There is no doubt that archery has been an integral part of our social and cultural life since the time immemorial. For centuries, it has significantly contributed to the development of social, communication and interpersonal skills that have united the people from all social strata regardless of who they are. Besides, it has also served as the most important weapon during conflicts and wars especially during the theocratic rule between 1616 and 1907. Probably because of such a special historical and cultural significance attached to it, the game was declared as our national sport in 1971, the year in which Bhutan became a member of the United Nations. Since then, it has gained special attention even from the outside world. Today, the archery competitions and tournaments still form an important part of major celebrations such as religious festivals and public holidays. However due to the new innovative ideas that have emerged along with rapid globalization, the traditional bows and arrows that are made of bamboos and reeds are slowly getting replaced by imported modern equipment such as compound bows and arrows that are more sophisticated and powerful than the traditional ones. As a result, the safety at the archery ground is becoming a bigger concern over the recent years.
During my school days, the kind of respect we had for our teachers never changed even when they lashed us mercilessly. We did not have value-education classes but we knew our boundaries well. We have been culturally groomed to believe that teachers are like our parents and that we must respect them as much as we respect our parents. We have been convinced that we would earn respect if we know how to show respect to our elders and treat them with love and dignity. But sadly, this trend seems to be taking a different turn today. Probably due to the excessive exposure to western cultures through social and mainstream media outlets that have emerged with the technological revolution of the modern era, the youth of Bhutan appear to be gradually drifting away from the unique social and cultural values of our country that define us as Bhutanese. This rapid decline of values among the Bhutanese youth has triggered important discussions in the government agencies in the recent times. Upon the Royal Command of His Majesty the King, the Ministry of Education has already started working with the Royal Education Council (REC) to explore effective ways of inculcating our own national values into the young generation. The first draft of the curriculum framework for teaching values developed by REC was presented during the special meeting convened on 19th June 2017.
We are culturally brought up with the belief that whatever the elders say is true and that we should respect it. As a result, many beliefs we have inherited from our ancestors still remain mysterious. When I was a child, I still remember my parents often scaring the shit out of me by telling unbelievable stories whenever I disobeyed them. When I refused to take bath regularly and got infested with lice, they would warn me that crows would attack me on the head and that I would be flown away. Then when I whistled at night, they would warn me that whistling at night would invite ghosts to the house. Likewise, there were several superstitious beliefs that my parents and the elderly people shared with me and other children in the village. We would be scared like hell. But when I look back now and reflect on those lines, I am beginning to understand that those strange beliefs could have been the tactics used by our ancestors to actually discipline us. A careful analysis shows that there is a possible logic behind each superstitious belief our ancestors have left us with.
The tradition of consulting astrologers has always been an integral part of our social and cultural life for centuries. Even today, many people still continue to believe in the astrological findings and consult astrologers whenever they feel inadequate in their efforts to pursue their dreams. Besides, we also consult astrologers when a child is born or when a person has died to see what the future holds for him/her. This practice and the belief it generates gives us a psychological comfort and satisfaction. The astrologers believe that the movements and positions of the stars and planets significantly influence the way we think and act. The predictions are therefore derived from the careful observation of the movement and position of those celestial bodies in our solar system. In the modern era of advanced science and technology that promote logical thinking and reasoning, it sounds like a fairy-tale to believe that our life can be predicted when we do not even know what will happen to us the next moment.
Last Friday, I was walking with two of my friends on the Doebum Lam highway in Thimphu when a news reporter from India stopped us and asked us why Bhutanese people are happy. The reporter told us that his team was in Bhutan to understand our secrets to happiness. He excitedly talked to us how Bhutan has been known to the outside world as the Land of Happiness and that he was interested to find out why. So in response to his question, this is the gist of what I told him:
A couple of days ago, I read on Kuensel about how a Bhutanese official working at the Royal Bhutan Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand as Accountant was accidentally electrocuted while attempting to cross over the fence inside the residential area near the Embassy, but until yesterday, I never knew that he was my neighbor living just across the street here in Thimphu. I was shocked when my wife told me this after hearing the news from other neighbors who had gone to attend his cremation yesterday. Although I am not personally familiar with them, my wife knows his wife very well and she told me that she had met her with her daughter just last Sunday in the vegetable market. My wife says his wife is a very frank and friendly person and that she talks to her wherever she meets her. The deceased had left for Bangkok, Thailand in January this year and that his family was planning to join him soon. It seems they had even bought air tickets during this summer vacation to go to see him in Bangkok, but it’s very sad that their dream could not materialize. Life is just like a dream: you won’t know when you would wake up to reality.
