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Aug. 17 2010 - 5:07 am | 87 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Blessed by the phallus on a Himalayan pilgrimage

Everyone loves to go for a picnic in Bhutan.

The Divine Madman

Lama Drukpa Kuenley, who came to Bhutan from Tibet, was a great Buddhist saint who used the phallus as a 'medium' to subdue and discipline the malevolent spirits.

The young do not feel intruded when the old tag along with packed lunches. The old have no qualms about sharing high school jokes with their grandchildren as the pines and the cypresses shade their walk to the picnic.

They carry packed lunches in wooden tiffins and tea in Chinese-made flasks with pictures of scary dragons. Picnics are for everyone, as the destination is a monastery.

National dress is mandatory in Bhutan to enter religious sites. So, men can be seen in a Scottish-styled knee-length robe (gho) and women wearing a highly colorful and intricately designed ankle-length dress (kira).

If the climb to the monastery is too inaccessible, then the gho and the kira are stuffed into a backpack along with the lunch.

The picnickers wear jeans, jackets and sneakers and listen to Curt Cobain or Britney Spears from their ear plugs. Some mobile phones scream out loud FM stations playing local Dzongkha songs.

Chimi Lhakhang will not seem far away as you climb up to the monastery enjoying the blend of music, nature and the gurgle of River Punatsangchhu.

Tourists who come to this 14th Century monastery, drive up the hill and have to stop by the rice fields. Then it’s a leisurely walk until the complex wood work on the roof become clearer.

But the first time I went there, I took a different route from the northern side. It was a walk up from Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan, till the culvert on the road from were you could see the monastery of the Divine Madman who subdued demons and women with his enormous phallus.


Then we descend to the banks of the river, walk alongside it till we reach the foot of the monastery hill.

The climb uphill was always punctuated by the stories about the maverick saint, whose blessings the local females and tourists seek to become pregnant. The walk would become smoother with the stories and chants about him.

Here is a smooth prayer, which the saint had apparently taught:

The mind of a Bodhisattva is smooth,
The talk of self-seekers is smoother,
But the thighs of a virgin are smoother than silk:
That is the teaching on the Three Smooth Things.
Women in the group would giggle as the men would further be inspired and continue churning out more outrageous ones.

The divine thunderbolt

Lama Drukpa Kuenley, who came to Bhutan from Tibet, was a great Buddhist saint who used the phallus as a ‘medium’ to subdue and discipline the malevolent spirits. The use of phallus was also intended to free up the social inhibitions enforced by the established values.

The blessing of the phallus kept in the monastery is considered sacred especially to barren women. And once they give birth, the child, male or female, is named after the saint, Kuenley.

The phallus of the saint is drawn on walls of houses across the country and one cannot miss it or avoid it.

Elsewhere it would seem scandalous, but that’s what makes Bhutan different and makes even a picnic spiritually satisfying.

I no longer stay near the temple. Almost 70 kilometers away, I stay in the capital of Bhutan now. But I have been there, a couple of times after on taxis and motorbikes.

In the last week of August, I had the opportunity to talk about the temple to a small group of students pursuing a Masters degree in cultural psychology.

We had a lively discussion for about two hours, but I didn’t recite this centuries old Drukpa Kuenley son:

The bed is the workshop of sex,
And should be wide and comfortable;
The knee is the messenger of sex,
And should be sent up in advance


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  1. collapse expand

    In the quiet and sleepy town of Pelling, where people are warm and so friendly that I never heard a raised voice even when someone was being scolded,you’ll find an untouched destination for a a lovely October!This peaceful town is located in the lap of Kanchanjunga, and you can clearly see at dawn the sun rays flitting through the majestic snow clad peaks! The chill of the mountains washes a calmness through you and all you see is snow everywhere and the soft warmth of the sun rays! Pemayangtse Monastery located at the top of this city,will offer you solace like no other! I never felt like leaving this place!

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    It all started by dropping newspapers at doorsteps on chilly mornings riding a bicycle that broke down often.

    Newspaper-years later, now I ride a two-decade old motorbike to office and spend late nights banging my head over subject-verb agreement and perfect headlines.

    The bicycle owner was a school-going teenager from a below-the-sea-level village in southern India. The motorbike owner works in the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, wedged between giants, India and China.

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