Whispering “Beauty!” in Druk Yul…

Flowers are the music of the ground

Spoken from the earth’s lips without sound…

Edwin Curran

Like so many other beautiful royal initiatives that lift the mind, expand the heart, and inspire the Bhutanese citizens to look up and to look beyond and to look inward is the spectacular Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition set in motion by His Majesty Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in 2015 as part of the celebration of the auspicious 60th Birth Anniversary of Bhutan’s King of Destiny His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

With the country’s first Flower Exhibition inaugurated by Her Majesty Royal Grandmother Ashi Kesang Choeden Wangchuck at the historic Ugyen Pelri Palace grounds in Paro on April 1, 2015, a new-found, exceptionally beautiful and universally cherished celebration of our country’s rich floral wealth has been ushered in as a deeply loved and highly anticipated annual event. A truly heart-warming and inspiring change has since been in the air to the accompaniment of a rapidly growing floriculture hobby amongst many Bhutanese some of whom have made their love of beauty also a source of income.  

Six editions of the Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition have already been held with Paro hosting the first two, and Thimphu, Punakha, Samdrupjongkhar, and Haa  holding one each drawing huge crowds of flower-lovers, and online visitors to the one in Haa owing to the Covid-19 pandemic-related travel restrictions. Her Majesty Gyalyum Tshering Yangden Wangchuck is the Royal Patron of the Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition. The Ministry of Agriculture & Forests is the nodal agency responsible for organising the event.

Crystallising the core aim of the royal project as the inaugural show got underway, it pleased His Majesty the King to so command: “Where we live must be clean, safe, well-organised, and beautiful; for national integrity, national pride, and our bright future. This too is nation-building”. No sooner is the venue decided than the organisers get into hectic business to give effect to the wish of The King in letter and in spirit. The place undergoes an all-round transformation as it is elaborately decked out in a most imaginative and elaborate manner befitting the profile and dignity of the Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition.

A breath-taking variety of flowers of multiple hues and fragrance and a riot of decorative plants as well as the finest examples of Bhutanese art and culture are on display on varying acres of land that is nothing short of magical as the abundance of Mother Nature and the genius of humans come together to celebrate the beauty that is Bhutan. The many floral stalls and stations as indeed every item on display are artistically choreographed into a visual feast of colours and a dance of emotional experience.

It is truly heartening to follow the evolution of the Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition within the short period since its launch. Most of the floral exhibits for first event were imported from the nearby flower-loving hill-stations in neighbouring India, with some inputs from private collections and government nurseries at home. But envisioned against the backdrop of Guru Rinpoche’s Celestial Paradise mapped out on the beautiful lawns of the majestic Ugyen Pelri Palace, the pervading ambience mixed the temporal with the mythical. And, so it has been in all other venues, except that now the amazing volume and variety of exhibits, rare and familiar, come from within the country.

Thanks to the royal vision and inspiration, there has been a subtle but sweeping floral revolution ushered in by an ever-growing number of flower-lovers and plant-enthusiasts across towns and even in village-homes that didn’t have much interest in cultivating flowers in the past. In Thimphu alone, there are over two dozen registered flower nurseries with many private individuals cultivating various ornamental flowers in and around their homes as a hobby.

It is now quite normal to see flowers in any available space in the balcony, on the steps, corridors, on the walls, on trees, in the sitting room, in the growing number of green houses and nurseries, or just about anywhere around the house or in leased land. The Royal Gardens and theme parks, of course, have always been special sanctuaries for flowers, commemorative plants and myriad life-forms. 

Buying and selling of flowers was not a common thing in Bhutan till recently. But now, people don’t mind spending thousands of ngultrums to buy flowers, seeds, and accessories in the name of beauty with benefit. It is not uncommon for people in far-away Bumthang or Trashiyangtse or Pemagatshel or Dagana or Samtse to barter and buy flowers from other places especially Thimphu.  

Samtse used to be the floral paradise of Bhutan. Recent efforts have attempted to revive the old reputation. Other districts have made much progress in beautifying their areas as well. Tsirang Dzongkhag, for instance, has transformed the whole of Damphu town into a beautiful flower garden.

Further, the efforts made by our schools and institutions since the introduction of the Green Schools programme have been greatly re-energised by the royal vision.

The flower-enthusiasts and nursery owners receive increasing support from the government in the form of trainings, capacity building programmes, procurement of seeds and allied materials as well as soft-interest loans.

There is more to the Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition than flowers and plants and our cultural artefacts.

Apart from being the objects of beauty that meet the eyes and please the mind and augment the physical ambience of the exhibition venues, there is a nation-building dimension to such collective efforts. They help shape and strengthen a shared sense of beauty and grace, enhance our capacity to appreciate the tasteful and the uplifting, and invoke our impulse to the creative and the harmonising.

Such soul-edifying and life-enhancing activities impel the participants and beholders to be on the side of the pure and the positive and discover their own nobler selves and release their innate goodness to the larger society and to the family. For surely, “Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine to the soul”, as in the words of Luther Burbank.

As deeply and as constantly engaged as The King is in the larger affairs of the State and the well-being of the citizens, His Majesty spares His precious time to look into the sublime and subjective dimensions of the nation and shows the way for His people to do their part as beneficiaries of the many blessings of this incredible Druk Yul.

The beauty and splendour of this God-gifted country are not out there just for the eyes to see but also for the mind to register, for the heart to feel, and indeed for the soul to embrace. It is not enough that we are born and live in this beautiful country unless the country lives in us and flourishes through us.

It is my hope that over time, as the Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition travels across the country, collecting and preserving the positive vibes and actions generated by each preceding event and as the space for authentic beauty and grace broadens, any negative energy and corrosive prejudice there might be will be replaced by the soul-healing power of the natural and the divine.

It is my prayer too that the growing flower-favouring impulse of our fellow-citizens will be able to moderate and replace the mountains of beer-bottles, heart-sinking waste, and growing GDP-footprints that are the eye-sore even in remote villages, and turn them into thriving hamlets of peace, prosperity and well-being. And indeed, as the peerless Buddha said, “If we could see the miracle of a single flower, clearly our whole life would change”.

We are quick to pick up many things. But for me, this new-found love and passion for flowers in my fellow-Bhutanese is the most beautiful and edifying among our more recent interests and acquisitions some of which do not necessarily reflect well on us and our country so diligently secured and lovingly bequeathed to us by succeeding generations of our enlightened Kings and saintly beings.

As in every important sphere of our national life, our visionary Monarchs have shown the way. The Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition beckons the nation to listen to the most beautiful element in us and to bring it to bear on the life of our beloved country. Certainly, it falls upon us to do more than what we are complacently accustomed to doing.

And, indeed, as Dr. Sunwolf heard long ago: “Flowers whisper “Beauty!” to the world, even as they fade, wilt, fall…”.

Let’s – you and me – too listen to the ‘whisper’ and seek to decipher what meanings it may have for us, even as we hold our breath and wait for the next edition of the Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition…

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A humble tribute by: Thakur S Powdyel, former Minister of Education.