On the same day we visited the majestic Punakha Dzong, we also got to visit another highlight in Punakha Valley – the Chimi Lakhang. It is a temple dedicated to one of Bhutan’s revered saint and cultural hero, Drukpa Kunley.
It was a fun and interesting visit. Firstly, we got to enjoy a beautiful short hike in the spectacular valley to reach the temple on a hillock. Secondly, we finally got to understand the hype about this legendary figure and the ubiquitous phallic symbols that are associated with him.
Drukpa Kunley was an accomplished Buddhist master who arrived in Bhutan from Tibet in the 15th century. He was known for his unconventional and outrageous way of teaching, which was often accompanied with singing, humor and sexual overtones. Hence, he was fondly nicknamed the “Divine Madman.”
Why is he associated with phallic symbol? Legend has it that numerous demons were causing continuous oppression on the people. The Divine Madman subdued and destroyed them by firing them with his “flaming thunderbolt of wisdom.” He didn’t only subdue them with his phallus but turned them into protective deities. No wonder he was such a super hero!
To Kunley’s devotees, the phallus became a symbol of protection against evil and any kind of harm. And this explains the ubiquitous drawings of phalluses next to the doors and windows of houses and shops throughout the countryside.
The temple is small and simple by Bhutanese standard. We visited the main altar bearing the statue of the Divine Madman, where we were surprised when approached by a monk who gently patted our head with a foot-long wooden phallus! We learned that it was a gesture of blessing given to people who visit the temple.
Pilgrims come to the temple from near and far to pay respect to as well as seek blessings from the maverick saint. We also learned the childless couple often visit the temple to pray for children.
The drawings come more amusing than shocking to the unaccustomed. All of them are very colorful, some are tied with ribbons, some with wings, some with smiley faces, some spitting fire, etc. They also come in different forms and sizes. We saw big wooden phallus sculpture at a restaurant, a phallus-shaped doorknob, phallus-shaped candles at a souvenir shop, etc. Wooden phalluses can also be seen hanging on the roof or sticking out above the doorways. It seems that warding off evils is a serious business here.
The phallus galore certainly passes as a cultural quirkness but we think it’s also part of the Bhutanese sense of humor. As Linda Leaming, author of Married to Bhutan, said, ” I think it’s just the Bhutanese having a laugh.”
Linking to Travel Photo Thursday.