Bhutan | Punakha

Chimi Lhakhang

Embrace Bhutan Cultural Tour

Punakha | Bhutan

09 Nov 2019 | Sat

Day 03 of 13

  • Drive | Thimphu to Punakha
  • Dochula Pass | 108 Druk Wangyal Chortens
  • Lunch | Divine Cafeteria Punakha
  • Chimi Lhakhang
  • Punakha Dzong
  • Drubchhu Resort Punakha

Chimi Lhakhang

After our awesome lunch at Divine Cafeteria Punakha, it was time to talk a short walk/trek to our next destination – Chimi Lhakhang (Temple dedicated to the famous Buddhist master, Drukpa Kunley aka the “Divine Madman”).

Short Walk To Sopsakha Village

We started by walking out behind the restaurant into a vast area of terraced rice fields. Along the way was a mix of various agricultural fields (rice, vegetables), greenhouses, traditional Bhutanese homes, and a small prayer wheel house surrounded by numerous prayer flags. We walked by a few women tending their fields (with a couple of cows keeping them company). It was a beautiful sight to pass through on our way to Chimi Lhakhang.

Prayer Wheel House Surrounded By Prayer Flags
Woman Tending Her Fields

Is That Phallus Symbols I See Everywhere?… Yes, It Is!

Phallic Symbols Painted On Homes / Properties

As you get closer to Chimi Lhakhang you will notice that many homes/structures will have colorful phallus symbols painted on them. This is done in the spirit of the Buddhist master, Drukpa Kunley aka the “Divine Madman” whose unorthodox methods of teaching Buddhism advocated the use of phallus symbols as paintings on walls and as flying carved wooden phalluses on house tops at four corners of the eaves.

Sopsakha Village – Walk To Chimi Lhakhang

Once you reach the base of the temple grounds, you will be entering the village of Sopsakha (aka the “Phallus Valley”). Here you walk through a mix of homes, small shops, and businesses all covered with paintings and artwork of colorful phalluses. Many of the shops sell a wide variety of phallic souvenirs that come in different shapes, sizes, colors, patterns, and even painted faces!

To a westerner, walking through and experiencing this area could be one of the more bazaar things to encounter, however, to the Bhutanese people, the phallus is looked upon as a symbol of good luck and is thought to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.

Local Village Shop Selling Phallic Souvenirs and Artwork

Continuing through this area you will eventually reach the trail that goes up to Chimi Lhakhang. Along the trail, you still may encounter a few vendors selling phallic souvenirs. You also will pass through several areas of prayer flags.

Prayer Flags On The Trail Up To Chimi Lhakhang

Before reaching the top, you will pass by a large prayer wheel before you encounter a huge bodhi tree in the courtyard (believed to have been brought from Bodhgaya in India).

Prayer Wheel Near Top of Courtyard
Huge Bodhi Tree At Top Of Temple Grounds

Chimi Lhakhang

Chimi Lhakhang is a lovely temple on a small hilltop. This temple is dedicated to the famous and unorthodox 15th century Buddhist master, Drukpa Kunley or popularly known as the ‘Divine Madman’ in the west, who is associated with the phallic symbols you would have seen on your travels in Bhutan so far. It is believed that this temple blesses women who seek fertility. A popular pilgrimage spot for the Bhutanese, it is frequented by childless couples and parents who have difficulty raising children.

Embrace Bhutan Travel

Chimi Lhakhang

“Chimi Lhakhang, also known as Chime Lhakhang or Monastery or temple, is a Buddhist monastery in Punakha District, Bhutan. Located near Lobesa, it stands on a round hillock and was built in 1499 by the 14th Drukpa hierarch, Ngawang Choegyel, after the site was blessed by the “Divine Madman” the maverick saint Drukpa Kunley (1455–1529) who built a chorten on the site.”

“In founding the site it is said that Lama Kunley subdued a demon of Dochu La with his “magic thunderbolt of wisdom” and trapped it in a rock at the location close to where the chorten now stands. He was known as the “Mad Saint” or “Divine Madman” for his unorthodox ways of teaching Buddhism by singing, humour and outrageous behaviour, which amounted to being bizarre, shocking and with sexual overtones. He is also the saint who advocated the use of phallus symbols as paintings on walls and as flying carved wooden phalluses on house tops at four corners of the eaves. The monastery is the repository of the original wooden symbol of phallus that Kunley brought from Tibet. This wooden phallus is decorated with a silver handle and is used to bless people who visit the monastery on pilgrimage, particularly women seeking blessings to beget children. The tradition at the monastery is to strike pilgrims on the head with a 10-inch (25 cm) wooden phallus (erect penis). Traditionally symbols of an erect penis in Bhutan have been intended to drive away the evil eye and malicious gossip.”

