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Drukpa Künle

The Tibetan holy man Drukpa Künle (1455-1529), is one of the most well-known and traditionally popular figures in the Bhutanese treasure of legends. The stories of his victories over malicious nature gods are gladly told until today, not least because of their often obscene content.


So one evening, as Drukpa Künle was on his way from Paro, north to the Tibetan border, he set up his night camp in a cave. He was known for his great religious abilities. At the same time, he also had the reputation of often breaking with conventions and norms. However, it was his destiny to overthrow untamed forces by using his magical powers. All women and men in the cave called out the name of the mountain god Ödöpa in hymns of praise and pleaded for his benevolence. Drukpa Künle, however, only praised himself and fell asleep.

At the stroke of midnight, Ödöpa returned from his expeditions through the land, his claws extended, his long hair touching the ground, his eyes sparkling. He woke Drukpa Künle and angrily asked him, why he had not worshipped him. Drukpa Künle responded, that he only worshipped himself and none other.

Furiously Ödöpa wanted to punish this henious deed. However, before he could make a deadly blow, Drukpa Künle grabbed him, pulled off the skin of his penis, thereby capturing him just like in a sack.

This was a terrible torture. If it rained, the sack became wide and heavy. However, if the sun shone it shrank and threatened to suffocate Ödöpa. Drukpa Künle left the god, who was crying for mercy, behind and moved on.

Mercy for Ödöpa

Only after many years did Drukpa Künle come back to this region and set Ödöpa free, under the condition that he swear a solemn oath to henceforth protect the religion of the Lama, Buddhism. The god had no choice and swore the oath. However, he asked Drukpa Künle to assign him a region where he could demand sacrifices. The Lama said that soon someone would come in order to fulfill this wish. By this he meant none other than the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the first ruler of Bhutan.

The Shabdrung left to Ödöpa a huge region from whose inhabitants he could demand sacrifices. In return for this, he had to protect those people from all other supernatural powers that dwelled in cliffs or groves. Further, he had to grant fertility to all of the valleys' inhabitants and allow the livestock to thrive and to multiply.

Ödöpa honored this agreement and today counts as one of the most worshipped mountain deities of Bhutan.

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Thangka; painting on canvas; measurements 129 x 111,5 centimeters; 20th century; on loan from Anthony Aris
Biographical depiction of Drukpa Künle, the »Divine Jester«, who because of his often obscene actions, is the protagonist of gladly told stories. His deeds beyond conventional norms should point out the relative aspects of human beliefs. They are meant to release the spirit from the bondage of conventional thinking.

In these cliffs, the protective god of Ödöpa is embodied. Here also lies the cave in which our story takes place.

One day, from Tibet, Drukpa Künle shot an arrow over the main range of the Himalayas. He swore a solemn oath to cross the Himalayas and on the spot where he would find the arrow, he would begin spreading Buddhism.

Drukpa Künle is one of the best known saints in Bhutan. Here he is taming a snake-like being.