The Phallus Paintings of Bhutan

It was around 12 pm when we reached Punakha Valley from Thimphu. I just stepped out of my bus when we were signalled to get ready for a short trek. “Where we need to go” I asked. “We are going for the lunch at one of the Cafe’s, post which we will move towards ‘that’ Monastery” our guide Sonam Karma signalled, pointing towards a far away Monastery which requires a moderate trek of 20 mins. But the route seemed gorgeous enough to continue


While I started walking towards the cafe, I stopped when I spotted a painting at the wall of a house, which to an extent resembled like a ‘Penis’. I noticed the small souvenirs of Penis at Handicraft Market in Thimphu as well but dismissed it as a chance spotting. But I got more curious when I started to see them in abundance in Punakha. Almost everywhere!


The walls were filled with paintings of penises and to my astonishment it was made in different sizes. Most of the penises painted on houses or suspended from rooftops in Bhutan were larger than humans. It was hilarious to spot a penis with ribbons tied around them. One had an eye as well ;). They typically feature hairy testicles and of course, all are fully erect. There were even Handicraft fertility shops


Infact anyone who has been to Bhutan can recount the sightings of this institutionalized graffiti on the walls, commemorating a tradition that Buddhists solemnly swear by. But if we look through the history importance of the symbol among many south Asian societies has been strong. Hindus in India and Nepal worship the lingam in temples dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Why Penis is painted on Walls in Bhutan? Why they are so cool about it? Let’s find out

These explicit paintings are known as Phallus paintings in Bhutan. These paintings are a part of Bhutanese tradition and can be seen painted on the walls of houses and buildings throughout Bhutan, particularly in villages.


More broadly, Bhutanese paint phalluses on their homes to protect their families from evil spirits and to promote fertility. It is also said to prevent quarrels among family members in the houses which are painted with these symbols. An interesting ritual is performed in Bhutan, as part of house warming ceremony of new houses, which entails erecting the phallus symbols at the four corners of the house and one inside the house. It involves raising a basket filled with the phalluses carved out of wood to the roof of the house to fix them at the four cardinal corners. Groups of both men and women get hired by the owner of the house in raising the basket to the roof.


But mainly the flying phalluses are tributes to the adored religious teacher and master of mahamudra Buddhism, Drukpa Kunley, known as “The Divine Madman” or “The Saint of 5,000 Women.”

Who was Drukpa Kunley

Kunley was a disciple of Pema Lingpa who migrated from Tibet, where he was trained in Ralung Monastery, to Bhutan. He was utterly devoid of all social conventions which earned him the name of Divine Madman, who extensively travelled in Bhutan and was fond of women and wine. He followed an unorthodox ways of teaching Buddhism and offered blessings in the form of sex.


PC: Flickr

He urged his followers to reject the hypocrisy of the world and to lead honest and spiritual lives. He spent his days singing and drinking with the ladies and deflowering their virginity.

His sexual escapades are legendary that Chimi Lhakhang monastery was built out of his honour after he subdued the cannibal demon goddess of the area with his “magic thunderbolt of wisdom.” A wooden effigy of Kunley’s thunderbolt is preserved in the monastery, the reason why the area around Chimi Lhakhang is abundant with such paintings compared to the whole Bhutan

Chimi LhakhangThe Fertility Temple

Chimi Lhakhang monastery, the shrine dedicated to Drukpa Kunley has several wooden penises which are used to sanctify people, seeking blessings to bear a child. Today hundreds of childless Bhutanese couples make pilgrimages to the fertility temple where a Buddhist monk blesses them with a wooden phallus. In Buddhist astrology, infertility is explained as an incompatibility of the combination of elements between couples.


I spoke to a Buddhist monk at the monastery to understand this fact and he explained “At least two of the five elements of each person (life energy, physical health, finances, social success and mental confidence, which correspond to the five universal elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water) must be compatible for a woman to conceive. The rest can be corrected by prayers, ceremonies and blessings”

“Sixty to 70 percent of all problems can be worked out,” said the monk, sitting on the floor of a monastery. Infertility is apparently a problem of the physical health or fire element within the couple which can be fixed the magic thunderbolt of flaming wisdom

Fading Art


Though Phallus has remained a part of Bhutanese culture for long, it now sounds embarrassing to the newer generations especially the younger ones, who shy away from displaying this unique piece of art on the walls. Especially the young girls who feels awkward when their male siblings are around.

P.S. I took this trip with Bhutan Bookings

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7 thoughts on “The Phallus Paintings of Bhutan

  1. So very interesting on so many levels. Weirdly enough I know many people who visited Bhutan yet this is the first I am hearing of these rather weirdly apt art. But it also doesn’t come as a surprise since Bhutan and its people are quite open-minded and considering that they even have a happiness index if there is one place where these symbols would exist in a casual manner it would be in Bhutan.

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