang in the late 1980s. 16 successive Lams have served as the abbot of Yongla Gonpa. Besides, several Buddhist masters and luminaries have also endowed this sacred place in the past. Earlier, the Drubchen always began on the descending day of Lord Buddha, but they shelved it for September each year. The drubchens earlier depended on the contributions of the people following the harvest.
However, now government finances the annual event.