A prominent figure in Bhutanese culture is named Drukpa Kunley, otherwise known as the Divine Madman. There are a series of stories, fact and fiction, surrounding this cultural icon.
Prior to the sixteenth century, shamanistic beliefs and practices dominated the Bhutanese ideology. It was believed that deities inhabited and controlled natural forces like rivers, cliffs, and lakes. Drukpa Kunley entered the scene from Tibet and demonstrated his mystical powers by expelling these dark forces. His heroism is unique, however, because his methods challenged the conventional sacred methods of the time. In fact, many of the legends surrounding him incite humor and vulgarity as a type of shock therapy in his divine teachings.
One of the most fascinating legends is about the creation of one of the native species here, the Takin. When the pilgrimage from Tibet led Drukpa Kunley to Bhutan, the people doubted his divinity and asked for proof of his spiritual power. To prove himself, he waited until after a shared supper, where he and his hosts ate goat and beef. He then assembled the head of the goat with the body of the cow, and slapped the carcass and told it to go feed. Today this odd mammal is recognizable as the national animal of Bhutan.
Another Kunley legend relates to all the rather large and intricate paintings of phalluses that adorn buildings and fill souvenir shops. These were a fairly unavoidable observation throughout our travel – they are a sort of esoteric symbol meant to represent the Divine Madman and his teachings.
As mentioned previously, Drukpa Kunley had an unorthodox method of teaching and many of the legends regarding his non-monastic enlightenment include subduing demons with his erect organ and giving people blessings in the form of intercourse. Symbolic images of phalluses now represent protection from evil spirits, fertility, and remind devotees to live a life firmly bound in spirituality and openness.