One of the more bizarre things you see in Bhutan is a whole lot of phallus. I don’t mean real phalluses, but painted phalluses which are painted on the sides of houses. Sometimes you even see them marker-ed on to something or even painted onto a planter! Many are wrapped with a ribbon and yes, some even have a hand on them. You’re probably wondering what the heck is going on, but it’s actually symbolism to promote fertility.
But help with fertility isn’t just limited to phallic symbols. There’s even an entire temple dedicated to the subject…sort of.
Near the impressive city of Punakha lies the Chimi Lhankhang, more commonly known as the “Temple of the Divine Madman.” The site is dedicated to a fellow who very much sounds to have been a bit mad. Stories of his sexual exploits are legendary, even several centuries after his death! Rumor has it that he even took a ribbon and tied it around his, well, equipment, to give him luck with the ladies!
Locals start at the, in the words of Sither, our guide, the “Village of Phalluses” and follow the path as it winds its way through rice paddies in order to get a fertility blessing, one which my brother and his wife received when we visited. The caretaker of the temple will take two phalluses (or is it phalli?), one bone and one wood, as well as the Divine Madman’s archery bow and rest them on the couple’s foreheads. After blessing them, they are instructed to draw a string with a name attached, which dictates whether the baby will be a boy or girl.
I’d like to interject a real quick side note here as to how baby’s are named in Bhutan. A few weeks after birth they are taken to a local temple where a monk will pick a name for the baby. As such, no Bhutanese, except the Royal Family, has a family (last) name at all! Sort of baffled, I asked Sither, our guide, how this is handled on his passport and he replied that under “Family Name” it just says “Null.”
Anyway, back to the fertility blessing, you’re supposed to include a bit of the chosen name in your baby’s name, though some parents will integrate “Kinley” into the baby’s name (which was the name of the Divine Madman). (Kinley seems to be a popular name here…perhaps many of those baby’s were the result of a similar fertility blessing!) In my brother’s case, the chosen name was “Chimmi,” a girl’s name.
I suppose we’ll have to wait a while to see how well this blessing actually works, but it certainly is a pretty wild tradition!