Monks in Chimi Lakhang, Punakha Valley, Bhutan

Monks in Chimi Lakhang

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.  


Rice paddies along he Hike to Chimi Lakhang, Punakha Valley, Bhutan

Passing by villages and fertile rice paddies on a  hike to the temple of the Divine Madman.

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. 

Rice paddies and houses along he Hike to Chimi Lakhang, Punakha Valley, Bhutan

Village homes along the trail.

Rice paddies  and villages along he Hike to Chimi Lakhang, Punakha Valley, Bhutan

Prayer flags lined the trail to the temple.

Typical House in Punakha Valley, Bhutan

A typical house in the villages we passed by.

A village store along the trail, Punakha Valley, Bhutan

A village store along the trail.

Chilldren alon the Hike to Chimi Lakhang, Punakha Valley, Bhutan

Keith entertained kids we met on the trail with his magic tricks, but the dog didn’t look impressed.

The Hike to Chimi Lakhang, Punakha Valley, Bhutan

Vertical prayer flags planted on the paddies and a small stupa housing a water prayer wheel.

Chimi Lakhang, Monastery

We reached  the entrance of the temple that overlook the beautiful valley.

Monks in Chimi Lakhang, Punakha Valley, Buthan

A monk praying on the temple ground.

Monks in Chimi Lakhang, Punakha Valley, Buthan

Monks on the entry to the prayer hall.

 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.

Chimi Lakhang, Punakha Valley, Bhutan

Pilgrims walking by rows of prayer wheels.

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. 

People in Chimi Lakhang, Punakha Valley, Bhutan

Pilgrims leaving the temple.

Here are some of the phallus images that we saw along the trail to the temple.Phallus Drawings in Punakha Valley, BhutanPhalluses drawn on walls of homes and shops to ward off evil spirits.

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.”


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Taking you on our journey one photo - and footstep - at a time.

37 responses to “Bhutan: The Temple of the Divine Madman and His Ubiquitous Symbol

    • Marisol

      Hi Jackie, thanks! Glad you got the appreciated their sense of humor.

  1. Kira S.

    Ha!Ha! Ha! I love the Divine Madman! Such a maverick character! Those drawings of his symbolic part are actually adorable! Loving the Bhutanese sense of humor.
    And oh those village landscape…so beautiful, so peaceful. I can smell the freshness of air through the photos. The architecture of the houses are just amazing.
    Oh my God, how did you react when you got the surprise blessing? I probably would have burst into laughter – out of shock.

    • Marisol

      Hey Kirs, I can still hear you giggling. If you love the Divine Madman, then you’re a Bhutanese at heart:)
      How did we react? Just a bit surprised. It was given with serenity and respect and we received it with serenity and respect.

  2. Leigh

    I wouldn’t expect public displays of phallic symbols in a country somehow but they do seem more humourous than offensive. What a colourful country with one awe inspiring image after another. I don’t know how I’d make any time hiking as I think I’d have my camera out the whole time.
    Curious about the food in Bhutan – how was it??
    Leigh recently posted..Prairie Mountain – A Year Round Day Hike from CalgaryMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Leigh, they were certainly humorous than offensive. Yes, yes, I assure you that you will take the cameral out the whole time while hiking:)
      Bhutanese traditional dishes are vey spicy; chili is the main ingredient. However, they also have some mild dishes. All of our breakfast and dinners were taken at our hotels. They serve both traditional and international food. And most of our lunches were at restaurants serving mostly traditional food. Personally, I enjoyed the traditional offering as they had more vegetarian fare.

  3. Johanna

    I was reading quite innocently wondering which pictures I’d comment on … so colourful, love the ones of the pilgrims leaving the temple, bla di bla, and then the phallus galore! Bahaha, I had to giggle, and take an in depth second look!!

    • Marisol

      Hi Jo, Ha! Ha! Just glad it made you giggle:)

    • Marisol

      Hi Lili, so pleased that you enjoy it!

