Unusual Discoveries: Phallic Symbols in Bhutan

Posted on January 14, 2014 by

Interested in traveling Bhutan? Come travel Bhutan with me 11-13 December 2017, to witness the annual Druk Wangyel Festival!

In Bhutan, it is common to find phallic symbols painted on the walls of houses and in temples and other monastic bodies. Yes, I’m talking about explicit images of penises complete with hairy testicles and layers of foreskin tugged around them.

It may be a peculiar sight to us — but for the Bhutanese, the phallus is simply of sign of good luck and an instrument to ward off evil spirits.

Painting of phallus on outside walls of houses

Origins of the Peculiar Belief

This symbolic image traces its roots back to the 14th century when “Divine Madman” Drukpa Kunley made generous use of his penis to fight demons and convert the masses to Buddhism. As a drinker and philanderer, the revered Lama preached in the way unlike the stiffness of the society at the time and dramatized the teachings using outrageous sexual humor. Legend has it that once he urinated on a devotee’s religious thangka (painting) only to have it turn into gold the following day.

More phallus

The Divine Madman is such a popular character that a temple, Chimi Lhakhang (translated to mean ‘”Temple of the Divine Madman”) was built in his honor. I visited the temple during my trip there and was amused to find a large wooden phallus crossed by a sword, hanging from the temple’s main altar. The temple is believed to bless couples who seek fertility and it is frequently visited by childless couples and parents who have difficulty raising children.

To receive blessing, a lama places two phalluses, one wooded and the other made of bone, on the couple’s foreheads along with an archery bow that belonged to the Divine Madman himself. After which, the lama says a prayer and offers the couple a stack of names for them to randomly draw from. The name on their chosen card dictates both the baby’s gender and name.

Phallus with dragon

More Phallic Symbols and Rituals

Today, the belief that the phallus can bring good luck is still very much alive in modern-day Bhutanese society. Besides finding paintings of phallus on the outside walls of houses, you’ll also see carved wooden phalluses hung in people’s homes as well as outside, at the four corners of the eaves. The wooden phalluses are also placed in the middle of farming fields to act as a scarecrows. During the tsechu festivals, the atsaras (masked clowns) also decorate their headgear with phallus painted cloth and dance with their holy whips and wooden phalluses.

The phallus is also used in an interesting ritual performed as part of house warming ceremonies for new homes. Baskets of wooden phalluses are placed at the four corners of the eaves of the house and one inside the house. The owner of the house hires groups of men and women to help raise the basket to the roof. In the process, the men and women sing phallic songs and get free alcohol from the homeowner.

Painting of a phallus

Bhutanese house with phallic symbol

Have you seen any peculiar symbols during your travels? Share with us!

Disclosure: My trip was made possible by Bridge to Bhutan, but all opinions expressed above are my own.

About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

2 Responses to “Unusual Discoveries: Phallic Symbols in Bhutan”

  1. kristy January 16, 2014 9:05 pm #

    It is really unusual to have that kind of belief that uses male private genital to sue bad spirits away. Weird but it was a fascinating information to know this.

  2. World Travel Fiend January 22, 2014 2:27 am #

    Definitely much more artistic than the pictures of wangs I see scrawled on the walls of public bathrooms all over the place. That one with the dragon wrapped around it is positively badass.

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