Bhutan is a small Himalayan Kingdom wedged between its neighboring state of India and China. A country size of the Switzerland is home to just over 790,000 people. Its primeval history prior to the unification and conception of modern day Bhutan is filled with series of Tibetan Buddhist saints travelling across the valley preaching Buddhism. The era marked the genesis of a deeply rooted Buddhist nation. Its subsequent consolidation of the land under single authority was marked with the construction of gigantic fortresses on ridges overlooking the valley across different region. The presence of these fortresses across the valley symbolizes the recognition of a central authority and solidarity. Barring its negligible barter trade and religion inspired cultural exchange with Tibet and India; Bhutan lived through a period of self-imposed isolation until the mid-20th century. This extended period of isolation impervious to globalization has aided in the preservation of its unique heritage.
International tourism in Bhutan first began in 1974 commemorating the coronation of the Fourth King of Bhutan. Considered a living museum, tourists can experience the tranquility of ancient temples adorned with exquisitely drawn murals and intricately sculpted statues depicting pantheon of Buddhist gods. Tourists can also explore the majestic medieval fortresses. The architectural aesthetics of every fort embodies the traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan.
Gross National Happiness is a holistic and sustainable approach to development, which balances material and non-material values with the conviction that humans want to search for happiness. It is considered as the guiding philosophy of Bhutan’s development process, the philosophy was pronounced by His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck shortly after his enthronement in 1972. It is used as an indicator to measure the national progress. It serves as a philosophical guiding system for all national endeavors. GNH in its essence articulates that the collective happiness of its people is paramount to the progression of a nation. Gross Domestic Product while important, is deemed inadequate to accurately gauge the progress of a nation in the GNH paradigm. Gross National Happiness constitutes a set of values which are Socio Economic Development, Cultural Preservation, Good Governance and Environmental Conservation.
The intuitive guiding principle of Gross National Happiness led to a practical conceptualization for the foundation of the four pillars which are as follows:
Good Governance determines the conditions in which Bhutanese thrives accordingly with the policies and programs which are developed in Bhutan. These policies and programs are intended to keep conformity with the values of GNH. There are also a number of tools and procedures engaged to guarantee that the values are indeed well-established in social policy.
Sustainable Socio-economic Development
A prosperous GNH economy must value social and economic contributions considering all the aspects of households and families, free time and leisure given the roles of these factors in Happiness.
Preservation and Promotion of Culture
Preservation of the Bhutanese culture is a contributing aspect to Happiness because it instills a unique belonging to one’s land. Developing cultural resilience, which can be understood as the culture’s capacity to maintain and develop cultural identity, knowledge and practices, and able to overcome challenges and difficulties from other norms and ideals.
Environmental Conservation is considered a key contribution to GNH because in accumulation of the existing eco-system services, the environment also contributes to aesthetic and other factors that can directly heal people who enjoy vivid colors and light, untainted breeze and silence in nature’s sound.
The four pillars are further structured into nine domains, which articulate the different elements of GNH in elaboration and forms the basis of GNH measurement, index and screening tools.
• Living standards
• Community Vitality
• Psychological well-being
• Good Governance
• Cultural resilience and promotion
These nine domains demonstrate that various many inter-related factors are considered to be important in creating the conditions for happiness from the perspective of GNH.
Bhutan’s proximity to Tibet and the existence of ancient route between India and Tibet through Bhutan may have encouraged many Buddhist saints from Tibet to travel through modern day Bhutan spreading Buddhism. Historical accounts however like to narrate that many of those visits were prophesied and the great saints obliged to fulfill their calling. Buddhism spread across the valley and its foundation was reinforced with the construction of many Buddhist temples and monasteries. The practice of Buddhism gave birth to social behaviors that were passed on for generations which consequently evolved into a culture. Hence Bhutanese culture and Buddhism can be perceived as intertwined and is greatly revered by locals.
Tshechu are the most popular festival in Bhutan, it is a spiritual social event celebrated annually across the country. The festival honors Guru Rinpoche who is believed to have introduced Buddhism in Bhutan. Tshechu are organized in the courtyard within or around the majestic medieval fortresses. The monks are seen wearing colorful silk costume and their faces cloaked with intricately hand crafted mask. The mask depict terrifying pantheon of deities. The monks perform a series of religion inspired dances which includes a theatrical presentation of the afterlife and
the judgment day.
There are credibly six classified Tshechu in Bhutan namely Thimphu Tshechu, Jambay Lhakhang Drup, Wangdue Phodrang Tshechu, Punakha Drubchen, Paro Tshechu and Haa Tsechu. Out of the six, Thimphu Tshechu is known to be the most popular festival of Bhutan, thousands of people come together to witness the festivities.
During these festivals, it is a tradition for locals to dress ostentatiously and cook sumptuous food for the event. It is believed that the sacred masked dances invoke deities to bless the congregation. The festival usually lasts several days. The final day of a Tsechu is marked by the unfurling of a gigantic applique scroll painting depicting Guru Rinpoche before the break of dawn. Locals believe that the applique painting has the power to cleanse bad karma of anyone who catches a glimpse of the painting. The painting is only open to public display during the Tsechu.
The structural aesthetics and the interior design of a Dzong (fortress) epitomize the traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. The exquisite woodwork on the wooden pillars providing structural integrity and the extensive display of murals along the interior walls and a meticulously sculpted statue often gilded in gold sits in the inner sanctum. All fortresses have an extensive collection of sacred text that showcase an amazing art of calligraphy preserved for centuries. The architectural design and its aesthetics of these Fortresses and other religious sites were mostly instructed by Buddhist saints supposedly religion inspired. Subsequent construction by political leaders replicated the essential aesthetics thus preserving the unique features. Thirteen arts and crafts were recognized and institutionalized. National Institute of Zorig Chusum (13 arts and crafts) offer courses to specialize in these arts and crafts. The institute preserves and promotes these indigenous arts and crafts of Bhutan.
The constitution of Bhutan mandates a minimum of 60% forest covers at all times. Today its environment conservation effort has surpassed this mandate. Bhutan currently has 71% of the total land area under forest cover, majority of which has been identified and protected as national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Due to its wide range of altitudinal and climatic condition, Bhutan is gifted with a rich ecology and is considered one of the biodiversity hotspots thus numerous endangered species seek refuge in this last Shangri la.