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People, Languages & Religions


Bhutanese are mainly of Tibetan stock, and are also known as Buotias; they account for approximately 50% of the population. The Ngalop (also called Bhote) are people of Tibetan origin who live in northern and western Bhutan; the Sharchop inhabit the eastern regions and also have ethnic affinities with the people of China's Tibetan region. Aboriginal or indigenous tribal peoples live in villages scattered throughout Bhutan and account for approximately 15% of the population. The remaining peoples are Nepalese settlers (about 35% of the population), living mostly in the south. Some 85,000 were expelled to Nepal in 1992-93, and about 5,000-15,000 more moved to India.


Four main languages are spoken in Bhutan. The official language is Dzongkha, a Tibetan dialect spoken mainly by Ngalop in the northern and western parts of the country. Bumthangkha, an aboriginal language, is spoken in central Bhutan, while Sharchopkha is spoken in eastern Bhutan. Both of these are used in primary schools in areas where their speakers predominate. The Nepalese largely retain their own language, Nepali.


About 75% of the Bhutanese practice Buddhism and about 25% practice Indian- and Nepalese-influenced Hinduism. While the law provides for religious freedom, the Drukpa sect of the Kagyupa School, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism, is the state religion, and the law prohibits religious conversions. The Drukpa (people of the dragon) sub-sect of the Kagyupa sect of Buddhism, introduced from Tibet in the 12th century, dominates the collective life of the Bhutanese through a large clerical body estimated at more than 6,000 lamas or monks, centred in eight major monasteries (dzongs) and 200 smaller shrines (gompas) scattered throughout the land. This sect incorporates both the ideology of the classical Buddhist scriptures and the indigenous pre-Buddhist animistic beliefs called Bon. Nigmapa school of Mahayana Buddhism is also practised, primarily in the eastern regions.

Among Hindus, the Shaivite, Vaishnavite, Shakta, Ghanapath, Paurinic, and Vedic schools are all represented.

There are still a few Bon priests and followers in the country and there are small numbers of Christians.





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