Bhutan Cul­ture of Faith

Bhutan presents an ar­ray of fes­ti­vals all year round that por­tray its true cul­tural essence.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Mahrukh Fa­rooq

Bhutan is one of the few coun­tries in South Asia that pos­sess an aura of mys­tery so al­lur­ing that it at­tracts scores of visi­tors from around the world each year. Also known as, ‘The Land of the Thun­der Dragon’, Bhutan lies in the eastern Hi­malayas, tucked away from the pull of moder­nity typ­i­cal of the western world and is the only coun­try in the world to re­tain the Tantric form of Ma­hayana Bud­dhism, specif­i­cally Drukpa Kagyu – the school of Bud­dhism which holds that the com­bined belief of its fol­low­ers will even­tu­ally be great enough to en­com­pass all of hu­man­ity and bear its sal­va­tion.

A form of re­li­gion based en­tirely on the need for spir­i­tu­al­ity in one’s life, the Bud­dhist faith plays an in­te­gral role in the cul­tural, eth­i­cal and so­ci­o­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of Bhutan and its peo­ple. It is per­haps on the ba­sis of these be­liefs that, in 1972, Bhutan’s fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, coined the term Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness (GNH) as a sig­nal of com­mit­ment to build­ing an econ­omy that would serve Bhutan’s cul­ture based on Bud­dhist spir­i­tual val­ues in­stead of the western ma­te­rial de­vel­op­ment that was rep­re­sented by gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP). This is a con­cept that has inspired a mod­ern po­lit­i­cal hap­pi­ness move­ment and has even com­pelled the United Na­tions to pass a res­o­lu­tion, plac­ing ‘hap­pi­ness’ on the global de­vel­op­ment agenda.

A ma­jor part of Bhutan’s cul­ture con­sti­tutes nu­mer­ous fes­ti­vals also known as tshechus which are held ev­ery month for peo­ple to gather and watch masked dancers bois­ter­ously recre­at­ing Bud­dhist tales, which they be­lieve in­voke the bless­ings of deities, while reaf­firm­ing ev­ery per­son’s place on earth.

It is in­deed a sight to be­hold. The en­tire area is filled with red-robed monks and their fam­i­lies who are kept en­ter­tained with sto­ries of yes­ter­year by jesters known as at­saras. For visi­tors, these fes­ti­vals are an un­ri­valled op­por­tu­nity to un­der­stand the roots of Bhutanese cul­ture while be­com­ing im­mersed in the cel­e­bra­tory spirit and have thus been one of the ma­jor rea­sons for at­tract­ing so many peo­ple from across the globe. In 2013, Bhutan had nearly 120,000 visi­tors – the high­est in its history, ac­cord­ing to the Bhutan Tourism Coun­cil. Amer­i­cans make up the largest for­eign mar­ket with about 7,000 visi­tors, de­spite the daily $250 tar­iff (which in­cludes ba­sic food, ac­com­mo­da­tions, trans­port and a guide). In terms of an­nual visi­tors, peo­ple from In­dia still dom­i­nate as they are largely ex­cused from that tar­iff. Top Fes­ti­vals Around Bhutan Pu­nakha Tshechu – March Held ev­ery year in March in

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