Culture and Tradition
Bhutan has one of the distinctive and unique cultures in the world. In the ever changing world, Bhutanese are committed to preserve and treasure their rich culture and tradition. The unique cultural and traditional values are highly valued and are visible in the everyday life of the Bhutanese. The protection and promotion of unique culture and tradition is a means of protecting the sovereignty of the nation as lying between two giant countries of the world, India and China.
Bhutanese architecture is famous for its originality, its pleasant proportions and its adaptation to the landscape. In fact the Architecture of Bhutan expresses the uniqueness of Bhutan from the rest of the world. Today, combining with the modern technology Bhutan still preserves and promotes its distinctive and beautiful piece of centuries old architecture. We can see the traditional unique architecture in each and every architectural structure of Bhutan. The architectural structures includes Dzongs (monasteries), chortens (stupas), stone walls, Lhakhangs (temples), fortresses, mansions, bridges and houses. Architectural heritage dating back to the 17th centuries are still visible and exists today.
The dzongs – themselves imposing 17th century structures built on a grand scale without the help of any drawings and constructed entirely without nails – are outstanding examples of the best in Bhutanese architecture. Reflecting a certain view of religion, society and spatial organization, the dzongs symbolize the history and long independence of Bhutan.
Lhakhang (temples) are fairly small building of simple design, seem to have been the first forms of religious architecture. It differs from ordinary houses by red band painted on the upper part of their walls and an ornament of gilded copper on the roof.
– Arts and Crafts
Bhutan’s rich tradition of arts and crafts is an integral part of the history, culture and the distinctive identity of the Bhutanese people. The rich and unique artistic traditions have been passed down from generation to generation since the ancient times and have survived and flourished for many centuries. Practice and promotion of arts and crafts in Bhutan existed as early as Zhabdrung’s time, i.e., the 16th century, through support and patronage from various experts. Although painting, sculpturing, and calligraphy skills were limited to monks, the knowledge soon reached and spread to villages. Due to the unique design, durability and beauty of the traditional artistic product, Bhutan today export these products abroad.
There are broadly 13 categories of arts and crafts known as the ‘Zorig Chusum’ – the thirteen sciences of arts and crafts (Zo – to make, rig – science, chusum – thirteen). These skills represent the tradition, culture and history of Bhutan.
These thirteen arts and crafts are Weaving (Thagzo), Cane and Bamboo crafts (Tsharzo), Woodworks (Shingzo), Painting (Lhazo), Stonework (Dozo), Clay Crafts (Jinzo), Bronze Casting (Lugzo), Wood, Slate and Stone Carving (Parzo), Wood Turning (Shagzo), Black-Smithy (Garzo), Silver and Gold Smithy (Dhezo), Tailoring and Embroidery (Tshemzo), and Paper Making (Dezo)
Bhutan is rich in cultural diversity and this richness is further enhanced by the variety of festivals that is being observed. At different time of the year, the annual festivals known as “Tshechus” take place in different locations. Tshechus are usually occasions to mark the important events in the life of the second Buddha, the precious Indian Tantric master known as Guru Rinpoche or the Precious Gem. All of Guru Rinpoche’s great deeds are believed to have taken place on the 10th day of the month, which is the meaning of the word tshechu. Tshechus are celebrated for several days between three to five days and are the occasion for dances that are clearly defined in religious content. The dancers, either monks or laymen, wear spectacular costumes of bright silk or brocade, ornate hats and extraordinary masks. Certain festivals end with the unveiling and worship of a huge religious appliqués or thongdroel and festival goers believe that simply by viewing this thangkha, they can be delivered from the cycle of reincarnation which is the ultimate aim of Buddhism.
Another highlight of the Tshechus is the Atsaras or clowns who are believed to represent Acharyas, religious masters of India. They confront the monks, toss out salacious jokes, and distract the crowd with their antics whenever the religious dances begin to grow tedious. They are the only people permitted to mock religion in a society where sacred matters are treated with the highest respect.
For the Bhutanese, attendance at religious festivals offers an opportunity to become immersed in the meaning of their religion and to gain much merit. The festivals are also occasions for seeing people, and for being seen, for social exchanges, and for flaunting success. As the Tshechu begins, the villagers and the general populace dressed in their finery congregate in the temples and monasteries to witness these festivals. It provides the villagers with a respite from their hard day’s labor and to catch up with their family and friends. Attendance at one of these religious events provides an opportunity for the outsider to experience the extraordinary.
Besides Dromche and Tshechhu, Bhutan also celebrates, Losar the Tibetan New Year as one of the most important festivals. During which, picnics, archery competition, dances are held. Friends and relatives exchange greeting cards. Various other Buddhist and Hindu festivals are also observed.
– Eating Habits
Traditionally, Bhutanese eat in the plates made out of Bamboo (known as Bangchung) and wood (Known as Dhapa) with the bare hands. There is also habits of eating in the piece of cloths (known as Toray). Most of the cups and mugs used by the Bhutanese are made out of woods. While having a meal, unlike western, without dining tables and chair, family members sits on the floor with cross legged. The mother of the house (Nang Gi Aum) serves the food starting from the oldest and head of the house. Before eating Short prayer (Tom Choey) is offered and for rest of the family eating starts only after the oldest and the head of the house starts eating. Now a days with easy access to the modern world, eating habits have changed and in urban areas, people usually eat with spoons and make use of dining tables and chairs.
Traditionally dishes were cooked in earthenware’s (Sa Zam), but with the easy availability of imported pans and pots, the use of earthenware’s have been replaced. Rice is a main food in Bhutan and it is accompanied by a dish. The most popular Bhutanese dish is known as Ema Datshi (chilli with cheese). And in almost all the dishes other than Ema Datshi, chilli is the compulsory ingredient. A typical Bhutanese meal might consist of thugpa, a soup prepared out of rice, meat, cheese and other ingredients includes, chilli powder, ginger, pepper. Typical Bhutanese tea is Known as Suja made out of salt and butter. Chang (alcohol) is made from grain.
– National Dress
A distinctive feature of the Bhutanese is their dress that has evolved over the years. Bhutanese men wear a gho, a long robe tied around the waist by a small belt called a kera. A woman’s ankle-length dress is called a kira, made from beautifully colored and finely woven fabrics with traditional patterns. Necklaces are fashioned from corals, pearls, turquoise, and the precious agate eye stones that the Bhutanese call “tears of the gods” or dzi beads.
In keeping with the tradition, it is mandatory for all Bhutanese to wear scarves while visiting Dzongs and other administrative centers. The scarf worn by men is known as Kabney while that of women is known as Rachu. The scarves worn are different in color and signify their status or rank. While the general Bhutanese men wear scarf that is white in color, the King and the Je Khenpo or the Head Abbot wear yellow scarves. The ministers wear orange scarves while the Judges wear green and the district administrators wear red scarves with a small white strip that runs through. The Rachu is hung over their left shoulder and unlike scarves worn by men does not have any color attached to it. They are usually woven out of raw silk with rich patterns.