The Royal vision for Bhutan is peace, security, and prosperity for all time to come. Peace and security, His Majesty The King has explained, is not the physical defense of the nation. It is the peace and security that comes “when people are united in their love for their country and in their efforts to secure, consolidate, and hand over an even stronger nation to their children”.

To achieve this the Bhutanese people have a higher responsibility that is not written in any legal document but enshrined in humanity and history. “Of paramount importance to the strength of a nation is the ability of her people to live as one united family – a community in which interaction is marked by trust, understanding, and cooperation,” His Majesty said in an address to the Bhutanese public.

This united family is the spirit of the Bhutanese national identity that future generations have been mandated to preserve: “You are the custodians of our universal cultural identity. Our identity must transcend political, religious, ethnic and all other differences in society, so that we can forge a common national identity as a proud Bhutanese.”

The strength of such a family is its diversity. We saw a convincing example of this on the auspicious morning of October 11 when His Majesty The King, Her Majesty The Queen, and His Royal Highness The Gyalsey, took part in the tikka ceremony with senior representatives of Bhutan’s Hindu community.

The tikka ceremony formally ended the Durga Puja performed by Bhutanese pundits in Thimphu and marked the beginning of the Dassain celebrations. The Hindu pundits performed the special Puja (prayers) for the Goddess Durga (Lham Dzongneyma) who is also known by other manifestations like Mahakali, Mahasaraswati, and Mahalaxmi.

The nine-day Durga Puja starts on the first day of the new moon. The tikka ceremony is held on the 10th day, after which the Dassain ceremony is celebrated for five days.

In Hindu mythology, the demon Mahishasura had created terror in the Devaloka (the world where the Gods live) but Goddess Durga eventually defeated the demon. The first nine days of Dassain symbolise the battle which took place between the different manifestations of Durga and Mahishasura. The 10th day is the day when Durga finally killed him.

In the popular Hindu epic, the Ramayana, the King of Ayodhya exiles his son, Lord Ramachandra. The Demon King of Lanka, Ravana, kidnaps Lord Rama’s wife, Sita, from a forest called Chitrakut. Lord Rama performs the nine-day Puja for the Goddess Durga. On the 10th day he receives tikka at the altar of Durga and sets out to defeat Ravana.

The celebration of Dassain signifies the victory of good over evil. The tikka is, therefore, a blessing – an auspicious means of bestowing good fortune, health and long life upon those who receive tikka – from either the eldest member of the house or the house priest.

“To receive tikka from parents and elders on Dassain is considered a mark of great fortune as it signifies the conferring of invaluable blessing and protection,” said Pundit Narayan Sigtel, who led the prayer ceremony. “The King is believed to embody Vishnu, the protector deity, and for the people of Bhutan, His Majesty is also our father figure. The tradition of receiving tikka from His Majesty The King is therefore, supremely auspicious – symbolic of His Majesty’s continued blessing and protection over the people.”

The Durga Puja was conducted by pundits from the Hindu Dharma Samudaya (Hindi Dharma Association) at the Lingakana Palace on Monday. His Majesty offered prayers along with Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen and His Royal Highness The Gyalsey at the ceremony. The occasion marked His Royal Highness The Gyalsey’s first celebration of Dassain.

Pundits and Hindus from all branches of the government, the civil service, services forces, and the private sector were granted tikka by His Majesty The King who also hosted a lunch for the group.

“We are blessed by His Majesty who is the embodiment of Lord Vishnu as his devotees,” says Lyonpo D N Dhungyel, who led the Hindu delegation to Lingkana along with Lyonpo Dawa Gyaltshen. Lyonpo Dhungyel points out that His Majesty has provided strong support to Hinduism and the Hindu community of Bhutan. Last year His Majesty celebrated Dassain in Logchina in Chukha dzongkhag. In February this year the Samtse Mandir was inaugurated to commemorate the birth of His Royal Highness The Gyalsey with priests of the Hindu community conducting prayers and fire offerings (havaan).

The vice chairman of the Hindu Dharma Samudaya, Achyut Bandhari, said that the audience was an informal “family atmosphere” during which His Majesty was relaxed and informal, sharing his views on a number of issues. The Navratri ceremony was dedicated to the health and long life of His Royal Highness The Gyalsey, he explained.

Dassain is the longest and the most anticipated festival on the Hindu annual calendar, celebrated by Hindus throughout the globe. Among the 15 days on which it is celebrated, the most important days are the first, seventh, eighth, ninth and the 10th.

Dassain also marks the end of the rainy season and is a festival of colours. The happily messy red splashes of the tikka symbolises the spirit of caring for each other by family members. A large population of the Hindu community around the world live in poverty and it is during Dassain that they celebrate by acquiring new clothing every year.

The day of the tikka was declared a national holiday in Bhutan by His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1980.

The Royal Family of Bhutan has taken part in the Dassain celebrations for decades and, as Crown Prince, His Majesty has exchanged tikka with representatives of the Hindu community since the 1990s. It is a gesture to emphasise the importance of Bhutan’s diverse social and cultural festivals that are to be encouraged and preserved and it is a Royal message that there should not be any discrimination against any section of society on the basis of religion, community, or any other social and cultural factors.

Spiritual masters point out that there is a close affinity between Buddhism and Hinduism and that many Gods, Goddesses, and Deities are revered and worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists. For example Durga Devi, worshipped and honoured by Hindus during the Dassain celebration, is worshipped as Lham Dzongneyma by Buddhists who also revere her in her manifestation as Pelden Lham (Kali).

As a spiritual nation, Bhutan celebrates auspicious festivals throughout the year, ceremonies that epitomise values promoted by His Majesty like integrity, justice and compassion and, above all, “the unwritten but absolute code of right over wrong”. “After all, while the objectives are important, the manner in which we achieve these objectives is a far more important indicator of our strength as a nation,” His Majesty said. “We must achieve everything as a united harmonious family. I truly believe that it would be a great service to the nation if, as individuals, we always treat each other with respect and dignity.”

Addressing international gatherings His Majesty has emphasised the need for global harmony: “this is a world of people all alike, of families all alike, of communities all alike – of countries facing the same challenges – of human beings ultimately seeking the same thing. Then we will truly be in a position to foster well being, security and happiness.”

Contributed by  Dasho Kinley Dorji