Tour of the National Library & Archives of Bhutan

Library Complex

The current library complex is dominated by a towering, four-storeyed white stone Main Building suitably designed in the form of a traditional Bhutanese temple (lha-khang). On the left (south side) is our three-storeyed Administration building, and on the right (north side) and connected to it by a covered passage, is a two storeyed building housing the National Archives.

Main Building

Main Building

The Main Building is built in the form of a traditional Bhutanese temple (lhakhang) in order to provide an appropriate environment for the Buddhist scriptures and other texts written in the classical religious language of Choekey (Dharma language, classical Tibetan) housed therein. This imposing structure incorporates and integrates - in a typical Buddhist fashion – the three aspects of the Buddha and his teachings and it is therefore considered to be a sacred place. The physical (sku) aspect of the Buddha is represented by statues and paintings decorating the inside of the building; the speech (gsung) aspect of the 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 the Buddha is represented by the eight stupas found on the altar on the ground floor of the building.


When you enter the building, there is an office on your right where you will find our guest book as well as library staff who are ready to help you.


Important information for visitors

The NLAB can take no responsibility for loss of unattended personal property.

Please take good care of your belongings while on the premises.

Browsing of the collections on the upper floors is not permitted.

Visitors may not themselves remove books from the book cabinets.

Please ask our duty staff in the ground and first floor offices for assistance.

A limited photocopy service is available on payment of a small fee.

This service is for copying sections of books but not entire works..

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.

On this floor are kept the books of all schools of Buddhism which are bound western style. Most of the books are written in Choekey but there are also some works in Dzongkha and Sanskrit. Additionally, there are three different editions of the ancient Buddhist Canon offset printed and bound western style shelved here: Nyingma edition of the Derge Kanjur and Tenjur (published under the direction of Tarthang Tulku, 1981); Tibetan Tripitaka, Peking edition (1955-1961); Urga Kanjur (1973-74, reprinted 1990-94).

Ground floor shrine.

Displays are mounted in showcases on the ground floor from time to time. In the back right corner of the reading room 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 Hawley and his team from MIT Media Labs on four extensive trips to the country. The book weighs over 60 kilos, and is about 152cm x 213 cm (i.e. 120 lbs, five by seven feet) in size.

At the rear of the ground floor is an altar on which are found eight small stupas (chos-rten)which represent the Mind of the Buddha. Each different chorten commemorates a major event in the Buddha's life. The Stupa of Heaped Lotuses (Pelpung Chöten) commemorates his birth at Lumbini; the Stupa of Enlightenment his enlightenment 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) commemorates his passing away at Kushinagara.

Behind the stupas can be seen mural paintings of the Kagyu Masters. Facing the altar, the paintings depict (left to right) Tsangpa Gyare (1161-1211), founder of the Drukpa Kagyu Lineage; Milarepa (1052-1135); Marpa the translator (1012-1100), first lineage holder of the Kagyu tradition in Tibet; Gampopa (1079-1155); and Phajo Drugom Zhigpo (1154-1252), whose life and deeds are intimately linked with the initial spread of the Drukpa teachings in Bhutan.

The mantra written on the crossbeams near the altar is Om Ami Dhewa Hri , invoking the Amitabha Buddha.

Upper floors

The books on the upper floors are pecha (looseleaf) format works, and are wrapped in cloth in the traditional way. For ease of reference, we have colour-coded the wrappings by School of Buddhism / Genre as follows:

  • Bon – blue; Kagyu – orange; Gelug – yellow; Nyingma – red; Sakya – green;
  • Buddhist Philosophy (root texts and commentaries) – orange;
  • Rigney (traditional arts and sciences) – pink.
  • 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.

    On the first floor are housed works of the Bön, Gelug and Sakya traditions of Tibet as well as Rigney - works on the traditional arts and sciences: traditional medicine, astrology, grammar, poetry, the arts and so forth. Also included on this floor are the root texts of Buddhist Philosophy (in 13 volumes) and commentaries on Buddhism as seen through a scholar’s perspective.

    Important works include the entire Kangyur and Tengyur of the Bönpo tradition, believed to have been translated from the ancient Zhang-Zhung language. These books are wrapped in blue cloth. A large section of the Bönpo Kangyur known as the Tradition of the Southern Treasures (lho gter lugs) was originally discovered by a shepherd in a cave near Paro, Bhutan.

    Sakya tradition titles include 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. Facsimile editions of these texts were published by the National Library in 1975.

    The altar on the rear wall contains images of three of Bhutan’s most important Buddhist teachers. Facing the altar, the images depict (from left to right): Zhabdung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651), unifier of our country and founder of the Bhutanese state; Bhutan’s patron saint Padmasambhava (popularly known as Guru Rinpoche), who first brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the eighth century; and Pema Lingpa (1450-1522), the great treasure-revealer of Bhutan who revealed numerous teachings from amongst those which Padmasambhava had concealed at sacred sites in different parts of the country. The mural paintings behind these images depict (left to right): Namgyelma (Buddha Vidrana), Tshepamed (Buddha Amitayus) and Dolkar (White Tara). These three deities together are called Tshelha Namsum – the Three Long Life Deities. The shelves on either side of the altar hold volumes of the Dege Kangyur written in vermillion.

    The mantra written on the crossbeams is the Mani Mantra,Om Mani Padme Hum, invoking Chenrezig, the Buddha in his compassion aspect.

    Second Floor

    Second floor shrine.

    The collection on this floor entirely comprises 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 religious revelations (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 altar at the back of this floor holds images of the Three Bodhisattvas (Rigsum Gonpo). Facing the altar, the images depict (left to right); Jampelyang (Manjushri), the embodiment of enlightened wisdom; Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara), the embodiment of enlightened compassion; and the fierce figure of Chagdor (Vajrapani), embodiment of enlightened power. The shelves on either side of the altar hold the volumes of the Lhasa Kangyur (Beijing reprint).

    The mantra written on the crossbeams is Om Ah Hum Vajra Guru Padma Siddhi Hum , invoking Guru Rinpoche.

    Top Floor

    Top floor shrine.

    The top floor holds our collection of Kagyu texts. These include 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 elaborate altar at the back of this floor holds an image of Shakyamuni Buddha installed in the centre with representations of 48 smaller Buddhas around it. The shelves on either side of the altar hold the volumes of the Narthang Kangyur. The volumes of the Narthang Tengyur are displayed in the book cabinets directly facing the altar.

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

    The mantra written on the crossbeams is Om Ami Dhewa Hri, invoking the Amitabha Buddha.


    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...