Religion in Bhutan - Bhutanese People and Their Culture

Known as the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’, Bhutan is a country whose development is measured by Gross National Happiness(GNH). The scenic landscapes, enormous peaks and peaceful monasteries will make you a totally changed person after your trip. Buddhism is the official and most prominent religion of Bhutan gives this country its cultural and religious heritage. However, one-fourth of the population practices other religions such as Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Bon.

1. Buddhism - Major Religion in Bhutan

Buddhism in Bhutan, Religion in Bhutan
Originated from Tibet, Buddhism is practised in the country by 75% of the population of Bhutan. Bhutanese people follow the Vajrayana or the Mahayana branch of Buddhism, which plays a significant role in the cultural, traditional and social development of the country. The Tibetan immigrants and their descendants, known as the Ngalop, form a majority of the Buddhist population and reside mostly in the central- west region of Bhutan. The original residents of the country, called the Sharchops, live in east Bhutan.

You would find monks on every road of Bhutan, and monasteries and shrines on every other turn. However, the rituals and organisations of Buddhism vary from villages to villages. In monasteries one would witness monks and nuns with their head shaved and wearing maroon robes, doing their practices that include meditation, study, helping the underprivileged, and the holy chants and prayers bringing calm and peace in one’s mind.

Buddhism also reflects in the monuments, architecture and the prayer flags that are seen throughout the country. To experience the true essence of the Buddhist religion, one must pay a visit to Rinpung Dzong in Paro, Thimphu Tango Monastery, Nalanda Buddhist Institute in Punakha and take a hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Most of the schools in Bhutan also teach Buddhist practices and follow a strict disciplined system.

2. Hinduism in Bhutan

Hinduism in Bhutan, Religion in Bhutan
Hinduism is the second most practised religion in Bhutan after Buddhism and comprises 22.6% of the total population. There are several Hindu temples in Bhutan, especially in southern Bhutan. Hindu Vedic Schools can also be found at different parts teaching Hindu cultures and traditions.

Bhutanese Hindus celebrate several Hindu festivals, the prominent one being Dashain or Dasera, which is the only public holiday associated with Hinduism. The Hindu Dharma Samudaya of Bhutan (HDSB) is an organisation with the motive to promote Hindu cultures and spiritual traditions across the country.

3. Christianity in Bhutan

Roman Catholics constitute less than 1% ( about 0.9% currently ) of the total population in Bhutan, most of which reside in the southern part of the country. Christianity set foot in Bhutan when two Portuguese, Estêvão Cacella and João Cabral, in 1627 reached this country in an attempt to go to the Jesuit Mission in Tibet.

According to the Constitution of Bhutan, one is given full religious freedom but is forbidden for any form of religious conversion. This refrains the Catholics to proselytise according to the mission of Open Doors. International Christian relief organisations and priests organise various community and humanitarian services in Bhutan.

4. Bonism/Animism in Bhutan

Bon in Bhutan, Religion in Bhutan
Although Bhutan is considered as the last Vajrayana Buddhist country, a lot of people here still practice animism. Bon, an indigenous rural Tibetan religion believes in the worship of nature and was the dominant religion in Bhutan before the coming of Buddhism. It is still practised by several scholars and some of the elite in Bhutan. Bonism includes animal sacrifice and nature worship. Hence several water bodies and various animals are considered sacred and pure, especially the dragon.

5. Islam

Islam in Bhutan, Religion in Bhutan
About 0.1% of the Bhutanese population (about 7,000 people ) practice Islam. Religion does not have any proper recognition in the country. There are no mosques in Bhutan.

Religious Freedom in Bhutan

The Constitution of 2008 in Bhutan, provides all citizens with the freedom to practice any religion in the country. However, the government has limited Bhutanese to construct any non-Buddhist religious buildings or celebrate non-Buddhist festivals. Since the year 2015, the government considered Hinduism as a national religion hence encouraging in the construction of Hindu temples and celebrating their festivals.

Read More about the Culture of Bhutan

Though the country gives its citizens the right to freedom of religion, apart from Buddhism and Hinduism, other religions do not flourish as they have no public place of worship. Bhutan is the only country in the world which has Buddhism as its official religion, and because of this, people all over the world visit this country to explore this religion more and find peace, calm and rejuvenation. Since it is a Buddhist country, people are supposed to behave in a certain way, like dress appropriately and maintain silence where needed.

This post was published by Shreya Prasad

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