The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small landlocked country located in the southern foothills of the Himalayan mountain range, sandwiched between the People’s Republic of China in the north and the Republic of India in the south. It is a sovereign nation, with a total land area of 38,394 km² and a total population of 735553 (2017).
Economists all over the world have argued that the key to happiness is obtaining and enjoying material development Bhutan however, adheres to a very different belief and.advocates that amassing material wealth does not necessarily lead to happiness. Bhutan is now trying to.measure progress not by the popular idea of Gross Domestic Product but through Gross National Happiness. While conventional development models stressed on economic growth as the ultimate objective, the.concept of Gross National Happiness is based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other. While the emphasis is placed on both,.prosperity and happiness, the latter is considered to be more significant. Thus, Gross National Happiness is now being fleshed out by a wide range of professionals, scholars, and agencies across the world. The philosophy of Gross National Happiness has recently received international recognition and the UN has implemented a resolution “recognizing that the gross domestic product does not adequately reflect the happiness and well- being of people”, and that “the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal”.
The four main pillars of Gross National Happiness are:
Gross National Happiness as a development paradigm has now made it possible for Bhutan to take its developmental policies into the remote corners of the.kingdom and to meet the development needs of even its most isolated villagers, while still accentuating the need to protect and preserve our rich environment and forest cover. The policy of high value, low impact tourism has facilitated the promotion and preservation of our cultural values. Furthermore, the concept of Gross National Happiness has greatly enabled the pursuit of development, while at the same time promoting the attainment of happiness as the core philosophy of life. For the government, it has facilitated the drive towards self-sufficiency and self-reliance, the ultimate reduction in the gap between the rich and the poor and ensuring good governance and empowerment of her people as one of its key directives. Following the international seminar on Operationalizing Gross National Happiness held in Bhutan in February 2004, the participants began working to establish a Gross International Happiness Network, indicating the influence of Gross National Happiness beyond the Bhutanese Borders. These pillars embody national values, aesthetics, and spiritual traditions. The concept of Gross National Happiness is now being taken up by the United Nations and by various other countries. Crucial to a better understanding of Gross National Happiness is its wider reach and awareness amongst other countries, and the various indices that have now been formulated to include material gains in their assessment of the country and lastly, the growing need to synthesize the moral with the cultural values as the core of economic policy.
While Bhutan is one of the smallest countries in the world, its cultural diversity and richness are profound. As such, strong emphasis is laid on the promotion and preservation of its unique culture. By protecting and nurturing Bhutan’s living culture it is believed that it will help guard the sovereignty of the nation.
The birth of a child is always welcomed. In Bhutan extended family and guests are discouraged from visiting during the first three days after the birth. On the third day, a short purification ritual is performed after which visitors are welcomed to visit the newborn and mother. Bhutanese value children as progenitors of the future and therefore do not discriminate on the sex of the child. Traditionally various gifts are offered to range from dairy products to cloth and money. The child is not immediately named; this responsibility is usually entrusted to the head lama (Buddhist priest) of the local temple. The mother and child will also receive blessings from the local deity (natal deity) and it was traditional that the name associated with the deity is given. In some cases, the child is given the name of the day on which the child is born. Based on the Bhutanese calendar, a horoscope is written based on the time and date of the birth, this will detail the various rituals to be performed at different times in the life of the child and to an extent predict his or her future.
Until just a few decades ago arranged marriages were common and many married among their relatives. In eastern Bhutan cross-cousin marriages were also once common, however, this practice is now becoming less commonplace among the literate masses and most marriages are based on the choice of the individuals. Marriages are simple affairs and are usually kept low-key. However, elaborate rituals are performed for lasting unions between the bride and the bridegroom. As the religious ceremony comes to an end, parents, relatives, and friends of the couple present the newlyweds with traditional offerings of scarves along with gifts in the form of cash and goods. In Western Bhutan, it was commonplace that the husband goes to live in his wife’s house after marriage while the practice in Eastern Bhutan is for the wife to move into the husband’s home. Of course, the newlyweds may also choose to live on their own. Divorce is also an accepted norm and carries no ignominy or disgrace within the country.
