Tour of the National Library & Archives

Library Complex

The current library complex comprises a towering four-storyed white stone main building suitably designed in the form of a traditional Bhutanese temple (lha-khang), and on the south side of this main building our three-storeyd new building, and on the north side of the main building a two storeyed building housing the National Archives.

Main Building

Entrance to our main building
Our main building, which is surrounded by a rose garden, was completed in 1984 and houses the bulk of our collection of books and texts. This imposing structure incorporates and integrates - in a typical Buddhist fashion - three aspects of Buddha and his teachings and it is therefore considered to be a sacred place. The physical (sku) aspect of Buddha is represented by statues and paintings decorating the inside of the building; the speech (gsung) aspect of Buddha is represented, most appropriately here, by the many books and printing-blocks found in the library; and the mind or heart (thugs) aspect of Buddha is represented by the eight stupas found on the altar on the ground-floor of the building.

Ground floor

When you enter the main library building, there is a counter on your right where you will find our guest book as well as some of our librarians who are ready to help you.

Proceeding into the library, on the left side is a showcase containing a copy of the world's largest published book "Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom" which has many stunning photographs of Bhutan taken by Michael Hawley and his team from MIT Media Labs on four extensive trips to the country. The book weighs 133 pounds (over 60 kilos), and is about five by seven feet in size.

Ground floor shrine.

At the rear of the ground floor, facing the main entrance, is a shrine containing eight reliquary stupas or chorten (chos-rten). These chorten represent the mind aspect of Buddha. Each different chorten commemorates a major event in Buddha's life. The Stupa of Heaped Lotuses (Pepung Chöten) commemorates his birth at Lumbini; The Stupa of Enlightenment (Jangchub Chöten) - his enlightement at Bodhgaya; the Stupa of Many Doors (Tashi Gomang Chöten) – his first teaching at Sarnath; The Stupa of Miracles (Chotrul Chöten) – his defeat of non-Buddhists at Sharavasti; The Stupa of Descent from the God Realms (Lhabab Chöten) – his return to Sankasaya after teaching in the Tushita heaven; The Stupa of Reconciliation (Edum Chöten) – his healing of differences amongst the sangha at Rajgir; The Stupa of Complete Victory (Namgyal Chöten) – commemorates the Buddha prolonging his life at Vaisali; and The Stupa of Parinirvana (Nyangde Chöten) – his passing away at Kushinagara.

Behind these chorten are paintings of the founding fathers of the Kagyu lineage: in the centre is Marpa the translator; to his right Jetsun Milarepa; to Marpa's left Gampopa Sonam Richen, Phagmodrupa.

First Floor

First floor shrine.

On the first floor of the Library you enter our collection of traditional books in Chokey, the classical written language of the Himalyan Buddhist world. This floor houses works of the Bön, Kadam, Sakya, Jonang, Zhalu,and Geluk traditions of Tibet as well as works on traditional medicine, astrology, grammar, poetry and the arts.

First you will see the entire Kangyur and Tengyur of the Bönpo tradition, which was translated from the ancient Zhang-Zhung language. These books are wrapped in blue cloth. A large section of the Bönpo Kangyur known as the System of the Southern Treasures (lho gter lugs) was originally discovered by a shepherd in a cave near Paro, Bhutan.

On the left side of this floor you will find texts of the Sakya tradition including the Collected Works of the Sakya Masters (Sakya Kabum), the Collection of all Tantras (Gyud de Kuntu), the Collection of all Sadhanas, the collected texts of the Path and Fruit (Lam Dre) teachings, and many other works by lamas of the Sakyapa tradition. Particularly noteworthy in this section is our collection of the complete works of Serdog Panchen Shakya Chogden (1428-1507) one of the greatest scholars of the Sakya school. Due to sectarian rivalry these works were suppressed in Tibet and only one copy, transcribed by the 9th Je Khenpo Shakya Rinchen, survived in Bhutan at the hermitage of Phajoding Omin Nyipa above Thimphu. Facimile editions of these texts were published by the National Library in 1975 .

