Bhutanese pride themselves in their culture that is distinct and unique. Having evolved over time, the Bhutanese have stressed the need to preserve this uniqueness and pass onto the coming generations. The distinctiveness of the culture and tradition is visible in the everyday life of the Bhutanese.
A new born member is always welcomed without gender discrimination and provides an occasion for family and friends to come together. Friends and relatives normally, do not visit the child for the first three days as the house is considered polluted by kaydrip (defilement by birth). On the third day a purification ritual is conducted after which relatives and guests then pay visits to see the new born baby. The newborn and the mother are offered with gifts such as rice and dairy products, and clothing.
A new born child is always named by a religious person and then taken to the temple of the natal deity to make offerings and receive blessings from the deity. The horoscope of the baby known as kye tsi is written based on the Bhutanese calendar. It details out the time and date of the birth, predicts the future of the child, rituals to be performed at different stages in the child’s life as a remedy to possible illness, problems and misfortune.
Traditionally, the culture of celebrating birthdays did not exist. However, it has now become popular especially amongst the town and city dwellers.
Marriages are considered sacred and traditionally marriages were arranged among relatives. In eastern Bhutan, amongst the Tshanglas, cross-cousin marriages were popular. But with modernization arranged marriages are on the down side and as with other popular cultures, these have been replaced by marriages of their own choice.
Marriages are conducted in simple ways. A small ritual is performed by a religious person witnessed by relatives and friends. After the ritual the bride and the groom are offered with scarves, kha-dar together with gifts wishing them prosperity and long union.
Traditionally in western Bhutan, the groom leaves his paternal house for his wife’s house while in the eastern Bhutan it’s just the reverse. This practice is however not mandatory and the new couple may set up their own household on their own plot of land. Divorce is accepted in the Bhutanese society and carries no stigma. The divorced couple in most situations remarries with new partners. However, compensation is paid by the party seeking separation.
Death is the most expensive affair as it does not specify an end in life but rather a passage on to another life. Thus many rituals are performed to help the departed soul get a better rebirth. Rituals are performed on the 7th, 14th, 21st and the 49th days after death. Cremations are carried out only on a favorable day prescribed by the astrologer where friends and relatives gather for the departed soul. Death anniversaries are observed for three consecutive years performing rituals and erecting prayer flags in the name of the deceased attended by relatives and friends.
Bhutanese dresses are unique. In general the Bhutanese men wear gho, a long robe that is raised till the knee, folded backwards and then tied around the waist by kera, a belt. The pouch formed above the waist is used for carrying bowl, money and doma (areca nut and betal leaf eaten with a dash of lime) and a knife stashed sideways.
The tribal’s and the nomads however have a unique dress of their own and dress differently. The nomads such as the Bramis and Brokpas of eastern Bhutan wear dresses made of yak hair and sheep wool with an animal skin over it and a hat with five fringes hanging from the sides. The Layap women in western Bhutan dress in a loose outfit that reaches their calves. The dress is again made of yak hair. On the head they put on a conical bamboo hat.
On formal visits to a Dzong or an office, Bhutanese men wear a scarf called kabney. Kabney is an important part of the Bhutanese decorum also identifies the rank of a person. The King wears the yellow scarf, minister’s orange, judge’s green, and district administrator’s red with a white band going lengthwise and common people white with fringes etc. Dasho’s who are knighted by the King wear red scarves.
Women on the other hand wear a rectangular shaped cloth piece called kira. It is tied by a belt. However women wear their kira long till their ankle. Women also wear the scarf called rachu. They hang it over their shoulder and it is beautifully hand woven with fringes at the end.
Bhutanese eat with hands. Eating with spoons is an imported culture. The family members sit on the floor in a circle and the mother serves the food. Most of the Bhutanese still use traditional plates made of wood (dapa/dam/dolom) and bamboo (bangchungs). Before eating they toss some morsels of rice in the air as offering to the deities and spirits. The favorite Bhutanese dishes are Ema Datsi (chili with cheese), Paa (sliced pork and beef) and red rice. No dish goes without chili. People also drink salted butter tea (suja) and alcohol. Doma (betel leaf and areca nut eaten with a dash of lime) is also carried by many in their pouch. Offering Doma’s to others signifies an act of friendship, politeness and a mark of generosity.
One of the most colorful festivals in the Bhutanese calendar is the Tshechu that is performed in the Dzongs, monasteries and temples spread throughout Bhutan. Tshechu is a mask dance festival to commemorate the events in the life of Guru Rinpochoe who is revered as the second Buddha in Bhutan. There is also a display of Thongdrol, large scroll paintings of deities and saints which have the power to liberate people from sin that they had committed just by seeing it. People gather from all walks of life to witness this significant event. There are many other festivals distinct to different villages which are mostly animistic in nature performed by mediums. The festivals are moment for social get-together where people wear their finest clothes and jewelries.
Courtesy to Tourism Council of Bhutan.