Arts and Crafts

Zorig Chusum (Zo means “to make” rig means “science” and Chusum means “thirteen) refers to the thirteen traditional visual arts and crafts that have been practiced for generations and passed down the ages. These arts are expressed through: painting, carving, sculpture, calligraphy, carpentry, gold, sliver and black smith, bamboo work, weaving and embroidery, pottery, masonry, paper and incense production.

1. THAG-ZO (Weaving)
• The art of weaving is widely practiced in Bhutan and textile it is an integral part of the Bhutanese life and culture.
• In the past textiles were paid as a form of tax to the government in place of cash.
• Almost exclusively women weave textiles but men in the remote eastern Bhutan also practice this art of weaving. Textiles woven by men are considered to bring luck by the Bhutanese people.
• Bhutanese textiles are woven from cotton, raw cotton and silk with intricate motifs woven into the cloth.
• The most spectacular weave is called “kishuthara” made entirely from silk yarn and priced like the high end branded dresses.
• There are four types of looms that are used by Bhutanese weavers; blackstrap loom, the horizontal fixed loom, the horizontal-framed loom and the card loom. The predominant type is the indigenous back-strap loom. It is used mostly by weavers form the eastern Bhutan. And is set up on porches or in thatched sheds to protect weavers and the cloth from the sun and rain.
• The Textile Museum and academy in Thimphu is raising the profile of Bhutanese textiles and is a great encouragement for the weavers.
Museum: Royal Textile Museum & Zorig Chosum.
Where to buy the products: Arts and Crafts market in Thimphu or any handicraft store.

2. TSHA-ZO (Bamboo and cane weaving)
• This pioneers and masters of this art come from the central and eastern part of Bhutan. They are all hand made.
• The products from bamboo and cane weaving are such as baskets, winnowers, quivers, mats, containers known as Palangs and bangchungs. They also make fences for fields and roof mats for temporary sheds in the villages.
• Their products are now sold to tourists earning them additional income and keeping this craft alive.

Museum: Zorig Chusum, Thimphu.
Where to buy the products: Arts and Crafts market in Thimphu or any handicraft store.

3. SHAG-ZO (Art of wood)
• This form of art is traditionally practiced by the people of Trashiyangtse in eastern Bhutan
• As Bhutan has been blessed with an exceptionally abundant variety of trees, woodcarving is seen in a variety of forms. The wooden masks featured during the annual religious festivals (Tsechus) as well as the many traditional motifs that are engraved on the Bhutanese houses and on Dzongs are all carved out of wood.
• The popular products from this art are known as “dapas and phobs” (bowls). These wooden bowls are made of special wooden knots known as Zaa and are highly valued.
• Until the introduction of steel and brass, these bowls were widely used by the Bhutanese at homes. Even today our elderly people carry it with them wherever they travel.
• A unique wood carving that draws attention from visitors are the phalluses of various sizes and shapes that are hung on the four corners of traditional Bhutanese houses and placed over the main entrance door. These carved wooden phalluses are also wielded by the Astaras- the clowns during religious festivals as a sign to bless spectators and drive away their evils and misfortunes.

Museum: Zorig Chusum and masks are seen in festivals worn by the monks.
Where to buy the products: Arts and Crafts market in Thimphu or any handicraft store.

4. LHA-ZO (Paintings)
• An ancient art that has been practiced since antiquity, painting captures the imagery of the Bhutanese landscape. This art is traditionally practiced by men.
• Master painters are known as Lha Rips and their work is apparent in every architectural piece from the massive Dzongs (fortress) to glorious temples and spiritual monasteries and even in the modest Bhutanese homes.
• Paintings and their varied colors and hues epitomize the Bhutanese art and craft. A perfect example of this art form are the massive thongdrols or thangkas, huge scrolls depicting religious figures that are displayed during annual religious festivals. The mere sight of these enormous scrolls is believed to cleanse the viewer of his sins and bring him closer to attaining nirvana. Thus, it brings merit not only to the believers but for the painters as well.

• Young novices are taught by the master Lha Rips.
• The materials used in Bhutanese paint are the natural pigmented soils that are found throughout the country. These natural soil pigments are of different colours and are named accordingly. The black lumps of soil is known as ‘sa na’, and red lumps as ‘Tsag sa’, for instance.

Museum: Zorig Chusum and monasteries.
Where to buy the products: Zorig Chusum, Arts and Crafts market in Thimphu or any handicraft store.

5. SHING-ZO (Carpentry work)
• Shing-zo or carpentry plays a major part in the construction of Bhutan’s majestic fortresses or dzongs, temples, houses, palaces and bridges.
• In the past, the carpenter was also the architect and knew how to calculate the proportions of a house plan and measure.
• All the woodwork, beams, pillars, roof rafters and window frames were made on the ground and then set “ready made” in the building.

Museum: Monasteries, Dzongs, Palaces and traditional Bhutanese houses.

6. DOZO (Masonry)
• The art and craft of Stone carving.
• In Bhutan, temples, Dzongs, Chortens (or stupas) and farm-houses are all constructed using stone. Classic examples of stone work are those of Chorten Kora in Tashiyangtse in eastern Bhutan and Chendebji chorten in central Bhutan.
• Cutting and dressing the stones was a special craft practiced by skilled labor but the masons were under the supervision of the carpenter who acted as the architect. It is still the same today. Besides stones for the walls, which come into four different shapes according to their use, masons also prepare flat stones for the courtyards.

Museum: Monasteries, Dzongs, Temples and traditional Bhutanese houses.

