Chimi Lhakhang – Tales of the Fertility Temple in Bhutan

posted in: Art & People, Asia, Bhutan, Culture, Heritage | 66

Bhutan can be quite a scandalous place! It is possibly, the only place where Phalluses are worn as charms! I swear! They are! And if you find this first line shocking, well, then a quick alert before you proceed to read this post. While there is nothing obscene about the post, it could get you uncomfortable. If you do decide to read on, you are likely to enjoy the fascinating tales of the Fertility Temple of Bhutan – the Chimi Lhakhang. Once you hear the stories, you will realize why the public display of these private parts is not so unusual in Bhutan.

Chimi Lhakhang or the Fertility Temple in Punakha, Bhutan
Chimi Lhakhang or the Fertility Temple in Punakha, Bhutan

Our first stop in Punakha turned out to be this Fertility Temple. Quite renowned, the Chimi Lhakhang temple beckons visitors from not just Bhutan – but across the world for it is believed that any childless couple who visits here is blessed with a baby. For me, the temple was all about the unusual rituals and colorful legends. Though it might seem scandalous from its symbols, it is quite sacred and clean to visit. In fact, it is quite a delightful visit as you walk through lovely open fields to a beautifully carved monument of faith. The best way to make you believe this is to take you along my journey to the Chimi Lakhang – The Fertility Temple of Bhutan.

History of the Fertility Temple, Bhutan

Once upon a time, there was a monk called Drukpa Kunley. In fact, he was one of the key monks that brought Buddhism from Tibet to Bhutan. Known for his unusual methods of teaching and his crazy songs lined with humor and sexual connotations, he soon became famous as the “Divine Madman“. This Divine Madman came to Punakha to get rid of a demon from Dochula. The demon took the form of a dog and fell dead as he was struck down by the “Flaming Thunderbolt of Wisdom” created by the Divine Madman. This Flaming Thunderbolt of wisdom is what they say was the Phallus and thus, the symbol of Chimi Lhakhang.

Phalluses - a symbol associated with the Divine Madman & Fertility temple of Bhutan
Phalluses – a symbol associated with the Divine Madman & Fertility temple of Bhutan

The stricken Demon was captured in a Chorten (Stupa) by the Divine Madman and he uttered the words “Chi Mi” meaning no dog. The Chorten is said to be on top of a mountain in the form of a woman’s breast and it is at this sacred spot that the fertility temple was built.

Since then, phallus became a symbol of prosperity and luck. It also used to ward off evil and malice. And this, my friends, is a reason why it is found painted on house, erected on rooftops and even worn, around the neck! (Mostly by Scarecrows ;-))

Through the Village of Sopsokha

Divine symbols of the Fertility temples painted on the walls of Sopsokha village, Bhutan
Divine symbols of the Fertility temples painted on the walls of Sopsokha village, Bhutan

The Village of Sopsokha greeted us with these divine symbols. I knew what to expect and in some ways, found it funny to see it in person. The depictions of the said private parts were what made it so – for they were colorfully shaded, some with ribbons and funny saying written around them. While every visitor here had this secret embarrassing smile, the locals were quite nonchalant. They went about their business of selling the wooden wares, showcasing the different colors and designs on these “divine art forms”. As amusing as it was to us, we also, understood that it was their part of life and we needed to respect that!

Symbols of Fertility Temple sold in Sopsokha Village
Symbols of Fertility Temple sold in Sopsokha Village

A small walk through the fields

Hike through the fields to the Fertility Temple, Bhutan
Hike through the fields to the Fertility Temple, Bhutan

A long stretch of paddy fields lay between the village Sopsokha and the Fertility temple. It was crossing these that turned out to be the most amazing part of this journey. There is something refreshing as you walk amid the green layers of paddy. We jumped some terraces and walked through a few fields to capture those dreamy moments that you possibly see only in the movies.

Prayer flags and Chortens amid the Paddy Fields, enroute to the Fertility temple
Prayer flags and Chortens amid the Paddy Fields, enroute to the Fertility temple

The villages of Punakha seemed so gorgeous in that terraced field set-up. The brown and red homes of people were beautifully offset by the surrounding green. Prayer Flags fluttered at regular intervals along the path as well as the lone Chortens along the way. Every angle of that landscape was just picture perfect.