Next to the Sakya section are also the encylopedic works in over 100 volumes of Bodong Chogley Namgyal, founder of the Bodong school.

The shrine on the rear wall contains images of three of the most imortant Buddhist teachers of Bhutan. In the centre is an image of Padmasambhava who first brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the ninth century. On the left side is an image of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, founder of the Bhutanese state who established his Drukpa Kagyu tradition as the official faith of the country; and on the right is an image of Terchen Padma Lingpa who revealed numerous teachings from amongst those which Padmasambhava had concealed at sacred sites in different parts of the country. These images are flanked by shelves containing a copy of the Dege Edition of the Buddhist canon (Kagyur & Tengyur) which was re-printed in Delhi and donated by the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa.

On the other side of this floor, on the right of the altar you will find the collected works of Buton Richen Drup the most renowned lama of the Zhalu tradition, who was the editor of the Kagyur & Tengyur.

Second Floor

The Chokey collection on this floor includes works from the Nyingma (Ancient) tradition of Bhutan and Tibet.

Important works in the Nyimgma section include different editions of the 100,000 Tantras of the Ancient Tradition (Nyingma Gyudbum), the Precious Treasury of Revealed Teachings (rinchen ter dzo) in 100 volumes, and the two complete editions of the Collection of Oral Instructions of the Ancient Tradition (Nyingma Kama). In addition to these there are the complete ter-chos of all the important treasure revealers of Bhutan and Tibet. These include the ter-chos of Padma Lingpa, Dorje Lingpa, Ratna Lingpa, Nyang Ral Nyima Ozer, Sangey Lingpa, Rigdzin Godem, Jatson Nyingpo, Longsal Nyingpo, Namcho Migyur Dorje, Jigme Lingpa, and Chögyur Lingpa as well as the entire collected works of important Nyingma scholars such as Rongdzom Pandita, Longchen Rabjam and Ju Mipham.

The shrine at the back of this floor contains images of the Lords of the Three Families (rigs gsum dgon po). Facing the shrine, in the centre is Avalokiteshvara, the embodiment of enlightened compassion; on your left is Manjusri, the embodiment of enlightened wisdom; and on your right is the fierce figure of Vajrapani, embodiment of enlightened power.

Top Floor

Top floor shrine.

Half of the top floor contains our collection of Kagyu texts. This includes the collected works of Milarepa, Rechungpa, Gampopa, Phagmo Drupa, Tsangpa Gyare, Drukchen , Kunkhyen Padma Karpo, Je Sakya Rinchen, Je Gendun Rinchen and numerous other important Kagyu writers.

The top floor also holds several editions of the Buddhist Scriptures (Kagyur and Tengyur) which were originally translated into Chokey from Sanskrit. These include the modern reprints of the Dege Kagyur & Tengyur, the Urga Kagyur, the Japanese reprint of the Beijing Kagyur & Tengyur and Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche's (Dharma Publishing) edition of the Buddhist Canon. Some rare older editions of the Kagyur & Tengyur formerly housed in this section have now been moved to the Archives Building.

The shrine at the back of this floor holds an image of Shakyamuni Buddha surrounded by forty eight smaller images of Lord Buddha.

On this floor you will also find showcases exhibiting tools and implements used in traditional paper making, calligraphy and wood block printing as well as some framed examples of fine Bhutanese calligraphy.


On the north side of our main building, is a white two storeyed building which houses the National Archives, where our most precious manuscripts and ancient woodblocks, as well as our collection of rare photographs and important national records, are kept.

The most rare and precious manuscripts and woodblock prints formerly housed with the main library collection have now been transferred to the National Archives building in order to ensure their safe keeping and preservation. These include many manuscripts written in gold ink and old prints of the Narthang & Derge editions of the Kagyur and Tengyur.

The National Archives building is not open to the general public, but genuine researchers can make an appointment if they need to view particular materials held here. In order to make these collections more accessible while ensuring their safety, we eventually hope to make some of the important material held in the National Archives section available in digital format through this website and through the Bhutan National Digital Library.

More about the National Archives...