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Last Updated: Friday, 25 March, 2005, 12:42 GMT
Bhutan's phalluses warn off evil

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Thimphu

Wooden phallus, Bhutan
A monk blesses devotees with a wooden phallus
In the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, it is not only the stunning scenery that surprises the eye.

Driving from the country's only airport in Paro to the capital city of Thimphu, graphic and colourful paintings of penises adorn the white-washed walls of homes, shops and eateries.

In many places, pictures of dragons and soft drink advertisements showing a Bollywood actress jostle for space on the walls with phallic drawings.

The origin of these drawings can be traced to a Buddhist monastery near Bhutan's former capital, Punakha.

Maverick saint

Called Chimi Lhakhang, the monastery is dedicated to Bhutan's maverick saint Lama Drupka Kinley.

Known for his unconventional and often outrageous teaching methods, Drupka Kinley is fondly called the Divine Madman.

Dema, farmer in Bhutan
The penis protects those who live inside the house. It also means that there will be no quarrels among the family members
Dema, farmer

Stories about his drinking and womanising abound in the kingdom and his shrine draws visitors from across the country.

A drive to Chimi Lhakhang monastery takes about three hours from Thimphu.

Constructed in 1499, Chimi Lhakhang is a square building with a pointed golden roof. It squats on a hillock, about 20 minutes' trek from the nearest road.

Outside, nearly 100 tall prayer flags, mostly white but some coloured, flutter in the strong breeze.

Bhutanese people believe that when the wind passes through these flags, it carries the prayers along with it, to bless every person and object they touch.

Legend has it that Drupka Kinley would hit errant demons over the head with his penis to subdue them and turn them into protective deities.

Drawing of phallus in Bhutan
The drawings are found on the walls of houses

Today, several wooden penises are kept in the monastery.

The longest, a brown wooden one with a silver handle, is the most important - it is considered a religious relic and is used for blessing the devout.

The presiding monk tells me Drupka Kinley brought it with him when he arrived in Bhutan from Tibet about 500 years ago.

The monk hits three young women devotees who come to pray at the monastery on the head with it.

It is believed that praying at the monastery can bless a childless woman with children.

Good omen

To get to the shrine, one has to walk through Yowakha village and several houses on the way are decorated with phallic paintings.

When people envy me or say bad things about me or my family, it takes away the sting
resident of Yowakha

Next to the traditionally painted wooden windows of the 80-year-old farmer, Dema's, house is a bright red painting of a penis.

Dema tells me she hired a professional artist to do it.

"It's to protect those who live inside the house," she says.

"It also means that there will be no quarrels among the family members." Her son, Yeshey, and niece, Dorji Zam, nod in agreement.

A few houses away lives 42-year-old Kinley.

A simple drawing of a phallus adorns his wall. He tells me he painted it last year when he renovated his house.

Phallus drawing
Meena (r) wants to get rid of the "embarrassing" image on her home

"It's to ward off the evil eye. When people envy me or say bad things about me or my family, it takes away the sting," Kinley says.

He plans to wipe it off and paint a new one.

"It's not nice. I did it in a hurry," he explains, as he calls his wife and children to pose for a picture with his art.

But not everyone's comfortable with the paintings.

In Misina village I come across a house where an obvious attempt is being made to wipe off the painting by coating it with mud.

Meena is 21 and she's clearly embarrassed about the huge painting standing on testicles that look like wheels.

"It's very disgusting," says Meena. "It's a male thing. I feel embarrassed when my father and brother are around. I want to get rid of it."

The importance of the symbol among many south Asian societies is strong.

Hindus in India and Nepal worship the lingam in temples dedicated to Lord Shiva.

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