    • Marisol

      Thanks Rachel. Yes, they funny gross:)

  4. The Divine Madman’s “flaming thunderbolt of wisdom” – wow, that’s something! The legend behind this cultural quirk is so interesting. And the phallus murals are very creative – especially the ones with the candles! Interesting post, Marisol! :-)
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted..Highlights from 20 Hours in Washington, D.C.My Profile

    • Marisol

      Hello Dana Dear, I know, isn’t that quiet something?! I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post.

  5. Sally

    I bet you never thought you’d be able to say that a monk patted your head with a giant phallus! Haha what a strangely awesome experience to have.
    Sally recently posted..Your Crash Course in K-PopMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hey Sally, you’re right. I would’t have thought about it in a millions years. It was truly an awesome experience and we feel blessed. Thanks for dropping by.

  6. Marcia

    You know, I had to read that twice – the Divine Madman. Interesting character. The Bhutanese do have a quirky sense of humor. I never would have guessed.
    Marcia recently posted..Sometimes, It’s All in the HandsMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Marcia, the Divine Madman is worth reading twice indeed!! Ha! Ha! Interesting character, isn’t he?

  7. Patti

    Wow! Those are some imaginative photos, pretty funny.
    Patti recently posted..Map Us!My Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Patty, certainly imaginative! Thanks for the visit.

    • Marisol

      Hi Andrew, thanks! Would you have thought of ribbons and eyes? :) You have to admit, they’re not only funny but very creative as well.

  8. Oh Marisol, thank you for this post that just made my day with a smile and a giggle. Those symbols are so amusing and something so unexpected in Bhutan. Drukpa Kunley certainly deserved the nickname. Phallus sculptures may have been a little freaky though. What a beautiful countryside and gorgeous pictures as always. Love that picture of you and Keith. So, which phallic souvenir did you take home 😉
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..The Beauty and Serenity of the Byodo-in Temple in OahuMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hey Mary, I’m so so glad that we made your day!:)
      Yes, the sculptures was a bit freaky at first but got used to it after seeing several of them. I wanted to buy some candles but changed my mind after realizing how delicate they were to pack:)

    • Marisol

      Ha! Ha! Jess, it really is colorful! :)

  9. Freya

    I would love to visit Bhutan one day, it looks like such a beautiful country. Your captures are amazing, love all the photos and especially the one from Keith with the kids. haha those phallus symbols look indeed very funny. It must have been an amazing experience.
    Freya recently posted..10 extreme Travel DestinationsMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Freya, thanks! It truly was an amazing experience. I really hope you visit Bhutan someday; I’m pretty sure you will enjoy the experience yourself.

  10. “Flaming thunderbolt of wisdom” That is great. It’s going to pop into my brain at the wrong moment. I am trying to imagine how I would keep a straight face if I took my kids here. It would definitely be a memorable visit. I am truly enjoying my vicarious trip through Bhutan with you and Keith.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Seeking The Statue of Liberty in ParisMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Ha! Ha! It will be hard to keep a straight face at first but you’ll get use to it after seeing lots of them. I’m sure the kids will have a kick out of them. Glad you enjoying the trip.

  11. Mike

    Sorry, I haven’t been over here for a few weeks or so, Marisol! Did you guys get a new camera? Your photos have always been awesome but these look absolutely spectacular with even more clarity!!! Or do I need to get my eyes checked? The rice patties are gorgeous and thank you for sharing all of the photos as always! :)
    Mike recently posted..My Very First Baked Ziti Bolognese Was AwesomeMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Mike, welcome back. No it’s the same camera we’ve been using the last few years. I think the natural lighting in this place is better than the last few places we’d been in Bhutan.

  12. Mahesh

    Hi. Lovely blog. What time of year did you travel to Bhutan? Would love to see your itinerary. Planning to go there end Dec/early Jan

  13. Thanks for share…….There can be few more charming valleys in the kingdom.

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