Her Majesty Ashi Phuntsho Choden
Dharamsala, August 26 - The Central Tibetan Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama expressed its deep regret over the passing away of Her Majesty Ashi Phuntsho Choden, affectionately known to the Bhutanese people as Gayum Angay, who peacefully left for heavenly abode on the morning of August 24 at her retreat residence in Dechenchholing. She was 92 years old.
In a condolence letter addressed to His Royal Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Kalon Tripa of the Central Tibetan Administration, Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche said that the life of Her Majesty had encompassed much of the history of modern Bhutan and that it was people like her and her generation of Bhutanese who have contributed so much to making Bhutan a country that is stable, peaceful, literate, and on the path to increasing prosperity.
"This is a legacy which future generations of Bhutanese need to cherish and expand on. We join with Your Majesty and the people of Bhutan in mourning the death of a great soul and have offered prayers in various monasteries in Dharamsala", the letter said.
Gayum Phuntsho Choden: An Obituary
Born of a lineage that goes far back into the origins of Bhutan’s spiritual and royal history, Her Majesty Ashi Phuntsho Choden’s royal ancestry lies in the sacred prophesies that foretold the advent of dynamic saints and rulers that continue today.
Ashi Phuntsho Choden was a descendant of the Tamzhing Choeje nobility. Known as the Myo family, the lineage saw an unbroken succession of extraordinary personalities who shaped Bhutanese history over the centuries.
Notable among them was Rigzin Pema Lingpa, born to Sumthrang Choeje Dhendrup Zangpo in 1450. This great Terton, who fulfilled Guru Rinpoche’s prophecy and revealed sacred treasures that protected and strengthened Bhutan’s Buddhist heritage, established the Tamzhing Lhundup Choling in Bumthang.
Ashi Phuntsho Choden was born in 1911 at Wangdue Choling Palace to Chumed Zhalgno Dasho Jamyang of the Tamzhing Choeje family and Ashi Decho, daughter of Ashi Yeshey Choden who was the sister of Druk Gyalpo Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck.
At the age of 15 Ashi Phuntsho Choden was enthroned as the Queen of the second Druk Gyalpo King Jigme Wangchuck. In 1928, at the age of 18, she gave birth to the third Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, at Thrupang Palace in Trongsa. From an early age, Ashi Phuntsho Choden received a traditional education including lessons on Buddhism. She pursued Buddhist studies and, over the years, she received teachings, empowerment, and reading transmissions in the Drukpa Kargyu, Karma Kargyu, Dujom, Peling, and Nyingthig traditions from renowned Buddhist lamas.
The deeply ingrained spirituality that she developed became a foundation for the responsibilities that she took on herself and Ashi Phunstho Choden played an important role in maintaining and strengthening Bhutan’s rich Buddhist heritage. She built a legacy of religious institutions, established spiritual learning centres, and preserved the rich imagery that formed a core of Bhutan’s religious history.
When she was in her 20s, Ashi Phuntsho Choden was the first devotee to renovate the Kurje Lhakhang in Bumthang along with the wall-size images of the Guru Tshengyed. At Prakhar Nagtshang in Chumed, she built the Kudung chhorten of Thugsey Dawa Gyaltshen, and an image of Jo Jampa.
Ashi Phuntsho Choden established great monuments like the National Memorial Chhorten in Thimphu which she built in memory of her son, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, for the well being of the nation and the people. The chhorten, a Ka-Gong-Phur-Sum stupa, is a landmark with imagery of Tantric deities.
Her Majesty Ashi Phuntsho Choden was known for her love and concern for the country and the Bhutanese people. Over a period spanning nine decades, she conducted herself with stately grace and dignity and with a clear perception and protectiveness of the greater interests of Bhutan.
She was kind-hearted, generous and accessible to her people, with whom she never lost touch. She was greatly loved and respected by everyone.
Her Majesty Ashi Phuntsho Choden was the precious link between the first Druk Gyalpo Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck to the present Druk Gyalpo. She will be deeply mourned and affectionately remembered by generations of Bhutanese people.
The passing away of Her Majesty Gayum Angay Phuntsho Choden represents the transition of a special era in the unique history of the kingdom of Bhutan.