Bhutan is an ancient walled kingdom located in a remote part of the planet. This Buddhist kingdom, surrounded by the Himalayas and has borders with India and China, is known as the Last Shangri-La or the Land of the Thunder Dragon. The ancient capital city of Punakha, in this obscure kingdom, continues to fervently pursue an age-old tradition of worshipping the most fascinating of objects: the phallus. They’re all over the place. Ornate penises surround doors, dangle from rooftops, are painted on the sides of houses, used as signs, and displayed in windows. From brilliant yellows to pastel pinks, some with piercing eyes and some even ejaculating, some are hairy, and others are engulfed by a dragon spouting fire.
This phallic attraction, however, has a spiritual basis. The phallus is an esoteric symbol in Bhutan that gives protection from evil and good luck. It may be found everywhere, from stores to houses. Bhutanese people have always believed this. They also consider the phallus to be a fertility sign.
The narrative begins with Drukpa Kunley, an eccentric and outspoken Tibetan saint or Lama, in the 15th century. He has fired an arrow from Tibet to identify a new location where he might disseminate his teachings. The arrow fell at the present-day Chimi Lakhang in Punakha (where his temple now stands) and guided him to Bhutan. He met a young lady who believed in his cause while looking for the arrow, and he spent the night with her and ‘blessed’ her with his progeny because of her devotion. The fertility temple now holds an antique bow and arrow and a 10-inch ivory and wood phallic symbol.
Following this introduction to Bhutan, his excursions around the country revealed the clergy’s rigorous methods and uncompromising devotion to traditional cultural standards. He set out to disseminate the genuine teachings of Buddha, vowing to free people from their traditional habits. His philandering habits and the sexual connotations in his frequently bizarre behaviour gave him the epithet of The Divine Madman. He purposefully startled people into challenging the authority and destroying traditions with his profane poetry, titillating humour, and wine-induced sermons.The phallic art is said to be Kunley’s organ, and it is known as the “Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom” because it is said to drive demons and evil spirits away. His unusual method of teaching Buddhism has attracted a large following, albeit it has come as a shock to the priesthood.
Phalluses are still a part of Bhutanese culture today. They associate phallus paintings with fertility and good fortune, and they believe they will be protected from evil spirits or demons if they embrace them. During a specific time of year, several communities in eastern Bhutan worship phalluses with flowers, ara (red-coloured hooch), and milk. In central Bhutan, a wooden phallus is dipped into the cups of drinks before being presented to the visitors.
Furthermore, when individuals move into their new houses, they execute an elaborate phallic ceremony that includes putting four phalluses on the house’s four eaves facing the four directions and one within the house. Then, a young and virgin girl leads a dancing and singing troupe around the house three times, carrying the basket. The Chimi Lhakhang monastery was constructed in 1499 in honour of Drukpa Kunley. Inside the monastery lies Kunley’s original wooden phallus emblem, which he imported from Tibet. It also features a silver-handled phallus, which is used to bless pilgrims who come to the monastery, particularly ladies hoping to have children.
Many newlywed and childless couples from all over the world visit the temple of fertility today to seek blessings from the old wooden phallus totem, known as the “divine thunderbolt.” Inside the temple, there is even a photo album with photographs of guests who have brought in pictures of their newborn babies months after visiting the temple.
While Drukpa Kunley was not popular at the time, he is today admired for his perseverance and the content of his lectures. The phallus is still painted on the exterior of people’s houses to fend off evil spirits and summon the fertility gods.
Though phallus is still used as a cultural and spiritual emblem in rural Bhutan, urban Bhutanese are less interested in having it painted on their walls. It is also not painted in community temples and dzongs where Buddhist monks and lamas practise their religion. So, if you happen to come across this pictorial portrayal of male genitalia painted on the walls while visiting Bhutan, don’t be offended. They revere the phallus symbol because it reflects a unique tale with historical, cultural, and spiritual importance.
Visual by: Kunal Kaustav Duwarah
Article by Subhayu Bhadury, The North-Eastern Chronicle