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

What went on at Miss Bhutan 2022 preliminary competition

The 3rd edition of Miss Bhutan is underway and the Preliminary Round was held and broadcast live on BBS Channel 2 on...

May 19, 2022 21:11

Check out Drunken Yeti Bar for the best cocktails in Thimphu

Named after a mythical Himalayan creature and perched on top of a distinct and unique 3-storied building in Thimphu,...

May 17, 2022 21:11

“Wine and women are my meditation”: Drukpa Kuenley, the divine...

His phallus was referred to as the “Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom”. He used it to guide people toward enlightenment.

Apr 28, 2022 22:04

Takin: Bhutan's national animal looks like something out of a...

The takin looks like a goat with a sheep’s body. It is so queer-looking that it has been described as a Dr Seuss...

Apr 23, 2022 20:51

Latest

News

Colours Beyond the Wall Volume II: Reformation through Art

‘Do you see the eyes?’ ‘Look closely and you would see the eyes with tears streaming down. And this is the nose,’ Kinga (name changed) said...

Apr 26, 2022 22:01

Travel to Bhutan: go off the beaten path in eastern Bhutan

You will find settlements on high grounds and isolated valleys. You will see rolling hills, deep gorges, and green pastures.

Mar 28, 2022 15:44

Features

What went on at Miss Bhutan 2022 preliminary competition

The 3rd edition of Miss Bhutan is underway and the Preliminary Round was held and broadcast live on BBS Channel 2 on 15th May 2022 from...

May 19, 2022 21:11

Check out Drunken Yeti Bar for the best cocktails in Thimphu

Named after a mythical Himalayan creature and perched on top of a distinct and unique 3-storied building in Thimphu, lies a unique bar that...

May 17, 2022 21:11

Business

The enormous role of hydropower in Bhutan

Bhutan uses hydropower to conserve the environment, produce electricity, and achieve economic self-reliance.

Jan 25, 2022 11:43

Online businesses are becoming more and more popular in Bhutan

Even though the Internet was developed in the 1960s, the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan was only introduced to it in June 1999.

Jan 20, 2022 12:41

Sports

Outstanding individuals, schools and clubs awarded for their contributions to grassroots football

On December 22, 2021, the Bhutan Football Federation (BFF), a bronze member of the AFC Grassroots Charter,presented awards to unsung heroes...

Jan 11, 2022 14:15

Bhutan's national women cricket team won ICC Women's T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier 2021 opening match

The United Arab Emirates is currently hosting the ICC Women's T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier. The two ICC Academy grounds in Dubai Sports City...

Nov 23, 2021 11:13

Travel

Trace the footsteps of the Divine Madman on this hiking trail

There is no better way to connect spiritually with Drukpa Kuenley, the “Divine Madman”. The trail will take you downhill for about four...

Apr 28, 2022 22:30

Been to Bhutan before? Stand a chance to win FREE flight tickets to back to Bhutan!

If you’ve been to Bhutan before, we want to hear your story.

Apr 15, 2022 19:49

Lifestyle

The hot springs of Bhutan are believed to have miraculous healing properties

The Bhutanese believe that hot springs are a blessing from the Buddha.

Apr 08, 2022 21:52

What are the five main fruits in a Bhutanese fruit bowl 'thokay'?

There are usually five fruits that make it to the 'thokay' (fruit bowl) placed on the altars or in front of the King, Chief Abbot and Lamas.

Mar 08, 2022 15:54

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!