Be Intrigued By The Kunzang Khorlo Graph Found On The Walls Of Monasteries In Bhutan


In Bhutan, the circular or full wheel style of artistic poetry is found on the walls of many temples and dzongs as one enters the premises.

Prayer wheel in Punakha Dzong, Bhutan. (Source: travelingsolemates)


By Kuensel

Kunzang Khorlo (ཀུན་བཟང་འཁོར་ལོ་), which literally means the Wheel of Complete Good in Dzongkha, is a common poetic graph found on the walls of temple entrances in Bhutan and the Buddhist Himalayas. They are often created next to the paintings on these walls. The graph contains poems composed by high lamas or very erudite religious figures and can be read in different ways.

In Bhutan, the circular or full wheel style of artistic poetry is found on the walls of many temples and dzongs as one enters the premises.

Besides their decorative purposes, the poetic graphs are also considered as a sign of auspiciousness and blessing. Temple walls often have paintings which symbolise the good things in life such as the six signs of longevity (ཚེ་རིང་རྣམ་དྲུག་) and the four harmonious friends (མཐུན་པ་སྤུན་བཞི་) which is a traditional folktale about the camaraderie between an elephant, a monkey, a hare and a bird, all standing under a fruit tree.


Source: Travelmaga


In addition, astrological and cosmological representations (འཇིག་རྟེན་ཆགས་ཚུལ་) such as the cosmic maṇḍala and the four celestial kings of the cardinal directions (རྒྱལ་ཆེན་རིགས་བཞི་). The Kunzang Khorlo graph is often drawn alongside these paintings.

This tradition of poetry in the Himalayas is based on a type of Indian kāvya or poetics, more specifically a difficult kāvya style which the famous Indian poet Daṇḍin promulgated in his book called Kāvyādarśa or the Mirror of Poetics.

Daṇḍin presents the circular or wheel poetry as one of the most difficult poetic styles. There are two types of wheel poetry: the semi-circular or half wheel and the circular or the full wheel.

The first one is an easier style which consists of a stanza of poem that can be read from left to right or top to bottom and yet makes good sense and has poetic beauty.

In the full circle or wheel poetry, the poem can be read both from left to right and right to left, and both downward and upward. As such a combination of syllables and words are difficult to achieve, the style is considered as a very challenging form of poetry. The following stanza in Sanskrit, which can be read in all four ways and still works as a poem, is a classic example of Daṇḍin’s.

Daṇḍin’s Kāvyādarśa has been the locus of the classics of poetic studies in Tibet and the Himalayas for centuries. Thus, the full wheel or circular (ཀུན་བཟང་འཁོར་ལོ་) poetry found at Bhutanese temples and the entrances of dzongs are also an adoption of Daṇḍin’s poetic style.

With great skills and efforts, the lamas compose poems which are often eulogies of other lamas in circular style so that the poem can be read left to right, right to left, upwards, downwards and even diagonally.


Source: Kuensel


To understand the process, firstly, a graph with square boxes is drawn. The number of boxes are determined by the number of syllable in a line. The boxes are then filled by the poetic composition, one syllable in each box.

Next, the syllables and words are picked and arranged in such a way that the outcome should be a good poem while reading it from left to right, right to left, upwards, downwards and even diagonally. Thus, just like in a scrabble game, one should be able to form sensible poetic sentences in two to five directions with good sense.

It is common to see full wheel poems on the temple walls in many parts of the Himalayan Buddhist countries. While some temples reproduced circular poems composed by renowned masters in the past, other temples have new and unique circular poems composed for the site. The boxes are painted in different colours and the letters are also written in colour. The number of boxes depend on the number of syllables and lines of the poem.


This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for the Daily Bhutan.





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