7. PAR-ZO (Craving)
• Parzo or craving is another traditional Bhutanese art form that has been perfected over generations.
• While stone-carving is hardly practiced in Bhutan except prayers on rocks, bas-relief slate carvings of deities or of mantras were widely used on mani-walls, chortens and round the dzongs central towers.
• The art of slate carving is also practiced and the master craftsmen are known as Do Nag Lopens. Slate, which is found in both Western and Eastern Bhutan, are used in such carving. While slate carving is not as diverse as stone or wood works, it is found in many religious scriptures, mantras and deific engravings and Slate carvings are quite common place in religious places such as Dzongs, temples and Chortens.

Museum: Zorig Chusum, Monasteries, Dzongs, Temples and traditional Bhutanese houses.

8. JIMZO (Sculpture)
• This art form preceded other sculpture works such as bronze and other metal works. Statues of deities, gods and goddesses and other prominent religious figures exemplify clay work in Bhutan.
• Every monastery, temple and Dzong in the country has intricately molded clay statues from where pilgrims and devout Buddhists draw their inspiration. Master sculptors are known as Jim zo lopens (masters) and impart their skills to young novices over several years of rigorous training.
• In addition to sculpting clay statues, the tradition of crafting clay pottery is still alive. However, these days most of the potteries are being used as show pieces.
• While the art of modeling statues is confined to men, the art of pottery is normally reserved for women.
• There are three distinctive types of clayware: earthenware, stoneware and the china-clayware, in Bhutan, we find only earthenware. When crafting clay pottery, success depends upon the composition of the clay, the crafter’s skill in shaping the clay and baking the material to the correct temperature.
• The baked items are then coated with lac to render them waterproof. While this tradition is nearly dying out in some areas, the women of Lhuentse and Paro actively practice it and are still keeping the venerable art form alive.

Where to buy the products: Zorig Chusum, Arts and Crafts market in Thimphu or any handicraft store.

9. LUGZO (Casting)
• Bronze casting in Bhutan was introduced only in the 17th century and was mainly spread through the visiting Newari artisans that came from Nepal.
• Bronze was commonly used to cast containers such as cups, urns, and vases. People also shaped bronze into weapons and armor such as battle-axes, helmets, knives, swords and shields.
• A good caster has to be skilled in drawing, sculpturing, casting, welding, carving and polishing. Many great religious figures used to cast images and ritual objects.

Museum: Zorig Chusum, Monasteries, Dzongs, Temples and traditional Bhutanese houses.
Where to buy the products: Zorig Chusum, Arts and Crafts market in Thimphu or any handicraft store.

10. GARZO (Blacksmithy)
• It is believed that it was introduced by a Tibetan saint known as Dupthob Thangtong Gyalpo. He is revered by the Bhutanese people as a master engineer for his skill in casting iron chains and erecting them as bridges over gorges. He is supposed to have built eight suspension bridges in Bhutan.
• You can still see one of the bridges crossing over the Paro Chu, on the road from Paro to Thimphu, and linking the highway to the famous Tachog lhakhang. The remains of another bridge can be viewed at the National Museum in Paro.
• The blacksmiths, besides making agricultural tools, were famous for their skills in making chains amours, daggers, knifes and different kind of swords. Swords had a name according to their location and maker’s name.
• While blacksmithing is almost a dying art, you can still find the original Tibetan settlers in Trashigang, eastern Bhutan practicing this skill.

11. TROE-KO (Gold/Sliver Smithy)
• Its products are widely used by Bhutanese women.
• Their work included lay objects like ornaments, betel boxes, teapots, offering plates, and religious objects: musical and ritual instruments, butter-lamps, offering cups and plates, and ewers.

Where to buy the products: Arts and Crafts market in Thimphu or any handicraft store.

12. DE-ZO (Papermaking)
• Paper-making is another art that has deep roots in Bhutan.
• This paper is called tshar shog and is thick, darkish and strong. If the pulp is spread onto a cotton cloth, then the paper is called reshog and is whitish and thinner then the large sheets (A3 size) are dried in the sun and smoothen. Generally these handmade papers are very strong and cannot tear easily.
• Most religious scriptures and texts were written on Dezho using traditional Bhutanese ink or occasionally in gold.
• While the presence of readily available modern paper has overtaken the market, people still produce and use Desho as carry bags, wrapping for gifts and envelopes.
• The art still continues in Trashiyangtse where the raw material is readily available.

Where to buy the products: Traditional Papermaking factory, Thimphu, Arts and Crafts market in Thimphu or any handicraft store.

13. TSHEMO-ZO (Tailoring)
• The art of tailoring is a popular art amongst the Bhutanese.
• This art can be broadly classified as Tshem drup the art of embroidery, lhem drup the art of appliqué and Tsho lham, the art of traditional Bhutanese boot making.
• The art of embroidery and appliqué are normally practiced by monks. Using this art they produce large religious scrolls known as Thangkas that depicts Gods and Goddesses, deities and saints.
• Traditional boot making is 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 an old craft, its origin is unknown.
• Special craftsmen in the villages also make simple boots from uncured leather. However, this is a vanishing practice but with the government’s support it has seem a recent revival in the kingdom’s urban centers.
• The third category is tailoring. These craftsmen are skilled at sewing the traditional Bhutanese garments known as Gho and Kira.

Museum: Zorig Chusum and Royal Textile Museum.
Where to buy the products: Zorig Chusum, Arts and Crafts market in Thimphu or any handicraft store.