Saturday, July 13, 2013

Getting the Shaft

Just by way of warning, this is going to be one of those sorta inappropriate blogs.  All in good fun, of course, but if you're easily offended, get out now.
They say you never forget your first.  Mine was on the way out to see the ruined fortress of Drukyel Dzong.  Bhutan is well-known for its policy of Gross National Happiness.  And it's best-known, most iconic architecture is the Tiger's Nest perched high above Paro Valley.  It is a beautiful country with a rich cultural heritage.  But what did I really come to see?  Penises.  Glorious phalli adorning houses all across the country!
An auspicious start...

I had a feeling that Friday was going to be the best day of my vacation when after breakfast I went to pay for my drink, and they'd written "cock" on my bill instead of coke.  Soon enough, we were on the road toward Punakha.  There's stuff to see along the way - for example, the Dochula Pass is topped with 108 Bhutanese-style stupas (yes, there are different styles of stupas), commemorating lives lost in one conflict or another.  But it was foggy up there, and I wasn't paying the greatest attention to Sree, because I was worrying over whether or not the other tourists would beat us to Chimi Lhakhang.  I really didn't want a bunch of homeslice whities to overrun the highlight of my tour.
Okay, so back up, Great One - you haven't actually explained what the hell any of this has to do with the Almighty Penis.  Right.  So.  About 500 years ago, Bhutan was visited by a Tibetan lama called Drukpa Kunley who had some unconventional...teaching methods.  They were so unconventional that he became known as the Divine Madman.  He was all about wine, women, and song, and he used his personality to shake up the stodgy, self-righteous Buddhists.  He was so ridiculously successful that to this day his magic "thunderbolt" is still painted on houses as a protection against evil and as a way of keeping the male ego in check.
The majestic takin

Protection against evil?  Why, yes!  Among other things he did with his penis, the Divine Madman used it to subdue demons.  There are tons of stories about his exploits.  Sree first mentioned him as we were headed up the hill in Thimpu to see the Takins preserve - Bhutan's national animal, which Drukpa Kunley is credited with creating.  Apparently a group of lamas was gathered together, and someone asked for a demonstration of his power.  They'd just eaten a goat's head and a cow's body, so the Divine Madman put the skull on the bones of the cow, said, "What are you doing here?  You've got no flesh on your body?! Get up and go eat some grass!" and with a snap of his fingers the creature came to life and walked away.  And that is about as tame as his tales come.  Sree told me that most women won't tell or listen to Divine Madman stories in front of their male family members, that they are too shy.  I had to laugh at that, because my family has ceased to be shy over the years, as typified by a story involving a Mexican restaurant, Shaggy, and the squirrels in Babysis' backyard that I've already retold WAY too many times.
As for keeping the male ego in check...well, yes, there are penises all over, but they are hardly the kind adolescent boys scrawl on their papers and occasionally desks (although some of these artists could take a lesson or two from my students!)  For starters, they are huge.  They also symbolize a master penis, which could not only subdue demons but could bring women to enlightenment (and I'm not just using that as an innuendo)...if that won't make a guy feel inadequate, I don't know what will!

Anyways, Chimi Lhakhang is the temple that is dedicated to Drukpa Kunley.  The story as Sree told it to me is that a demoness was eating people going over Dochula Pass.  The Divine Madman hid in a tree and was waiting to subdue her, but she got wind of his coming and ran off in the form of a dog.  He chased her to the current location of Chimi Lhakhang - a hilltop overlooking small villages and rice paddies - where she reverted to her true form.  After subduing her, the lama buried her under a stone.  Later his cousin came and build the monastery, placing a stupa over the spot where the demoness was buried.

This temple has more going for it than just a cool story, though.  It has the Divine Madman's personal phallus - a wooden symbol, that is, not some preserved-in-a-jar-full-of-alcohol nasty relic like Rasputin's at the sex museum in St. Petersburg, sicko - which the monks use to give blessings.  Childless women in particular come here to get knocked on the head by his divine thunderbolt in hopes of conceiving.  I decided to give it a try myself - I'm not sure I want to have kids, but I know for sure it ain't happening without a husband, which would be my super-sneaky ulterior motive in seeking the Divine Madman's blessing.  He might be down with that, anyways - I get the feeling he was that kind of guy.
Aside from the penis paintings, which are delightful, my visit to Chimi Lhakhang was the highlight of my tour because it was so beautiful.  When I looked it up online, I was not impressed, but people have failed to do it justice.  To get to the temple, you must first walk downhill between rice paddies, the irrigation for the fields trickling through a ditch on one side.  The hills rise up all around you, and the temple crowns a small hill in the midst of it all.  You then take a small path up the hill between some trees before you get there, where the whole scene spreads out before you in a panorama.  I was so taken with the beauty of the place that I stopped paying attention to where I was going and ended up with one foot in a wet rice paddy (good thing my boots are waterproof!)

While there were lots of phalli to go around in the vicinity of Chimi Lhakhang, I had to watch carefully to spot any in the bigger towns.  When I was doing my research prior to coming to Bhutan, there was some suggestion that the modern Bhutanese were embarrassed by the...thunderbolts...painted everywhere, and that unofficial policy in the cities was to get rid of them.  When I asked Sree, she said she'd never heard of that, and suggested that it had more to do with the difference between a city and the countryside (I'm sure my fellow Americans can sympathize, and tell you all about things you can do on the farm that just aren't cool in the city...the "snot rocket," for example).  If they were trying to quietly get rid of them, it would be a shame, because this is something that really is unique.  If the Divine Madman were American, all those stories they tell would be tall tales, and part of our cultural heritage (this is probably unlikely, America having been built on Puritan ideals, but still).  However, as much as I love the phallic decoration, I do have one suggestion for Bhutan: you might want to stop using the Latin conjunctive "cum."  I know what it means, and you're using it correctly.  However, in a country where buildings are decorated with ejaculating penises, another meaning springs to mind.  Just saying.


  1. Replies
    1. Hehehe...writing this post was a lot of fun for me. Getting that reaction was even more so!

  2. Sooooo You! Pulitzer is on its way!

    1. Now, don't tease me like that! I have a little problem, though...I am very quickly running out of these kind of places to visit!

  3. I had to close my eyes a couple times :)

    1. The big ones are a little intimidating, aren't they? I didn't even include the picture of me giving a kiss to the giant wooden one in the restaurant I ate in that day!

  4. I saw that one, Pepper--pretty scary!