Symbols are often used as a personification of an ideology; an expression and National symbols takes symbolism to greater heights by creating a sense of patriotism and nationalism.
Over the centuries different nations have come up with different iconic representations in the forms of flags, emblems, natural symbols like flora and fauna; all in the effort to unite people and manifest as a national community to the world. And Bhutan is no different.
Most of the Bhutanese symbols were chosen not only because of their distinctive qualities but also of their association with the Buddhist religion which is deep rooted in Bhutan and her citizens.
The National Flag
The rectangular national flag is divided diagonally to feature two colors- yellow in the first half, and orange on the bottom. The yellow color represents the secular power of the King while the orange symbolizes the flourishing of the spiritual tradition- in particular that of the Kagyu and Nyingma schools of Buddhism. The white dragon built in between the two halves represents the derivation of the country’s name Druk Yul (the land of the dragon); a country where spiritual and secular powers are harmonized. The dragon’s white color represents the purity and loyalty of its people with the jewel clasped between its claws symbolizing its wealth and prosperity.
The flag was designed by Mayum Choying Wangmo Dorji in1947. Other then the change of the red background color to orange, the current flag has seen no other changes since 1969.
The National Anthem
The Druk Tsendhen (“The Thunder Dragon Kingdom”) was adopted as the national anthem of Bhutan in 1953. The words penned by Dasho Gyaldun Thinley are sung every morning in every school as a way of showing deep respect to the country. The folk inspired music was composed by Aku Tongmi, and the original lyrics had twelve lines, but the anthem was later shortened to the present six-line version in 1964.
The National Emblem
The mythical Druk (dragon) is heavily associated in the emblem just like the flag and the anthem. The circular emblem encloses two crossed vajras placed above a lotus which is then bordered by male and female white dragons. A wish-fulfilling jewel is located above them. The two crossed thunderbolts symbolize the unity of secular and spiritual power. The lotus represents the absence of defilements, while the dragons and the wish-fulfilling jewel stands for the country’s name and its sovereign power of its people.
The National Flower
The elusive Himalayan Blue Poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia or Meconopsis baileyi) named after the explorer Eric Bailey, prides itself in being the national flower of Bhutan. It only grows above the tree line at altitudes of 3500m to 4500m and is often associated with the mythical Yeti. This rich blue-hued flower gracefully fits to a ‘T’ in the new slogan by the Tourism Council of Bhutan called “Bhutan, happiness is a place”.
The national Tree
Laden with spiritualism and religious purposefulness, the Himalayan cypress (Cupressus torolusa) is the national tree of Bhutan. They grow in the temperate zone between altitudes of 1800m and 3500m and more often than not, are found near every religious structure. To the Bhutanese, the ability of the Tseden (local name) to survive on rugged terrain represents bravery and simplicity.
The National Animal
The Takin (Burdorcas taxicolor) is a bovid with a unique appearance. Resembling both a goat and a cow, the creation of the Takin is imbued with spiritualism as well. A Tibetan saint named Drukpa Kunley (The Divine Madman) is said to have created it after he had eaten a whole goat and a cow by himself. After the meal, he put the head of the goat and fixed it to the skeleton of the cow, uttered abracadabra and with a snap, the animal sprang up to life and moved on to the meadows to graze, thus, becoming the Takin we now love and know as the national animal of Bhutan.
The national Bird
To parallel the story of the Takin is that of the one surrounding our national bird- the Raven (Corvus corax Tibetanus). This all-black passerine bird represents the chief guardian deity Gonpo Jarodongchen, the raven-headed Mahakala. The Bhutanese credit the raven with having guided the founder of Bhutan, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, to victory during the invasion from Tibet in the seventeenth century.
It is given the highest honor and placed atop the crown worn by the Monarchs of Bhutan.
The National dress
Following the Driglam Namzha (the official code on dress, etiquette, and architecture), men wear a knee-length robe tied with a belt, called a gho. It is folded in such a way to form a pocket in front of the stomach. It is one of the two national dresses which requires men to wear shorter clothes than that of the ladies- other being the kilt!
Women wear a large cloth called a kira which is worn over colorful blouses called wonju. The kira comes up to the ankle and is tied with a belt. A short silk or brocade jacket called toego is then worn over the kira.
The National Language
Dzongkha is the official language of Bhutan. The word “Dzongkha” means the language (kha) spoken in the Dzong. It is a Sino-Tibetan language which is closely related to Tibetan. Dzongkha is usually written in Bhutanese forms of the Tibetan script known as Joyi (mgyogs yig) and Joshum (mgyogs tshugs ma).
The National Sports
Bhutanese enjoy a plethora of activities and amongst it favorites is the archery. Archery has been the national sport since 1971, the year Bhutan joined the United Nations. With the civilization, bow and arrows have evolved as well. The traditional bamboo bow –though still popular and inexpensive, have been replaced compound ones. It’s very enjoyable to watch especially when the players break into song and dance after scoring points.
Architecture in Bhutan is best exhibited in the form of the imposingly elegant Dzongs and the traditional Bhutanese houses.
Dzongs are massive structures standing on spectacularly breathtaking locations on towering ridges spread over the country. It served as the religious, military, and administrative centers. Back then, the Dzongs and traditional houses were constructed without a single line drawn on paper.
Today, the Dzongs, besides acting as the centers of administration, houses various government offices as well as members of the religious fraternity. It is frequented round the year by foreigners who are put in awe by the magnificent and architecturally monumental structure.
And Since 1988, by royal decree, all buildings are to be constructed with multi-colored wood frontages, small arched windows, and sloping roofs.