Bhutan’s Art and Architecture

Some of the Bhutan’s Art and Architecture are given below in summary and if you are interested in know the art and architecture of Bhutan do contact us.

ZorigChusum: the thirteen traditional crafts of Bhutan

Bhutanese have practiced traditional arts and crafts for centuries.It was during the reign of Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay, the fourth temporal ruler of Bhutan that the arts and crafts were formally categorized into thirteen. These arts and crafts are as follows:

Shingzo(Carpentry)

Bhutanese took advantage of the most virgin primeval forests and used the timber for making the structural frameworkof the traditional houses. The practice was very popular that this began to develop into an art. Even large structures such as temples were built using only the timber and without any metal fasteners. The structures were joined together using notches with thick wooden pegs and nails. Such wooden structures were designed to last for centuries.

The ancient art termed shingzo is still popular in Bhutan. The craftsmen known locally as Zowchen and Zowhave flawless skills in fashioning intricate designs to ourDzongs(fortresses), our royal palaces, our temples and monasteries and the traditional Bhutanese farm houses. The Dzongs that were built in the 17th century carry some of the most elaborate wood works and designs that are appreciated not only by the Bhutanese populace but also the foreigners.

To acquire such carpentry skills and to become a traditional carpenter, one must serve as apprentice under a master carpenter for a few years till they develop the confidence to practice the skills on their own. Master carpenters are found all over the kingdom and for every important structure to be raised they are called upon to contribute. A master carpenter who is still revered today is the ZowBalep, whose architectural skills can still be witnessed today in the ancient Dzongof Punakha.

Do zo (Masonry)

Do zo is also widely known as an old craft still practiced by the Bhutanesetoday. Manual skills are used to give desired shape to the stones. The Bhutanese temples, Dzongs, the Chortens or the stupas and the farm houses are all built of stones. Indeed no construction ever takes place without the use of stones. Classic examples of stone work are those of ChortenKora in Tashiyangtse in eastern Bhutan and Chendebjichorten in central Bhutan.

Par zo(Carvery)

Par zo is another popular traditional art that has been perfected by the Bhutanese. Only theimportant carvings are carried out on stone, wood and slate. The traditional designs crafted on these materials provide some distinctive features of art works.

Bhutan is blessed with an abundant variety of wood. Woodcarving is seen in a variety of forms. The wooden masks that feature during the annual religious festivals are all carved out of wood besides the many traditional motifs that are engraved on the Bhutanese houses and on Dzongs. Besides, the unique wood carvings that draw attention are the phalluses of various sizes and shapes that are hung on the four corners of the Bhutanese houses and stuck onto the main entrance of the door ways. These carved wooden phalluses are also displayed by the Acharyas( clowns) during the religious festivals as a sign to bless the spectators and drive away the evils and misfortunes.

Similar to the wood carving the another important art is the slate carving. The master craftsman is known as Do Nag Lopen and the material used is the slate found in abundance in both western and eastern Bhutan. The slate carving is not as diverse as stone and wood work but one can come across many religious scriptures, mantras and images of deities being carved onto slates besides the religious figures. Slate works are fund mostly in religious places such as Dzongs, temples and chortens.

The stone carvingis also another important craft that has survived in Bhutan. The water driven grinding mills are classic examples of stone works. The huge grinding mills are still used by people in the far flung villages of Bhutan. One can also come across hollowed – out stones used for pounding grains and troughs for feeding cattle and horses.

Lhazo(Painting)

The Bhutanese art and craft traditionis well represented in the Bhutanese paintings. Lhazois an old art and the paintings depict the pristine and unspoiled Bhutanese landscape. The work of master painters known as Lha Rip are reflected in every architectural piece be it the massive Dzongs, the temples and the monasteries, the nunneries and the stupas or a modest Bhutanese home. Indeed, paintings and the varied colors and hues epitomize the Bhutanese art and craft.

The art of painting is revered and painters are believed to accumulate merit. Young novices are taught by the master Lha Rips. The magnificent and classic artworks on huge scrolls of thangkhas or thongdrolsthat carry religious figures are displayed during religious festivals. A mere sight of these huge scrolls is believed to deliver us to nirvana. Thus, it brings merit not only to the believers but for the painters as well.The materials used in Bhutan are the natural pigmented soils that are found in most places in the country. These natural soil pigments are of different colours and are named accordingly. The black lumps of soil is known as ‘sana’, and red lumps as ‘Tsagsa’, for instance.

Jim zo(Pottery)

This art work existed long before the other sculpture works such as bronze or other metal works. Statues of deities, gods and goddesses and other prominent religious figures in fact exemplify clay work in Bhutan. Every monastery, temple and the Dzongs have clay statues from where pilgrims and devout Buddhists draw their inspiration from. The master craftsmen are known as Jim zolopen and the skill is imparted to the young novices through vigorous trainings spread over the years.

Besides the clay statues, the tradition of clay potteries is still alive though much of the potteries are now being used as show pieces and flower vases. While the art of modeling statues are confined to men, the art of pottery is normally the handiwork of women. While we find three distinctive types of clayware: earthenware, stoneware and the china-clayware, in Bhutan, we find only the first type, the earthenware.

What is required for success in the work on clay is the composition of clay by using balanced materials, skills in shaping the wet clay and firing to the correct temperature. The baked items were then coated with lac to render them waterproof. While this tradition is almost dying the women of Lhuentse and Paro still try and keep this tradition alive.

