Cultural Heritage of Bhutan
Bhutan has relied on its geographic isolation to protect itself from outside cultural influences and has long maintained both culturally and economically, with the goal of preserving its cultural heritage and independence. The most important factor in modeling of Bhutanese character has been the teaching of Lord Buddha, which was brought into the country by Guru Padsambhava over the high and snowcapped mountains from Tibet. The Bhutanese are physically similar to the Tibetans, and settled in the south-draining valleys of Bhutan.
For a small country like Bhutan, the preservation and promotion of cultural identity is an important means for survival as sovereign Kingdom. Bhutan has been isolated for centuries and only in the last decades of the 20th century, foreigners were allowed to visit the country. In this way, Bhutan has successfully preserved many aspects of its culture, which dates back to the mid-17th century. The influence of religion is highly visible in every day life and is a major reason for Bhutan’s spiritual and cultural legacy. It was this identity that has protected and sustained Bhutan for so long and all of these combinations make Bhutan into a unique cultural setting.
Bhutanese architecture is without doubt one of the best expression of country’s unique character.Bhutanese architecture is famous for its originality, its harmonious proportions and its adaptation to the landscape. From the buildings dating back to the 17th century that still exist, it can be seen that they were relatively small structures with a courtyard enclosed within their walls.
The architectural landscape changed in the 17th century when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal introduced the construction of dzongs which became the model for all monasteries built or restored from that time. Displaying a great sense of innovation, they made each dzong, temple and monastery a unique creation, different from all others but at the same time maintaining a perfect unity of architectural style. The many examples of traditional Bhutanese architecture that we see were all built in this way. Architectural styles differ from place to place and from different periods in time.
The architects of Bhutan developed a style which is peculiar to its own country. Each of these buildings was designed and built to harmonize with the environment.
The great fortresses known as ‘dzongs’ have an unusual architectural magnificent about them. Most of the dzongs are gigantic in structure and rise high in a landscape at strategic places, at the entrance to the valley, at the summit of a hill or at the confluence of rivers impgregnable fortresses set in a pattern of architectural design distinctively Bhutanese. Both in form and design the concepy of Dzong architecture is one of the most elegant and harmonious in fortress- building in the world. Bhutanese Dzongs are striking example of Bhutanese architecture. The Dzongs truly symbolize the past history and independence of Bhutan.
A chorten is a receptable of worship, equivalent to an Indian stupa whererelics of Buddhist divines were deposited,but gradually it acquired a hallow of sancity and means of attaining nirvana. Witness to the profound faith of the Bhutanese, they can be found at crossroads, near a dzong or a monastery and on high mountain passes and spreading serenity and peace.
Lhakhang means a temple or house of god. Bhutan’s monasteries are not merely religious places, but they bear witness to the country’s highly cultivated spiritural civilization and artistic temperament. Lhankhangs are build in simple structure with small enclosed courtyard. Lhakhangs differ from ordinary houses that we find in the villages. Inside the Lhakhang the walls are painted in religious painting representing Buddhist philosophy, mythology and religious tradition.
Goembas are not exactly called a monastery, though it is build in cluster type which consists of one or two temples. It housed the lay monks cell and services rooms. Goemba are build like fortness with tower in the centre sourrounded by exterior walls. The most impresseive example are Phajoding Goemba in Thimphu,Tharpaling in Bumthang and Gangtey Goemba in Phobjikha, Wangdu.
Traditional Bhutanese houses serve as a home for the family, a shelter for domestic livestock, a place for weaving and other household activities and also a religious space. The family farm house remains an important part of life. Most the rural houses are two to three stories high. The houses are build in cluster type meaning close to each other to protect from wind and cold and architectural elements and construction materials may vary a bit according to environment and climatic conditions of a place. Most villages are of between 5 to 20 houses. The general pattern is almost same throughout the country.
Bhutan is the only country in the world to have adopted Mahayana Buddhism and endorsed by the government. Buddhisim palys a fundamental role in the cultural, ethical and sociological development of Bhutan and its people. The majority of Bhutan’s Buddhist are the followers of the Druk sub-sect of the Kargyupa school, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhisim.
The influence of Buddhisim has started from the mid 7th century and has sharped Bhutan’s history, enlightening impact in the life of the Bhutanese people. As a Buddhist country, Buddhisim play an active part in community life.
Religious festivals know as “Tsechu” symbolize amity, peace and compassion and are held annually in Dzongs and Temples throught the country. They have remained unchanged for a century. During the festivals, rare and scared masked dances, sword dances and many rituals are performed by layman monks. Festivals are celebrated between three to five days which varies from places to places and mask dances are purely defined in religious content. Mask dances are performed in different styles and ways as per the phophised by Guru Padsambhava. The dancers wear in brilliant silk costumes accompanied by blaring horns, drums and clasing cymbals. It is believed that, by witnessing the festivals, one can get an opportunity to become immersed in the meaning of their religion and gain much merit.
All the festivals ends with unfolding of “Thongdrol” and people believe that by receiving the blessing from the Thongdrol, one can be clear from bad deed and sins which is the ultimate aim of the Buddhisim.
From all walks of life, people come to witness the festivals in their finest cloths and their most beautiful jewelleries with colourfull patten of silk gho and kira. For the Bhutanese people, religious festivals offer an opportunity to migle with their families, friends and relatives from the days of hard work.
Arts & Crafts
All Bhutanese art is symbolic, non-secular and a rare blending on Tibetian, Chinese and Indian traditional styles in characteristic Bhutanese setting.This trattional arts and crafts continue to possess its religious and spiritual significance. Bhutanese traditional arts, dance, drama and music has its root in the Buddhist religion. It is rich in colours and details and dynamic in its exclusive representation of Bhutanses religion concepts, belief and ways of life.
The craftmen have preserved the acient skills of the ancentors through works such as arts, dance, drama and music. The traditional arts and crafts continue to possess its religious and spiritual significance and retain relevance in the minds and lives of the people. Though, world has become a full of technologies, Bhutan, unlike other countries arts, crafts and festivals are not the reminder of gone ages but this traditions are still preserved, practiced and preformed and signifying that it is continue to have the manifestation of a living culture which have a religious and spiritual significance.
The Bhutanese art consists of three cartorgries namely: Thangkhas painting, Wall painting and status curving which has a visible manifiestation. We have a painting school at Kwangjangsa in Thimphu and 13 traditional arts and craft school at Trashiyangtse in the east. In architectural styles its Dzongs, Lhakhangs and appliqué contains the figure of Great Saint- Guru Padsambhava. It is a work of great artistic beauty executed with a brilliantly dazzling colours scheme.
Life of the People
The Bhutanses people lead a very simple life before the 20th century.Majority of the population of Bhutan live as it has for centuries – in small isolated farms in the villages always surrounded by rice, maize and buckwheat field. People in the villages rear cattles besides cultivating crop for the self consumption and up in the higher land, many people live in tents woven from yak-hair, rearing yaks through out the year among their grazing livestock.
One of the most common to every Bhutanses people is hospitality. Who so ever the guest may be or even the strangers, that simple hospitality is extended with smile, may be this is due to the deep rooted in the Budhhisim faith that has been pass from forfather through generations.The smile and the hospitality that the Bhutanese people wear will remember by the tourist even long after their visit.