Death signifies re-birth or a mere passing on to a new life. In keeping with the traditions, elaborate rituals are performed to ensure a safe passage and a good rebirth. The 7th, 14th, 21st and 49th days after a person’s death are considered especially important and are recognized by erecting prayer flags in the name of the deceased and performing specific religious rituals. While the deceased are normally cremated, funerary practices vary in few cases. In some parts of the country, people typically bury their dead while in some, they carry out ‘Sky Burials’, a process in which the deceased is prepared and left atop mountains to be devoured by vultures in a final act of compassion and generosity. Elaborate and ancient rituals are also conducted on the anniversary of the death with the erection of prayer flags. The relatives and people of the locality come with alcohol, rice or other sundry items to attend such rituals.
One of the most distinctive features of the Bhutanese is their traditional dress, unique garments that have evolved over thousands of years. Men wear the Gho, a knee-length robe somewhat resembling a kimono that is tied at the waist by a traditional belt known as Kera. The pouch which forms at the front traditionally was used for carrying food bowls and a small dagger. Today however it is more accustomed to carrying small articles such as wallets, mobile phones and Doma (betel nut). Women wear the Kira, a long, ankle-length dress accompanied by a light outer jacket known as a Tego with an inner layer known as a Wonju. However, tribal and semi-nomadic people like the Bramis and Brokpas of eastern Bhutan generally wear clothing that differs from the rest of the Bhutanese population. The Brokpas and the Bramis both wear dresses woven either out of Yak or Sheep hair. Bhutanese wear long scarves when visiting Dzongs and other administrative centers. The scarves worn vary in color, signifying the wearer’s status or rank. The scarf worn by men is known as Kabney while those worn by women are known as Rachus. The Rachu is hung over a woman’s shoulder and like the scarves worn by men, they too have a specific rank associated with their color. Rachus are usually woven out of raw silk and embroidered with beautiful rich patterns.
Traditional Bhutanese eating habits are simple and, in general, food is eaten with hands. Family members eat while sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor with food first being served to the head of the household first. It is usually women who serve the food and in most cases, the mother. Before eating, a short prayer is offered and a small morsel placed on the floor as an offering to the local spirits and deities. With modernization, eating habits have changed and in urban areas, people usually eat with cutlery whilst seated at a regular dining table. Traditionally dishes were cooked in earthenware, but with the easy availability of modern goods, pots and pans have largely replaced their use. A typical Bhutanese meal consists of rice, a dish of Ema Datshi, the country’s favorite dish of chili and cheese, pork, beef curry or lentils.
Bhutan is rich in cultural diversity and this richness is further enhanced by the wide variety of elaborate and colorful religious festivals that are celebrated throughout the country. Every village is known for its unique festival through the most widely known is the annual Tshechu, an annual religious festival. As the Tshechu begins, the villagers and the general populace dress in their finest clothes and congregate at their local temples and monasteries where these festivals take place. Tshechus are usually occasions to mark important events in the life of the second Buddha, the Indian/Pakistani Tantric master known as Guru Rinpoche or the Precious Master. Various mask dances are performed together with songs and dances for three days on average. These religious celebrations are lively, high-spirited affairs during which people share meals of red rice, spicy pork, Ema Datshi and Momos (pork/beef dumplings) whilst drinking the heady traditional rice wine known as Ara. These occasions provide the villagers with a respite from the hard labor of their day to day lives and give the community an opportunity to catch up with family and friends.
The thirteen arts and crafts are categorized as follows:
The women and some men in Bhutan mainly from eastern side of the country are expert in weaving, some of the most highly prized textiles. These textiles are woven from cotton, raw cotton and silk with intricate motifs woven into cloths. Most of the textile comes to market from Lhuentse, Pemagatshel, Wangdue Phodrang, Bhumthang, Trongsa districts. There are four types of loom used by Bhutanese weavers, black strap loom, the horizontal fixed loom, horizontal-framed loom and the card loom.
Tsha means bamboo. Bhutanese people have mastered the skill of weaving cane and bamboo products. People produce baskets, winnowers, mats, container known as Palangs and Bangchungs.
Crafting wooden cups and bowls traditionally known as Dapas and Phobs. These wooden bowls are made of special wooden knots known as zaa. It was highly priced until the advent of steel and brass plates.
Paintings capture the imagery of the Bhutanese landscape. The master painters are known as Lha Rips. The painters are believed to accumulate good deeds and merits. Huge scroll of Thankha or Thondgrols that depicts during religious festivals are some classic works. A mere sight of these huge scrolls is believed to deliver us nirvana. Thus, it brings merit not only to the believers but to the painters as well.
