Architecture, which is another symbol of Bhutanese identity, is also a core aspect of the kingdom’s unique culture. Religious festivals, called Tsechus, are also at the core of Bhutan’s culture. Comprising of music and dance, which are performed both by the clergy and the lay population, Tsechus play an important role in the lives of every Bhutanese, both at the local and national levels.
Everything about Bhutanese culture is seeped in the traditional, starting from language and literature to the arts and crafts, ceremonies and events, and basic social and cultural values. Very much alive and breathing, Bhutanese culture of fine arts, for instance is manifested, for example, in exquisite traditional painting visible on monasteries and houses, skillfully enhancing the architecture.
While Bhutan’s national language is Dzongkha, there are more than 18 dialects spoken across the country. However, English, which is used as the official working language, is taught in schools. In recent times, there has been a surge in the emphasis on the development and use of Dzongkha.
It is illegal in Bhutan to sell or buy tobacco products and smoking in public places is banned too. The religious leaders of the country have always had much of their say in the political affairs of Bhutan and have been political leaders in the past too. So, the lifestyle conforms to the religious beliefs mostly. The country had isolated itself for years to preserve its uniqueness of culture and to keep its traditions alive but has only recently opening up to the outside world. Bhutanese government however controls the foreign influence with a keen eye and is trying hard to keep it under control. This is the reason the old-world feel in Bhutan is still intact. Bhutanese inherit strange and peculiar customs that have their origin in the country’s history and mythological legends and folk tales of the country.
Giant phalluses painted outside the homes of otherwise conservative and reserved Bhutanese represent the Divine Madman, who is believed to ward off evil spirits. Tipping is not very common in Bhutan and old people relish doma (betel nut) very much. Dogs are treated with reverence in Bhutan as they are considered to be the highest animal life form, with the best chance of being reborn as humans. Thus, you can see dogs run freely and noisily through Bhutanese villages. Keep in mind that the King and royal family is respected very much throughout Bhutan and you should avoid any criticisms or negative comments on them while conversing with the local people. Always pass sacred sites and objects such as mani stones, stupa and other religious objects with your right side nearest to the object. Prayer wheels should only be turned in a clockwise direction.
The Bhutanese people can perceive turning them in the wrong direction as a sign of disrespect. It is considered derogatory and disrespectful to sit on mani stones or stupa, so never do that. Before visiting any sacred site and temples, remember to remove your shoes and hats and wear respectful clothing. Though, it is not compulsory but it is customary to offer a small donation to the monks and Buddhist statues and idols at the monasteries as a sign of respect and is considered as a means of developing a generous and spacious mind. It is not only disrespectful but also illegal to smoke at monasteries and other public places.