Zorig Chusum: The Thirteen Traditional Crafts of Bhutan
An essential part of Bhutan’s cultural heritage are the thirteen traditional arts and crafts that have been practiced from time immemorial. These arts were formally categorized during the reign of Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay, the fourth temporal ruler of Bhutan. The thirteen arts and crafts are categorized as follows:
The textile industry is an integral part of Bhutanese life and culture. As such the art of weaving is widely practiced. Women of eastern Bhutan are skilled at weaving and some of the most highly prized textiles are woven by them. In the past, textiles were paid as a form of tax to the government in place of cash and people from western Bhutan travelled all the way to Samdrup Jongkhar to acquire/barter for woven textiles. Bhutanese textiles are woven from cotton, raw cotton and silk with intricate motifs woven into the cloth.
Khoma village in Lhuentse is famous for Kushithara, while Radhi and Bidung are known for bura textiles, namely Mentsi Matha and Aikapur. One type of cotton fabric woven in Pemagatshel is the Dungsam Kamtham. Which lends its name to the village Decheling (Samdrup Jongkhar)Adang village in Wangdue Phodrang is known for textiles such as Adang Mathra, Adang Rachu and Adang Khamar while the Bumthaps in central Bhutan are known for Bumthap Mathra and Yathra, both textiles woven out of Yak hair and sheep wool. It’s interesting to note that the 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 yak hair and sheep wool into thread There are four types of looms that are used by Bhutanese weavers. They are the 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 from eastern Bhutan and is set up on porches or in thatched sheds to protect weavers and the cloth from the sun and rain. The horizontal frame loom and the card loom were brought into Bhutan from Tibet and are still used today.
Most of the forests in Bhutan are richly stocked with bamboos and canes of various species. Taking advantage of these abundant natural resources, the .Bhutanese people have mastered the skill of weaving cane and bamboo products. Widely known as Tshar Zo, this art is spread throughout the country and products such as baskets, winnowers, .mats, containers known as Palangs and bangchungs are all made. The people of Kangpara in eastern Bhutan and the Bjokaps of Central Bhutan are the pioneer’s and masters of this craft. Their products are now sold to tourists earning them additional income and keeping this craft alive.
The art of wood turning is known as Shag-Zo and is traditionally practiced by the people of Trashiyangtse in eastern Bhutan.
The master craftsmen of this vibrant art are known as Shag Zopa. They are famed for the wooden cups and bowls traditionally known as dapas and phobs. These wooden bowls are made of special wooden knots known as Zaa and are highly valued. Until the advent of steel and brass, these bowls were widely used by the Bhutanese. Today they are typically sold at craft markets and offered as gifts. Khengkhar is a small village in eastern Bhutan where the villagers are well known for producing traditional wooden wine containers known as Jandup.
Bhutanese paintings are quintessential of the arts and crafts tradition known as Lha-zo.
An ancient art that has been practiced since antiquity, paintings captures the imagery of the Bhutanese landscape. Master painters are known as Lha Rips and their work is apparent in every architectural piece from the massive Dzongs to glorious temples and spiritual monasteries and even in 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.
Shing-zo or carpentry plays a major part in the construction of Bhutan’s majestic fortresses or dzongs, temples, houses, palaces and bridges.