BHUTAN: A Wealth of Life


Bhutan with her legendary beauty is a wealth of life in Himalayas. Although it measures only 110 miles from the north to south and 200 from east to west, Bhutan - called by its people Druk Yul, "the Land of the Thunder Dragon" -- is home to a remarkable variety of climates and ecosystems. Essentially, the country is divided into three major land regions: plains and river valleys in the south; a mid-Himalayan (5,000 to 14,000 ft. high) area north of the valleys; and the mountainous lands in the Himalayas, which range from 14,000 to 24,000 ft. above sea level.

Bhutan's unique natural beauty unites with a wide range of cultural values, languages, customs, and friendly social atmosphere. With a population 600.000 people, Bhutan is a tiny country full of colors. Carefully preserved between high mountains, Bhutan was never colonized and she has always protected her genuine culture in a natural environment. Bhutan is comprised of a mosaic of different peoples who continue to live in valleys isolated from one another and the outside world by formidable mountain passes. Differing ethnic groups are also distributed according to the varying environments. It is possible to divide Bhutan's population into three broad ethnic groups, though the distinctions blur in places.

Nature inspires us and gives us peace and calmness. Actually, whole Himalayas are noteworthy for their biological richness. Since the Himalayas' geologically recent origin less than 25 million years ago, they have molded the region's fauna and flora by limiting Indian species from moving northward, and Tibetan species from moving southward. Himalayan rivers were in place before the mountains were, and consequently, the river courses have remained unchanged while they have cut ever deeper gorges and valleys. These valleys have provided the main avenues of contact between Indian and Eurasian wildlife.

Bhutan, far less explored and catalogued, is still a mystery for the most people around the world. A land of legends, Yeti, folktales, Buddhist spirit, and peace Bhutan is our home, where we grew and became what we are today.

A View From Bhutan

A View From Bhutan
Punakha Dzong

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Sonam with the Director of IRBM,Malaysia



You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.
The point of the teachings is to control your own mind. Restrain your mind from greed, and you will keep your body right, your mind pure and your words faithful. Always thinking of the transiency of your life, you will be able to desist from greed and anger and will be able to avoid all evils.
On a long journey of human life, faith is the best of companions; it is the best refreshment on the journey; and it is the greatest property.
The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly
.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Traditional Bhutanese House

Bhutanese houses apart from the Dzongs, monasteries, temples and bridges have a distinct character from those of other Himalayan countries. Most houses are relatively spacious and take advantage of natural light and because of the steep terrain, are usually built as scattered houses or in clusters rather than in rows. Timber, stone, clay and adobe bricks are typical construction materials. Family residences are frequently three storied with room for livestock on the ground floor, storage and sometimes living quarters on the second floor and on the third floor living quarters and a shrine. Between the third floor and the roof an open space is usually kept for open-air storage. Boulders over lath are used to hold down wooden shingles on the roof truss.
Traditional farmhouses are the main forms of secular architecture in Bhutan. The Bhutanese home is more than just a residential unit. It is also a social, economical and religious unit. Generally, traditional farmhouses are two stories high although ideally, there may be three main floors and an attic. The building may have semi-covered courtyards walled in the front, providing a link between the interior and external surroundings. This courtyard is used for purposes such as sheltering animals and storing agricultural implements.
The hierarchy of floors in a typical Bhutanese house starts with the simple lower ground floor as shelter for livestock, with upper levels used for living and religious purposes. The foundation is laid with stones placed in a trench and built up to a height of 50 cm above the ground. Walls are usually made of stone in central and eastern Bhutan, and of compacted mud offering strong and durable structure in the west. Traditionally, the windows on the lower floor are smaller than those on the upper floors. A cutout of a curved trefoil motif called a horzhing is characteristic of all windows in Bhutan. Below the high-shingled roofs, there are large open spaces used for drying agricultural products and storage. Just below the roof and above doors and windows, elaborately painted timber cornices are usually placed.
Houses can have a festive appearance if painted with floral, animal and religious motifs. Some of the most common patterns represent the lotus, the eight auspicious symbols, mythical animals and large red phalluses. The phallus is supposed to ward away evil, and many houses are decorated with carved wooden phalluses hung at the four corners or over the door. A prayer flag can be seen on the centre of the roof of all Buddhist homes
My family in Bumthang still lives in a traditional Bhutanese cottage. It is a house full of memories of my childhood, my late mother, and my late sister. I always remember long winter nights of Bumthang, sitting by the bukari (traditional heater) with all members of my family.
In the last 5 years, my beautiful country has witnessed unprecedented changes. This was primarily due to rapid economic growth and modernization which has resulted in a gradual erosion of traditional ways and values of life which one day may lead to the disappearance of Bhutan's unique architecture, especially in the growing urban towns. I hope we can preserve all the values and traditions which made us a peaceful nation today.

