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.





Related Posts

Wangdue Phodrang Dzong - Rising From the Ashes

It has been around four years since the reconstruction works of the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong began after the fortress was...

Feb 11, 2018 07:36

Promoting the Use of Dzongkha in Bhutan

The royal decree stated that the government placed the highest importance to preserve and promote Dzongkha since it is...

Mar 01, 2018 12:41

Trashigang Dzong Renovation to be Completed By June 2018

The Department of Culture’s Division for the Conservation of Heritage Sites has initiated the Trashigang Dzong...

Apr 24, 2018 09:52

Drukgyel Dzong Which Used To House Sacred Bhutanese Documents...

The reconstruction works began in April 2016 after the command of His Majesty The King to celebrate the birth of His...

Sep 17, 2018 15:42

Study Finds Homestays And Eco-tourism Helped Preserve Bhutan’s...

The evaluation found that 98 percent of the homestays used exclusive traditional products like local food products and...

Aug 25, 2018 16:17

Conserving Traditional Bhutanese Architecture

“The old buildings are important as a testimony of the past. It is not only important to preserve these houses, but also...

Mar 15, 2018 11:47



Employment opportunities amid crisis - Tour guides opts farming

A tour guide could earn a minimum of Nu 30,000 per month during the peak tourist season in Bhutan. The income made was sufficient to support...

May 19, 2020 19:53

Covid-19 response must address gender-based violence, other rights of women and girls

“The social and economic stress that Covid-19 pandemic brings upon households places women and girls in vulnerable positions, burdening them...

May 12, 2020 16:46


Story of Final Year College Student Who Joined college after reopening of eduction institution amid outbreak of COVID 19

Sonam Dorji a final year student shares this thought on his first day of college amid pandemic.

Jul 04, 2020 14:03

Significant pilgrimage sites of Guru Rinpochoe in Bhutan

Discover sacred pilgrim sites of Guru Rinpochoe in Bhutan and the reasons why every buddhist must travel to these most venerated places of...

Jul 01, 2020 11:28


Karma – Female Archer From Bhutan Qualified For Tokyo 2020 Olympic Quota

Karma has been specialising in Olympics-style archery since 2009.

Nov 30, 2019 13:18

Bhutan’s Pelden Wangchuk Wins 10th Edition Of Tour 0f Dragon Mountain Bike Race

This year, the race also saw the highest number of female participants compared to past years.

Sep 10, 2019 01:08


Once the booming Handicraft Shops in Paro Dying- Paro Today

Paro town looks so different in its history as tourist destination in Bhutan.

Jun 24, 2020 16:58

Celebrating Bhutan’s Entrepreneurs: Namkhar Gyaltshen Of Transcend Artisan

This story is part of an exclusive feature by Yeewong Magazine in Dec 2018 on celebrating entrepreneurship in Bhutan.

Mar 06, 2020 11:48


You cannot travel to Bhutan without tour guides - Featuring Mr Tobgay, experienced senior guide from Druk Asia.

In this series, Dailybhutan speaks to licensed tour guide Mr Tobgay who is one of the most senior and experienced tour guides working for...

Jun 21, 2020 21:07

Promoting staycation in Bhutan amid COVID 19

If you are looking out for an opportunity to let yourself feel the inner peace, discover intricate human ideologies and instinct, and an...

Jun 09, 2020 21:43


Food on Wheels- First of its kind in Bhutan

The World's Largest Fast Food Restaurant Chains doesn't exist in Bhutan.

Mar 04, 2020 09:39

Amazing Stories from the Eastern Part of Bhutan

You can't say you have visited the eastern part of Bhutan unless you have experienced the following bizarre things.

Mar 02, 2020 19:02

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!

Download Daily Bhutan Mobile App

Connecting with us just got easier!