Temples And Art In Bhutan

For artists and for art lovers, Bhutan is an amazing place to get a lot of inspiration.

The landscape is luminous with an impossibly blue sky and dramatic mountain views, clean roaring rivers and beautiful trees and flowers.

If you like to paint portraits, there are colorfully clothed people with beautiful lines, curvatures, jewelry and faces that tell stories upon stories…

But beyond the inspiring landscape and the people, there is such detailed and vibrant art, painted on the walls of every temple and Dzong and on many buildings.

There are expressive masks and intricate sculptures with a thousand hands and eyes, each sculpted with intricate details.

Almost only traditional art is celebrated in Bhutan.
Contemporary or modern art is almost unseen.

But the traditional art is so elaborate and so inspiring.
There are dragons and demons, dancing Dakinis (enlightened female manifestations), and wrathful deities dancing in rings of fire, wearing necklaces of human heads.

There are large paintings of the circle of life and death, detailing all the struggles of repeated incarnations into human forms, each incarnation ending again and again with sickness or old age and death…..

The paintings of the cycle of life and death depict all the phases of an evolving soul through reincarnating again and again.

The paintings convey the phase in which one becomes interested in the Path of Light and Liberation, and starts living in alignment with the Truth, living a virtuous life and staying away from harming others.

The next phase happens when one reaches enlightenment and liberation from impermanent existence.
Enlightenment is a full remembrance of our Divine and eternal nature.

Then finally comes the ultimate…. Nirvana….
The Ultimate Union with the Divine where there is endless bliss.
The full emergence into the ocean of peace.
Some call it ascension.

There are large paintings of Mandalas which are geometric shapes representing the nature of the Universe.
Some of these Mandalas are painted with just symbols and abstract shapes, but many of them depict in intricate details, the movement from the human form into Divinity.

These mandalas are painted with bright colors and they are very interesting.

We visited a magical temple in Paro, called “Dungtse Lhakhang” located at the edge of a rice field.

It was an old temple with grounds that were designed in the shape of a large Mandala.
Above the grounds, the building was built in the shape of a stupa, with a conical tower on top.
Around the whole temple there were rows upon rows of prayer wheels.

Temples in Bhutan are frequently used by the locals.
Families come to get blessings, old men and women come to meditate and pray.
Often food, tea and cookies are served to the visitors, and the monks bless the people with good wishes.

Inside the dark ancient Mandala shaped temple, the walls were painted with beautiful paintings of spiritual deities and enlightened beings, masters, lamas and the Buddha in his many emanations.

The temple was built in the year 1421 and it extends to three levels.
We had to climb up two sets of old and very steep wooden ladders, each carved by hand.
The wooden railings of those ladders were smoothed by the hands of pilgrims, climbing up those ladders for nearly 600 years.

It was very dark inside the temple, and I felt much gratitude to Jules for suggesting that we bring our flashlights, so we can see the details of the paintings inside.

With the help of a torch, I had to keep my jaw from dropping, since each level had more amazing murals on the walls.

When you enter some old temples in Bhutan, you are engulfed with beauty and reverence.
There is juniper incense burning, and yak butter lamps spread a warm glow.
There are copper bowls filled with water and piles of offerings that people bring to the Buddha.

If you are lucky as we were, you will be able to see the old drums and trumpets that the monks use as they recite prayers and perform their guttural chantings.

Tap your finger on those drums and you can feel the hum of the drum running right through to your heart….

At the ancient “Kyichu Lhakhang” temple, built in the year 659 by the Tibetan King Songsten Gampo, all the walls were covered in a large yellow silk fabric.

If you lift the yellow silk and peek behind it, you will see some amazing art painted on all the walls.

In Bhutan everything is symbolic and has a meaning.
Every color in a prayer flag means something, and every day of the week, every symbol that is painted on the houses means something significant.

Numbers also mean a lot.
There are auspicious numbers and unlucky numbers.

In the temples, you can ask the head monk to help you make a wish.
He will hand you a metal tray with three dice made from bones.
You make a small offering of money.
It can be as small or as large as you wish.
Most people give something equivalent to twenty five cents.

Then you make a wish and roll the dice on top of the tray that the monk holds for you.
He will add the numbers up, and tell you if your wish will come true or not.

Odd numbers are good and mean that your wish will come true.
Even numbers mean that the wish will not come true.

Every temple has an auspicious number or two.
The most auspicious numbers at this temple were 5 and 8.

I always wonder what to wish for….

I no longer make a wish for world peace, because the world is in perfect balance and it has to be in the shape that it is, because the people living in it are working towards their enlightenment and are experimenting with their destinies and growing.

Nobody really dies and no life can be lost.

I want to pray for better times for the human race and for our fragile planet, but the words of Guru Rinpoche (who lived in the 8th century) come to me…. He said:

“It is not the TIMES that are changing, it is PEOPLE who are changing.
We actively involve in harmful acts, and blame the times for not having peace and harmony….”

I always want to wish for good health and abundance, but if I am honest….. I do have both.

I want to wish for small goals that I am working towards, but the words spoken by the master Jesus, always whisper in my ears:
“Seek you first the kingdom of HEAVEN and ALL ELSE shall be added unto you!”

So…. Instead of asking to sell a house or for my career goals, I ask for FULL enlightenment.

Enlightenment comes in stages, said the Dalai Lama in a teaching that I recently heard in Dharamslala.
I have to agree with him…

So I always pray for FULL enlightenment in THIS lifetime.

I made my wish rolled an odd number – it meant that my wish will come true… hurray!

Jules rolled an 8 which was one of the most auspicious number of that temple.
The monk nodded his head vigorously… Jules’ wish was definitely going to come true…

It is common to see mothers walking into temples with their babies tied to their backs with a long piece of fabric.
They walk clockwise around the temple while rolling the prayer wheels and chanting OM Mani Padme Hum.
The babies or the young children sleep with their heads flopping as the mother walks.

I have mentioned that every painted symbol means something in Bhutan.
It is very common to see a Penis painted on the houses.

The phallic symbol is painted on the houses to bless the residents with fertility and for protection, as the penis is seen erect and strong and symbolizes indestructibility.

It is believed that houses with a phallus painted on them, have protection from fire and earthquakes.

No sexuality or shame is attached to the Phallic symbols.
It is common to see mothers feeding their children while sitting under a huge penis wrapped with a dragon, a flower or a serpent.

The art and the temples go so well together in Bhutan.
They are a visual feast of colors, awe and spirituality.

At night as I close my eyes to go to sleep, the colors and shapes all roll together in my mind’s eye into a large mandala.
Even through my closed eyes I can see the art and the smiles and sweetness of the people, and my heart is happy and at peace…

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