Bhutan is the only country in the world to have adopted Mahayana Buddhism in its Tantric form as its official religion. The Buddhist faith has played and continues to play a fundamental role in the cultural, ethical and socio-economic development of country and its people. Monks are held in great respect and play an active part in community life.
Influence of Tantric Buddhism
The influence of Tantric Buddhism since the mid 7th century has irrevocably shaped Kingdom's history and destiny, and has had an indelible and enlightening impact on the Bhutanese way of life. It affects almost everything; from arts and crafts to the system of government, from folk dances to architectural style. To this day also, the importance and relevance of Buddhism has not waned and Buddhist values and traditions still permeate every aspect of the Bhutanese culture and ethos.
Role of Dzongs
To ensure predominance of Buddhism in the state, one person from each family usually attends monastic school. Dzongs are the centers of administration and governance for the entire valley. They play an important role in maintaining the social structure of the country.
Culture of Bhutan is among the oldest, most carefully guarded and well preserved cultures in the world. People of Bhutan have always been careful about conserving their centuries-old culture. Even in today's time, Bhutan has been able to retain its old charm. This is one of the reasons Bhutan is loved by the tourists who want to pass their holidays in ethnic pockets.
Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan is one of the large towns in Bhutan. The major profession of the people of Bhutan is farming, who live in small rural villages. These villages are secluded and is accessible only on foot. But now, as the people are getting educated, they are migrating to towns in search of better occupations.
Bhutan has three main ethnic groups: the Sharchop in the east, which originated from the tribes of northern Burma and northeast India; the Ngalops in the west, who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan after migrating from Tibet; and the Lhotsampas in the south, originally belonging to Nepal. Bhutan has a population of around 700,000.
Dzongkha is the official language of Bhutan, but many regions in Bhutan still retain their native dialects due to their isolation. As people are receiving education, especially those in urban areas, are getting more familiar with the English language, which is also the medium of instruction in Bhutan. However, Nepali is well understood and used all over Bhutan.
The national dress of Bhutan originated from the time of the first Shabdrung. The men in Bhutan wear a "gho," a long knee-length robe that is tied around the waist by a belt and the women wear a "kira," which is an ankle-length dress worn with a short jacket. To preserve the ancient customs from being influenced by the West, the Bhutanese government has made it compulsory for all Bhutanese to wear only their national dress in public.
Bhutan's national sport is Archery, which is played here with unique Bhutanese rules and equipments. The equipments like the traditional bows and arrows are made out of bamboo and the teams of archers shoot at targets only 30 centimeters in diameter from a distance of 120 meters. Each team has a noisy crowd of supporters who encourage their own side.
Rice and Chilies are the major features of Bhutanese diet. The chilies are considered as a vegetable and not just a spice. Bhutanese dishes are mostly fiery and meats like pork, radish (daikon) that is dried beef mixed with vegetables and yak meat, when it is in season, are widely eaten. A dish called "ema datse," which is chilies and cheese, is one of the favorite dishes in Bhutan.
Vegetables eaten in Bhutan are potatoes, fern, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, and onions which are often cooked with a small bit of fresh cheese. Buckwheat is the main staple diet in central Bhutan, since it is situated at an altitude that is too high to grow rice. The Bumthang region of central Bhutan is known for its buckwheat pancakes and noodles. Beverages popular in Bhutan are butter tea (suja) and ara, is a spirit distilled from rice, wheat, or corn.
The Bhutanese architecture is characterized by structural designs and exterior paintwork (shapes, colors, and patterns), representing national identity and traditional meanings. Dzongs (fortresses), Gompas (monasteries), Chortens (shrines/stupas), Lakhangs (temples) and houses are some of the impressive and important structures in Bhutan.
Most of the monasteries and temples throughout Bhutan are built on steep hillsides and in other remote places. This ensures that the monks get a solitude and serenity. All the monasteries in Bhutan have some common features though they also have their own design. Monasteries here have a central chapel with statues and separate sleeping quarters for the monks. There are prayer wheels around the outside and a round gold-colored ornament on the roof. Temples are not very different from monasteries in design and look, the only difference between them is that they do not house a monk body.
The traditional Bhutanese houses are made out of mud, bamboo, and wood. The doors and windows of Bhutanese houses are decorated with animal, religious, or floral designs. The houses here are usually of three stories, in the ground floor cattle and other animals of the house reside, the second floor is for storage, and the third floor is the living quarters which often has a shrine. Hay, dry vegetables and meat are stored in the open-air area between the third floor and the roof. And the most important feature of Bhutanese houses is a prayer flag placed in the center of the roof.