Bhutan’s national flag is a white dragon on a diagonally divided background of golden yellow & reddish orange. The yellow represents the secular power of the King, the orange the Buddhist religion. The white of the dragon is associated with purity, & the jewels held in the claws st& for the wealth & perfection of the country. The national emblem is composed of a double diamond thunderbolt placed above a lotus, surmounted by a jewel & framed by two dragons, all contained within a circle. The thunderbolt represents the harmony between secular & religious power resulting from the Vajrayana form of Tibetan Buddhism, the lotus symbolizes purity, the jewel expresses sovereign power & the two dragons, male & female, st& for the name of the country, Drukyul, the l& of the thunder dragon.
Bhutan is the only country to maintain Mahayana Buddhism in its Tantric Vajrayana form as the official religion. The main practicing schools are the state sponsored Drukpa Kagyupa & the Nyingmapa. Buddhism transects all strata of society, underpinning multiple aspects of the culture. Indeed, religion is the focal point for the arts, festivals & a considerably above average number of individuals. The presence of so many monasteries, temples & stupas, monks & tulkus (reincarnations of high lamas) is indicative of the overarching role religion plays throughout the nation.
Although the Shabdrung is regarded as the founder of the nation, the secular realm has achieved an unprecedented degree of unity under the influential guidance of a Twentieth Century monarchy. Within a cultural context where the spiritual & temporal spheres are intimately connected, political leadership remains interpreted as divinely determined. The royal family traces its roots to the great Sixteenth Century saint Pema Lingpa, & the present monarch still enjoys a god-like status throughout much of his Kingdom. The Forth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck as the head of state now rules the Kingdom, with the throne retaining its position as the fulcrum of the political system.
Bhutanese art possesses a major Tibetan influence, although it has developed some of its own derivations. It has three main characteristics: it is anonymous, religious & performs no independent aesthetic function. Intricate wall paintings & Thangkas (wall hangings), most historical writing & fine sculpted images all have a religious theme. Given their role, these may be interpreted as created by artisans rather than artists, although there exist many extremely fine examples. All are viewed as sacred, & newly commissioned paintings & sculptures are consecrated through a special ceremony whereby they come to personify the respective deities.
Although both Buddhism & the monarchy are critical elements, it is the general extensive perpetuation of tradition that is possibly the most striking aspect of Bhutan’s culture. This is most overtly reflected in the nature of dress & architecture. All Bhutanese continue to wear the traditional dress: for men & boys the Gho, a long gown hitched up to the knee so that its lower half resembles a skirt, for women & girls the Kira, an ankle-length robe somewhat resembling a kimono. Generally colorful apparel, the fabrics used range from simple cotton checks & stripes to the most intricate designs in woven silk.
The Bhutanese architectural l&scape is made up of Chortens, stonewalls, temples, monasteries, fortresses, mansions & houses. Associated with a number of clear-cut architectural concepts & building types rooted in Tibetan Buddhism, there is a strong association between state, religious & secular forms. What makes it quite unique is the degree of uniformity, with all structures corresponding to traditional designs. Thus ancient monasteries & fortresses appear to merge with more modern popular dwellings to create a setting that is fully internally consistent.