What Life is Like In Bhutan
While Bhutan is definitely one of the smallest
countries in the world, yet the cultural diversity and its richness are
profound. As such strong emphasis is laid on the promotion and preservation of
its rich cultural diversity. It is believed that ensuring protection and
preservation of our unique culture would assist in protecting the sovereignty of
The birth of a new born baby is always welcomed
heartily. Bhutanese value children as progenitors of future and therefore does
not discriminate between a girl child and a boy child. Mothers are always looked
after carefully and because of the strong belief, outsiders and guests are kept
at bay for the first three days as it is believed that the house is polluted. On
the third day after the child’s birth, a short purification ritual is performed
after which the outsiders pay visits to the new born child and the mother. Gifts
are offered ranging from dairy products to cloth and money.
The child is not immediately named as naming a
child is always the prerogative of a highly religious person. The mother and the
child also visits a local temple to receive blessings from the local deity
(natal deity) and 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 that details out the time and the
date of the birth, various rituals to be performed at different time in the life
of the child and to an extent predicting his future.
Arranged marriages were popular just a few
decades back. Normally, people married among the relatives. Cross-cousin
marriage is a popular tradition amongst the people of eastern Bhutan. This is
now becoming unpopular among the literate mass and most of the marriages take
place on their accord depending on their choice.
Marriages are simple affairs and are kept
low-key. However, elaborate rituals are performed for lasting unions amongst the
bride and the bridegroom. As the religious ceremony comes to an end, parents,
relatives and the friends present the newlyweds with traditional offerings of
scarves along with gifts in the form of cash and goods.
In the western part of Bhutan, the husband goes
out to the wife’s house after marriage while the practice in eastern Bhutan is
that the wife usually accompanies the husband. The newlyweds may also choose to
live on their own. An accepted norm of the Bhutanese way of life is divorces
that carry no ignominy or disgrace and in most instances they move on with a new
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. Important days such as the 7th day,
14th day, 21st day and 49th days are earmarked where prayer flags in the name of
the deceased are erected and rituals performed.
The deceased are normally cremated while the
southern Bhutanese bury and the Brokpas chop off and feed them to the vultures.
Elaborate rituals are also conducted on the death anniversary with erection of
prayer flags. The relatives and people of the locality come with alcohol, rice,
or other sundry items to attend these rituals.
A distinctive feature of the Bhutanese is their
dress that has evolved over the years. The Gho or the dress worn by the
Bhutanese men reaches just till their knees while Kira, the dress worn by women
reaches till their ankles. The Gho is folded and tied at the waist by a
traditional belt known as Kera and the pouch that is formed is used for carrying
small articles such as wallet, mobiles and Doma, the beetle nut. Traditionally
it was used for carrying bowls and a small dagger inserted in between as was the
But the dress for the tribal and semi nomadic people like the
Bramis and Brokpas of eastern Bhutan are generally different from the rest of
the Bhutanese population. The Brokpas and the Bramis wear dresses woven either
out of Yak or Sheep hair.
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 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.
Traditional Bhutanese eating habits are simple
and generally eat with their hands. The family members eat sitting cross legged
on the wooden floors with food being first served to the head of the household.
It is usually women who serves food and in most cases the mother. Before eating,
a short prayer is offered and a small morsel placed on the wooden floor as
offerings to the spirits and deities. With modernization, 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, but with the easy availability of imported pans and pots, the use
of earthenware’s have been replaced. Usual meals consist of rice, a dish of
chili and cheese known as Ema Datshi, pork or beef curry or lentils.
Bhutan is rich in cultural diversity and this
richness is further enhanced by the variety of festivals that is being observed.
Every village is known for their unique festivals though the most widely known
is the Tshechu. As the Tshechu begins, the villagers and the general populace
dressed in their finery congregate in the temples and monasteries to witness
these festivals. 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. Various mask dances are performed together with
songs and dances for three days. It provides the villagers with a respite from
their hard day’s labor and to catch up with their family and friends. People
share their food of Red rice, pork and Ema Datshi and drown themselves in the
revelry of their traditional wine known as Ara.