LOBESA, Bhutan — For centuries, Bhutan has celebrated the phallus.
They are painted on homes, or carved in wood, installed above doorways and under eaves to ward off evil, including one of its most insidious human forms, gossip. They are worn on necklaces, installed in granaries and in fields as a kind of scarecrow. They are used by masked jesters in religious festivals and at one temple near here in Lobesa as a blessing of fertility.
Now, as Bhutan increasingly opens up to the world, the ancient tradition has been evolving or, some say, sullied — by commercialization.
Though still a religious symbol, it has become, to some, a relic of a patriarchal past, something vaguely embarrassing and not fit for the modern new democracy that has, by all appearances, taken firm root in Bhutan after decades of relative isolation and absolute monarchy.
It has also become a curio to peddle in all sizes and colors to the increasing number of tourists visiting this remote Himalayan kingdom, renowned for its pursuit of “gross national happiness.”
“People still use it as a symbol,” said Needrup Zangpo, the executive director of the Journalist Association of Bhutan, who has written about the historical inspiration for the symbol, “but the necessity of having it painted on your house is going away.” He attributed this erosion of tradition to “the exposure to Western culture.” read more