Bhutanese Heritage & Religion
Bhutan is one of the smallest countries in the world, but its cultural diversity and richness are remarkable. Bhutan is the only country in the world to have adopted Mahayana Buddhism (Drukpa Kagyu) in its Tantric form as its official religion of the country. Buddhism plays a vital role in the cultural, ethical and social development of the country. The sacred monasteries that sit precariously on sheer cliffs, the fluttering prayer flags that line the high ridges, the red robed monks who chant through the day and night give Bhutan an aura that comes from another time. The people of Bhutan have drawn a rich culture from this heritage and made it the essence of their unique identity. They have decided that man can only survive, and truly live by being in touch with the past. The onslaught of globalization is balanced with the values that have kept human society together through the ages.
The main goal in life for the Bhutanese people is HAPPINESS and that is why the developmental philosophy of Bhutan today is the Gross National Happiness.
The Bhutanese are physically similar to the Tibetans, but history does not record when they crossed over the Himalayas and settled in the south-draining valleys of Bhutan. Both Tibetans and Bhutanese revere the tantric Guru, Padmasambhava, the founder of Himalayan Buddhism in the 8th century.
Buddhism, which was introduced in the seventh century, is the official religion of Bhutan. Bhutan is the only country in the world that has retained the Vajrayana form of Mahayana Buddhism as its national religion. Throughout all of Bhutan there are Buddhist stupas, believed to be a form of protection for tourists and residents.
Hinduism is practiced by the southern Bhutanese. In 1980 King Wangchuk declared Dussera, one of the sacred festivals of Hinduism, a national holiday.
The Bhutanese constitution guarantees freedom of religion and citizens and visitors are free to practice any form of worship so long as it does not impinge on the rights of others. Approximately 75% of the population is Buddhist, 23% of the population is Hindu and 2% are other religions.
Etiquette/ Dress Code
As a traditional society, the Bhutanese follow a highly refined system of etiquette, which is called “driglam namzha.” This traditional code of conduct supports respect for authority, devotion to the institution of marriage and family, and dedication to civic duty. It governs many different sorts of behavior, including how to send and receive gifts, how to speak to those in authority, how to serve and eat food at public occasions, and how to dress. A royal decree issued in 1989 promoted the driglam namzha as a means of preserving a distinct national identity and instituted a national dress code.
Men wear a heavy knee-length negligee tied with a belt, folded in such a way to form a pocket in front of the stomach called a Gho. Women wear colourful blouses over which they fold and embrace a large rectangular cloth thereby creating an ankle-length dress called a Kira. A short silk Wonju and Toego, (similar to jacket) may be worn inside and over the Kira respectively. Additional rules of protocol apply when visiting a Dzong or a temple, or when appearing before a high-level official. Male commoners wear a white sash (Kabney) from left shoulder to opposite hip. Local and regional elected officials, government ministers, cabinet members, and the King himself each wear their own colored kabney. Women wear a narrow inflated cloth draped over the left shoulder, called a Rachu.