Do zo as it is widely known is an old craft that is still practiced today by the Bhutanese people. DO means stone. Bhutanese temples, Dzongs, Chortens or the stupas and farmhouses are all built of stones. Indeed no construction ever takes place without the use of stones. Classic examples of stonework are those of Chorten Kora in Tashiyangtse in eastern Bhutan and Chendebji Chorten in central Bhutan.
Carvings are done on stone, wood, and slate. The traditional designs crafted on these materials create some distinctive artworks. Woodcarving is seen in a variety of forms. The wooden masks that feature during the annual religious festivals are all carved out of wood beside many traditional motifs that are engraved on the Bhutanese houses and Dzongs. Another important art widely practiced is the art of slate carving. The master craftsman is known as Do Nag Lopen and the material used is slate. The other important craft that has survived in Bhutan is stone carving.
Jim zo or clay work has been practiced and passed on over the centuries. Statues of deities, gods & goddesses and other prominent religious figures, in fact, exemplify clay work in Bhutan. The master craftsmen are known as Jim zo lopen and the skill is imparted to the young novices through vigorous training spread over the years. Besides the clay statues, the tradition of clay potteries is still alive through much of the potteries are now being used as showpieces and flower vases.
The period in history between the Stone Age and Iron Age is known as the Bronze Age because bronze was commonly used to cast containers such as cups, urns, and vases. People also shaped bronze into battle-axes, helmets, knives, shields, and swords. They also made it into ornaments, and sometimes even into primitive stoves. Bronze was developed about 3500 BC by the ancient Sumerians in the Tigris-Euphrates valley. Bronze casting in Bhutan was introduced only in the 17th century. The Newars of Nepal were first invited by Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal to cast bronze statues and religious items such as bells and water offering bowls. It was through these artisans that the art was introduced and today, a lot of Bhutanese people are into bronze casting.
Blacksmithy in Bhutan began sometime in the late 14th century and it is believed that it was introduced by a Tibetan saint known as Dupthob Thangtong Gyalpo. He has been revered as the master engineer for his skill in casting iron chains and erecting them as bridges over gorges. In Bhutan, he is supposed to have built about eight suspension bridges and one can still come across a bridge over Paro Chu linking the highway to the famous Tachog Lhakhang in Paro.
Master craftsmen having skills in shaping beautiful ornaments are regarded as Tro Ko Lopen. Using precious stones such as corals, turquoise, silver and gold, these master craftsmen shape out ornaments such as necklaces, bangles, earrings, rings worn on fingers, brooches, amulets to contain ritual objects, traditional containers to carry the much-chewed beetle nuts, ritual objects and many more.
People engaged in producing the traditional Bhutanese paper or De zo are known as Dezop. Traditional papers were widely used in the past. Most of the religious scriptures and texts were written on Dezho’s using traditional Bhutanese ink, at times in gold. People still produce Deshos which is used as carrying bags, wrappers for gifts and even used as envelopes. The art still continues in Trashiyangtse where the raw material is readily available.
The art of tailoring is a popular tradition amongst the Bhutanese. This art can be broadly classified as Tshem drup or the art of embroidery, lhem drup or the art of appliqué and Tsho lham or the art of traditional Bhutanese boots. The art of embroidery and appliqué are normally practiced by the monks. Using this art they produce large religious scrolls known as Thangkas that depict Gods and Goddesses, deities and saints.
The Bhutanese still practice this ancient art termed Shingzo. The master craftsman known locally as Zow chen and Zows are instrumental in fashioning intricate designs that go into the construction of our fortresses- Dzongs, palaces, temples, monasteries and the traditional Bhutanese farmhouses. Dzongs that have an origin in the 17th century feature some of the most elaborate woodworks and designs that draw appreciation not only from the Bhutanese populace but from outside visitors as well.
