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Bhutan Has a Strange Obsession With Phallus Monasteries

by Vrinda Jain
Bhutan Has a Strange Obsession With Phallus Monasteries

February 14, 2021

In a far corner of the world, surrounded by the mighty Himalayas lies a small nation - Bhutan. This Buddhist country is known for its monasteries, friendly people, and picturesque landscape. And in this breathtaking nation, people have a surprising obsession with the phallus!

Bhutan is honestly the archetype of nature’s beauty. It is a nation that has merged Buddhist teachings with nature, traditions and legend to establish an identity unlike any. Bhutan’s weave of concepts can seem mysterious and foreign to the world, but it holds a fundamental truth that is a path towards peace for the kingdom.

Bhutan is blessed with the most amazing temples.

Bhutan- Blessed With the Most Impressive Temples

It’s a nation whose symbols are exquisite. Its concepts are grand. Its icons are enigmatic. When Bhutan first opened its doors to visitors, people found the most perplexing sign of worship there – phalluses painted house’s facades or on the roofs pointing towards the cardinal directions.

When walking through the otherwise regular streets of this ancient kingdom, you can be sure of seeing some phallic painting on one wall or another. One might portray a phallus covered in ribbons; the other might display it wrapped in snakes.

If you’re wondering why and how did the penis worship start in the first place, then let’s look at what happened in Bhutan.

History of Phallus Worship

Bhutan’s obsessive association with phallic drawings and icons is profoundly embedded in its religious past and spiritual philosophy. The Phalluses are identified with one Drukpa Kunley, also known as the Divine Madman, an eccentric 15th-century monk who used unorthodox means to spread his teachings.

He is believed to have fired an arrow from the then-Tibet to mark a new place to spread his teachings. The arrow landed near the site of today’s Chimi Lakhang in Punakha in Bhutan. While looking for it, he came across a young girl who believed in his cause and, delighted with her allegiance, the Divine Madman spent the night with her and ‘blessed her’ with his kin.

The Divine Madman- Earning the Name

With a vow to rid people of their traditional ways, he set out to spread Buddha’s actual teachings. In his sometimes ludicrous deeds, his philandering habits and sexual connotations gained him the nickname The Divine Madman.

He used mockery and indignantly crass and lewd tactics to shed light on the ordinary people’s Buddhist teachings. Some of his most despicable acts include urinating on sacred Buddhist images, stripping bare or using harsh language in his preachings in the form of metaphors and allegories.

Significance of Phallic Symbols in Bhutanese Culture

In Bhutan, an erect penis is believed to drive evil spirits, creatures, and rumours away. These paintings are also considered to bring good luck, and for the same reason, they are still adorning the walls of households and workplaces even after six centuries of Drukpa Kunley’s death.

There are some temples throughout this landlocked kingdom with carvings and paintings of the phallus, and many childless couples and newly married couples visit these temples to seek blessings. Some also claim that hitting a woman on the head with a fake phallus makes her bear children.

Phallic Paintings' Significance for the Houses

In Bhutan, phalluses are painted on house walls, particularly at the entrance, and phallic idols are placed on house roofs pointing to the four cardinal directions. While bringing the phalluses in the house, the monks conducting the sanctification ceremony move around the house in a procession as they play their musical instruments with it.

The lady of the house follows them holding a basket containing five wooden phallic symbols on her back. The monks precede their prayer as the basket is lifted to the roof with a rope. Those on the roof are meant to protect the family, bring prosperity, wealth, health, harmony and knowledge.

The fifth phallic sign will be on the main altar inside the building. This is supposed to bring good fortune, a sign that fertility will prevail and that the house will be full of abundance.

While many equate Drukpa Kunley with the Phallus of Bhutan, that claim is not entirely valid.

People can witness the ideology of Lama Drukpa Kunley in Chimi Lhakhang near Punakha. There have also been phallic symbols in other areas of Bhutan and Tibet. But for an authentic experience, only in Chimi Lhakhang does one feels the heavy presence of these symbols. It is said that Drukpa Kunley held a version of wood and ivory still in the hands of the main Buddhist monk.

The Divine Madman's Anecdotes

While there are hundreds of stories surrounding the mad nature of the Divine madman, some of these include his gift of the holy thread around his waist. He opted instead to use it to adorn his penis, surprisingly saying that it would bring him some luck with the ladies. That’s why there are quite a few paintings of the ribbon around the phallus.

Another anecdote is about how he purportedly urinated on a holy scroll. But by far the most famous legend that points directly to phallic symbolism is that of Lama Kunley, who used his ‘flaming thunderbolt of wisdom’ to subjugate a demon called Loro Duem, who lived in the current Dochu La Pass and terrorised all those who dared to pass by.

When the Lama learned of her crimes, he started tracking her down and chasing her out of Dochu La to the Chimi Lakhang Temple’s present site. The escaping demon changed into a dog to avoid being captured, but Kunley recognised her, killed her, and buried her in the hillock. Later, he built a black Buddhist shrine to cover her grave.

It’s genuinely fascinating to learn about the weirdest, yet most exciting stories of faraway lands, and even more bizarre that people actually practice those centuries-old stories even today. But then, life is nothing if not full of surprising stories from far-flung shores.

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