Bhutan is an extremely popular Buddhist Himalayan kingdom which is perched amidst some of the most pristine natural beauty in the world. Monasteries surrounded by blissful and bountiful greenery, Rocky Mountains, and welcoming people this place is truly one of a kind. The culture here is a beautiful and colorful amalgamation of various traditions and beliefs that has mingled together in one over centuries.
The principles of the Bhutanese folks closely relate to the folks of Tibet since many of them used to reside in the Tibetan region. one can experience some unique cultural practices, fairs, and festivals.
Religion in Bhutan
Buddhism is the main religion around which all the different religious practices have developed over a period of time. You can easily feel the spiritual vibes from the moment you step into this magnificent hill destination with prayer flags fluttering in every nook and corner along with scenic and holy sites of big and small monasteries. Almost every building, house, and holy shrine are heavily decorated with colorful prayer flags which are said to blow in all the good luck and blessings of their gods. Around 23% of the overall population of Bhutan are Hindus whereas 75% of the people here follow Buddhism and the remainder of the people follow their own religions and beliefs.
Men and Women in Bhutan
The main source of livelihood in Bhutan, just like any other hill station is agriculture where the men and women can be seen working together in their fields. Some are small business and shop owners. It is not a big deal for the man of the house to take over some household chores like cooking and cleaning. This is the situation in villages or the outskirts of the main towns. On the other hand, the family structure in towns follows a typical scenario where the man is the breadwinner of the family whereas the women take care of their home.
When it comes to their traditional marriage ceremony it involves the traditional exchange of white scarves and sharing a cup. When the couple has spent 6 months or more together then they are eligible to get registered. As a part of another marriage tradition, every groom moves into the bride’s family home unlike what we are used to in India. Normally where the couple will be living depends on whose parents need the most amounts of help or care and labor.
Festivals of Bhutan
Festivals and fairs everywhere are a spectacle to behold anywhere in the world. Festivals of Bhutan are an exciting and vibrant part of the Bhutanese culture. Apart from all the minor and localized festivals, one of the main and the most important festival here is ‘Tshechu’. Lasting for a duration of around 3 to 5 days people celebrate their own versions of this festival which takes place on a particular day of the lunar month. Dzong is the main region where grand celebrations take place and people from all the nearby districts gather to celebrate this festival in oneness and harmony.
Chham or masked dances makes for a major attraction of Tshechu along with men and laymen wearing silken robes and animal masks. This animated performance marks the reenactment of Guru Rinpoche’s life through vivacious traditional dance moves. The last and final day of this festival witnesses the unfurling of a silken Thongdrel. This thongdrel is said to wash away all the sins of the people’s lives.
Music and Dance Forms of Bhutan
The musical and dance forms of Bhutan are inspired by the deep love for their religion. These dance forms are a major part of any festival held here since it marks the true rich heritage of Bhutan and its people. During events such as the festival mentioned above or on the day of the king’s birthday the entire country performs this dance to honor the mighty king. This dance performance involves one person in the group playing a musical instrument which kind of replicates a cymbal whereas the other person keeps the track of time and adds only to the melody of the performance. Other famous dance forms of Bhutan include Joenpa, Pa Cham, Drametse Nga Cham, etc.
When it comes to music Bhutan has its own vibe going. The musical numbers range from folk and traditional to religious and modern styles. The music has developed with time and incorporates a lot of stories, folklores, and stories into one. Ringsar is one musical form that has been prevalent in Bhutan ever since the 1960s. Instruments that are used in this case include Lingm, Chiwang, Dramnyen, and more.
Monasteries of Bhutan
Bhutan is famous for its impeccable monasteries big and small. Monks join the monastery as young as 6-9 years old and are looking under the discipleship of a headmaster. They have to then do rigorous learning of all the Buddhist teachings, sacred texts, and scriptures. They even have to learn the English language. In the final years of this learning process, they are then asked to choose between 2 paths: either being a theologist or study the Buddhist theory or to become proficient in personal practices and rituals, which is the most commonly chosen path.
The spiritual practices of a monk go on throughout their lives. They are not only expected to serve the community sacramental roles but they are also expected to go on long a silent retreats which normally lasts up to 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days. They meet their spiritual masters anytime during this period of silent retreat who tests them on their development level in order to make sure that the retreat time is not being wasted.
Every monastery is headed by an abbot who is normally a Lama although the titles are distinct. The theoretical equivalent king of Bhutan is Je Khenpo whose position is that of the highest monk in the land also known as the chief abbot of Bhutan.
600 members make the central monk body who attend to the most critical of all the religious duties regarding the country. During the summertime, they are given houses in Thimpu whereas during the winter months they go to the most sacred Dzong in Bhutan known as the Punakha Dzong. It is the holiest since Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal’s mortal remains are stored there under strict vigil since the late 17th century.