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CULTURE AND TRADITIONS OF BHUTAN

Money, infrastructure and industries may determine how ‘successful’ a country is, but only its culture determines how blissful it is. At the end of the day, skyscrapers may be good for eyes, but dances, food, sports etc are what we need to satisfy our hearts. And when we talk about a strong and rich culture, Bhutan has to be the first place we mention. A serene place which has holy monasteries, lush valleys, rocky mountains and pristine rivers holds a lot more than what meets the eye. The unique culture of Bhutan fascinates every person who comes across it. And even the better part is the people and the Government’s determination to preserve and promote their cultural values. This is why we can still see its essence in every nook and corner of the country.Bhutan’s rich heritage was protected by Bhutan’s isolation from the modern world until the 1960’s and it’s still very much in proof. Bhutan’s traditions and cultural uniqueness are what amazes visitors from outside, apart from its  untouched natural beauty.

Bhutanese, still wear the national dress for their everyday chores, across the country. Men wear the GHO(a knee length ,belted robe) and the women wear the KIRA ( an ankle length dress, belted at the waist).  If one has to visit temples,Dzongs or Government offices, the men and women are required to wear scarves. The Kabney for men and Rachu for women.

Bhutan has a Code of Etiquette (Driglam Namzha) ,which determines the way we are.The way one conducts is considered very important here. The way Bhutanese greet, behave, eat, talk etc are quite unique. Children, from a very young age, are taught the basic etiquette at homes and even in schools. The Government also has a Ministry responsible for maintaining the standards and pre-requisites of clothing, eating, speech, and respect to officials and the Buddhist clergy.

While,Sharchop and Dzongkha are the main languages that widely spoken . Dzongkha, the national language, is closely related to the Tibetan language. Sharchop is the language that is spoken in the East. The Bhutanese national sport of Archery, is firmly rooted in the cultural heritage of the country. Archery matches/contests are regularly held during festivals and involve as much a social element as a competition. The matches are usually followed by ladies dancing, sumptuous  food,  drinks.

Religion of Bhutan

Religion in Bhutan is predominantly Vajrayana Buddhism. As a result, Bhutanese culture is very much influenced by Buddhist values. Bhutanese live by  religious values and respect their Gods and deities a lot. Hence, there is no dearth of monasteries, chortens/stupas, lhakhangs etc in the country.  Colourful prayer flags adorn hillsides, entrances of monasteries etc, which are considered sacred. Dzongs are a unique combination of  fortress and temples are present in every district (Dzongkhag) of the country. Buddhist monks reside in monasteries located high up in the mountains. They lead a very simple life, with no luxuries. A monk is generally admitted in the monastery at the age of six to nine and take lessons under a master. In a common family, a small morsel is kept on the floor as an offering to deities before eating. So, religion plays a very important role in deciding the lifestyle of people.

Birth, Marriage and Death in Bhutan

Bhutanese culture is quite festive when it comes to the birth of a child. It is one of the very few countries in the world which does not discriminate between a boy and girl. However, no outsider is allowed to enter the house for 3 days after a baby is born. It is only after a purification ritual that guests can enter. Name of the baby is usually bestowed by a local religious leader, and there was no family name till recent times. Instead, the name was usually a combination of two traditional names and  gender is usually indicated by the second name.In Bhutan, marriage is not usually a big deal and hence, the wedding ceremony is kept simple. Marriage between cousins were quite common in the past in the east but the educated masses discourage it now. In some parts of Bhutan, it is the groom who goes to his wife’s home, instead of the other way around. Death of a person means passing on one life to another, i.e re-birth. Prayer flags are erected in the memory of the departed soul and the relatives and neighbors come to attend the funeral and other rituals with simple eatables and souvenirs.

Festivals of Bhutan

Festivals in Bhutan are  exciting affairs in the life of  Bhutanese and an integral part of the unique culture of Bhutan. The most important Bhutanese festival are Tshechus. Every district has its own Tshechu, which lasts for 3-5 days. It falls on the 10th day of the Tibetan calendar/Lunar Calendar. It is generally held in the Dzongs, where people from the entire district and the surrounding places gather together in harmony to be a part of a mass celebration. Masked dances (chham) are the major attraction of a Tshechu . Monks and laymen wear silk robes, animal masks, and enact the moments of Guru Rinpoche’s life in the form of dances. The last day of the Tshechu usually witnesses the unfurling of a silk Thongdrel (a giant Thangka), which translates to “Liberation on Sight“. Seeing the Thongdrel is believed to wash away one’s sins.

Traditional Dress of Bhutan

Bhutanese culture mandates that the traditional dress be worn on special occasions and in government offices. Bhutanese men wear ‘Gho’ and women wear ‘Kira’. Gho is a heavy knee-length robe, tied by a belt. Kira is an ankle-length dress, over which a short jacket may be worn. These dresses have evolved over time. For example, the small pouches on the front of the dress were used to carry food bowls and small daggers, whereas now mobile phones, etc are kept into it. These dresses are made up of cotton or wool, and dresses made out of silk are worn on special occasions. As per traditions, it is necessary to carry a scarf in a dzong or an administrative center. Men’s scarf is called kabney and women’s scarf is called rachu.