Warning-This post contains images that could be offensive to some viewers.
From the cold and foggy DochuLa we drove down to the low lying sub tropical Punakha passing through winding bumpy roads and dense green forests.Punakha has a special place in the history of Bhutan.It was their old capital and the Punakha Dzong is the second largest and oldest dzongs in the country.Two major rivers Mo Chhu and Po Chhu converge here.
Chocolate mountains topped with chortens and cluster of houses gave way to terraced rice fields and farmlands.Weather was pleasanly warm .We got down at Sopsokha village to see the rural side of Bhutan.About 70% of the Bhutanese stay in the villages and agriculture is their main source of income.This hilly fertile land is ideal for rice and it is their main crop.Maize,buckwheat,potatoes are the other crops.There are many ongoing ambitious projects to make the country 100% organic by 2020.
Prayer flags, chortens,mountains,rice fields-so colorful,so Bhutanese
The village houses are made of mud and stone.Most of the houses, cafes and souvenir shops have phalluses painted on the walls.What I took for graffiti is meant for warding off evil spirits and to bring prosperity and there is a legend behind it.
This graphic display is their homage to one of the revered lamas affectionately called The Divine Madman aka Drukpa Kunley.He was a Tibetan monk who came to Bhutan in the 15th century and went around spreading his brand of Buddhism.He chose not to follow the middle path and set out to break age old traditions and taboos.This unconventional monk indulged in wine,women,music,dance,hunting and feasting.He was also a proficient archer and subdued many demons with his phallus or “thunderbolt of wisdom” .One such demoness turned into a black dog to hide from him but he killed the dog/demoness and buried her at a hillock and built a chorten which is the site of a popular temple.Chimi Lhakhang or Temple of Fertility has since become a sacred temple where reproductively challenged couples offer prayers for divine help to conceive.
There are many outrageous feats attributed to Drukpa Kunley . Some were so wacky that I was finding it difficult to keep a straight face . For the Bhutanese such folklores and legends are part of their daily lives and they don’t question it.I am curious to know what the younger generation think of this colorful lama and his exploits.
I had noticed that Singey was using a lot of ‘la ‘ in our conversations eg How are you today,la?Was the food too spicy,la? and I was intrigued.Well,la is added as a sign of respect and since they are so used to la in Dzongkha they can’t help it even when they speak in English.Another special feature of the Bhutanese!
After the initial shock one gets used to seeing the painted walls and doorways.But it could be awkward if you are with children.I went inside a souvenir shop out of curiosity and found an eye popping collection.No, I did not buy anything.
A short trek through the rice fields take you to the Chimi Lkhkhang dedicated to the fertility specialist Drukpa Kunley.
Trek through the fields and brooks
Chimi Lhakhang (Chimi means no dog) is quite a small modest temple compared to the humongous ornate ones I had seen in Paro and Thimphu..Drukpa Kunley did not believe in building temples or monasteries.This temple was made by his cousin.There is a huge bodhi tree in the front and a chorten where the demoness was buried.Unlike other chortens this is painted black (to highlight her evil deeds?)
Chimi Lhakhang and the black chorten
Couple of young mothers were seen waiting for the head lama to choose names for their babies. There is something interesting about Bhutanese names. They have no surnames or family names and most of the names are not gender specific..The names are chosen by the local Lama and parents have no say in this matter. Now I know why Kunley and Chimi are popular names here.Sonam,Dorji,Tashi,Karma,Pema,Norbu,Tenzin are also quite common and unisex names.Singey has a sister who is also Singey.Confusing?
I went inside the temple and found a statue of the famous Lama.One of the monks showed me an album with pictures of cherubic babies with their happy parents from many countries.Seems like the blessings have travelled far and wide. Being Drukpa Kunley’s temple the wangs (blessings in Bhutanese) are given in a special way.The head monk taps your head with a huge wooden and ivory phallus.Unique traditions and legends !
This humble temple dedicated to a free spirited Lama has brought joy and happiness to a lot of people.Divine Madman or the People’s Lama?I can’t make a choice,la.