Phallus Alert: Fertility Blessings in Bhutan!

“Love” is in the air. Or so you may think the first time you hear the phrase, “Phallus alert!

If you’re planning on visiting Bhutan, undoubtedly one of the last true “Shangri-La’s” left on Earth, you should expect to hear this phrase on a regular basis. Don’t worry…you won’t see people walking around naked. But you will see lots and lots of phalluses (or is it phalli?). Painted phalluses, that is…

Phallus Alert!
Witnessing an enormous phallus on the side of a house can certainly seem a bit, well, jarring at first. After all, here in the U.S. you don’t walk down the street and see random phalluses all over the place!

Phallus Alert!
Long throughout human history, the phallus has been an important symbol, often used as a representation of the Hindu deity Shiva (though here it is referred to as a Lingam). In the case of Bhutan, this long tradition of painting phalluses on houses is thought to bring its inhabitants luck (particularly with the ribbon in the photos above) and serves as a symbol of fertility.

Phallus Alert!
But in Bhutan, they take fertility very seriously. So much so that there is even a monastery devoted entirely to promoting fertility…the Chimi Lhakhang, more commonly know in English as the “Temple of the ‘Divine Madman’” after its founder.

Temple of the Divine Madman
So just who is this divine man and why is he mad? Well, Drukpa Kunley, as he is known, is a 15th century saint who was quite famous for his sexual exploits, which were his methods of enlightening people… Rumor has it that he even tied a ribbon around his own phallus to give him luck with the ladies! (It seems to have worked, as now you see ribbons around painted phalluses all over the place!

Rice Fields in Bhutan
Today, childless couples make the lengthy trek through rice field after rice field to reach the monastery he founded, which sits atop a hill overlooking a beautiful valley. There, a monk will treat the couple to a fertility blessing.

Rice Fields in Bhutan
Now, you’re probably thinking… “fertility blessing??” It’s quite simple, really. You get two phalluses (or lingams, in this case), one made of bone and the other made of wood, pressed up against your forehead along with an archery bow that belonged to the Divine Madman himself.

After the officiating monk mutters a prayer, the couple is given a stack of names to randomly draw from. The name on their chosen card dictates both the baby’s gender and name.

My brother and sister-in-law, a childless couple, received this blessing when we visited the monastery. Their chosen name? Chime (pronounced Chimmi), a girl’s name. As our guide informed us, an acceptable alternative to using their chosen name is to simply name the child Kunley after the Divine Madman. Interestingly enough, Kunley is one of the most popular names in Bhutan!

So, in the case of my brother and sister-in-law, did the blessing work? Well, not exactly as predicted. They had a son, conceived over 2 years after they received this blessing….

Have you experienced any unique rituals around the world?

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23 Responses to Phallus Alert: Fertility Blessings in Bhutan!

  1. Dustin Main - Skinny Backpacker February 14, 2011 at 6:14 am #

    hehe pictures of wee wees on houses. Bonus point for the hairy testicles bahaha!

    • Aaron February 14, 2011 at 8:57 am #

      One of the true highlights of Bhutan, if you ask me!

  2. Nick Laborde February 14, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    Interesting… I don’t know what else to say 😉

    • Aaron February 14, 2011 at 11:13 pm #

      LOL! Nick? You have nothing to say? I’m shocked! 😛

      • Nick Laborde February 15, 2011 at 11:31 am #

        Yeah, that does seem odd that I don’t know what to say 😉

        • Aaron February 15, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

          Hehe yeah! I was expecting a zinger from you! 😛

  3. Caz Makepeace February 18, 2011 at 4:22 am #

    This is hilarious!! What a great read.

    • Aaron February 18, 2011 at 9:04 am #

      Hahahahaha thanks Caz! Glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Erica February 18, 2011 at 5:31 am #

    They are so.. artfully done? 🙂

    • Aaron February 18, 2011 at 9:05 am #

      What can I say? Perhaps they speacialize in the art of the phallus? 😛

  5. Megan February 20, 2011 at 3:14 am #

    Ha! I was at a restaurant in Thailand with some co-workers and there were statues of men’s bodies with, uh, phallic heads. I wanted to take a picture SO bad but I thought it might be in poor form!

    • Aaron February 21, 2011 at 1:48 am #

      Haha! It’s always interesting to see how other cultures handle things that we consider “indecent,” like, say, phallic symbolism. Considering the significance as a symbol the phallus has had throughout the world, it’s no surprise that other cultures embrace it!

  6. Yiwang March 23, 2011 at 5:30 am #

    Hi Aaron,
    i’m glad you got to experience our history and is sharing with the world 🙂
    i was going through your article and found it very interesting to read about the Phallus significance from your perspective 🙂 i must tell you that many foreigners find this part of our culture very odd and yet amusing.
    i was also wondering if the blessing worked for your brother and sister in law??
    good luck , cheers and hope you visit Bhutan again! 🙂

    • Aaron March 23, 2011 at 8:00 pm #

      Hi Yiwang,

      Thanks for your comment! Yes, it is rather amusing to foreigners, as a Phallus to us has a considerably different significance. But that’s what’s so great about the world is that what one counry finds odd and amusing is an incredibly important aspect of another country!

      And no, as of yet the fertility blessing has not worked for my brother and sister-in-law sadly! They received the blessing last April.

      Cheers!
      Aaron

  7. Sofia - As We Travel April 9, 2011 at 2:40 am #

    Haha those pictures are pretty….vivid!

    • Aaron April 9, 2011 at 11:46 am #

      Hahahahahaha! Indeed….they are…

  8. Jigme March 3, 2015 at 1:18 am #

    Hi Aaron,

    Great article and excellent photography.

    Am very curious but did you brother and sister-in-law conceive?

    Best Regards,

    Jigme

    • Aaron March 4, 2015 at 3:56 pm #

      Hi Jigme,

      They did, but it was over 2 years after we were in Bhutan. And they had a boy, not a girl, as the blessing predicted.

  9. Jigme Tsering March 6, 2015 at 5:35 am #

    Hi Aaron,

    Thanks for the update. At least they did have a girl. Really wonder how many similar other stories are there? What about you? Any plans on starting / increasing your family size 😉

    In face I did recently also find that this quote by Mark Twain. clarifies why travel is an eye opener 🙂 ” Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness”.

    Let me know about your next visit to Bhutan.

    Cheers, Jigme

    • Aaron March 9, 2015 at 12:18 am #

      Hi Jigme,

      Haha, no, currently no plans to start a family (need to meet the right person first!). For now, though, I have the joy of having a nephew (my brother had a boy, NOT a girl), so I get all the benefits of being able to have a kid around without dealing with any of the less fun parts of parenting! 😛

      That is a great quote from Mark Twain!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 20 Interesting Facts about Bhutan | Academic Exchange - April 25, 2013

    […] 21. Need some good luck? Thinking of starting a family? Bhutanese have a long tradition of painting phalluses on their houses to serve as a symbol of fertility and good luck. All part and parcel of a nation that measures its annual success by its people’s rate of happiness! For a fun article and photos of houses adorned by phalluses go to this link: Phallus Alert: Fertility Blessings in Bhutan! […]

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