While Bhutan is one of the smallest countries in the world, its cultural diversity and richness are
Traditional Bhutanese eating habits are simple and, in general, food is eaten with hands. Family members
eat while sitting cross legged on the wooden floor with food first being served to the head of the
It is usually women who serve the food and in most cases, the mother. Before eating, a short prayer is
offered and a small morsel placed on the floor as an offering to the local spirits and deities. With
modernization, eating habits have changed and in urban areas, people usually eat with cutlery whilst
seated at a regular dining table.
Traditionally dishes were cooked in earthenware, but with the easy availability of modern goods, pots and
pans have largely replaced their use. A typical Bhutanese meal consists of rice, a dish of Ema Datshi, the
country’s favourite dish of chili and cheese, pork, beef curry or lentils.
The birth of a child is always welcomed. In Bhutan extended family and guests are discouraged from
visiting during the first three days after the birth.
On the third day, a short purification ritual is performed after which visitors are welcomed to visit the new
born and mother. Bhutanese value children as progenitors of the future and therefore do not discriminate
on the sex of the child. Traditionally various gifts are offered ranging from dairy products to cloth and
The child is not immediately named; this responsibility is usually entrusted to the head lama (Buddhist
priest) of the local temple. The mother and child will also receive blessings from the local deity (natal
deity) and it was traditional that the name associated with the deity is given. In some cases, the child is
given the name of the day on which the child is born. Based on the Bhutanese calendar, a horoscope is
written based on the time and date of the birth, this will detail the various rituals to be performed at
different times in the life of the child and to an extent predict his or her future.
Until just a few decades ago arranged marriages were common and many married among their relatives.
In eastern Bhutan cross-cousin marriages were also once common, however, this practice is now
becoming less common place among the literate masses and most marriages are based on the choice of
Marriages are simple affairs and are usually kept low-key. However, elaborate rituals are performed for
lasting unions between the bride and the bridegroom. As the religious ceremony comes to an end, parents,
relatives and friends of the couple present the newlyweds with traditional offerings of scarves along with
gifts in the form of cash and goods.
In the Western Bhutan, it was commonplace that the husband goes to live in his wife’s house after
marriage while the practice in Eastern Bhutan is for the wife to move into the husband’s home. Of
course, the newlyweds may also choose to live on their own. Divorce is also an accepted norm and
carries no ignominy or disgrace within the country.
One of the most distinctive features of the Bhutanese is their traditional dress.
One of the most distinctive features of the Bhutanese is their traditional dress, unique garments that have
evolved over thousands of years. Men wear the Gho, a knee-length robe somewhat resembling a kimono
that is tied at the waist by a traditional belt known as Kera. The pouch t which forms at the front
traditionally was used for carrying food bowls and a small dagger. Today however it is more accustomed
to carrying small articles such as wallets, mobile phones and Doma (beetle nut).
Women wear the Kira, a long, ankle-length dress accompanied by a light outer jacket known as a Tego
with an inner layer known as a Wonju.
However, tribal and semi-nomadic people like the Bramis and Brokpas of eastern Bhutan generally wear
clothing that differs from the rest of the Bhutanese population. The Brokpas and the Bramis both wear
dresses woven either out of Yak or Sheep hair.
Bhutanese still wear long scarves when visiting Dzongs and other administrative centers. The scarves
worn vary in color, signifying the wearer’s status or rank. The scarf worn by men is known as Kabney
while those worn by women are known as Rachus. Below is a brief breakdown of the different kabneys
and their associated rank.
The Rachu is hung over a woman’s shoulder and unlike the scarves worn by men, does not have any
specific rank associated with its color. Rachus are usually woven out of raw silk and embroidered with
beautiful rich patterns.
Bhutan is rich in cultural diversity and this richness is further enhanced by the wide variety of elaborate
and colorful religious festivals that are celebrated throughout the country. Every village is known for their
unique festival though the most widely known is the annual Tshechu, meaning a religious festival.
As the Tshechu begins, the villagers and the general populace dress in their finest clothes and congregate
at their local temples and monasteries were these festivals take place. Tshechus are usually occasions to
mark important events in the life of the second Buddha, the Indian/Pakistani Tantric master known as
Guru Rinpoche or the Precious Gem. Various mask dances are performed together with songs and dances
for three days.
These religious celebrations are lively, high-spirited affairs during which people share meals of red rice,
spicy pork, Ema Datshi and Momos (pork dumplings) whilst drinking the heady traditional rice wine
known as Ara. These occasions provide the villagers with a respite from the hard labor of their day to day
lives and gives the community an opportunity to catch up with family and friends.