Traditions and customs of Bhutan

What traditions and customs are there in Bhutan?

An overview of the customs and traditions of Bhutan, in Asia.

Food in daily life

Due to the ethnic diversity of the people, there is some ethnic diversity in food. North Indian cuisine is often mixed with chili peppers from the Tibetan area in everyday dishes. Mushrooms, apricots, asparagus, a variety of chili peppers and numerous spices abound in almost all the valleys.

The spices, fruits, and vegetables are cooked with beef, chicken, pork, and dried yak, and resemble Chinese and Indian cuisine. Typical food also includes rice, dried beef or pork, and chili peppers sometimes cooked with soft white cheese. The most popular drink is tea, which is served in various ways.


Marriages can be arranged by the parents or by the people getting married. To get married, a certificate from the Court of Justice is required, but most marriages are performed by a religious leader.

The Bhutanese are essentially monogamous. Polyandry (multiple husbands) has recently been abolished; the practice of polygamy is legal as long as the first wife gives her consent.

A bride does not necessarily move into her husband’s house, as is common in much of the Indian subcontinent. The new husband may reside with his wife’s family if her need for work justifies it.

Alternatively, the new couple can establish their own home on their own plot of land. Divorce is permitted in Bhutanese society, although compensation is required from the party requesting the separation.


As a traditional society, the Bhutanese follow a highly refined system of etiquette, called “driglam namzha”. This traditional code of conduct supports respect for authority, devotion to the institution of marriage and family, and dedication to civic duty.

It governs many different kinds of behavior, including how to send and receive gifts, how to talk to authorities, how to serve and eat food on public occasions, and how to dress.

A royal decree issued in 1989 promoted the driglam namzha as a means of preserving a distinct national identity and instituted a national dress code. Men and women mingle and converse freely, without the restrictions that separate the sexes among other South Asian groups.


Religious beliefs

Buddhism, which was introduced in the 7th century, is the official religion of Bhutan. Bhutan is the only country in the world that has preserved the Vajrayana form of Mahayana Buddhism as the national religion.

Throughout Bhutan there are Buddhist stupas, which are considered a form of protection for tourists and residents. Hinduism is practiced by the southern Bhutanese. In 1980 King Wangchuck declared Dussera, one of the holy festivals of Hinduism, a national holiday.

Religious practitioners

There are ten thousand Buddhist monks and they are vitally involved in the religious and social life of the Buddhist population. Due to the religious importance of almost all major events in a Buddhist’s life, monks visit homes and perform rites on occasions such as birth, marriage, illness, and death.

Rituals and Holy Places

A series of annual festivals highlight different events in the life of the Buddha. Many of the festivals feature symbolic dances, which are believed to bestow heavenly blessings on the participants or spectators.

During religious festivals, tourists can enter the Dzong (monastery/fortress) and watch mask and sword dances; most of the dances date back to before the Middle Ages and are performed only once or twice a year. The fire dance performed at Bumthang is intended to help childless women who attend the festival conceive within the following year.

Death and the afterlife

Both Buddhists and Hindus believe in reincarnation and the law of karma. The law of karma dictates that an individual’s decisions and behaviors in one life can influence their transmigration to the next; for example, if someone lived in harmony with others, that person would transmigrate to a better existence after death.

In contrast, someone who has lived selfishly would inherit a life worse than the previous one after death.

Secular celebrations

One of the biggest annual festivals takes place on National Day, December 17, which commemorates the establishment of the monarchy. In this event, the king participates by serving meals and accompanying the attendees in games and dances.

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