Sunday, 29 June 2008

Bhutan : A tiny glimpse into a small country

28 June, 2008 - "We’d like to thank the generations of Bhutanese people who have preserved their identity,” said Richard Kurin of the Smithsonian Institution on June 25. This identity is currently alive in the largest overseas cultural exhibition featuring Bhutan in the heart of the United States as a part of the 2008 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Long lines of people are waiting to visit a lhakhang on the National Mall and thousands of people are milling around the tents that have become busy workshops for the zorig chusum, centres for Bhutanese food and drink, and a large concert tent for folk and mask dances. A yak hair tent from Laya, manned by a highly animated Ap Tshering, is always surrounded by fascinated visitors pointing hundreds of cameras at him as he sings and dances and beams at them. Discussions are held all day on a wide range of topics that include the arts of Bhutan, life of monks, Gross National Happiness, folklore and agriculture, traditional healing, the environment, television and the media. And Washington’s National Mall is filled with the victory songs of an archery tournament.

The festival is expecting 1.5 million people and Americans, as well as foreign tourists of all ages, are visiting the Bhutanese exhibition, trying on clothes, taking part in the discussions, learning about Bhutanese food, watching the archery and khuru matches, and generally soaking in the festivity.

As Mr Kurin declared the festival open on June 25, His Royal Highness Dasho Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck asked the people to enjoy the “tiny glimpse into the living culture and traditions” of our small country”. “Bhutan’s age-old culture and traditions continue to provide the foundation of our identity,” he said. “It’s the essential feature that distinguishes us from other nations in this age of globalization and we’re privileged to share it with you in this Festival.

His Royal Highness’ address at the opening ceremony was received with repeated enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation. “Bhutan and America are indeed two very different nations … different in size, wealth, geography and population,” he said. “But together we share common values of liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness.”

It was an enjoyable opening ceremony as the governor of Texas introduced his state to the large gathering of people, two Texan bands performed Texan music, Sonam Dorji sang a zhungdra for the festival, and a representative of NASA spoke from outer space.

Many Bhutanese participants, some having travelled outside Bhutan for the first time, say that they are overwhelmed by the interest in the country. All the Bhutanese artisans, food specialists, sports persons, textile promoters agree on one response: “They want to know everything.”

A contributor to the festival, Ms Lisina Hoch, said that she and other friends of Bhutan were initially skeptical about the festival. “We were wondering if the money spent on the festival could be better used for something else,” she said. “But seeing how all the people are responding to Bhutan, I know that it’s really worth it.”

Eighty-year old Harry of the U.S. state Montana walked around the Bhutan section all day. “Thank you for bringing your beautiful country to us,” he said. “We’d never have known about you.”

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