Lug zo(Bronzework)

Bronze casting was introduced in Bhutan only in the 17th century and was mainly spread through the visiting Newari artisans that came from Nepal. The Newars of Nepal were first invited by ZhabdrungNawangNamgyal to cast bronze statues and religious items such as bells and water offering bowls. It was through these artisans that the art was introduced and today, a lot of Bhutanese people are into bronze casting.

Shag zo (Woodwork)

Shag Zois the art of converting wood into wooden cups and bowls traditionally known as dapas(bowls) and phobs (cups). The art is traditionally practiced by the people of Trashiyangtse in eastern Bhutan. As a vibrant art, the master craftsmen are known as Shag Zopa. They are famed. These wooden bowls made of special wooden knots known as Zaa are highly priced and till the advent of steel and brass plates were once used as plates by the Bhutanese people at large. Today they are being sold to the outside visitors and offered as gifts.

Another village that practices shag zo is the small village in eastern Bhutan known as Khengkhar. The villagers here are known for producing traditional wooden wine containers known as jandup.

Gar zo(Blacksmithing)

The art of blacksmithing in Bhutan began sometime in the late 14th century.It is believed that it was introduced by a Tibetan saint known as DupthobThangtongGyalpo. He has been revered as the master engineer for his skill in casting iron chains and erecting them as bridges over gorges. In Bhutan, he is supposed to have built about eight suspension bridges and one can still come across a bridge over Paro Chu linking the highway to the famous Tachoglhakhang in Paro. One can also come across the remains of these once highly used iron chains in Trashigang and at the National Museum in Paro.

While black smithy is almost a dying art, yet one can still come across the Tibetan settlers especially in Trashigang practicing this art.

Troeko (Ornament making)

Bhutanese lavishly display ornaments during annual festivals. These ornaments are product of Troeko, the art of making ornaments, which is still vibrant in Bhutan. Master craftsmen who have mastered the art are regarded as TroKoLopen. Using precious stones such as corals and turquoise, silver and gold, these master craftsmen shape out ornaments such as necklaces, bangles, earrings, rings worn on fingers, brooches, amulets to contain ritual objects, traditional containers to carry the much chewed beetle nuts, ritual objects and many more.

Tshazo (Cane and Bamboo weaving)

The subtropical forests in Bhutan have high reserves of bamboo and canes of different species. Taking advantage of the abundant natural resources, people have mastered their skills in weaving cane and bamboo products. Widely known as TsharZo, this art is spread throughout the country products such as baskets, winnowers, mats, containers known as Palangs and bangchungs are all made of bamboo. However, the people of Kangpara in eastern Bhutan and the Bjokaps of Central Bhutan are pioneer master craftsmen. Their products are now sold out to tourists earning them additional income.

De zo (Paper making)

Paper-making is another art that has found roots in Bhutan. People engaged in producing the traditional Bhutanese paper or De zo are known as Dezop. Traditional papers were widely used in the past and most of the religious scriptures and texts were written on Dezho’s using traditional Bhutanese ink and at times in gold. While the presence of readily available modern paper has overtaken the market, yet people still produce Deshos which is used as carrying bags, wrappers for gifts and even used as envelopes. The art still continues in Trashiyangtse where the raw material is readily available.

Tshemzo (Tailoring)

Tzhemzo or the art of tailoring is a popular art amongst the Bhutanese. This art can be broadly classified as Tshemdrup or the art of embroidery, lhemdrup or the art of appliqué and Tsholham or the art of traditional Bhutanese boots. The art of embroidery and appliqué are normally practiced by the monks. Using this art they produce large religious scrolls known as Thangkas that depicts Gods and Goddesses, deities and saints.

Traditional boots are normally the work of Bhutanese lay men. These boots worn by officials during special functions and gatherings are made of leather and cloth. While boot making is n old craft, its origin is unknown. Special craftsmen in the villages also make simple boots from uncured leather. However, this is a vanishing practice in the villages though it has picked up recently in the urban centers with support from the government.
The third category is the simple tailors that skill in sewing the Bhutanese traditional dresses known as Gho and Kira.

Thagzo (Textile weaving)

An integral part of the Bhutanese life is the textile. As such the art of weaving is widely practiced in Bhutan. However, women of eastern Bhutan are skilled in weaving and some of the highly priced textiles are all woven by them. In the past, textiles were paid as tax to the government in place of cash and people from western Bhutan travelled all the way to SamdrupJongkhar to buy woven textiles. Textiles are woven of cotton, raw cotton and silk and intricate motifs are woven into the cloth.

Khoma village in Lhuentse is famous for Kushithara, while Rahi and Bidung are known for bura textiles namely MentsiMatha and Aikapur. One type of cotton fabric woven in Pemagatshel is the DungsamKamtham. Decheling village in SamdrupJongkhar is known for their cotton fabric as the DechelingKamtham derived from the name of their village.

Adang village in WangduePhodrang is known for textiles such as AdangMathra, AdangRachu and AdangKhamar while the Bumthaps in central Bhutan are kown for BumthapMathra and Yathra, both textiles woven out of Yak and sheep hair. People of Nabji and Korphu in Trongsa are known for textiles woven out of nettle fibers. Weaving is also a vocation amongst the Brokpas of Merak and Sakteng. Men contribute in spinning wool into threads. They weave from yak hair and sheep wool.

There are four types of looms that are used by the Bhutanese weavers. They are the blackstrap looms, the horizontal fixed looms, the horizontal framed looms and the card looms. The predominant type is the back strap loom and is used mostly by weavers from eastern Bhutan. They are set up on the porches or in thatched sheds to protect weavers and the cloth from the sun and rain. Card looms and horizontal frame looms are also used. The back straps are the indigenous looms while the horizontal frame looms and the card looms made their entry into Bhutan from Tibet.