Introducing Bhutan

Bhutan is a sanctuary of harmonious evolution in the heart of the Eastern Himalayas. The country’s history stretches back to the origins of Buddhism, its deeply spiritual populace is earthly enterprising, pragmatic and delightfully humorous. We live in harmony with the nature and today we are recognized as the only Carbon Negative Country in the world. We have evolved a unique identity, derived largely from a religious and cultural heritage and the guiding development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH).

  • Area of Bhutan: 38,394 sq km
  • Altitude: Varying from 590.55ft to 24,770.34ft above sea level
  • Population: 6,91,141
  • Capital: Thimphu
  • Local Time: 6hrs ahead of GMT and Half hour ahead of IST (India Standard Time)
  • Vegetation Cover: 72%
  • Arable agricultural land: 7.8% – 8%
  • Protected areas system: 51.44% (19,676.57 sq km)

The Emblem

Bhutan Emblem

The National Emblem, contained in a circle, is composed of double diamond thunderbolts placed above a lotus surmounted by a jewel and framed by two dragons. The double diamond thunderbolts represent the harmony between secular and religious power. The lotus symbolizes purity, the jewel – sovereign power and the two dragons – a male and female. stand for the name of the country – the land of thunder dragon (Drukyul).

The Flag

Bhutan Flag

The national flag is rectangular and divided diagonally into two parts with a white dragon in the middle. The upper yellow half signifies the country’s secular authority of the King. The lower saffron orange half signifies the religious practice and spiritual power of Buddhism. The dragon symbolizes the name of the country, and the white, purity and loyalty.

Sports

The national game of Bhutan is archery. Other traditional sports include Degkor – like quots, darts and wrestling. International sports such as soccer, basketball, volleyball, martial arts, cricket, tennis and table tannis are also popular.

Birth

In Bhutan, the birth of a child is welcomed without any gender discrimination. The first three days after the birth is considered to be polluted by kaydrip (defilement by birth). Thus outsiders do not visit the child for three days. Outsiders come after a purification ritual (Lhabsang) is conducted in the house. Visitors bring gifts for both the mother and the child. In the rural places the gifts consists of rice and dairy product whereas in the urban places, visitors bring clothes and money.

The names are generally given by religious person after the child is taken to the temple of local deity. The name associated with the local deity (natal deity) is given. Some children given the name of the day they were born.

kye tsi- the horoscope of the baby is written based on the Bhutanese calendar. This Kye-tse details out the time and date of the birth, predicts the future of the child, rituals to be executed at different stages in the life of the child as remedy to possible illness, problems and misfortune.

Celebrating birthday traditionally doesn’t exist; it has lately become popular especially amongst the urban populace.

Marriage

Till few decades back, arranged marriages were popular. Mostly, people married among the relatives, particularly in eastern Bhutan, where cross-cousin marriage was a popular tradition. Today this tradition is becoming unpopular among the literate mass and most of the marriages take place based on their own choice.

Although some rich people arrange dinner parties and receptions, marriages are conducted in simple ways. A small ritual is performed by a religious person. The parents, relatives and the friends present scarves (kha-dar) to the couple along with gifts in the form of cash and goods.

In the eastern Bhutan, after marriage, the wife goes to husband’s house while in western Bhutan it is just the reverse. In southern Bhutan the wife goes to husband’s house.However, this practice is not mandatory. Divorce is accepted in the Bhutanese society and carries no stigma. The divorced couple in most cases remarries with new partners.

People

A majority of the Bhutanese are homogeneous groups divided linguistically into Sharchops, Ngalong and Lhotshampa. There are a number of smaller groups such as the Bumthap in Bumthang, Tshangla in the east, Layapa in the north-west, Brokpa in the north-east and Doya in the south-west.

Dress

Bhutanese men wear Gho, a longish robe tied around the waist by a cloth belt, know as Kera. The women wear an ankle – length dress known as Kira, which is made of bright colored fine women fabric with traditional patterns. Most of them wear during the office hours and during the festivals.


Arts & Crafts

Zorig Chusum refers to the 13 traditional visual arts and crafts that have been practiced for generations and passed down the ages. These arts are expressed through; paintings, carving, sculpture, calligraphy, carpentry, gold, sliver and blacksmithing, bamboo works, weaving and embroidery, pottery, mansonry, paper and incense production.

Funeral

As it does not mean the end, and Bhutanese believes in rebirth, death is one of the most expensive affairs. Many rituals are performed to help the departed soul get a better rebirth. Rituals are performed after the 7th day, 14th day, 21st day and the 49th days of the death. Cremations are done only on a favorable day arranged by the astrologer.

With erection of prayer flags in the name of the deceased, rituals are conducted on the death anniversary for three consecutive years. The relatives and people of the locality come with alcohol, rice, or other sundry items to attend these rituals.

Food and Eating Habits

Eating with spoons is imported culture in Bhutan. People generally eat with their hands. The mother serves the food when the family members sit on the floor in a circle. In many parts of the country people still use plates made of wood (dapa/dam/dolom) and bamboo (bangchungs). Before eating some morcels of rice is tossed in the air as offering to the deities and spirits.

The favorite Bhutanese dishes features spicy red and green chillies, either dried or fresh. Ema Datsi (chili with cheese), Paa (sliced pork and beef) and red rice are the common recipes. No dish goes without chili. People also drink salted butter tea (suja) and alcohol.

Doma (betel leaf and areca nut eaten with a dash of lime) is carried by many in their pouch. Offering of Doma to someone is an act of friendship, politeness and a mark of generosity.

Ema-datsi, the national dish is today favourite among Bhutanese and a growing number of foreigners. For non-vegeterians, meat is available is most of the restaurants. Most of the restaurants have vegetarian options. The legal drinking age in Bhutan is 18 years and liquires are easily available in bars.

Religion

Mahayana Buddhism in its Tantric Vajrayana form is the official religion of Bhutan. Bhutan could be probably only country in the world where this form of Buddhism is practised and preserved. Drukpa Kagyupa is the state sponsored school of practise whereas Nyingmapa is popularly practised in most parts of the kingdom. In the northern and eastern Bhutan, Buddhism is the main religion. In the south the people practise Hinduism.

Bhutan is a country where Buddhism is still vibrant and alive. The Dzongs, monasteries, stupas, prayer flags, and prayer wheels punctuate the Bhutanese landscape. The chime of ritual bells, sound of gongs, people circumambulating temples and stupas, fluttering prayer flags, red robed monks conducting ritual, among many others are all living case in point to reveal that Buddhism is an essential ingredient of Bhutanese life.

Till 8th century when Guru Padmasambhava visited Bhutan, people worshipped nature. The religion they followed was called Bon. People felt that there were invisible forces that were rightful owners of the different elements of nature, mountains peaks, lakes, cliffs, land, and water sources.

Buddhism came to Bhutan in 8th century during the visit of Guru Rinpoche and began to take form. His visit led to the spread of the Nyingmapa (the ancient or the older) school of Buddhism.

In 1222 Phajo Drugom Zhigpo came to Bhutan. He introduced the Drukpa Kagyu school of Buddhism. Further his sons also worked in spreading the tradition of Drukpa Kagyu especially in western Bhutan.

In Bhutan Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal is considered as the greatest historical figures. He came to Bhutan in 1616 from Tibet and strengthened the Drukpa Kagyu school of Buddhism. Today, Drukpa Kagyu is the state religion of Bhutan. However, people also follow Nyingmapa school of Buddhism and Hinduism.

Besides Guru Rinpoche, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, many other lamas had also contributed to the propagation of Buddhism in Bhutan.