Physically, Bhutan can be divided into three zones: Alpine Zone (4000m and above) with no forest cover; the Temperate Zone (2000 to 4000m) with conifer or broadleaf forests; and the Subtropical Zone (150m to 2000m) with Tropical or Subtropical vegetation. Forest types in Bhutan are Fir Forest, Mixed Conifer Forest, Blue Pine Forest, Chirpine Forest, Broadleaf mixed with Conifer, Upland Hardwood Forest, Lowland Hardwood Forest, and Tropical Lowland Forests. 300 species of medicinal plants and about 46 species of rhododendrons can be found in Bhutan. A wide range of animal are also found frequenting the jungles of Bhutan.
Some high altitude species are snow leopards, Bengal tigers that are found at the altitude ranging between 3000 to 4000 meters besides red panda, gorals, langurs, Himalayan black bear, sambars, wild pigs,barking deer, blue sheep and musk deer. In the tropical forests of Southern Bhutan one can come across clouded leopards,one horned rhinoceros, elephants, golden langur that is unique to Bhutan, water buffaloes and swamp deer. Bhutan also has a great variety of bird species. The recorded number of bird species is over 670 and there are chances that this number could still go up. Bhutan is also home to about 16 bird species that are in endangered list worldwide. These include White bellied heron, Pallas Fish eagle, Blyth’s King fisher to name a few of them. Phobjikha valley in Wangdue Phodrang and Bomdeling in Trashi Yangtse are also two important places in Bhutan that is visited by the endangered Black Necked Cranes every year.
Bhutanese people can be generally categorized into three main ethnic groups. The Tshanglas, Ngalops and the Lhotshampas.
The Tshanglas or the Sharchops as they are commonly known as, are considered the aboriginal inhabitants of eastern Bhutan. According to historians, Tshanglas are the descendants of Lord Brahma and speak Tshanglakha. They are commonly inhabitants of the eastern part of the country. Weaving is a popular occupation among their women and they produce beautiful fabrics mainly of silk and raw silk.
The Ngalops who have settled mostly in the six regions of western Bhutan are of Tibetan origin. They speak Ngalopkha, a polished version of Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan. Agriculture is their main livelihood. They cultivate cereals such as rice, wheat, barley and maize along with a variety of other crops. They are known for Lozeys, or ornamental speech and for Zheys, dances that are unique to the Ngalops.
The Lhotshampas have settled in the southern foothills of the country. They speak Lhotshamkha (Nepali) and practice Hinduism. Their society can be broken into various lineages such as the Bhawans, Chhetris, Rai’s, Limbus, Tamangs, Gurungs, and the Lepchas. Nowadays they are mainly employed in agriculture and cultivate cash crops like ginger, cardamom and oranges. The other minority groups are the Bumthaps and the Khengpas of Central Bhutan, the Kurtoeps in Lhuentse, the Brokpas and the Bramis of Merak and Sakteng in eastern Bhutan, the Doyas of Samtse and finally the Monpas of Rukha villages in WangduePhodrang. Together the multiethnic Bhutanese population number just over 700,000.
Bhutanese society is free of class or a caste system. Slavery was abolished by the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the early 1950s through a royal edict. Though, a few organizations to empower women were established in the past, Bhutanese society has always maintained relative gender equality. In general our nation is an open and a good-spirited society. Living in Bhutanese society generally means understanding some accepted norms such as Driglam Namzha, the traditional code of etiquette. Driglam Namzha teaches people a code of conduct to adhere to as members of a respectful society. Examples of Driglam Namzha include wearing a traditional scarf (kabney) when visiting a Dzong or an office, letting the elders and the monks serve themselves first during meals, offering felicitation scarves during ceremonies such as marriages and promotions and politely greeting elders or seniors. Normally, greetings are limited to saying “Kuzuzangpo” (hello) amongst equals. For seniors and elders, the Bhutanese bow their head a bit and say “kuzuzangpo la” (a more respectful greeting). Recently, shaking hands has become an accepted norm. The Bhutanese are a fun-loving people fond of song and dance, friendly contests of archery, stone pitching, traditional darts, basketball and football. We are a social people that enjoy weddings, religious holidays and other events as the perfect opportunities to gather with friends and family. The openness of Bhutanese society is exemplified in the way our people often visit their friends and relatives at any hour of the day without any advance notice or appointment and still receive a warm welcome and hospitality.
The Bhutanese constitution guarantees freedom of religion and citizens and visitors are free to practice any form of worship so long as it does not impinge on the rights of others. Christianity, Hinduism and Islam are also present in the country.