Amid the Paddy Fields enroute to Chimi Lhakhang, Bhutan
Amid the Paddy Fields enroute to Chimi Lhakhang, Bhutan

With the winds blowing on our face, a few playful stops with the sprinklers and loads of photos, we finally crossed over to another small village called Lobena.

Artifacts along the way

Lobesa Village along the way to Feritlity Temple
Lobesa Village along the way to Feritlity Temple

The village was lined with shops selling not just the Wooden charms but also, beautiful Bhutanese Thangka Art and Mani stones. I would recommend a quick stop in one of these shops to see how Thangka Art is made. You will see the artisans working on pieces, carefully filling in the gem-stone colors. Each piece of Thangka art depicts scenes from Buddhist scriptures or the Bhutanese Buddhist history. One look at the work and you know why these paintings are worth every penny that you pay for it.

Thangkha Art in Bhutan
Thangkha Art in Bhutan

Chimi Lhakhang – the fertility temple

The Chorten in which the demon is trapped at the Fertility temple
The Chorten in which the demon is trapped at the Fertility temple

And then, we finally reached the fertility temple. The first thing that we encountered as we walked up the little incline is a huge prayer wheel and a little drinking station. Going past it, just outside the main temple, is a black Chorten. This is where they say the Divine Madman has trapped the dog demon!

The prayer wheels around the Fertility Temple, Bhutan
The prayer wheels around the Fertility Temple, Bhutan
Couple visiting the Fertility Temple
Couple visiting the Fertility Temple

The temple itself is an elegant structure with its brown and golden roof.  The white of the building was further enhanced by the gold medallions stuck at regular intervals in a brown band. The temple was a brilliant example of how you can have beauty in simplicity.

There were loads of families – couples and ones with kids, turning the line of prayer wheels around the temple. Their faith oozed into the air, lending serenity to the atmosphere. Following them, we entered the temple, Once within, I had to put away my camera for no pictures were allowed.

Inside the Fertility Temple, Bhutan
Inside the Fertility Temple, Bhutan

The temple is quite small compared to a lot of others that I had already visited in Bhutan. Even then, it was as beautiful. A large statue of Guru Padmasambhava stood at the center of the altar along with one of the Divine Madman in a reclining pose next to it. The interesting part of the rituals here is when a childless couple visits the temple, they are blessed with a divine phallus – a wooden one that is attached to a silver stick. Once the couple gets a baby, they return with the child to seek blessings and name it. The child’s name is written on a bamboo parchment and kept on the altar.

Back for some lunch

Monk Kids playing football at the Fertility Temple
Monk Kids playing football at the Fertility Temple

Having observed a few of these rituals, we stepped back into the outer compound of the Fertility temple. There is a small monastery attached to the temple, where plenty of monk kids study and stay. It must have been a break time, for they were engrossed in a serious game of football. With their permission, I clicked a few pictures, all the while cheering them on. It was kind of cute seeing them.

Sopsokha village and Lobesa Village as seen from the Fertility temple, Bhutan
Sopsokha village and Lobesa Village as seen from the Fertility temple, Bhutan

With a quick wave to them, we returned back through the fields to the Sopsokha village for some quick lunch. With our bellies filled with the tasty Ema Datshi, we bundled back into the car for our next destination – Punakha Dzong. As I glimpsed at the last of those divine symbols of Sopsokha village, I told myself “Ah Well! That wasn’t so bad! Just a different and unique part of the Bhutanese culture”

Getting here

  • The only way to get to Punakha is by road – either from Paro or Thimphu. A cab is recommended for the same.
  • The Chimi Lhakhang temple is located on the outskirts of the main Punakha town. You can visit it before you get into the town or while leaving the town as it is on the way to Dochula Pass.
  • To know how to get to Bhutan and for cab rentals, I recommend reading my Bhutan Travel Guide.

