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Decoding the Pennis Paintings of Bhutan : Walk through Village Lobesa in Punakha

After exploring thimphu, we left the thimphu city and headed to Punakha – 77 km from thimphu. The road from Thimphu to Punakha crosses the 3,115-m Dochula pass where we had stopped for lunch at the picturesque Dochula Pass restaurant.

Dochu La Pass

Punakha had served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955 and, even today; it is the winter home of the central monk body. The Punakha Dzong houses many sacred artifacts and temples. The city is also home to famous Chimi Lhakhang, (Lhakhang means monastery or temple in the Bhutanese language). Chimi Lhakhang is a small Buddhist monastery with a very interesting story of how it was formed.

We reached to this tiny village called Lobesa just before wangdue. I had noticed that this place is obsessed with the pennies on the houses. I wanted to know about the stories behind so we started walking towards Lobesa village.

Paddy Fileds on the way to Chimi Lhakhang

As in country like India where you cannot discuss about your sex organs openly in front of anyone; in Bhutan it was a complete different picture. In Inida, we are afraid to give education about sex organs to their children, but in the little town of Lobasa in Bhutan, people see it just as a normal organ like other parts of the body.

Located near Lobesa, Chimi Lhakhang stands on a round hillock and was built in 1499 by the 14th Drukpa hierarch, Ngawang Choegyel, after the site was blessed by the “Divine Madman” the maverick saint Drukpa Kunley ,a Buddhist Master who built a chorten on the site. It is is 20 minute walk across the village of sopsokha by passing through the rice paddy fields and small beautiful local houses.

Thousands of people visit Chimi Lhakhang either to pray for children by those who are childless or to seek protection for children that they already have. There are also anecdotes of tourists from the US and Europe who made the pilgrimage to Chimi Lhakhang and promptly got pregnant within a year after the visit. While Chimi Lhakhang is renowned for its fertility blessings, it also fulfils the other religious and spiritual needs of the Bhutanese.

 What’s with all the Phallus/Penis Drawing all around the Village?

Chimi Lhakhang

Legend says that ‘monk name Lama Drukpa Kunley was an enlightened Buddhist master who personified the true essence of vajrayana tradition that is also known as ‘Crazy Wisdom”. This is the profound wisdom that transcends the mundane cultures of religion. People fondly call Lama Drukpa Kunley “the Divine Madman” because of his unorthodox ways of teaching Buddhism by singing, humour and outrageous behaviour, which amounted to being bizarre, shocking and with sexual overtones.

He felt that the stiffness of the clergy and social convention were keeping people from learning the true teachings of Buddha. His outrageous, often obscene, actions and sexual antics were a deliberate method of provoking people to discard their preconceptions. By this way he wanted to convey that he is beyond the norms and conventions established by human society. Buddhist from all over the world comes to Chimi Lhakhang to pray for the survival and health of their children.

He is also the saint who advocated the use of phallus symbols as paintings on walls and as flying carved wooden phalluses on house tops at four corners of the eves. The monastery is the repository of the original wooden symbol of phallus that Kunley brought from Tibet. Traditionally symbols of an erect penis in Bhutan have been intended to drive away the evil eye and malicious gossip. The Women from all over the world come here seeking blessings to conceive a child and they get blessings by stroking with wooden phallus.

As Drukpa Kuenley is one of the most revered and followed saint in Bhutan, his symbol – the phallus can be found in various forms within Bhutanese houses and restaurants. Phalluses of different sizes can also be found in souvenir shops around Bhutan. The phallus painted in different designs and one common feature noticed is that the phallus is always seen ejaculating.

Several anecdotes are told of the zany ways of Drukpa Kunley. It is said that on a particular occasion he was gifted a sacred thread to put around his neck. However, he shocked the people by saying that he would tie the thread around his penis with the fond hope that it would bring him “luck with the ladies”. This is perhaps the reason why you see string-like thing wrapped around the phallus/penis painting. The belief that such a symbol brings good luck and drives away evil spirits is so much ingrained in the psyche of the common populace in Bhutan that the symbols are routinely painted outside walls of the new houses.

Regardless of whether you believe in the power of the Divine Madman’s blessing or not, Chimi Lhakhang is definitely a serene and beautiful place to visit.

After knowing all stories about Phallus I headed back to my hotel and retired for the day.

Travel Tips:

  • Punakha is 77 Km from Thimphu. Chimi Lhakhang is 14-15 Kms from Wangdue town. I recommend staying at wangdue as it is most picturesque place. I had stayed at Hotel Kingaling at INR 2000/night.
  • Explore Punakha Dzong,Suspension bridge and enjoy river rafting in Punakha.



Mayuri Patel

I am solo female traveler from India who is sharing experiences of her travel on the blog

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