The arts and crafts of Bhutan that represents the exclusive spirit and identity of the Himalayan kingdom is defined as the art of Zorig Chosum, which means the thirteen arts and crafts of Bhutan. The thirteen crafts are carpentry, painting, weaving, blacksmith, sculpting and many other crafts. The Institute of Zorig Chosum in Thimphu is the premier institution of traditional arts and crafts set up by the Government of Bhutan with the sole objective of preserving the rich culture and tradition of Bhutan and training students in all traditional art forms; there is another similar institution in eastern Bhutan known as Trashi Yangtse. Bhutanese rural life is also displayed in the Folk Heritage Museum in Thimphu. There is also a Voluntary Artists Studio in Thimphu to encourage and promote the art forms among the youth of Thimphu. The thirteen arts and crafts of Bhutan and the institutions established in Thimphu to promote these arts.
Art & Architecture
The castle-like Dzongs with tapering walls and large courtyards are among the finest example of Bhutanese architecture. The first Dzong was introduced in Bhutan by Galwa Lhanangpa in the 12th century which was later taken up by Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal in the 17th century. Most of the Dzongs today function as government offices and houses the monks. All art, crafts, dance, drama and music has its roots in religion. The art are more symbolic and personal. Therefore Buddhist arts are an explanation of values rather than depiction of facts.
The Thirteen Traditional Arts and Crafts
Bhutanese art and crafts are not only unique but are deeply rooted in the Buddhist philosophy. They are mostly subjective and symbolic and are highly attractive and decorative in their representation. The thirteen art and crafts are together known as Zorig Chusum.
Shing Zo (Woodwork)
For centuries, Shing zo or woodwork has played an important role in the building processes of the magnificent dzongs and palaces, the temples and monasteries, houses and bridges and even furniture. The beauty and uniqueness of the Bhutanese woodwork is manifested in the houses, palaces, dzongs, temples and the bridges.
Stonework is an old craft which is not restricted or confined to one area but found throughout the Kingdom. Large Chortens or the stupas like Chorten Kora in Trashiyangtse and Chendebji are fine examples of Bhutanese stonework. Most of the Bhutanese houses in rural areas are also made of stones even today.
Par zo (Carving)
Carving in Bhutan is done on various materials ranging from stone, wood and slate. Masks, traditional symbols, bowls and cups, wooden sheaths or scabbards and handles for knives and swords, beautiful carved pillars and beams, printing blocks of wood and altars are excellent examples of woodcarving. Slate carving is another popular art and the finest examples are carvings of images of deities, religious scripts and mantras. Stone carving in Bhutan while not so evident has survived over the years. The large grinding stone mills turned by water and the smaller ones used by farmers at home, the hollowed-out stones for husking grain, troughs for feeding animals and the images of gods and deities carved onto large rocks and scriptures are examples that survive today.
Lha zo (Painting)
Vibrant paintings dominate the Bhutanese landscape and the shades of colors are visible in houses, in temples and monasteries and in dzongs. Paintings represent the most complete essence of the people’s beliefs and ideas, their feelings and thoughts and aspirations and hopes of our way of life. The most common painting on the walls of monasteries, temples and dzongs are those depicting religious figures. We can also find the paintings of images of Buddhist deities and saints.
Jim zo (Sculpting)
Sculpting or jim dzo is one of the oldest forms of craft in Bhutan and has its origin in the 17th century. Clay statues, paper mache, clay masks, pots, etc. are examples of jim dzo.
Lug zo (casting)
Lug dzo or the art of casting includes both wax and sand casting. In the past bronze was commonly used for making containers such as cups, urns, and vases. People also used bronze to make weapons such as battle-axes, helmets, knives, shields, and swords.
Shag zo (wood turning)
Shag dzo or wood turning is another ancient tradition that is vibrantly practiced in Bhutan. Bowls, plates, cups and containers from different types of woods are examples and are best practiced in Trashiyangtse in eastern Bhutan.
The art of black smithy is yet another ancient art. Bhutan always had its own iron mining resources of which the most known were Woochu in paro and Barshong in Trashigang. Blacksmiths have long been producing farming tools and defense weapons including spear or arrow tips, crude axes, knives and swords, (patangs).
The art of ornament making is also widely known in Bhutan. Ornaments are made of stones like turquoise, coral or etched agate (zee) as well as silver and gold.
Tsha zo (bamboo work)
The art of bamboo weaving or tshar dzo is still alive and is practiced mainly in Kheng Zhemgang and Trimshing Kangpara in Trashigang. Bangchungs, palangs, floor mats and mats for drying grains, musical instruments like flutes, matted bamboo for roofs and fences, traditional bows and arrows, quivers, etc are examples of tshar dzo.
De Zo (Paper Making)
The art of paper making was confined for monastic purposes in the past. However today, paper making is of great commercial value. The art of papermaking is popular in Bomdeling and Rigsum Gonpa in Trashi Yangtse. Desho is especially made from the bark of a plant known as Daphne (Deshing) and the paper products today are mainly used for wrapping gifts and writing religious scriptures.
The art of embroidery or tshemzo has played a very important role in the making of thangkas and other decorative clothes throughout Bhutanese history. Tailoring of garments is a popular craft. The three main crafts in tailoring are: stitching clothes such as the gho and kira worn by men and women, embroidery (Tshemdrup) and appliqu (Lhemdrup) and the production of traditional Bhutanese Tsho lham, boots.
Thag Zo (weaving)
Weaving holds a special place in Bhutanese society as an income generating source to supplement the agricultural income for rural people. Weaving is done always by women and rarely by male. The rich and complex art of textiles are embedded in the culture and history of Bhutan. Women of eastern Bhutan are one of the most celebrated weavers though weaving is an art that has widely spread throughout Bhutan. Some of the finest weaving comes from Khoma in Lhuentse and Radhi, Bartsham and Bidung villages in Trashigang.