Enduring Values From The Tale Of The Four Harmonious Friends


A parable steeped in Buddhism, the didactic tale of the four harmonious friends is regarded as the national folklore of Bhutan.

(Source: Pinterest)


By Zann Huizhen Huang | Daily Bhutan

One of the most commonly recurring theme in Bhutanese folk art, the ‘Four harmonious friends’ namely - the elephant, the monkey, the rabbit and the bird can be found on the murals of many monastery walls and stupas.

Regarded as the national folklore of Bhutan, the four harmonious friends are popular household decorative items such as paintings and are also sold as wooden sculptures for display.

Brief origins of the ‘Four harmonious friends’

A parable steeped in Buddhism, the didactic tale of the four harmonious friends is also well-known throughout Tibet, Mongolia and India.

The primary source of this story likely originated from the canon of Tibetan Buddhism, the Vinayavastu, found in the first section of the Kangyur.

Other ancient sources include: the Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism as well as the texts of the Mahasamghika, Mula-Sarvastivada and the Sarvastivada orders.

A didactic tale

The iconic image of an elephant carrying a monkey, a rabbit and a bird on top of one another as they stood together under a fruit tree sets one’s mind thinking about what it symbolises.



Photo:Bhutan Natural


The delightful tale begins like this: an elephant, a monkey, a rabbit and a bird lived by a huge fruit tree.

Out of curiosity, the four animals sought to find out who is the oldest amongst them, by measuring their age with the tree.

According to the elephant, the tree was already fully grown when he was young while the monkey said that it was still small back then.

As for the rabbit, the tree was a mere sapling when it was a little bunny and when it came to the bird’s turn, it said:

“I ate the fruits of a great tree nearby, then excreted the seeds from which this tree grew.”

Henceforth, the little bird was recognised for its seniority, followed by the rabbit, the monkey and lastly the elephant.


Source: Youtube/Tshering Yangzom


From then on, the four friends lived in harmony, with due respect given to the eldest, as they tended to the tree and helped one another to enjoy its sweet fruits.

Morals of the story

While it may seem that the elephant deserves to be accorded the highest respect based on its size and strength, it is actually the little bird that holds this position, based on its seniority.

Therefore, the moral value that this tale is trying to impart is that communal harmony can be achieved through respect for one another based on age, as a barometer of one’s experiences in life.

However, it has also been argued that respect based on seniority is not always the best gauge of a person’s character or wisdom.

Especially in the realm of monastic life, respect is measured according to the number of years that one has been ordained as a monk, rather than the actual age.

Moreover, respect has to be earned from both sides. Spiritually, this is gauged based on one’s progress in the practice of the Dharma and the accumulation of merits.


Mural of the Four Harmonious Friends painted on a monastery wall

Photo: Beatrice Travels


Nonetheless, there are some who still believe that respect should be accorded using age as a guideline as Tachibana pointed out, ‘the maturity of age is generally the sign of much experience’.

The fact that the four animals of different sizes and age could co-operate and live together harmoniously and enjoy the ‘fruits’ of their labour suggests that the young and old can both learn from each other.

It does not necessarily infer that there should be blind submission to someone simply based on seniority.  

Another valuable lesson to be learnt is that each of us, regardless of our size, age or appearance, has talents.

By synergising these talents, we could all reach further heights, following the example of the four harmonious friends who helped one another to gather the fruits for sharing.

The four harmonious friends - a seemingly simple tale and richness of its values – unity, selflessness, generosity, respect, care for the environment and nature as well as friendship, has indeed transcended through time and is well-loved by many, especially the Bhutanese.




Related Posts

Brand Bumthang Initiated To Promote And Preserve District’s...

Called ‘Brand Bumthang’, the initiatives include: making bronze statues, buckwheat noodles and producing yathra slippers...

Apr 28, 2019 16:58

Bhutan’s Department of Culture And Monastic Body Started...

The officials are also recording every artefact inside the lhakhang (temples) for better data management.

Mar 08, 2019 13:39

7th Jomolhari Mountain Festival Showcases Unique Culture Of The...

The festival has become an important event where the highlanders get to showcase their unique culture and traditions.

Oct 15, 2019 23:28

Efforts Made To Preserve Bhutan’s Unique Tradition Of Zhey

Zheys are described as traditional Bhutanese folk songs. They are also sometimes referred to as classical dances.

Nov 06, 2018 15:13

Handicrafts Shops Thrives In Paro Selling Bhutanese Textile,...

With businesses picking up fast as a result of the tourism boom, the handicraft shops in Paro have even formed a...

Sep 16, 2018 14:56

13 Handicrafts Certified With The Bhutan Seal Of Quality

Focusing on Bhutanese handicrafts, the products are categorised into two broad categories - traditional and...

May 24, 2019 10:48



Bhutan Launched 21st Century Economic Roadmap To Engage Citizens On Nation’s Progress

Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering launched the website and it can be accessed through http://economicroadmap.gnhc.gov.bt

Feb 25, 2020 23:38

Bhutan’s Tarayana Foundation Launched Micro-loans For Rural Community Development

The pilot phase of the programme will start from this year in Samtse, Tsirang and Zhemgang for 18 months.

Feb 21, 2020 23:48


The Bizarre Culture of Night Hunting in Bhutan is Fading

In many parts of eastern Bhutan, Night Hunting is a courtship tradition, a rural version of urban dating. In hard-working, farming...

Feb 27, 2020 06:44

Tribes Of Bhutan - The Brokpas

Merak and Sakteng is home to the Brokpas, a semi-nomadic yak herding tribe who originated from the Tshoona region of Tibet.

Feb 22, 2020 23:48


Karma – Female Archer From Bhutan Qualified For Tokyo 2020 Olympic Quota

Karma has been specialising in Olympics-style archery since 2009.

Nov 30, 2019 13:18

Bhutan’s Pelden Wangchuk Wins 10th Edition Of Tour 0f Dragon Mountain Bike Race

This year, the race also saw the highest number of female participants compared to past years.

Sep 10, 2019 01:08


Centre Of Excellence For Software Engineering Launched By Bhutan’s Thimphu Techpark

The purpose of establishing this centre is to fulfil His Majesty the King’s vision of using technology to solve problems.

Feb 24, 2020 23:58

Two ‘Made In Bhutan’ Products To Hit The Market Soon, Also Eyeing Overseas Foray

Druk Peci and Bhutan Green Product were launched on 19 February.

Feb 20, 2020 23:38


Forging the Unbeaten Trail Towards Wangdue Nye

When you dedicate year 2020 to hike on unbeaten trails in Bhutan.

Jan 21, 2020 10:58

Make Your Own Personalised Stamps And Discover Bhutan’s Postal History At The Postal Museum

The Bhutan Postal Museum in Thimphu is also a major tourist attraction.

Jan 18, 2020 21:08


See Exquisite Garments On Display At The ‘Royal Robes - Wangchuck Dynasty’ Exhibition

The exhibition will remain open to the public until January 2021.

Feb 19, 2020 23:28

Nightlife in Bhutan

The nightlife is delaying the day by engaging with fun and recreational activities at owl hours. Thimphu Nightlife could fascinate you.

Feb 08, 2020 12:22

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!

Download Daily Bhutan Mobile App

Connecting with us just got easier!