The takin is Bhutan's national animal. The mythology around its origin involves the “Divine Madman,” Lama Drukpa Kuenley. In the 15th century when he visited Bhutan, the people wanted to see him perform a miracle. He called for a cow and a goat for lunch. When he was finished, he placed the goat's head on the cow's body and commanded the amalgam to rise up and graze.
From an evolutionary point of view this makes the takin the newest creature on the face of the earth. Apparently, taxonomists are unable to relate the takin to any other creature and have given it its own classification, budorus taxicolor.
I think the Bhutanese have made the takin its national animal instead of, say, the yak or the barking deer, for the same reason that the New Zealanders made the kiwi its national bird. Both species are absolutely unique. These nations are saying, we are sui generis.
The takin is a perfect choice for Bhutan. When it grazes in herds, it is made very nervous by the presence of other animals, so much so that yak herders have agreed to keep their animals away when the takin invades a valley. In other words, it likes to be alone with its own kind.
The Divine Madman’s influence in Bhutan is wide-ranging, going far beyond the takin. Tango monastery, where Nancy and I had tea with Uygen Tashi and his roommates, was founded in the 12th century. But the building we enter is the work of the Divine Madman. One of Bhutan's favorite saints, Drukpa Kuenley is noted for his unorthodox way of spreading the word. Like modern day advertisements for just about anything, he used sex to sell Buddhism. Once he was given golden good luck threads as a gift. They were meant to be worn around the neck. He wrapped them around his penis, expressing the hope that it would bring him luck in that direction.
Most visitors to Bhutan comment on the phalluses they find painted on the outer walls of homes all over the country, especially those away from the big cities. These paintings are so explicit they would never make it through the Hollywood censors. The phalluses are always erect. Sometimes they are ejaculating. They are always equipped with testicles, the testicles supplied with hair. But there is nothing pornographic in them, unless it is in the mind of the viewer. These symbols are fertility talismans. They are the “Divine Madman’s” genitals. Think of them as a St. Christopher’s statue on the dashboard of a car. He was the patron saint of travelers. Or as an “evil eye” designed in the Muslim world to ward off evil.
Click here to listen to this entry in audio