Travel Tips

  • There is nothing obscene about the Fertility temples. While the depictions are graphic, there is nothing in the temple that is scandalous. It is based on the tolerance levels that you can decide whether you want to take your kids there or not. The locals always do.
  • There are no entrance fees to the temple
  • Wear flat shoes as there is plenty of walking to be done. The hike to the temple is a flat land and will take around 20 mins. If you do not wish to walk through the fields, you can drive right up to the beginning of the hill where the temple is built. However, after that, you will have to still walk uphill.
  • The shops selling the various artifacts have more or less fixed pricing. I did find the same higher than what I saw in Paro.
  • There are restrooms along the way.
  • There is only one restaurant in Sopsokha, where you can grab a meal. You will not find any other cafe or restaurant around here.
  • Punakha requires an additional permit to visit. This can be arranged from Thimphu. You can get more details on this through my Bhutan Travel Guide.

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66 Responses

  1. Ryan K Biddulph

    LOL on your 2 line lead in Ami. This reminds me of Bali. I recall walking into a Bintang super market. All seemed normal to my Western, conservative eyes. Then I see a full table of wooden carved ding dongs. Funny as can be. Like in Bhutan, the phallus had deeper meaning and symbolized fertility, a positive thing. But still a chuckle-worthy experience for me.

    • Ami

      I know, the strange and funny feeling when you see something you are not used to. However, it was good figuring out the story behind it. Guess that is the best part about travel. Thanks for the lovely comment, Ryan

  2. Mayuri Patel

    This was my top attraction to visit in bhutan, I loved how they breaking the myths about fertility and treating it as divine which is not in our country!!
    great post and information.Reminded me my time of bhutan visit.

    • Ami

      Oh, but in our country too, fertility is divine. It is just a different kind of symbol 😉 Nonetheless, these are the stories that add color to a country – no?

  3. Anna

    I’d definitely want to visit this place. It’s something different and unique (plus it’s in Bhutan which makes it extra special). Do you have any idea how much the thangka paintings cost (in euros or USD for example)? They are so beautiful and mesmerising!

    • Ami

      The smallest one could be around 200 USD and go upwards . The smallest one would be size of a handkerchief 😉 Cheers

  4. Lydia

    I didn’t know that there is a fertility temple in Bhutan, Ami! I have learned so much about this temple from reading your post! Keep up the awesome work!

    • Ami

      Thank you Lydia. There is no missing it, if you visit Bhutan. Those symbols are all over 😀

  5. Sandy N Vyjay

    The Chim Lhakhang temple is indeed quirky as they come. But of course, the quirkiness disappears once you know the basis and the meaning. This is yet another interesting facet of Bhutan unveiled by you. The legend of the Divine Madman seems to cast its aura over the temple.

    • Ami

      They sure are quirky. However, the legend makes the whole scenario so much culturally relevant. Glad to have been able to visit and uncover those. Cheers

  6. Medha Verma

    It reminded me of that cave temple in Krabi (Thailand) where the phallic statues were being worshipped. I am actually not at all surprised reading this post, the story is very similar to the one of the temple in Krabi. I would love to visit the Fertility Temple in Bhutan for the sake of observing the rituals and traditions. Its really interesting to read about it!

    • Ami

      Now that is interesting. Did not know about the Krabi temple. Guess, I need to make a trip there while you explore Bhutan 😀

  7. Bhavna Anup

    your pictures are beautiful, well shot and all of them tells a story which makes me want to go to that place. A great blog and thanks for sharing this post, so looking forward to visit this place next week. cheers

    • Ami

      Thank you Bhavna. I am glad you liked the place and am sure you will have a blast next week. Envying you. Cheers

  8. Allison J

    That’s awesome this place is free. I loved your pictures (the first one though lolzzz) and story. You did a great job with the back story and your current trip.

  9. Linda

    You certainly hooked me in during the blog post introduction. It was interesting to have you walk us through the unusual rituals and colourful legends. It was also interesting to see such a colourful display of phallus. I will remember that next time I am trying to ward off evil! I am sure the visit inside the actual temple was fascinating and beautiful.

    • Ami

      Ha ha. Actually the display gets you hooked to the back story anyways. Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by

  10. Juliette S

    How fascinating! I can understand why this representation of fertility is so significant for the locals, but it is funny how in Western society we might get the giggles or feel a bit embarrassed! If you saw those wooden artefacts anywhere else in a shop people would probably complain about it being obscene! Looks like a remarkable place to visit, for sure.

