The Divine Madman’s phallus
WARNING: If you feel offended by the folkloristic depiction of male genitalia, do not continue reading this article and do not look at the pictures.
Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the significance of the phallus in Bhutanese folklore and legend.
Among the many weird and wonderful things that the visitor to Bhutan will encounter, there is one that stands out (no pun intended). It is the frequent depiction of phalluses on the walls of Bhutanese houses.
You can see very realistic depictions of male genitalia painted on the outside walls of people’s houses all over the country – even in the capital Thimphu, which is the closest thing Bhutan has to a cosmopolitan city.
Apart from painted phalluses, you’ll often see life-sized phalluses carved of wood above the doorway of a house or hanging from the four corners of the roof.
This is supposed to ward off evil spirits.
It’s not pornographic
For the people of Bhutan, the phalluses are neither pornographic nor erotic symbols. And they aren’t painted on the houses as fertility symbols, either.
The phalluses are a reference to one of Bhutan’s most popular saints, Lama Drukpa Kunley, who lived at the turn of the 15th into the 16th centuries.
Lama Drukpa Kunley is also known as the Divine Madman in Bhutan.
According to the Lonely Planet Travel Guide,
…he felt that the stiffness of the clergy and social convention were keeping people from learning the true teachings of Buddha. His outrageous, often obscene, actions and sexual antics were a deliberate method of provoking people to discard their preconceptions.
The Bhutanese tell countless stories about his sexual adventures, and you can’t help think that they immensely enjoy hearing these folktales again and again.
One of them recounts how the Lama once tamed a female demon in the mountains with his powerful thunderbolt of wisdom.
So the painted phalluses in Bhutan are more a reference to the antics of the Divine Madman than erotic or fertility symbols.
A temple of hope for childless women
The people of Bhutan love the Divine Madman so much that they’ve even dedicated a temple to him. It’s located in a little village near Punakha, about two and a half hours drive from the capital Thimphu.
Childless women make pilgrimages to this temple of Chimi Lhakhang to pray (as do tourists, who want to see what all the fuss is about).
Inside the shrine, there are three effigies that the infertile women have to carry around the temple: one is a small stone that strongly resembles a phallus, another is a bone in the shape of the male reproductive organ that the third is a piece of bamboo that also looks just like it, too.
Our Bhutanese guide was convinced that the blessing from the Divine Madman worked wonders. He explained about a western tourist who made the pilgrimage and promptly got pregnant in the year after her visit to Chimi Lhakhang.
Regardless of whether you believe in the power of the Divine Madman’s blessing or not, Chimi Lhakhang is definitely a serene and beautiful place to visit.
As we visited, the prayer wheel was kept going by a woman who looked at least a hundred years old.
I just hope the Divine Madman will not be mad enough to bless her, but rather her granddaughter or great-granddaughter.