What are the 13 traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts?

Email

“Were I to epitomise Bhutanese art with one word, that word would be colour... The attention to detail, the symmetry of figures…and above all, the bold colour treatment are perfectly combined.” — G.N. Mehra

Think Bhutanese art, think tapestry of colours. The vibrant shades imbue every painting, woodwork, sculpture, embroidery, and imagery.

Although the crafts have evolved over the ages, the ethos remains. For the Bhutanese people, each piece of art they create represents a connection to the spiritual, a milestone en route to enlightenment.

To them, the craft speaks for itself. That’s why the artist is usually anonymous. If the piece bears a name, it is the name of the person who commissioned it, not the artist’s.

Believed to have been introduced by Pema Lingpa in the 15th century, arts and crafts (zorig chusum) is an integral part of Bhutanese culture. The 13 different arts and crafts were categorised in the 17th century during the reign of the fourth desi, Tenzin Rabgye.

The thirteen traditional arts and crafts in Bhutan are as follows:

1. Carpentry (Shingzo)
2. Masonry (Dozo)
3. Carving (Parzo)
4. Painting (Lhazo)
5. Sculpting (Jinzo)
6. Bronze-casting (Lugzo)
7. Blacksmithing (Garzo)
8. Ornament-making (Troeko)
9. Cane and bamboo making (Tsharzo)
10. Weaving (Thagzo)
11. Tailoring, embroidery, and Applique (Tshemzo)
12. Woodturning (Shagzo)
13. Paper-making (Deh-sho)

 

Carpentry (Shingzo)

The distinctive architecture in Bhutan is breathtaking. From dzongs, temples, monasteries, palaces, to bridges, carpentry is central to Bhutanese architecture. Expert carpenters known as Zo Chen and Zo Wo construct these treasures through careful mastery.

Masonry (Dozo)

Masons and carpenters complement each other. Every structure we see in Bhutan was constructed with a combination of wood and stone. The masons prepare the stones necessary for these endeavours.

Meanwhile, the senior master-mason, Zope, supervises the construction. But before that, he sees to the preparation of traditional Bhutanese mortar. This mortar is very durable, and its secrets have been passed down through generations.

An example of a Bhutanese stone structure is Chorten Kora in Trashiyangtse.

Carving (Parzo)

And once the structure is standing, it’s the carvers’ turn to shine. With impressive precision, they engrave beautiful carvings on the stone and wood. Nevertheless, carving is not limited to buildings. Carvers also work on religious texts, furniture, altars, and slates. You can also find their masterpieces on the wooden masks worn during the popular Bhutanese tshechu festivals.

In temples throughout the country, you’ll find carvings of the Buddha on slates. On top of that, wooden sculptures featuring the eight lucky signs are popular in Bhutan. Also commonly found are carvings of phalluses in all shapes and sizes.

Painting (Lhazo)

Bhutanese painting is an ancient art that has been part of the Bhutanese culture for generations. They typically depict human beings and their interaction with nature. Master painters, known as lharips, have their work displayed in dzongs, temples, and monasteries everywhere in the form of murals and frescoes. Paintings can also be found with images of the Buddha or other deities.

You can also find paintings of phalluses on the walls at Sopsokha Village.

Sculpting (Jinzo)

In Bhutan, sculpting includes the crafting of religious statues, ritual objects, clay masks, pottery, also material for construction — mortar, plaster, and rammed earth. Usually, sculptors use clay, traditional deh-sho paper or the bark of a Daphne tree to birth their masterpiece.

One popular clay product is the traditional earthen pot, made in Gangzur Gewong in Lhuentse, eastern Bhutan. Other than that, the tsatsas that can be found all over Bhutan are the fruits of the sculptors’ labour. Tsatsas are sacred objects moulded from clay and ashes. They are normally painted red, white, or gold.

Bronze-casting (Lugzo)

The statues, sertog (pinnacles on the roof), and ornaments found at religious sites are coated with a layer of bronze, a skill known as lugzo. There are two methods to this, done using sand or wax.

Gyalsey Tenzin Rabgye, the 13th Je Khenpo, crafted 1,000 Buddha statues — including the main one at Punakha dzong — using wax.

Blacksmithing (Garzo)

It is believed that the Tibetan saint Dupthob Thangtong introduced blacksmithing to Bhutan in the late 14th century. He had a special talent in casting iron chains and constructing bridges. 8 suspension bridges in Bhutan are credited to him, including the bridge over Paro River linking the highway to Tachog Lhakhang in Paro.

Ornament-making (Troeko)

Troeko is the art of using gold, silver, or copper to make traditional ornaments. Typically, stones such as turquoise or corals are fused with gold or silver to shape an accessory.

Meanwhile, craftsmen involved in making jewellery are called Troko Lopen. They make all kinds of jewellery including necklaces, earrings, brooches, rings, and containers for doma.

Cane and bamboo-weaving (Tsharzo)

The Bhutanese are also skilled at weaving cane and bamboo into household objects. The skillful craftsmen fashion products like bangchung (a container for snacks), covers for artefacts, lagchu (quiver), tshogtrhung (vessel for serving food), barekhu (container for wool and threads), and patsha dromchung (jewellery holder).

For the people in Trashigang, eastern Bhutan, Taharzo is their primary livelihood.

Weaving (Thagzo)

Weaving is one of the oldest crafts in Bhutan, honed over the years. Different regions in Bhutan have different weaving styles. They each produce textiles with patterns unique to their district. There are three different types of looms: backstrap loom, horizontal-framed loom, and card loom.

To learn more about the strong weaving culture, visit the following places that are specially tailored for tourists. You might even get some hands-on experience at Bhutanese weaving.