    • Ami

      Yes, it is quite unusual for the rest of us but a part of life for them. Discovering that was what made this visit so unique and nice

  11. sara

    The fertility Temple in Punakha looks and sounds incredibly fascinating. The story behind it so interesting. It would totally be worth the trip to visit.

    Who would have thought a flaming thunderbolt would be regarded as the phallus and become the symbol of Chimi Lhakhang. I would be totally buying one of those angry brightly coloured phalluses to take home and put on the mantlepiece, what a talking point!!

    The walk to the temple does look totally dreamy and would have been a highlight for me too. gorgeous paddy field photos.

    • Ami

      I am so glad that you are with me on this trip and yes, that talking point would be a good memory of the lovely fields and the entire story. 😀

  12. Indrani

    That is interesting. I guess the first sight of such depictions can shock but on knowing the beliefs it becomes easier to understand and accept. So? Did you get any? Is yes… how many inches ? 😉 🙂

    • Ami

      Ha ha, Indrani. I was a little too confused on which one to get – the smaller ones were cute while the bigger ones ….well, they just had a different appeal 😉

  13. Suruchi Mittal

    You always bring us something unique and this was surely so interesting. It is a different culture and I agree we should respect it. The colorful display of Phallus, I couldn’t have imagined it and honestly I felt them quite quirky. Great pictures Ami and you too look so beautiful in that movie shot.

    • Ami

      Ha ha , Thanks Suruchi. That compliment made my day. Am sure you will have a blast here too. Cheers

  14. Himanshu

    Hii Ami,

    This is a nice article on another unique aspect of Bhutan. I never heard about this place and in fact could never imagined such a thing in place called Bhutan. Love the HIstory and Story of Drukpa Kunley and Chimi Lhakhang. But for us indian, it should be ok as we worship Lingam (Phalluse) in the form of Shivalinga.

    Have read your other posts on Bhutan, and it seems you have explored Bhutan really very well. Thanks for this post.

    Cheers,
    Himanshu

    • Ami

      Thank you Himanshu. I still have loads more to go to Bhutan but this one was definitely a lovely trip for me.

  15. sherianne

    I really want to buy a bunch of these colorful Phallus to have a stash for bachelorette gifts! These are great and who couldn’t need luck in their life

  16. Jennifer Melroy

    Once you buy the colorful Phallus what does one do with it? Do you just take it home and keep it or does it play a part in the spiritual ritiual. These kind of remind me of the statues in Colombia they all have giant phallus.

    • Ami

      Nope, those are just good luck charms that sit on your mantle :D. I need to look up those Columbia statues then.

  17. Kavita Favelle

    How fascinating, what an interesting place to visit. Amused by phallus as symbol of prosperity, it’s such a man-centric world! But love the photos of the temple, the surrounding village and the lovely portraits of local people.

    • Ami

      Thank you Kavita for such lovely words. Those definitely get me motivated to capture more of these stories

  18. Lisa

    What an interesting temple, I may just need to visit there one day myself ha! Love those phallus ‘works of art!’ Though that’s the beauty of travel, because we get to learn about what other cultures believe and if it works, then all the better. The temple is very unique, so thank you for sharing this with us!

    • Ami

      Thanks Lisa. I agree, these travel stories is what makes the whole deal so much sweeter.

  19. Spring Pham

    Such a nice post <3
    Hope that one day I could have a chance to visit Bhutan. I know that it is the most happiness country on earth. It can not be denied that the trip in there will be one of the most memorable experiences in my life
    Thank you

    • Ami

      Glad you think so too. I hope you can visit this happy place soon. Thanks for stopping by

  20. Bidisha

    Bhutan is indeed a mystical place. I was also quite amused by the phalluses everywhere but they surely do have a significance in the culture. 🙂

    • Ami

      Yes indeed. No denying their significance and the legend behind it being the most interesting. Thanks for stopping by

  21. Yukti

    I would love to visit Fertility temple in Bhutan and would love to worship fertility as divinity. In India, too we had such temples in Khajurao and even the stories of Kamdeva. This temple is worth visiting as it has unique belief associated to it and also it is surrounded by beautiful landscape. I loved how you captured local people. Also I would take my kids to this temple. Great tips!

