Friday Lens Affair #72

Mask dance festival in Bumthang, Bhutan

Today I’m featuring quiet unordinary photograph from Bhutan. Taken by Marisol and Keith Leong from Traveling Solemates. To see more pictures from a festival in Bumthang check out their blog, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Picture Story: Dance Festival, Bhutan

We were excited to finally set foot in one of the top destinations of our dreams – BHUTAN. Who wouldn’t be charmed by an idea of a small Buddhist Kingdom perched high in the Himalayas whose core philosophy is the enrichment of Gross National Happiness rather than gross national product?

Who wouldn’t be intrigued by a country so isolated that it didn’t formally open its door to tourism until 1974 and didn’t have televisions until the 1990′s?

Despite opening their door to tourism and embracing global developments, we admire that the people of Bhutan firmly maintain their unique cultural identity and traditions.

One of the highlights of our time in Bhutan was the observance of the traditional ancient festivals that are integral part of the cultural and spiritual life of the Bhutanese. These colourful festivals are dominated by ancient mask dances that were created by great Buddhist masters and saints during or even before the Middle Ages to convey spiritual messages to the people. Bhutanese believe that everyone must attend a religious festival and witness the mask dances at least once to receive blessings.

Performing the mask dances is an honour and are mostly performed by monks.  But there are other prominent characters in the festivals other than the masked dancers –  the atsaras (“clowns”).

They mimic the dances and joke with or annoy the audience. They also help to keep order. In one of the festivals we observed, this particular character in the picture stood out among the atsaras. He was wielding what looked like a wooden baton – but that baton is sculpted in a shape of a phallus! Phalluses are auspicious symbols for Bhutanese. They are believed to bring good luck and ward off evil. Drawings of phalluses, in fact, adorn the houses and buildings in the countrysides of Bhutan.

Anyway, this phallus-wielding atsara approached people in the audience and cajoled them to give him money. In return, he gave them blessings by patting their heads with the wooden phallus. It was an amusing sight to the unaccustomed.  This photo was taken as this naughty atsara was making his way up into our direction….

18 thoughts on “Friday Lens Affair #72

  1. Elena

    Wow, what a thrilling photo. I was thinking of going to Bhutan to check out the Tigers nest monastery that is absolutely stunning, yet now I really want to make it to the festival too! And when is it held?
    Elena recently posted…Postcards from EthiopiaMy Profile

  2. The Guy

    I love the story behind it and how they cajole people into giving money. I dare say anyone with a scary mask would be very successful?

    I also love what I read of Bhutan. Culturally it sounds fascinating.
    The Guy recently posted…Best Way To Save Money At Home Whilst On A Business TripMy Profile

  3. Van

    I love visiting festivals while being abroad. They tell you so much about the culture of the country you’re staying in!
    Van recently posted…Weekly Photo Challenge: Split-Second StoryMy Profile

  4. Theresa

    Stunning colors. And lovely photograph.

  5. What a great image! I was in Bumthang for the nomad festival. Bhutan is definitely a highlight in my continuing travels.
    Jonathan Look, Jr. recently posted…Jatiluwih Rice TerracesMy Profile