  • Chencho Weaving House, Paro
  • Yathra Weaving Centre, Bumthang
  • Khaling National Handloom Development Centre, Trashigang
  • Royal Textile Academy, Thimphu

You can also buy traditional kira from Bhutan Natural online store.

Tailoring, embroidery, and Applique (Tshemzo)

This art has 3 forms — tailoring, embroidery, and applique. Tailoring refers to stitching all forms of garments, including the national costume of kira and gho. On the other hand, embroidery and applique is practiced by the monks in making religious scrolls: the thangka.

The thangka (also known as thongdrel) is believed to be holy. This giant embroidered silk banner featuring an image of Guru Rinpoche is unfurled at the end of some religious events. It is considered so sacred that the mere sight of it can cleanse the viewer of their sins.

Woodturning (Shagzo)

Woodturners, known as Shagzopas, are mainly from Trashiyangtse in eastern Bhutan. They produce a range of items like dapas (wooden bowls), dza phobs (wooden cups), and ara (alcohol) containers.

They form these items out of wood. Dza (special wooden knots) are high in demand as raw material for this craft.

Paper-making (Deh-sho)

To make paper, the Bhutanese use a traditional method that has been passed down for many generations, where the barks of Daphne and Dekap trees are used to manufacture paper. These papers were once used in monasteries for manuscripts and prayer books.

Fascinated by paper-making? Do visit Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory in Thimphu.

To learn more about the 13 arts and crafts of Bhutan, visit Trashiyangtse Institute of Zorig Chusum

Established in 1997 in eastern Bhutan under the then National Technical Training Authority, the goal of the institute is to preserve the 13 arts and crafts and promote these skills among the Bhutanese youth.

At the institute, you may watch as the students perfect their craft. The fruits of their labour can be purchased at the shop.

Shop till you drop, and impress your friends and family back home with some stunning Bhutanese craft as souvenirs.



Related Posts

Bhutan will be launching a Virtual Textile Exhibition on 21st Feb...

Thagzo’ or Weaving, is regarded as one of the thirteen traditional crafts collectively known as ‘Zorig-chu-sum’. This...

Feb 17, 2021 16:36

Support authentic Bhutanese handicrafts by local artisans

Whether you are interested in artisanal Bhutanese handicrafts or boutique sourced products with contemporary touch, the...

Mar 25, 2021 12:09

Bhutanese actor raise awareness on climate change by cycling...

Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk launched The Messenger: Ride for Action, planting trees and talking to everybody.

Nov 25, 2022 15:18

Cordyceps Sinensis, the super mushrooms of Bhutan

Cordyceps Sinensis has many health benefits, which includes being an aphrodisiac.

Sep 25, 2022 16:50

The King of Bhutan regularly visits his people

The royals of Bhutan have an honourable legacy. Visiting their people is part of it.

Sep 25, 2022 16:35

Here is what you need to know about tailoring in Bhutan

Bhutan continues to train tailors in both traditional Bhutanese tailoring and western dressmaking.

Aug 28, 2022 21:56

Latest

News

Progress on Bhutan's Sustainable Low Emission Urban Transport System Project

Bhutan now has 200 electric vehicles on the road, with another hundred to be dispatched very soon.

Nov 29, 2022 18:13

Translation of His Majesty's Address to the Nation at the 8th Session of the Third Parliament

His Majesty delivered the Royal Address on the Opening Ceremony of the 8th Session of the Third Parliament, 4th November, 2022.

Nov 05, 2022 15:23

Features

Bhutanese actor raise awareness on climate change by cycling through Bhutan

Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk launched The Messenger: Ride for Action, planting trees and talking to everybody.

Nov 25, 2022 15:18

Cordyceps Sinensis, the super mushrooms of Bhutan

Cordyceps Sinensis has many health benefits, which includes being an aphrodisiac.

Sep 25, 2022 16:50

Business

Bhutanese streaming platform Samuh is gaining international recognition

Founder and CEO of Samuh, Nyema Zam, recently won the Business Rice Awards 2022.

Dec 30, 2022 19:15

School in Lhuentse embrace entrepreneurship through Chip Production Unit

Bhutan endeavours to guide their youth towards innovation and creativity. The trickle-down effect has seen Tangmachu Central School’s...

Nov 29, 2022 18:04

Sports

Paro FC wins the 2022 BOB Bhutan Premier League

Paro FC wins third Premier League title in nail biting fashion in final match of the season.

Jan 09, 2023 15:45

More Bhutanese youths are engaged in football

Sitting at the 186th position in the FIFA rankings, Bhutan looks to improve its rankings in the years to come.

Aug 03, 2022 20:19

Travel

A tale of two airports in Bhutan

As the slow pace towards a pre-pandemic world begins, two of the country’s domestic airports are going through their own challenges and...

Nov 03, 2022 16:30

What you need to know about birdwatching in Bhutan

The best seasons and locations for birdwatching in the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Sep 25, 2022 16:57

Lifestyle

Chillies, a spicy affair in Bhutan

The Bhutanese love it hot.

Jun 07, 2022 23:55

Bhutan is traditionally a matriarchal society

Women are the decision-makers at home, but something is keeping them from public life.

May 27, 2022 22:14

COVID-19

A detailed summary of Bhutan's COVID-19 management and plans moving forward

With offices and all businesses open, movement of vehicles allowed and critical services resumed from 21st March 2022, Bhutan braces for a...

Mar 22, 2022 11:23

Vaccinated tourists to undergo 5-day quarantine in Bhutan from April 25

What you need to know about entering Bhutan from April 25.

Mar 14, 2022 14:21

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!

Download Daily Bhutan Mobile App

Connecting with us just got easier!