According to the Population and Housing Census conducted in 2005, the current population of Bhutan is approximately 535,000 inhabitants.
The country is essentially composed of two broad groups – the early inhabitants of Buddhist faith and people of Nepalese origin who have settled in the country in more recent times. The different regions of Bhutan can be regarded as having their local characteristics and language/dialect, but also sharing similar cultures and traditions.
Bhutan is the only country in the world to maintain Mahayana Buddhism in its Tantric Vajrayana form as the official religion. The main practicing schools are the Drukpa Kagyupa and Nyingmapa. Buddhism transcends all strata of society, underpinning multiple aspects of the culture. Indeed, religion is the focal point for the arts, festivals and for many people. The presence of so many monasteries, temples and stupas, monks and tulkus (reincarnate high lamas) is indicative of the overarching role religion plays throughout the nation. While the majority of Bhutanese are Buddhists, the Lhotsampas (inhabitants of the southern belt) are mainly Hindu.
Bhutanese art has three main characteristics: it is anonymous, religious, and performs no independent aesthetic function. Intricate wall paintings and thangkas (wall hangings), most historical writing and fine sculpted images all have a religious theme and are considered sacred. Given their spiritual role, these may be interpreted as created by artisans rather than artists.
Newly commissioned paintings and sculptures are consecrated through a special ceremony whereby the objects of art come to personify the respective deities they depict.
Although Buddhism and the monarchy are critical elements of Bhutan’s culture, it is the extensive perpetuation of tradition that is most striking. This is most commonly reflected in the style of dress and architecture. All Bhutanese continue to wear the traditional dress: the ‘gho’ for men and the ‘kira’ for women. The fabrics for these colorful traditional clothes range from simple cotton checks and stripes to intricate designs woven in silk.
The Bhutanese architectural landscape is made up of chortens (stupas), stonewalls, temples, monasteries, fortresses, mansions and houses. Associated with a number of clear-cut architectural concepts rooted in Tibetan Buddhism, there is a strong association between state, religious and secular forms. What makes it Bhutan’s architecture unique is the
degree of uniformity, with all structures corresponding to traditional designs. Thus ancient monasteries and fortresses appear to merge with more modern popular dwellings to create a setting that is fully consistent.