Bhutan Has a Unique Cultural Identity

Bhutan has been blessed with a sustained, rich cultural heritage.

Despite the lack of military might or economic power in the global arena, Bhutan maintains a distinct authority and a special identity of its own. This preservation of culture and identity is crucial to Bhutan in the quickly globalizing world. Bhutan’s unique identity is reflected through the magnificent architecture, dress, traditional ceremonies, archery, and the everyday Bhutanese way of life. Bhutan’s traditional beliefs and customs stress respect for all sentient beings and encourage values such as tolerance, compassion, respect, and generosity. It’s important that Bhutan never sees its culture diminished in any way. If future generations don’t feel the significance of sustaining these important values and traditions, then Bhutan’s culture will be left in a very fragile state. There is delicate balance between the changes brought upon by the rapidly modernizing and globalizing world and the traditional Bhutanese way of life.

Dasho Kinley Dorji, Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Communication, stated, “Bhutan decided long ago that we will never be a military power, we will never be an economic force, so to survive we must have a distinct identity. This is the identity you see; our clothes, language, the architecture. You look around and feel like you are in a different world. This is not an accident.”

Anyone looking at the ancient dzongs, intricate weavings and textiles, farming traditions, and cultural and spiritual events and ceremonies can see the people of Bhutan have made an earnest effort to preserve our culture with respect and reverence. The government promotes and supports traditional arts and crafts and funds projects for restoration of historic sites, such as dzongs and monasteries. But additional help is needed not only from Bhutanese society but from the global community to continue these efforts so Bhutan’s identity is not lost.

The Bhutan Foundation is working with the Government of Bhutan to preserve Bhutan’s unique identity by funding the restoration of important cultural sites, such as the Shingkhar Temple and the Tamshing Monastery in Bumthang, with support from the Friends of Tamshing. Natural disasters such as earthquakes remain a threat to Bhutan’s unique architecture and cultural heritage, and the Bhutan Foundation is raising funds for the restoration of important fortresses and monasteries after the earthquake in September 2009.

A holistic approach to preventing further loss of village traditions and culture is to help communities revitalize lost or degraded cultural space for village events.  The Bhutan Foundation supports community revitalization efforts such as Chang Namkhar in Paro, where a community monastery roof was rebuilt to revive and house local festivals.  We are also starting a new project that will support research and documentation of Bhutan’s oral literature.

Our unique cultural identity is what travelers to Bhutan remember.  But it’s also what connects us to our past.