We made it to Punakha after a three-hour journey from Thimphu. It was about lunch time but before satiating our appetites with the simple yet flavourful cuisine of Bhutan, we were to take a short hike to the temple of Chime Lhakhang, a small distance from the Restaurant where we were to stop for lunch.
The road was a path that was well trodden by people and filled with hopes for many. I’ll save the details of this when we come to the right part in this post. Small shops selling and teaching Traditional Thangka paintings passed by on the sides of the road. We thought of stopping by them and exploring a bit more on our way back but for that moment, all we wanted to do was to reach the rather mysterious and “weird” if I may say so, temple of the “Divine Mad-man”.
Why was it called the temple of the Divine Mad-man? We were soon to find out.
We hiked past small houses built in the traditional Bhutanese style of architecture, lush green rice fields in the front adding to their beauty. Somewhere en route, a small pond stood still reflecting the silver flags that were hoisted on its borders by someone paying an ode to the departed souls.
Twenty minutes later, we stood outside the Chime Lhakhang temple, surrounded on the outside with Prayer wheels on the walls. Taking pictures was not permitted inside but in the case of this temple, the stories surrounding it were of more importance to us.
Chime Lhakhang – a temple built in honour of Lam Drukpa Kuengly, an enlightened Buddhist Master who followed rather unconventional ways of passing wisdom. He came to be known as the Divine Mad-man since he never really abided by the norms of conventional Buddhism or society then. He was more of a vagabond by nature. He chose to indulge in alcohol, women amongst things.
He is famously credited for taming demons and demonesses with his “Phallus” – a weapon of his choosing. Stories say that in Chime Lhakhang is the place where the Drukpa subdued the demoness Dochula with his phallus and buried her. The temple was built much later in the 15th century by the Drukpa’s cousin brother in his memory.
While initially the stories did feel a bit odd, the thoughts passed because this was actually a place and a place of worship nonetheless. A place that was revered as the fertility temple and one that fulfilled hopes of childless couples around in Bhutan (and there were stories of people traveling fro over the world to seek blessings to have children). This place was for real and there were no reservations exploring the temple or discussing the stories of symbolism post the initial reticence. It was all out there to be explored and stories to be taken back to our homes back to be passed on.
The temple is extremely simple as all the other temples we had seen till then in Bhutan. Statues of Buddha, ZhabDrung and lastly of the Drukpa were installed. Butter lamps were lit along with butter based carved sculptures which were coloured in paint were offered there. On the side lay about a feet tall wooden phallus which was to be used by ladies seeking children in their praying rituals at the temple.
The monks inside the temple gave us an insight into the temple rituals that take place when childless couples visit to seek blessings. Now, much odd as this may sound, it is a fact. The lady seeking blessings is required to hold the wooden phallus statue and walk around the temple. Special prayers would be held for them too. The couple are to pull out a name from a box kept there and the child they bear should be named that.
With that story, we sat around trying to absorb the reality that was present there and trying to believe that this actually existed. A minute later, we offered our silent prayers to the God-men there and made our way out letting in another group that was waiting outside with curious ears and eyes.
The time spent here was short but left us with much to think and believe.
We got a reason to pin as to why the male ‘Phallus” was so important in Bhutan and why every other building in Punakha was adorned with drawings of the Phallus (sometimes with ribbons tied too 😀 as a form of adornment) or why did some buildings have small wooden statues of this “male part” hanging above the doors and why were all the souvenir shops so laden with these wooden phalluses – either as Key chains or just as paper weights or simply as a decor article.
The Phallus is a sign of fertility, of the fight of the “Divine madman” against the demons and in a more philosophical sense, his fight against hypocrisy and letting his true form out. It is a sign of protection from the devils and hence, the form is so revered in Bhutan.
While I realise some folks may find this post a bit odd to read or discuss or pass forward, bear in mind, this is something of history of a place that I am writing about. Their beliefs, their past and something that is true too – if viewed in a philosophical sense.
Our world is a bit hypocritical. We try to fit into the societal norms. We obey the laws laid down and in that process, subdue our inner voice. The Divine Madman’s philosophy is asking us to break free and do what our heart wants but, always with the intent of doing good.
We made our way back to the restaurant and yes, there were many phallus artefacts there too but this time round, we didn’t shy away from it. We, now had stories to tell back our people post the trip and this was what kept us occupied.