“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…
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?