The Incredible Flag of the Thunder Dragon

The flag of Bhutan is distinctive not just for its bright colors, but also because it contains such a detailed depiction of a dragon.

The national flag of the small Asian country of Bhutan.

The flag is split diagonally into two regions: the top-left is yellow in color and the bottom-right is orange.

The orange symbolizes the influence of the Buddhist religion and spiritual tradition in Bhutan. Think of the saffron-colored robes that Buddhist monks are known to wear.

The yellow represents the legitimate authority of government. A yellow scarf known as a kabney was traditionally worn by important dignitaries in the country.

The stylized dragon is clearly the most extraordinary part of the design, however.

Dragons are mythological creatures that exist in many different cultures around the world.

But the only other national flag to contain such a large image of an impressive dragon is the flag of Wales, the small country that borders England and makes up part of the United Kingdom.

In European mythology dragons are seen as terrible fire-breathing creatures that must be killed by brave knights on horseback, but in the East dragons are greatly respected for their ability to bring good fortune.

The Bhutanese dragon is known as a druk, and it is revered across the Himalayas.

It may have originated in neighboring Tibet, since the two countries share many traditional beliefs in common, but the reptilian creature has long been an important part of Bhutanese culture.

In fact, in the official language of Bhutan, Dzongkha, the country itself is known as Druk Yul, which means the “Land of the Druk”.

The druk is associated with stormy weather, and it is thought to have a ferocious roar, which is why, in English, it is called the Thunder Dragon.

According to legend, when one of the earliest monasteries in the country was first being built, a violent thunderstorm was taking place in the skies above.

The clouds were dark except for sudden flashes of lightning.

People in the village below could hear the powerful roar of the druk, and they were astounded by its intensity.

The ear-splitting sound was believed, by the local Buddhist elders, to be a favorable omen.

In the book Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan, the current Queen Mother of Bhutan says that the dragon was “loudly proclaiming the great truths of the Buddha’s teaching” with its booming voice.

The monarchy is important in Bhutan, because the government — based in the country’s capital, Thimphu — is still ceremonially led by an hereditary monarch known as Druk Gyalpo: the Dragon King.

Democratic rule was also introduced to the country just over a decade ago.

Taktsang Palphug Monastery, known as the Tiger's Nest, was built in 1692 and it is one of the most sacred sites in Bhutan.

But traditional culture still matters: mythology and symbolism can be seen almost everywhere you look in the small Himalayan kingdom.

The official currency of Bhutan, known as the ngultrum, also features colorful dragons on its banknotes.

And if you look closely at the flag, you’ll see that the druk is holding round jewels in its claws, which symbolize wealth and prosperity.

So it’s safe to conclude that Bhutanese culture is utterly suffused with the distinctive image of the Thunder Dragon.

The legendary creature has long been associated with spirituality, happiness, fertility, worldly power and otherworldly wisdom.

It looks down on the people of Bhutan and helps them to live with joy and ease.

Maybe that is why the country has been called "the happiest place on Earth".

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