Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Blessed by the phallus on a Himalayan pilgrimage

Chimi LhakhangImage by jfung1 via Flickr

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.

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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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Writing for True/Slant

Dear friends.

I have started writing for, a news startup with around 275 writers from around the world. It was founded by a former Forbes, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times editor.

You can follow my True/Slant page from your Facebook account here at

I write on topics of South Asian interest with a special focus on Bhutan were I am now stationed as a consultant with the country's only financial newspaper, Business Bhutan.

I also write pieces of personal significance throwing light into the socio-cultural and religious milieu I grew up.

Please keep reading and don't forget to comment.

Warm regards,

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A chewed necktie, a potbelly and two republic days

It was in 1995 that I last participated in a January 26 Republic Day function, marking the anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of India. I was a school student then, standing in a queue singing the national anthem as our principal unfurled the tricolor flag.

Today morning, I was a part of the event at the sprawling India House Estate in Bhutan. The Indian Ambassador received the guard of honor of a small column of Indian soldiers dressed in impeccable khaki. Wives of army officials and diplomats gathered, some chastising children who preferred to run along the guard of honor red carpet than stay with their moms.

Meanwhile, I was getting conscious over my blazers and the necktie which I managed around my neck after much effort and help from colleagues earlier the day. This was a deep brownish red tie with golden horizontal stripes, much better than the 1995 blue school tie, the tip of which was chewed, and was occasionally thrust into snotty nostrils.

While standing under the kind winter sun beside well dressed army officials, the tip of my silk necktie looked inviting. “To chew or not to chew,” that was the question.

Then the army band struck the national anthem. I stood in attention as Ambassador Pavan K Verma unfurled the national flag and read out the president of India’s address. I tightened my fists in the required fashion, my burgeoning pot belly struggling out from the tight belt around my pants. As a student, singing the national anthem in full throat was a matter of pride. Today I held my breath, holding my belly in, jealously watching the well toned tummies tucked in army uniforms.

The president, in her address, invoked India’s first prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who said, “We have to labour, and to work, and to work hard, to give reality to our dreams.”

With less than a week away from my 30th year on this earth, I made a list of things I have to labour and work hard for.

As I munched down a hot samosa at the tea after the event, one item from the list kept ringing: tummy trimming.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2012 and yak meat

New Year is still two weeks away, but I made a couple of New Year resolutions last week.

The timing of my resolutions was perfect. It was past 12 midnight and I was watching the apocalyptic movie, 2012. In the movie, a few people representing different nations get to board a huge ship before the entire world is destroyed in huge tsunamis.

I want to be on that ship if such a catastrophe ever happens. But I am afraid I do not have enough money to get a ticket so if I do some good deeds before 2012 I may get a complementary ticket for my contributions to all sentient beings. One such resolution was to write this column and tell young people not to be afraid about 2012.

A friend of mine walked into my office on Wednesday and said she was worried. “My 11-year-old brother says he wanted to get married,” she said. He had watched 2012 and wants to taste the forbidden fruits of life before a tsunami soars from the ocean and pulls down glacial lakes.

Another friend tells that his Class XII son who is writing his board exams said there is no use studying since the world would end soon. The boy, who is poor is Maths, Dzongkha, and Accounts, has demanded his father to open up a video games parlor in Motithang so that he can play games, earn money and drink lots of Coca Cola before 2012. His poor academic records did not stand in the way of preparing a business plan to prove that there is scope for another video games parlor in Motithang.

I am interested to see the Class X and XII results of students from urban schools. If the performance is poor compared to previous years then we can put some blame on the movie.

Another friend in the civil service has given up his ardent desire to go for masters. He has now opened a farm in Facebook Farmville, and has resolved to devote more time to chat with Buddhist girls on Yahoo Messenger and MSN.

Scientists around the world have been telling that the world will not end in 2012. There may be nothing to fear about but I have decided to treat Brown girl, the cute little dog that escorts me to my log cabin door when I return late after work. I fed her for the first time this week with a piece for yak meat.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Coexisting with a soap-eating predator

Recently I moved in to a log cabin on a hill slope of pine trees, autorikshaw-sized rocks, lazy prayer flags and a brook that runs along my bedroom. I started weaving dreams of writing a magnum opus staying in a place like Thoreau’s Walden. I converted a shoe rack used by the previous Japanese tenant into a book shelf.

The arrangement of books had to be special, I had decided earlier. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying alongside the Bible for quick inspiration before going for work. Next was a bloody thick anthology, which my friend Thea gifted saying if I am ever marooned on an island, I could read it till the Fedex ship comes. This was to be savored on weekends. On top of the rack, in random, were tiny editions of psychoanalytical theory and cultural studies. These would enable me to quickly backdrop any daily experiences with theoretical explanations. For example, to interpret how a girl could force her pony-tailed lover to cut his hair in a blooming multicultural office love affair.

But all plans failed into the second week of my stay with I realized that someone was eating my soaps. It was a huge rat, I learnt, that had fallen in love, first with Pamolive, then Lux and finally Pears. The only explanation I could arrive to from my books was that the rat was anti-capitalist, and must have been the ghost of a food security expert in its previous life. Inspired by the interpretation, I changed my strategy by placing a Mohammad Yunus inspired washing soap produced in a cottage industry. I waited that night peeping through the toilet door for more than an hour. At around 11pm, I heard him or her crawling in through the majestic drain. It climbed up the flush, jumped onto the half-read Audacity of Hope, caressed the Barack Obama cover with its tail and sniffed the Bangladesh-made soap. The rat had found its Ratatouille. But to my surprise it didn’t start eating it. My bushy-brained friend pushed it down to the toilet floor, jumped along with it and rolled the soap to a dry corner. And without any hurry, first smelt it, then nibbled a bit and then started eating.

I felt like an intruder in a place where the rat ancestors lived and ate what they wanted, but now encroached by a man-made toilet. I remembered a newspaper quote by the Nature Conservation Division chief, Sonam Wangyal Wang, from September last year when the human-wildlife conflict discussion was raging. “Peoples are talking about food security. Whose food security are they talking about?” he asked then.