– from Wikipedia Chimi Lhakhang

Inside Chimi Lhakhang

Entrance To Chimi Lhakhang

A gigantic prayer wheel lies at the entrance of the temple. Inside the temple, there is a prayer hall that comprises tantric paraphernalia, thangkas (religious scrolls), bells, drums, horns and dorjis (thunderbolt). Prominent among these was the 10-inch ivory and wooden phallus as well as the bow and arrow used by Drukpa Kunley. At the center of the altar is a statue of Drukpa Kunley in monk’s robe in a reclining position with a ceramic statue of his dog, Sachi. Other deities such as Zhabdrung, Sakyamuni Buddha and Chenresig are also deified in the temple. There are also frescoes painted on the walls of the temple depicting the Divine Madman’s flamboyant life.

– Offical Chimi Lhakhang Website Chimi Lhakang Architecture

When we arrived outside the entrance of the temple we took our shoes off and found a place to store them. We were not allowed to take our pictures inside the temple. Once inside, we were very surprised by how small the visiting area was. It’s a busy temple with many people entering and exiting. We found a spot off to one side where we could watch monks performing fertility ceremonies.

As it was explained to us, hopeful parents who are trying to conceive would visit the temple to have a fertility ritual performed by monks. The steps performed in the ceremony/ritual were:

  • A senior monk starts the fertility ceremony by reciting prayers and blessing the woman by softly hitting her head with a 10 inch phallus (made of wood and ivory)
  • This blessing continues by softly hitting her head with a bow and arrow that supositly was used by Drukpa Kuenley himself, hundreds of years ago.
  • The woman then carries a very large wooden phallus outside, barefoot, around the temple three times
  • A 300 year old dice (made out of bone) is rolled. The resulting number will be discussed among attending monks to determine your odds of conceiving along with when it might take place.
  • Monks also have a ritual to help determine the name of the future child along with giving blessings for any current children.

We found the fertility ritual (the parts we saw) to be very interesting. Looking at stories online, many couples have found success after visiting Chimi Lhakhang. Some may discount such a place or the ceremonies being performed but after visiting, we definitely thought there was something special about this place. I think it could be as simple as the power of believing in something so strong that it helps influence the outcome.

According to local myth, a vile demoness by the name of Loro Duem resided in the high pass of Dochu La and she used to terrorise all those who attempted to cross this pass. There were two other demonesses who lived in two smaller passes. As a result, the folks in the valley lived in constant fear and misery.

When Drukpa Kunley first stepped foot in Bhutan, he heard about these demonesses and the sufferings they have been causing. Thus, he made his way to Dochu La and upon his arrival, the three demonesses recognised him and his divine power. They tried escaping to the valley but two of the demonesses ‘dissolved’ into the body of Loro Duem.

Upon reaching the plains of Lobesa, Loro Duem morphed herself into a dog to disguise herself. However, Drukpa Kunley recognised Loro Duem and subdued her with his “Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom” which is said to be the phallus, thus, the symbol of Chimi Lhakhang. Drukpa Kunley then buried the demoness under the mould of a hill that resembles the breast of a woman. He then uttered the word ‘Chime’ which means ‘no dog’ and built a black chorten on top of the mould.

Prior to killing and burying the demoness, Drukpa Kunley made the demoness to pledge service to the Buddha and to become the protector of the dharma. She is now the local deity known as Chhoekim who is the guardian of Chimi Lhakhang.

Later in the 15th century, Drukpa Kuenley’s cousin Lam Ngawang Choegyal built a temple in honour of Drukpa Kunley and named it Chimi Lhakhang, literally translated as ‘No Dog Temple’.

– Offical Chimi Lhakhang Website History of Chimi Lhakhang

Black Chorten Where Drukpa Kunley Subdued Demoness Loro Duem

When we were leaving temple grounds (returning down the trail) we met and had a great conversation about a young Bhutanese couple who had traveled a great distance to visit the Chimi Lhakhang. They told us what a great honor it was to visit the temple. They were planning to have their first child and were hoping the fertility ritual performed at the temple would help increase their chances. They were such a nice, pleasant couple and you could feel the overwhelming happiness they had from being there that day. It really touched us.

Needless to say, we really enjoyed our visit to Chimi Lhakhang!

– from Wikipedia Phallus Paintings in Bhutan

Chimi Lhakhang

Map – Chimi Lhakhang

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