Thinking about sprucing up the exterior of your house?
Why not try some Bhutanese-style decor (at right)?
Yup, that is what you think it is.
Like India, Bhutan is a country where bare shoulders and legs are frowned upon, and opposite-sex displays of affection are rare. So I was startled, driving through the beautiful Himalayas, to see a house sporting this jumbo-sized painting. I chuckled, not believing my eyes and chalking it up to my corrupt Western imagination.
Then came another. And another.
It turns out that the festival jester is not the only one fond of his phallus.
Many homes in rural Bhutan display these elaborate paintings, anatomically explicit down to the last gory detail. They're featured on the front of many a home, sometimes one on each side of the front door, like columns flanking the main entrance, sometimes worked into the elaborate and colorful trim around windows.
Phallic icons are fairly common in India also, but most are so abstract that I wouldn't assume that's what they were unless someone pointed it out to me. There is no mistaking these babies though -- they are there in all their anatomically correct glory.
Also commonly found are these "flying phallus" sculptures (below) which dangle from each corner of the house. They looked like flying pencils to me, but I was assured that they were definitely not pencils.
This phallic imagery originated with a tantric Buddhist saint, Lama Drukpa Kunley, also known as The Divine Madman:
|"Well known to common Tibetans through the oral tradition of legends and songs, as well as to scholars and mystics through his biographies, he is greatly loved by all the people of Tibet as an enlightened master and an exponent of 'crazy wisdom'. He taught through outrageous behavior and ribald humor in order to awaken the people he met to a higher awareness free from conventional morality and self-obsession. In particular he took his female friends and disciples along the path of sexual desire and relationship to free them from attachment to the illusory world and to awaken their buddha-nature. He would constantly taunt the monks with jest and insult to dissolve their hypocrisy and hidden faults."|
From: Keith Dowman, The Divine Madman
Displaying the images on the walls of your home is said to bring fertility to the humans and animals in the household, and to ward off evil spirits. And they're not just sprouting on buildings. Miniature wooden phalluses are sold like keychains in the village stores.
So it got me thinking. Given that sexual harassment of female tourists is unheard of in Bhutan, perhaps this is what it takes to curb eve-teasing ? (Sexual harassment of Bhutanese women is reportedly also infrequent, though this is more difficult to confirm.) If we let the boys plaster their pride and joy on the walls for all the world to see, maybe they won't feel so compelled to constantly prove their manhood in more destructive ways?
I'm a little skeptical of the anatomical accuracy of this one...