Most of our cultural norms are set upon the foundations of religious principles and ethics. Today, the state religion is Buddhism of which Bhutan follow the tantric version of Buddhism which is called Mahayana.
Rituals are integral part of Bhutanese culture and traditions. We believe in observing suitable days and dates on the Bhutanese lunar calendar to do anything like starting a job, new business, marrying, travelling, etc.
Every Bhutanese house as a place of worship called choesham or an altar. So people usually get up early in the morning to pray and make offerings to the gods like filling seven little cups of water, burning incense sticks, and prostrating to the gods. Some they also offer a ritual called serkem which is done by offering alcohol in a holy glass standing on the holy plate and topping the glass with some grains.
Most Bhutanese also hoist flags on the top of their house to indicate their worship towards deities and gods. The walls of the Bhutanese houses have paintings of phallus which is a symbol of keeping the evils and bad lucks away. Phallus are also made of wood and hung on houses or nearby.
Hoisting prayers flags near the house or on hilltops are also part of Bhutanese culture. Prayer flags are hoisted to purge the soul of the dead, ward off bad lucks, and accumulate spiritual merits.
ii) Dress and etiquettes
Bhutanese dresses are believed to be designed by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel who unified the country in 17th century.
Bhutanese people were distinct dresses. It’s called gho for men resembling Scottish kilt and kira for women which is wrapped around the body from shoulders to ankles. But these dresses are worn usually during official times and on other times Bhutanese wear casuals like pants and shirts.
Bhutanese follow the strict system of manners and behaviors. This is guided by the system called Driglam Namzha. This system guides Bhutanese men and women as to how to wear their dresses. In addition to their main dress men wear a kind of sash which is known as kabney hung from top of the left shoulder and going around the body from the lower right waist. Different job titles have different code of sash colors. For instance, the king and the Je-Khenpo (head of religious affairs) wear yellow sash, the government officials like ministers wear orange sash, the Members of Parliament wears blue sash, the judges wear green sash, and there are many other sash colors for other titles. For ordinary people, men put on the white sash with fringes and women wear a folded cloth usually bearing various patterns draped over their left shoulder which is called rachu.
Drigklam Namzha also guides on how to eat, sit, talk and behave especially with your elders, officials or in public. Traditionally, when a Bhutanese is going to attend a public meeting or a gathering, he or she must carry a piece of cloth and a small wooden cup. He/she will take rice on the piece of cloth and use the cup for getting curry or drinking tea.
While talking to an elder or a government official ordinary people must bow down their heads and talk politely using higher language of Dzongkha which is known as Zhebsa. For instance, the common dzongkha word for “come” is “sho” but if you are calling an elder or an official you must say “Joen”.
Bhutanese speak some 24 different languages out of which 19 are officially listed by Ethnologue Edition. The national language is Dzongkha which is widely spoken around the country. However, there are major regional languages and dialects which is the daily medium of communication for some people. The western Bhutan largely speak ngalop, the eastern people speak sharshop, and the southern people speak Lhotsamkha. There are other dialects which spoken by sizeable number of people in various regions of the country.
While speaking dzongkha most people use common language of dzongkha called phelkay for making expressions. However, if you are talking to your elder, or an official or to a stranger you must always talk to them in higher aspect of dzongkha language called zhebsa. For instance, in the common dzongkha lamguage (phelkay) to â€œeatâ€ is said as â€œzaaâ€ whereas in zhebsa you must say “zhey.”
Bhutanese always use the word “la” at the end of the every expression as a gesture of respect to the other person. For example, the expression “I’ m very happy to meet you” in dzongkha would be “Na dha jay tsunee dhi ghee sem gayi la”.
It is believed that Dzongkha is derived from the Tibetan variant of Choekay. However, Tibetan and Bhutanese speak very different language with some sounds and words quite similar.
Festivals are fun times for Bhutanese. Festivals can be religious or social. On festival days Bhutanese wear best of their traditional dresses which often made of expensive fabrics, silk and brocade. They also eat a feast by making best of their foods made from rice, flour, meat, vegetables, dairy, etc. Tourists love and enjoy the festivals when they become the part of it.
Religious festival which is known as tsechu is usually observed in dzong or in lhakhang in the communities. Tsechus are made of religious mask dances and acts. It is believed that seeing mask dances can familiarize you with ferocious forms of gods and demons which one might encounter after one’s death. Mask dances are also staged to instill the sense of tantric form of Buddhism to the people. Therefore, people go to see tsechu.
Social festivals observe important days in a year like the New Year, Winter Solstice, Traditional Day of Offering, Blessed Rainy Day, etc. During such festivals people go out in the open grounds to celebrate the occasion by eating good foods and playing traditional sports like archery, dart and throwing burger-like stones.