National Sport: Archery

Bhutan's traditional sport is archery and it is practiced in every village. Every village has it own archery range. High spirited competitions, usually accompanied by a banquet, are a part of all festive occasions. Using bamboo bows (although modern compound bows are finding their way into the kingdom) teams of archers shoot at targets only 30 centimeters in diameter from a distance of 120 meters. Each team has a noisy crowd of supporters who, as well as encouraging their own side and try to out off the opposition. The game of archery is not exactly a sport that draws frenzied supporters out for a kill. There are no streaking hooligans. It is a sport to gather for fun and excitement. It is also a way to increase concentration and catch the spirit of team work. In Bhutan, archery is practiced by women as well as men. Bhutan's National Women Archery Team gets a lot success in international tournaments.

Archery in Bhutan is more than a sport, it is a living example and a dynamic manifestation of the unique traditions and culture of the Bhutanese people, and it is a celebration of the Bhutanese way of life. No festival and no celebration is complete without a game of archery and the game itself is a combination of physical talents and spiritual influences where the deities and spirits are called upon to help a player or a team to perform better and win the contest.

The origins of the game of archery are steeped in myths and legends and go back to the times of the Buddha. Warrior kings were said to have subjugated not only physical armies of enemy kingdoms but also evil spirits of the metaphysical realms. Prophesies were made through the use of the bow and the arrow and the country's sovereignty and independence are linked to these weapons of war.

Like everything else, the other side of archery begins with God. Every time a tournament is under way, there are suddenly silent, unassuming, sentinels at every sacred place. One archer can't quite forget his moment of triumph, even though it was not in the real game, and still gets ecstatic every time he regales listeners with the story. Temples and deities are much, or most, sought during tournaments. Archers say the simplest short cut to victory is appeasing your protectors and carrying to the game a piece of anything blessed by the deities.

To visit Bhutan Archery Federation's page, please click:
http://www.baf.org.bt

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Traditional Dress For Women: Kira

Kira, sometimes transcribed as Kiira is the traditional dress of Bhutanese women. It is a comfortable, sophisticated dress worn especially in offices and schools as a part of regulations. It is suitable for different weather conditions, it is easy to wear and affordable for all Bhutanese women. Kira is mostly woven from strong and long lasting materials.

The ankle length wrap-style kira has been the typical garment of women in Bhutan since before the small South Asian country's unification by a Buddhist monk in the mid-1600s. A kira is constructed from three back strap loom woven panels and is classified according to its background color. This newly acquired kira is an excellent example of an early style which highlights colorful supplementary weft patterning against a white background bordered by bold multicolored stripes. The name of this north central Bhutanese style kira, kush├╝thara, is derived from the unique technique of weft inlay, kush├╝, and the Eastern Bhutanese name for wrapped dress, thara.

There are two types of kira in Bhutan, today: Half kira and full kira. Full kira is one piece wrap style dress attached with koma (traditional broche) on the shoulders. Most women prefer wearing half kira, because it is more comfortable. Kira is combined with wanju (inside blouse) and tego (outside jacket). Match of colors is very important. The half kira trend is gaining popularity at a time when Bhutan is strict about the dress code and the national dress. According to a researcher, Sonam Kinga, who wrote an article, "Changes in Wearing kira"; people living along the border areas in late eighties started the trend of wearing half gho and kira because of the hot weather. The trend was picked up in other areas because of its convenience.

