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Culture of Bhutan >>
Culture of Bhutan
Bhutanese culture derives from
ancient Tibetan culture. Dzongkha and Sharchop, the principal Bhutanese
languages, are closely related to Tibetan, and Bhutanese monks read and write
the ancient variant of the Tibetan language known as chhokey. Bhutanese
are physically similar to the Tibetans but history does not record when they
crossed over the Himalayas and settled in the south-draining valleys of Bhutan.
Both Tibetans and Bhutanese revere the tantric guru Padmasambhava the founder of
Himalayan Buddhism in the 8th century.
Religion of Bhutan
Bhutanese society is centered
around the practice of Tantric Buddhism. Religious beliefs are evidenced in all
aspects of life. Prayer flags flutter on hillsides offering up prayers to
benefit all nearby sentient beings. Houses each fly a small white flag on the
roof indicating the owner has made his offering payments to appease the local
god. Each valley or district is dominated by a huge dzong, or high-walled
fortresses, which serves the religious and administrative center of the
Dress Up Style
All Bhutanese citizens are
required to observe the national dress code, or driglam namzha, while in
public during daylight hours. The rule is enforced more rigorously in some
districts (dzongkhag) than others. Men wear a heavy knee-length robe tied
with a belt, called a gho, folded in such a way to form a pocket in front
of the stomach. Woman wear colorful blouses over which they fold and clasp a
large rectangular cloth called a kira, thereby creating an ankle-length
dress. A short silk jacket, or toego may be worn over the kira.
Everyday gho and kira are cotton or wool, according to the season,
patterned in simple checks and stripes in earth tones. For special occasions and
festivals, colourfully patterned silk kira and, more rarely, gho
may be worn.
Bhutanese women have
traditionally had more rights than women in surrounding cultures, the most
prominent being the exclusive right of land ownership. The property of each
extended Bhutanese family is controlled by an anchor mother who is
assisted by the other women of the family in running affairs. As she becomes
unable to manage the property, the position of anchor mother passes on to
a sister, daughter or niece.
Marriages are at the will of
either party and divorce is not uncommon. The ceremony consists of an exchange
of white scarves and the sharing of a cup. Marriages can be officially
registered when the couple has lived together for more than six months.
Traditionally the groom moves to the bride's family home, but newly-weds may
decide to live with either family depending on which is most in need of labor.
Once a year a dzong or
important village may hold a religious festival, or
tsechhu. Villagers from the surrounding district come for several
days of religious observances and visiting while making offerings to the lama or
monastery. The central activity is a fixed set of religious mask dances, or
cham, held in a large courtyard. Each individual dance takes up to several
hours to complete and the entire set may last two to four days. Observation of
the dances directly blesses the audience and also serves to transmit principles
of Tantric Buddhism to the villagers. A number of the dances can be traced
directly back to Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal himself, the founder of Bhutan, and
have been passed down without variation since the mid-1600s.
At dawn on the final day of the
Paro tsechu a huge tapestry, or thongdrel, is briefly unfurled in the
courtyard of the dzong. The mere sight of it is believed to bring spiritual
liberation. Thongdrels are also displayed at a number of other tsechus across
Arts & Crafts
All Bhutanese art-dance, drama
and music-is steeped in Buddhism. The paintings are not produced for tourists,
but for religious purposes; festivals are not quaint revivals, but living
manifestations of a national faith; and almost all art, music and dance
represents the struggle between good and evil. These traditions can be seen in
all their glory at Bhutan's spectacular religious festivals called Tsechus.
Monasteries in Bhutan
Monks join the monastery at six
to nine years of age and are immediately placed under the discipleship of a
headmaster. They learn to read chhokey, the language of the ancient sacred
texts, as well as Dzongkha and English. Eventually they will chose between two
possible paths: to study theology and Buddhist theory, or take the more common
path of becoming proficient in the rituals and personal practice of the faith.
A monk's spiritual training
continues throughout his life. In addition to serving the community in
sacramental roles, he may undertake several extended silent retreats. A common
length for such a retreat is three years, three months, three weeks and three
days. During the retreat time he will periodically meet with his spiritual
master who will test him on his development to ensure that the retreat time is
not being wasted.
Each monastery is headed by an
abbot who is typically a lama, although the titles are distinct. The highest
monk in the land is the chief abbot of Bhutan, whose title is Je Khenpo. He is
theoretically equivalent in stature to the king.
Music of Bhutan
Bhutanese popular music history
began with the Bhutan Broadcasting Service, which was followed by the band
Tashi Nyencha, who established the first
recording studio in Thimphu in 1991. Prior to this period, Bhutanese people
primarily listen to filmi and other kinds of Indian pop music.
Rigsar is the dominant style of Bhutanese
popular music, dand dates back to the late 1960s 
The first major music star was Shera Lhendup,
whose career began after the 1981 hit "Nga khatsa jo si lam kha lu".
By the end of the 1980s, rigsar
was no longer so popular, until the arrival of Norling
Drayang. Since Drayang, popular Bhutanese music has primarily been the
genre rigsar, a fusion of elements from Western pop, Indian and Tibetan music.
The best-selling album in Bhutanese history was New
Waves (1996) by Suresh Moktan, who
later denounced rigsar, and the album, after learning Indian classical music.
Unlike many countries, Bhutanese folk music is almost never used in popular
music. Other rigsar musicians include Neten Dorji.
Travel in Bhutan
Bhutan often reversed as the
'Land of the peaceful Dragon' is still regarded as one of the last
"Shangri-La" in the Himalayan region because of its remoteness, it's
spectacular mountain terrain, varied flora and fauna and it's unique
ancient Buddhist monasteries. It is relatively unexplored pockets of
Asia, which allows only limited number of discerning travelers to enter
the country with special travel visa permits.
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