The Story Behind Bhutan's Obsession With Phallus

Photo of The Story Behind Bhutan's Obsession With Phallus by Priya Pareek

In a remote corner of the world, surrounded by the mighty Himalayas, Bhutan is a beautiful kingdom bordering India and China. The Buddhist country is known for magnificent monasteries, friendly people, breathtaking landscape and its quirky obsession with phallus! Yes, Bhutanese people follow this age-old tradition of worshiping the phallus.

Bhutan’s obsession with penis can be sensed from the artwork on the walls of shops, temples and homes. While passing by the otherwise normal streets of this ancient kingdom, you can be sure of witnessing some sort of phallic painting on some or the other wall. While one of them depicts the phallus wrapped in ribbons, the other shows it wrapped with snakes.

Photo of The Story Behind Bhutan's Obsession With Phallus 1/6 by Priya Pareek

For someone with absolutely no idea about Bhutan’s history and mythology, these painting can seem extremely weird and even offensive but knowing the depth of the artwork may indeed offer an all new perspective. Why on Earth are there thousands of phallus paintings and sculptures all over this Buddhist Himalayan kingdom? Let’s try and unravel the mystery!

History of Bhutanese Phallus Paintings

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Though the exact origin of these phallus paintings has not been established yet, the oldest surviving structure depicting them is rural Bhutanese monastery Chimi Lhakhang. The monastery was monastery was originally built to honor Drukpa Kunley, a 15th century lama known for his eccentricity.

Initially, the paintings were done only on the walls within the monastery but it is believed that adherents to Kunley's teaching spread them to the entire country. This is why these phallic paintings now appears on walls of homes, schools, shops and even restaurants in Bhutan.

Drukpa Kunley: The Monk Who Made Bhutan Worship Phallus

Photo of The Story Behind Bhutan's Obsession With Phallus 4/6 by Priya Pareek

Bhutan’s most revered Buddhist masters to date, Drukpa Kunley had actually gone to the country to spread Buddhism. While he did simplify many religious texts for common masses, he was known for using imagery of penis to subdue demons and bless the people of Bhutan. 

Popularly known as Divine Madman or The Saint of 5,000 Women, Kunley was most known for his bizarre and unorthodox ways of teaching Buddhism. “I have come without prejudice to help you, where can I find the best booze and most beautiful women.”

What Do Penises Mean In Bhutanese Culture?

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(c) Vicki

In Bhutan, an erect penis is believed to keep evil spirits, people and gossip away. These paintings are also believed to bring good luck and for the same reason, these paintings still adorn the walls of homes and business even six centuries after the death of Drukpa Kunley.

There are in fact some temples in this landlocked kingdom that have the carvings and paintings of phallus and many childless couple visit these temples to seek blessings. Some even believe that hitting a woman on the head with a (fake) phallus make her bear children.

Photo of The Story Behind Bhutan's Obsession With Phallus 6/6 by Priya Pareek

Well, that's the story behind hundreds of phallic paintings and products in Bhutan. Next time you visit this Buddhist kingdom, you will know why they are so obsessed with this male organ!

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