    • Ami

      Thanks Yukti for such lovely words. Yes, Fertility is quite sacred in our country. They do have different symbolisms to depict those. Fun discovering them all.

  22. Sidhu Jetha

    In many religions, fertility has been considered divine – in many, it is considered to be a symbol of prosperity. The legends are surely crafted afterwards but it is good that a wise priest thought of promoting fertility as divine. This must have been related to expanding the population of Buddhists. The temple looks so nice – a true sample of Bhutanese architecture.

    • Ami

      Yes, fertility is pretty divine in a lot of cultures but it is figuring out the legends behind those that make them even more interesting. Thanks for stopping by, Sidhu with this lovely comment.

  23. Dann Castillo

    This looks very cool! Althoug some of the… fertility symbols are a bit explicit, I think the place is gorgeous. Thanks for all the tips about the shoes and where to eat! Would love to visit one day!

    • Ami

      Yes, they are explicit but once you understand the story behind it, they don’t feel funny. It is a lovely place irrespective of the symbols. Hope you get to see it.

  24. Marvi

    I’ve seen some souvenir stalls selling the same ‘divine art forms’ in some places here in my home country, but not as colourful as those at the Sopsokha Village. Cool to know how the symbols came about and the history behind it. 🙂 The temple looks amazing, btw.. I’d definitely want to check it out when I get to visit Bhutan.

    • Ami

      Cheers Marvi. I am sure these divine symbols are everywhere – just that these ones were quite quirky. Nonetheless, as you discovered, it is the place with is even more enchanting.

  25. Kristina

    I had no idea this fertility temple existed. I definitely know several people who will be interested in reading your post and visiting. Thank you!

    • Ami

      It is quite a quirky place and a beautiful one too. Glad you found it interesting. Cheers

  26. KV GREEN HOMES CREATOR PVT. LTD

    The pictures are so awesome specially that thing..

  27. Layla

    What a great glimpse into fertility! I am a nurse and living in USA some would think this was taboo but I wish we had more Spiritualty in regards to fertility. So many couples struggle and inner peace it must give being around the temples energy could help so much! Wonderful share, thanks!

    • Ami

      I could see the hope and the gratitude in the couples that came here to worship. I can so agree that it is positive energy that made them feel better. Glad that you can imagine that. Thanks for stopping by, Layla.

  28. Jitaditya

    Every time I see a blog about this place… I feel… well… virile… lol…
    Good for them but hope Indians don’t get any ideas. We are overpopulated already. he he…

  29. Vasu Devan

    I have heard of this town and is on my list. It is an extraordinary story isn’t it? I see pictures of Bhutan and its greenery and I feel the want to go and live here for a while at least. I have seen a phallic shrine in the middle of Bangkok and we have also written about it. Unfortunately, this time I found it was relocated to a smaller place and most of the artifacts were gone . Probably to a museum.

    • Ami

      Ooh, I should head to your blog and read about that. Nonetheless, besides the legendary part of this place, you should go for the beauty around it. Hope your plans fructify soon.

  30. Samantha Sparrow

    What an interesting story and place – you can see fertility and phallic symbols all across history and I am more familiar with the Roman history and architecture on that. I actually have fertility struggles and have started to open myself up to the idea of spirituality within that and I love this temple very much sees fertility as divine. It is a beautiful story and a beautiful temple.

    • Ami

      I can see on how you can relate to the symbolism behind these actual symbols. Am sure you will enjoy this destination for that. Hope you can visit it soon. Cheers

  31. Kirstie Saldo

    First time learning about the Fertility temple and my curiosity level is at its peak! lol and in Bhutan, too! So, definitely a yes for me!

  32. Catherine Salvador Mendoza

    Very amusing fertility temple. Makes me really want to go and visit, it’s mesmerizing and the fact that Bhutan is one of the few places that has a perfect natural beauty. So, it’s magical right when a couple wants to have a baby, they’d be blessed to have one here once they get to visit and a baby’s name is also engraved on a bamboo parchment that kept on an altar. I love this.

    • Ami

      Even the rituals are just so colorful here. Am sure you will enjoy learning more about them as you tour this scenic country. Cheers

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