Size doesn’t matter. A phallus (erect penis) is all you need.
Pucker up, sit erect, muster yourself, as I am about to glamourise penises like never before.
It is easy to know when you are arriving at Chimi Lhakhang in Punakha. Houses upon houses you pass by painting images of penises on the walls of the entrances of their houses, and display statues of penises large and small on their front porches, as if it is a symbol of pride.
Indeed this queer village, Yuakha, which worship penises – or phalluses as they call it – is another known attraction in Punakha, after the Punakha Tshechu festival.
Big penises hang from the eaves of houses for fertility and good luck. Small ones are key-chained for the amusement of giggling tourists to buy. Made of wood or clay, they are painted in every imaginable colour and face, with some phalluses even growing boobs and slender legs.
How did the penis practice come about?
The practice of phallus worship in Bhutan is attributed to Drukpa Kunley, the “Divine Madman” who arrived from Tibet in the 15th century. Known for his irreverent ways and utterly unmindful social conventions, his teachings are fraught with sexual overtones.
Most closely associated to him is the phallus and its divine powers. Legend has it that he used the phallus as a weapon to subdue evil spirits, transforming them to protective deities.
He spread his teachings through his unorthodox and shocking behaviour, using songs, poems, earthy jokes and his legendary sexual prowess to draw attention to true buddhist spiritual values. And that’s how his nickname “Divine Madman” was derived.
This crazy phallus wisdom continues to challenge, scandalise and entice modern Bhutan today. This is evident in the wooden phalluses you see hanging from the eaves of many Bhutanese houses as well as the flying penises painted near front doors.
Chimi Lhakhang, the “Temple of Fertility” as it is nicknamed, was constructed by Drukpa Kuenley’s brother Ngawang Choegyel, the 14th Drukpa hierarch, in 1499.
Locals and foreigners alike come to the Buddhist monastery to be blessed with fertility. Barren couples travel from all around the world to receive blessings from the phallus, which is placed on the head of women by the temple’s presiding monk. As skeptical as I am about this practice, curious as I am, I step into Chimi Lhakhang.
Arriving at Chimi Lhakhang Buddhist monastery
We walk along some stone steps headed towards Chimi Lhakhang. Along the way, we pass by some locals proudly displaying their phallus artwork and other accessories on the ground, encouraging to shop some souvenirs.
Arriving at the Buddhist monastery, a monk timely arrives, and he proceeds to bless the worshippers in the room.
“I don’t want a baby!” I mouthed to my guide, as my face morphs into one of terror.
“Just pay respects,” my guide advises. As the monk comes round to us, we bow our heads with our hands in prayer as he places a 10-inch-long (25cm) phallus on the crown of our heads.
Note: No pictures are allowed in some temples and monasteries. This is one of them.
Couples come in to Chimi Lhakhang for 2 reasons:
- Couples who have difficulty conceiving will pray for a child
- Couples with a newborn child will come here for the monk to bless the child with a long life and bestow a name for the child
Later, our guide hands me a photograph book of families all over the world with newborn babies. In the caption it indicated when each couple had visited this very temple, and how soon after they gave birth. Many of the children even took the names that the monks blessed them with! I couldn’t help but feel a sense of bliss for these families.
I found myself trying to convince myself that I am no Buddhist and have no reason to believe such legends or that these blessings will come true.
Names are given by monks
Another interesting fact I learned about Bhutan’s traditions and customs – They have two names, but no surnames which they take after their parents. Names are in fact given by monks at birth when the mother visits a temple to have her baby blessed. Our guide, Kinley, got his name from this very madman temple. It is a common name, as is our driver’s name – Thinley.
As we headed back down the sandy track from Chimi Lhakhang, we pass by a bunch of children who started chatting Kinley up. Turns out he knows the children here – and very well too! It’s no surprise, since he got his name from here, and he also makes frequent trips here to show his tourists.
I flashed my friendly smile, and was surprised by them when they asked, in English,
Can we sing you a song?
Children in Bhutan are usually shy and difficult to approach because of language barriers. Seeing these children open up to us, I couldn’t help but snap a few pictures of them.
Would you look at that!
This trip to Chimi Lakhang is not part of our 7-day itinerary, hence should you wish to visit this village of Yuakha, make it known to your guide.
Read the other things you can request as well as other things to note in this post.