What are some of the Bhutanese beliefs and superstitions
For a country deeply rooted in spirituality, you will find Bhutanese especially the Buddhist rely on astrology for major events in life. Auspicious date, day, signs, year, time, are important aspects of Bhutanese life.
In ancient days, bonism or animism beliefs were widely observed in Bhutan. In some remote parts of the country, people still practice that. They worship nature and spirits by sacrificing animals to appease the local deity, so that the deity will bring blessing and prosperity to their family and village. Thus, any form of disrespect toward the spirits will bring misfortune to the person or the family. But with modernisation and education, the practice is slowly diminishing from the country.
Bhutanese have tremendous respect for their Gods and deities. Hence, in Bhutan, you will find many beliefs, which sometime can seem very superstitious. Some of these beliefs predate the existence of Buddhism in Bhutan.
Bhutanese seek the astrologer for many decisions in life; from wedding to career, starting of a new journey, construction of a new site, celebrating a promotion or even national events.
Nationwide vaccination drive in Bhutan
While COVID-19 vaccines from India arrived in Bhutan in January 2021 but it was not until the ‘right time’ that the people of Bhutan got inoculated. The dana (inauspicious month) falls between February 14 and March 13. Hence, March 27th was chosen as the auspicious date to carry out the nationwide vaccination programme. The date and time were fixed as per the Buddhist astrology and advise from Zhung Dratshang, the central monastic body of Bhutan who looks after the religious activities of the country.
On March 27th, Buddhist prayers were chanted, and butter lamps were lit at the auspicious hour of 9:30 a.m. The first dose of vaccine was administered to a woman born in the Year of the Monkey, Ninda Dema, by a nurse who had been born on the same year, all of which were deem as auspicious as per astrology.
Bhutan managed to vaccinate 93% of its eligible population in just two weeks. A big achievement for a small nation when the whole world is struggling to unite and educate people about the importance of vaccination to end the current pandemic.
Coronation of fifth King
Bhutanese had to wait two years for the official coronation of His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck after astrologers deemed 2007 a “black year,” unsuitable for any major events. The astrologer-monks found that the 1st and the 6th November, 2008, in Bhutanese calendar - the 8th and the 13th day of the ninth month of the Earthen Rat Year - are the most auspicious days.
Thus, King Jigme Khesar was coronated on 1st November 2008, at the age of 28 years old. He received the sacred dhar (scarf) and was crowned the fifth king of Bhutan in Punakha Dzong. He also became the world’s youngest reigning monarch. A public celebration was held on 6th November 2008, marking 100 years of monarchy in Bhutan.
Marriage in Bhutan
Bhutanese usually seek the astrologer to set the day and time or to check zakar (auspicious days) to hold their marriage ceremony. Marriage in Bhutanese society is held in simple ceremony with invitees presenting the khaddar (ceremonial scarf) to the couple.
The royal wedding of King Jigme Khesar and Queen Jetsun Pema took place on 13 October 2011 at Punakha Dzong at Punakha, Bhutan. The traditional Buddhist ceremony began around 8:20 am, a time which was set by royal astrologer.
Birth of a child
It is a festive occasion when it comes to the birth of a child in Bhutan and there is no discrimination between a boy or a girl baby. Many parents go to the monasteries or monks and astrologers to get names for their child.
The first week after a child is born, parents seek local astrologers to write the child’s birth astrology, known as kyetsi. The astrologer uses the information given by the parents; the time, day, date, month and year of birth, to calculate the kyetsi. The kyetsi provides prediction of a child’s personality, future life and forecasts potential obstacles in the child’s life. The kyetsi is regularly consulted by parents in order to undertake preventative measures to remove any potential hurdles or misfortunes of the child.
Astrologer are often consulted for activities like ground-breaking ceremonies for construction. The selection of the site, as well as the different stages of the construction, are also guided by the astrologer's calculations and always followed by rituals. To build monasteries, lhakhangs (temples) and chortens (stupa), the configuration of the site and good omens are considered very important.
For instance, when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel was in Chimi Lhakhang at Punakha, an old cripple approached him and told him that if he built a dzong (ancient fortress) in Wangdue Phodrang on a ridge that resembled a sleeping elephant, he would unite the country. Zhabdrung concluded that the old man was Yeshey Goenpo (Mahakala) and sent a noble to study the location. The noble reported that he saw four ravens circling the ridge, which flew away in four different directions when he approached. Taking this to be a good omen, Zhabdrung constructed the Punakha Dzong in 1638.
Below are few other beliefs and superstitions that the Bhutanese believe in, some of which are not associated withBuddhism:
- Cutting nails, hair and sharpening knives at night is considered to shorten a person’s life.
- Black cat crossing the road or path when travelling to a distant place is considered bad omen.
- Books should not be kept open when you are not reading otherwise ghosts would read it.
- Dream of throwing dust after sweeping means wastage of wealth and collecting dust indicate incoming of wealth.
- When newborn babies do not sleep at night, parents are advised to hang lungdhar (square or rectangular colourful prayer flags) to get rid of any negative energy.
- A person who offer flowers at the altars and temples are believed to be reborn as a beautiful person when they reincarnate.
- The pet dog in the house takes all the negativity of the family and the family is spared of suffering from bad luck in the house.
- Hovering of bees in the house brings good luck while wasps bring bad luck.
- The fortune of a person is determined by their forehead.
- Having moles in the corners of the eye is believed to shed plenty of tears.
- Howling dogs at night are believed to signify death in the direction the dogs are facing.
- The auspicious days are on the 8th, 15th, and 30th where people visit sacred places and chant prayers.
- The days coinciding with 2, 8, 14, 20 and 26 of the Bhutanese lunar month are considered inauspicious for travel.
- The lunar calendar is based on zodiac sign (12-year animal cycle) and each day is associated with one of the astrological signs of the animal. For example, Tuesday is a good day for those who are born in the year of ox, dragon, and dog but a bad day for those born in the year of snake and horse.
For an outsider visiting Bhutan, one might not be able to comprehend the extent of spirituality and beliefs that intertwine in an individual’s life. But that is also what makes this country and its people unique, spiritual, and beautiful.