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Spotlight on Culture

People that call this area Home

New Americans

Refugees from other areas of the world

The Bhutanese people

Cultural Profile of their country of origin- Bhutan


Traditional Beliefs and Practices in Bhutan

The predominant religion in Bhutan is Buddhism, followed by Hinduism. As a result, their culture is very much influenced by Buddhist values. The Bhutanese live by these religious values, love, wisdom, goodness, calmness and self-control, and respect their gods and deities a lot.

In this country, there are a lot of Buddhist monasteries, chortens, Lhakhangs, etc. There are colorful prayer flags on hillsides, and at the entrance of monasteries, that are considered sacred. The Dzong, a unique combination of a fortress and a monastery is present in every district or Dzongkhag of the country. Dzongs serve as the religious, military, administrative, and social centers of their district. They are often the site of an annual Tsechu, a religious festival.

The rooms inside the dzong are typically allocated half to administrative matters (such as the office of the penlop or governor), and half to religious matters, primarily the temple and housing for the monks. This division between administrative and religious functions reflects the idealized duality of power between the religious and administrative branches of government.

Holidays and Celebrations

The festivals are an exciting affair in the life of the Bhutanese, and an important part of the unique culture of Bhutan. The most important Bhutanese festival is the Tshechu. Every city has its own, and they last 3-5 days. They fall on a particular day of a Lunar month (for example, 10th day of 2nd Lunar month). They are generally held in a dzong, and people from the entire district and surrounding areas gather together in harmony to be part of the celebration.

Masked dances, or chhams, are the biggest attraction at a tshechu. Monks and other people wear silk robes and animal masks and re-enact the moments of Guru Rinpoche's life in the form of dances. On the last day, there's an unfurling of a silk thongdrel. Seeing it is believed to wash away the person's sins.

Birth, Marriage and Death

The culture is quite festive when it comes to the birth of a child. It is one of the very few countries in the world which does not discriminate between a boy and a girl. No outsider is allowed to enter the house for 3 days after a baby is born. After a purification ritual, the guests can enter. The name of the baby is kept by a local lama, and there is no family name. Instead, the name is a combination of two traditional names, and the gender of the child is usually indicated by the second name.

In Bhutan, marriage is not usually a big deal, and the wedding ceremony is kept simple, unless you are in the royal family. Marriage between cousins is very common, but the educated masses discourage it. In some parts of the country, it is the groom that goes to his wife's home, instead of the other way around.

The death of a person means that they are passing on this life to another, in re-birth or reincarnation of the soul or essence of the departed. The Bhutanese believe that death is a gateway to new life.

Most Bhutanese are Vajrayana Buddhist, which heavily influences their attitude towards death. For them, reincarnation is a means to gain final salvation, or the opposite, depending on the deceased’s karma. So, when someone dies, the community mourns for 49 days. Throughout this time, they practice a series of elaborate rituals to ensure the deceased has a smooth rebirth.

On days 7, 14, 21, and 49 after the death, the loved ones of the deceased erect prayer flags and perform rituals to ensure the deceased has a smooth transition into their new life. The departed is believed to roam through an "intermediate state" for those 49 days. During these days (or until cremation), the corpse is treated as if it was alive, and it is fed food and given company.

The Bardo Thodol, which translates to “deliverance by hearing in the immediate state”, is read in front of the dead person to guide them through this state and towards rebirth. The ritual is performed by lamas accompanied by clanging cymbals and blaring horns.

Some spirits are believed to pass through quicker than the rest, depending on how attached they are to their life on Earth. The enlightened might take only 21 days.

Every anniversary of a death, many elaborate rituals are performed too. Family members of the community offer rice, alcohol and other gifts when attending these ceremonies.

For more information on their funeral rites, visit this page. For more information on the Bardo Thodol ritual, watch this video.

Stay tuned for more information on the Bhutanese and their culture, and more places and their people in future posts. Our area is blessed to be called home by many people of many cultures, and they deserve to be acknowledged.


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