Bhutan has some where the world's best hand woven textiles. Kiras are the best proofs of Bhutanese textiles' quality. An average length kira is woven in 3 panels and each panel of this quality takes around 2 months. If the material is silk, it is imported from India and the dyed back home.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Traditional Dress For Men: Gho

All Bhutanese citizens are required to observe the national dress code, known as Driglam Namzha, while in public during daylight hours. The rule is applied strictly in some places (dzongs) than others. The national dress of Bhutan is called the gho for men and kira for women. It was introduced during the 17th century by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel to give the Bhutanese a unique identity. In an effort to preserve and promote its cultural heritage, all Bhutanese are required to wear the national dress in government offices, schools and on formal occasions. The gho is a long robe hoisted to the knee and held in place with a kera, a woven cloth belt, wound tightly around the waist. This forms a large pouch above that may be used to contain particular items, traditionally a bowl and betel nut. Government senior officials wear a sword on ceremonial occasions. Additional rules of protocol apply when visiting a dzong or a temple, or when appearing before a high level official. Male commoners wear a white sash (kabney) from left shoulder to opposite hip. Local and regional elected officials, government ministers, cabinet members, and the King himself each wear their own colored kabney.

Music of Bhutan

As Bhutan is rich in culture, her music is also sophisticated accordingly. There are several different traditions in Bhutanese music, from Layas to Sharchops every community has developped uniques styles within time. In Wikipedia, it is mentioned that Bhutan was first united in the 17th century, during the reign of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1652); the same period saw a great blossoming of folk music and dance (cham). Instruments dating to this time include the lingm (flute), dramnyen (lute) and chiwang (fiddle).

The influence of Drukpa Kagyud school and Buddhist music on Bhutanese culture is obvious. Many folk songs and chanting styles are derived from Buddhistic traditions.

The traditional dranyen, a kind of folk guitar, has been updated into the rigsar dranyen for use in popular music. The rigsar dranyen has 15 strings, two bridges and an extra set of tuning keys.

Bhutanese popular music history began with the Bhutan Broadcasting Service, which was followed by the band Tashi Nyencha, who established the first recording studio in Thimphu in 1991. Prior to this period, Bhutanese people primarily listened to filmi and other kinds of Indian pop music. Rigsar is the dominant style of Bhutanese popular music, and dates back to the late 1980s. The first major music star was Shera Lhendup, whose career began after the 1981 hit "Jyalam Jaylam Gi Ashi".

By the end of the 1980s, rigsar was no longer so popular, until the founding of the Norling Drayang recording label. Since Norling came into limelight, popular Bhutanese music has primarily been the rigsar genre, a fusion of elements from Western pop, Indian and Nepali music. The best-selling rigar album in Bhutanese history was New Waves (1996) by Suresh Moktan & Lhamo Dukpa. Lhamo Dukpa is the first Bhutanese modern female singer.

There are many local singers in Bhutan, actually in every family you can find one Bhutanese singer who has recorded his or her own album. In deed, music is one of our primary hobbies. We like composing our own songs, which tell about our love affairs, families, friends, sorrows, and dreams. Nowadays mostly, modern instruments like guitar, keyboard, and drum machine are used in recording studios. These studios have limited facilities but they offer so much fun for us. Even I and my wife have an album with our songs about our family and eternal love. There is a special song in that album that tells about my late sister who passed away at a young age.

In the past ages, only Lamas and Royal people were composing songs. But it changed in time and now every Bhutanese who likes music can compose his or her own songs and share with others.

Some Famous Singers:

Dechen Pema, Namka Lhamo, Lhamo Dukpa, Nguldrup Dorji, Neten Dorji, Suresh Moktan, Karma Sherub, Jigme Nidup, Shera Lhendup, Kenzang Norbu, Rinchen Namgay, Karma Sherub

To purchase an internatinally promoted Bhutanese album, you can visit Amazon.com; following this link, you will see
Endless Songs from Bhutan album of Jigme Drukpa.
http://www.amazon.com/Endless-Songs-Bhutan-Jigme-Drukpa/dp/B00000I7M9

Some examples of Bhutanese music in Youtube.com:

Bhutanese songs by royal dancers:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJkq8Og1VJw

Drukgi Gyalkhap, a song about Bhutan and her people. The song tells the life in Bhutan, our King, and our values.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O--5TaplaIY