Travellers to Bhutan are often confused to see phallus painted on the outer walls of the houses or wooden phallus hanging or nailed on top of the front door. I was also amused to see this and decided to find out why.
I found out that this tradition started in 15th & 16th century by Lama Drukpa Kunley who was also known as a mad saint or divine madman. He originally came from Tibet and was the disciple of Pema Lingpa. He was fond of women and wine and would often demand these favours when travelling from one village to the other. His ways of teaching Buddhism were so unorthodox that it often shocked the monks.
When he came from Tibet he bought a wooden phallus decorated with a silver handle, which is now stored in Chimi Lhakhang, a monastery built near Lobesa village in Punakha, Bhutan. If you are women of childbearing age and visit Chimi Lhakhang, you will be blessed by the Lama by striking the phallus on your head.
It is believed that in Bhutan, phallus were part of the ethnic religion before the country embraced Buddhism. Lama Drukpa advocated the use of the phallus symbol as paintings on the walls and hanging the carved wooden phallus on house tops.
Though in urban areas this trend is now declining but is still prevalent in rural areas. On a drive from Thimpu to Paro, you can see these paintings on most of the houses. You will find them in various colours and some even tied with ribbons like presents.
During the house warming ceremony, in Bhutan, four wooden phallus are erected on the corners of eaves of the house and one inside the house. A basket full of phallus is raised by men to the roof while women pull it down and this continues amidst a lot of drinking, dancing, and signing by all present. The phallus are painted in five different colours signifying five divine interventions.