Bhutan is a Buddhist country and people often refer to it as the last stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism. Buddhism was first introduced by the Indian Tantric master Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th century. Until then the people practiced Bonism, a religion that worshiped all forms of nature, remnants of which are still evident in some remote villages in the country. With the visit of Guru Padmasambhava, Buddhism began to take firm roots within the country and this especially led to the propagation of the Nyingmapa (the ancient or the older) school of Buddhism. Phajo Drugom Zhigp from Ralung in Tibet was instrumental in introducing yet another school of Buddhism – the Drukpa Kagyu sect. In 1222 he came to Bhutan, an event of great historical significance and a major milestone for Buddhism in Bhutan, and established the DrukpaKagyu sect of Buddhism, the state religion. His sons and descendants were also instrumental in spreading it to many other regions of western Bhutan. By far the greatest contributor was Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal. His arrival in 1616 from Tibet was another landmark event in the history of the nation. He brought the various Buddhist schools that had developed in western Bhutan under his domain and unified the country as one whole nation-state giving it a distinct national identity. The Buddhism practiced in the country today is a vibrant religion that permeates nearly every facet of the Bhutanese life style. It is present in 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 rituals stand as testaments to the importance of Buddhism in Bhutanese life.
Though Bhutan is often referred to as the last Vajrayana Buddhist country, you can still come across animistic traditions and beliefs being practiced by the people. The form of Buddhism practiced in Bhutan has absorbed many of the features of Bonism such as nature worship, worship of a host of deities, invoking and propitiating them. According to Bonism, these deities were the rightful owners of different elements of nature. Each different facet of nature was associated with its own specific type of spirit. For example, mountain peaks were considered as the abodes of guardian deities (Yullha), lakes were inhabited by lake deities (Tshomem), cliff deities (Tsen) resided within cliff faces, the land belonged to subterranean deities (Lue and Sabdag), water sources were inhabited by water deities (Chu giLhamu), and dark places were haunted by the demons (due). Every village has a local priest or a shaman to preside over the rituals. Some of the common forms of nature worship being practiced are the Cha festival in Kurtoe, the Kharphud in Mongar and Zhemgang, the BalaBongko in WangduePhodrang, the Lombas of the Haaps and the Parops, the JomoSolkha of the Brokpas, the Kharam amongst the Tshanglas and the Devi Puja amongst our southern community. These shamanistic rituals are performed for various reasons ranging from to keep evil spirits at bay, bring in prosperity, to cure a patient or to welcome a new year.
The climate in Bhutan is extremely varied, which can be attributed to two main factors-the vast differences in altitude present in the country and the influence of North Indian monsoons. Climatic Zones of Bhutan Southern Bhutan has a hot and humid subtropical climate that is fairly unchanging throughout the year.
Temperatures can vary between 15-30 degrees Celsius (59- 86 degrees Fahrenheit). In the Central parts of the country which consists of temperate and deciduous forests, the climate is more seasonal with warm summers and cool and dry winters. In the far Northern reaches of the kingdom, the weather is much colder during winter. Mountain peaks are perpetually covered in snow and lower parts are still cool in summer owing to the high altitude terrain. Seasons Bhutan has four distinct seasons in a year. The Indian summer monsoon begins from late-June through July to late-September and is mostly confined to the southern border region of Bhutan. These rains bring between 60 and 90 percent of the western region’s rainfall. Annual precipitation ranges widely in various parts of the country. In the Northern border towards Tibet, the region gets about forty millimeters of precipitation a year which is primarily snow. In the temperate central regions, a yearly average of around 1,000 millimeters is more common, and 7,800 millimeters per year has been registered at some locations in the humid, subtropical south, ensuring the thick tropical forest, or savanna. Bhutan’s generally dry spring starts in early March and lasts until mid-April. Summer weather commences in mid-April with occasional showers and continues to late June. The heavier summer rains last from late June through late September which are more monsoonal along the southwest border. Autumn, from late September or early October to late November, follows the rainy season. It is characterized by bright, sunny days and some early snowfalls at higher elevations. From late November until March, winter sets in, with frost throughout much of the country and snowfall common above elevations of 3,000 meters. The winter northeast monsoon brings gale-force winds at the highest altitudes through high mountain passes, giving Bhutan its name – Drukyul, which means Land of the Thunder Dragon in Dzongkha (the native language).