In Hindu culture, the wedding ceremony is held in two phases: one at the bride’s house and another at the groom’s house. The first phase of the wedding takes place in the bride’s house during which the groom and his family-members come to formally receive their bride. The family-members and well-wishers of the bride also come together to attend the wedding party. But this phase of the marriage party is slightly different from the one which is to be held at the groom’s house later. Only vegetarian foods will be served and many people still wonder why meat is banned during this phase of the wedding. After careful analysis, I have found the logic behind this tradition.
“We had the first-hand experience of flying through the cyclone today and I hope you might have enjoyed it” the pilot announced as soon as we touched down at Chennai International Airport, probably in an effort to comfort the worried passengers. We all burst into laughter when the pilot made that announcement. The weather conditions in Chennai on Sunday, 15th November 2015 were really wild with heavy rains and strong cyclone. We took off from Bakdokra at 4:30 pm and after a short stop at Kolkata, we continued to Chennai in the same flight. But as we approached Chennai International Airport, the aircraft began to tremble wildly as we flew through the oncoming cyclone and heavy rains that had been flooding Chennai and the neighboring areas over the past five days or so. As the pilot announced, it was really a scary and dangerous flight. I had never been nervous and anxious like that before. I kept on praying as the aircraft struggled to cut its way through such a strong and wild rainstorm. But due to God’s grace and the kind wishes of our friends, we could safely land at Chennai at around 8:30 pm as scheduled.
Yesterday, I was highly privileged to have got the opportunity to celebrate the first ever National Scout Day with His Majesty the King at Harmony: the Centenary Youth Village. The event was organized by the Department of Youth and Sports, Ministry of Education where I work. All the officials of the Department, scouts from schools in Thimphu and other guests who were part of the celebration were equally excited to have His Majesty the King to grace the occasion coinciding with his 35th birth anniversary.
Today is the 1st day of the 1st month of lunar calendar and it’s celebrated as New Year in many Mahayana Buddhist countries. It’s the day to reflect on the past and rectify the mistakes we have committed. In Bhutan too, people celebrate this day as Losar, which means ‘New Year’ and it’s a feasting festival for families, friends and relatives. Traditionally, it’s said that people first go to temples and monasteries to make offerings and prayers and join their families, relatives and friends for the feast. But today, I don’t think people go to temples to offer prayers to Gods and deities but they do begin the day with special feast followed by traditional games like archery, Khuru and Doego. It’s a special day for all the families to join their friends and relatives to have fun together. People prepare special and delicious foods, both non-vegetarian and vegetarian items and enjoy among themselves with different types of drinks. It’s a great occasion for the entire nation except for the Lhotsham communities which do not celebrate it. This day marks the beginning of warm season that shall contribute to the regeneration of plants and flowers. Basically, it’s the beginning of a new cycle of the Buddhist calendar.
As a Buddhist nation sequestered by time and tradition for centuries, Bhutan has long been considered the Adobe of Gods mainly because of the spectacular beauty of its natural landscape interwoven with our unique socio-cultural identity. Tucked in the bosom of Himalayas, Bhutan has been blest with everlasting peace, harmony and stability. Having been groomed as a peace-loving nation in self-imposed isolation for ages, we take special pride in our rich and unique cultural and social values. But with the advent of cheaper mobile phones and cameras over the recent years, some Bhutanese today have begun to venture out on a new journey that can potentially ruin those values in the longrun.
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I was fortunate to be part of the team selected by Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan (DPAB) to take part in the international cultural exchange programme for persons with disabilities in New Delhi, India from 14th to 16th November, 2014. As usual, the event ‘Sambhav 2014’ was organized by Association of Learning Performing Arts and Normative Action (ALPANA) and it has been an annual event since 2006. I have learned that Sambhav which means “Possible” has been initiated to provide artists with disabilities a platform to showcase their artistic talents and promote the exchange of rich cultures among persons with disabilities from different parts of the world. Personally for me, it was an enriching experience to be part of the event amongst highly talented artists with disabilities from about 15 countries.
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We humanbeings are called social animals because we are the only creatures with the ability to socialize with each other. I often joke with friends that if we fail to socialize with others, then we lose the “social” part and we become only “animals”. It is part of our culture to get together with friends and relatives from time to time to take a short break from busy schedule and relax over a simple meal. But today, life has become so busy for everybody that we hardly get a chance to see our friends and relatives even in months. So, I feel that such an occasional gathering among friends and relatives is an important part of our social and cultural life. A social gathering is not only about eating. It is more than that. It helps us strengthen our bonding and deepen our relationships. It is the time when we exchange our concerns, and understand each other’s situations. More importantly, such gatherings can contribute to passing the values and a sense of belonging down the generations.