Religion and Culture

Bhutan is the last of the Mahayana Buddhist kingdoms still surviving as an independent country today. With three fourths of its population belonging to the faith, Mahayana Buddhism is the state religion and it permeates all aspects of life. There are thousands of monks throughout the country and they play a pivotal role in the spiritual and cultural life of the people performing rites and rituals to mark events such as births, deaths, marriages and other important occasions. The spirituality of the people and their faith in religion is manifested in the thousands of prayer flags that flutter on the mountain sides, and the numerous stupas or 'chortens' which dot the countryside and along the roads.

Each district celebrates its own annual Tsechu festival in honour of Guru Rimpoche during which monks perform ritual sacred dances in colorful and resplendent costumes. These dances have been passed down for hundreds of years, and according to tradition, many of them are said to have been created by advanced Buddhist masters to whom it was transmitted through dreams and mystical visions. For the ordinary people, aside from its religious significance, the Tshechus are also annual social gatherings to which they flock dressed in their finest traditional clothing and jewellery.

Bhutan is one of the only countries never to have been conquered, occupied, or governed by a foreign power throughout its history. As a result, its distinctive culture, traditions and way of life have remained largely untouched by any external influences. Even today as the rest of the world is swept up in the forces of globalization, Bhutan has made a deliberate decision to ensure that its culture and traditions are preserved - not in museums as relics of a bygone era, but as living and vibrant forces that continue to shape and define the lives and character of its people. Indeed, the preservation and promotion of its cultural heritage constitutes one of the four pillars of Bhutan's home grown development philosophy of Gross National Happiness. The result of this conscious choice is reflected in everything about the country from the traditional architectural style of the buildings and houses, to the traditional dresses worn by the people and the traditional code of etiquette which governs their behavior.