Culture & Traditions of Bhutan
Bhutan boasts of a rich cultural diversity which varies from region to region. The languages spoken are one of the main classifications beside the attire. Generally, while all Bhutanese follow a common dress code (Introduced by the Zhabdrung in the 17th century; the Gho for men and the Kira for women), there are few exceptions like the two nomadic tribes of the northern parts of Laya-Lingzhi and Merak-Sakten, and the Doyas of Samtse.
Festival and ceremony play a key part in the integrity of the society. As much as they are flamboyantly and rigorously observed, people look forward to them as moments of celebration, remembrance and divine worship. The most popular are the Tshechus (annual secular and religious festivals), which occur across all the twenty districts on auspicious dates fixed by local astrologers as per the lunar calendar. Drawing crowds by the thousands, these events exhibit various mask dances and folk songs which portray everything from history and folklore to myths of deities and demons. It was and still remains an important mode of disseminating information, with themes ranging from the conflict between good and evil, gods and demons and judgment in the afterlife.
While Bhutan is definitely one of the smallest countries in the world, yet the cultural diversity and its richness are profound. As such strong emphasis is laid on the promotion and preservation of its rich cultural diversity. It is believed that ensuring protection and preservation of our unique culture would assist in protecting the sovereignty of the nation.
A distinctive feature of the Bhutanese is their dress that has evolved over the years. The Gho or the dress worn by the Bhutanese men reaches just till their knees while Kira, the dress worn by women reaches till their ankles. The Gho is folded and tied at the waist by a traditional belt known as Kera and the pouch that is formed is used for carrying small articles such as wallet, mobiles and Doma, the beetle nut. Traditionally it was used for carrying bowls and a small dagger inserted in between as was the custom then.
But the dress for the tribal and semi nomadic people like the Bramis and Brokpas of eastern Bhutan are generally different from the rest of the Bhutanese population. The Brokpas and the Bramis wear dresses woven either out of Yak or Sheep hair.
In keeping with the tradition, it is mandatory for all Bhutanese to wear scarves while visiting Dzongs and other administrative centers. The scarf worn by men is known as Kabney while that of women is known as Rachu. The scarves worn are different in color and signify their status or rank. While the general Bhutanese men wear scarf that is white in color, the King and the Je Khenpo or the Head Abbot wear yellow scarves. The ministers wear orange scarves while the Judges wear green and the district administrators wear red scarves with a small white strip that runs through. The Rachu is hung over their shoulder and unlike scarves worn by men does not have any color attached to it. They are usually woven out of raw silk with rich patterns.
Traditional Bhutanese eating habits are simple and generally eat with their hands. The family members eat sitting cross legged on the wooden floors with food being first served to the head of the household. It is usually women who serves food and in most cases the mother. Before eating, a short prayer is offered and a small morsel placed on the wooden floor as offerings to the spirits and deities. With modernization, eating habits have changed and in urban areas, people usually eat with spoons and make use of dining tables and chairs.
Traditionally dishes were cooked in earthenware’s, but with the easy availability of imported pans and pots, the use of earthenware’s have been replaced. Usual meals consist of rice, a dish of chili and cheese known as Ema Datshi, pork or beef curry or lentils.
Bhutan is rich in cultural diversity and this richness is further enhanced by the variety of festivals that is being observed. Every village is known for their unique festivals though the most widely known is the Tshechu. As the Tshechu begins, the villagers and the general populace dressed in their finery congregate in the temples and monasteries to witness these festivals. Tshechus are usually occasions to mark the important events in the life of the second Buddha, the precious Indian Tantric master known as Guru Rinpoche or the Precious Gem. Various mask dances are performed together with songs and dances for three days. It provides the villagers with a respite from their hard day’s labor and to catch up with their family and friends. People share their food of Red rice, pork and Ema Datshi and drown themselves in the revelry of their traditional wine known as Ara.
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