Ashi Wangmo- A Buddhist Poet of Bhutanese Royal Family

Her Royal Highness Ashi Kencho Choni Wangmo, most popularly known as Ashi Wangmo, was born to His Majesty the First King Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk and Her Royal Highness Ashi Tsundru Lhamo (also called Ashi Lemo) in the year of earth female bird of Bhutanese calendar, 1909 at Lami Goenpa’s Kuenzang Choeling.  The First King remarried after the unexpected passing of the first Queen, Ashi Rinchen Pelmo, in 1897. The king promised the late Queen that he would not remarry when she was on her deathbed, and thought of passing his crown to his nephew, Dorji Rabten. However, Terton Amzom Drukpa Drogdul of Tibet encouraged him to remarry. So the First King met with Ashi Wangmo’s mother, Ashi Tsundru Lhamo.

Besides the first Queen’s two daughters, HRH Ashi Sonam Pedron and HRH Ashi Chimmi Yangzom, Ashi Wangmo had two elder brothers, His Majesty the second King Jigme Wangchuk and HRH Dasho Chimi Dorji, and one younger brother HRH Dasho Jigme Lhendup (doubtfully Dasho Naku).

Not much was known about her childhood, but like all of the Royal Princes and Princesses, she would have undergone Buddhist studies. It was at the time of the first King that the Western studies (English and Hindi) were introduced at Wangdicholing in Bumthang and also in Haa. Some 46 boys were sent to Kalimpong to study in Dr. Graham’s Home, but it is not known whether Ashi Wangmo’s received western education. She was passionate in composing music and songs, and in participating in religious activities. Some of Ashi’s compositions are still sung today. The popular ones are Gyelwai Densa, Zamling Yangpai Lingla, Naydeney Pharla, Tsari Yueltoed, Nima Jangchog Linggi, Naychhen Padmasamba, Jagar lagi Chhu Dang, Sharchog Jagar reegi, Densa Wangdi Choeling, Trinsa Karpo, and Pangla Chenpo. She spent her childhood at Lami Goenpa, Wangdi Choeling in Bumthang and Yundruchoeling in Trongsa. Yundruchoeling was at that time the Royal Winter Residence, and Palaces in Bumthang were the royal homes for summers. She composed the song Densa Wangdi choeling while she was in Bumthang.  It was possibly her first song.

Ashi Wangmo
Ashi Wangmo with queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden

Ashi Wangmo was a devout Buddhist and Benchen Khenpo from the Karma linage of Benchen of Kham was her first root teacher. As a royal princess, she would have studied from many well-learned scholars, but with Benchen Khenpo as her well-known root teacher she must have learned a great deal, even before she met the 16th Karmapa, Rangung Rigpai Dorjee. The kitchen of the Jambay Lhakang was turned into Chorten Lhakang, which includes a memorial chorten of Benchen Khenpo after his departure to the celestial abode. His dead body was embalmed inside the chorten. The Jambay Lhakang remains a pilgrimage site for many Buddhists even today.

Note: I am re-posting this article from my old blog. It is a part of my conference paper that I presented at the 2nd SSEASR conference held in 2011 in Bhutan.

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