Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel was supposedly at Chimi Lhakhang in Punakha when he met a decrepit old man. He described a ridge in the present-day Wangdue Phodrang as a ’sleeping elephant’ and told Zhabdrung that he would unite the country by building a Dzong on the ’neck’ of the ridge. The Zhabdrung, surmising the old man to be Yeshey Gonpo (Mahakala), took his suggestion and sent forth a noble to study the area. As the emissary drew close to the area, he saw four ravens circling above the ridge. Upon reaching the ridge, the birds flew in four directions. On returning to Chimi Lhakhang, he made his report and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel took this as a good omen and immediately outlined in 1638 to construct a Dzong overlooking the convergence of the Dongchu and Punatshangchu.
The Wangdue Phodrang Dzong is and has always been the provincial capital of the Shar district. In the feudal days, a dzongpon was the secular administrator, and the local ruler of Wangdue was known as the Wangzop.
An interesting story connects the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong to the old cantilever bridge that once used to span the Punatsangchu. The bridge was built after the construction of the dzong under the direction of a famous mason called Drakpa from Rinchengang Village. As a safeguard against flash floods, a mandala dedicated to Mithugpa (Aksobya) was installed at the base of the bridge’s foundation. During the tenure of the 20th Wangzop Domchung, a big flood washed away the entire bridge, but the base where the mandala was installed was left intact.
It is said that Dzongpon Domchung organized a tsechu in which the Doley Raksha dance, famed in the region for its aesthetic intricacies, was performed to attract the river spirit who was disrupting the reconstruction of the bridge. As the spirit stayed engrossed in the festivity, Domchung, with several hundred men, sneaked down the river and completed the bridge. The spirit unleashed many floods to bring down the bridge, but the Wangzop, true to his clever character, had a worked design into the foundation pillars to withstand the force of the water.
Built in the 17th century, the Wangduephodrang dzong was among the first dzongs built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Wangdue Phodrang Dzong was enlarged by the 4th Desi, Tenzin Rabgye. In addition to the four-storey uste built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, he added another two-storey uste. The construction was overseen by Dzongpon Geduen Chophel. The 7th Dzongpon of Wangduephodrang, Sonam Lhendup, added new structure to the Dzong and installed a statue of Lord Buddha.
With the passage of time, a powerful local lord known as Kawang Sangye extended the Dzong towards the present town. Another Wangzop, Acho Boep, ordered further construction, modifying the Dzong into the form in which it appears today.
Wangduephodrang Dzong was destroyed several times, but it was always re-built.
In 1837 the dzong was destroyed by a great fire and later rebuilt. During the time of Lama Neten Pelden Singye, the Dzong was damaged by a severe earthquake and rebuilt. Dzongpon Damchung was also involved in the renovation, although the date is not known. During the reign of the late king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the dzong was renovated under the supervision of Dronyer Pema Wangdi.
Wangdue Phodrang Dzong has 14 temples, including Kunrey (assembly hall of monks). There are three doorways and three courtyards in the dzong. The first gate is the entrance, the second gate leads to the inner sanctum of the dzong, and the third gate leads to the interiors of the structure. The Goenkhang has a figure of gonpo (Mahakala) carved on a stone slab. Wangdue Dzong was razed to the ground on 26 June 2012 due to a fire mishap. It is believed that an electrical short circuit causes the fire. Most of the dzong was destroyed except for one monastery. The volunteers and care keepers managed to rescue and salvage some of the religious and historical relics. More than a dozen people have contributed to the reconstruction of the dzong. On the command of His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the dzong reconstruction started in January 2014.
On 29 May 2018, coinciding with Lord Buddha’s Parinirvana, His Majesty the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck graced the installation of the Sertog (golden pinnacle) on the Utse (central tower) of the Wangduephodrang Dzong. The new dzong will also have an additional temple in the attic of the kuenrey (main temple hall), which earlier was converted to residences for monks of Punakha whenever they visited the dzong. Kagyu Sethreng temple is dedicated to the masters of Drukpa Kagyu and the past Je Khenpos (Chief Abbots).