13 arts and crafts of Bhutan – A journey through Zorig Chusum


Last updated on January 9th, 2019

13 arts and crafts of Bhutan (Zorig Chusum) came to existence in seventeenth century with unification of the country and Bhutanese culture took root. In many ways history of Zorig Chusum of can be aligned with biography of Zhabdrung.

These 13 arts and crafts Bhutan are drawn from Buddhism. Therefore, they are symbolic in nature. They represent certain principles of Buddhism. Bhutan’s then clergy and temporal rulers have nurtured them over the time.

These 13 arts and crafts of Bhutan altogether actually define the overall landscape of Bhutanese art architecture and handicraft. They also add to Bhutan’s uniqueness in global spectrum. These 13 arts and crafts of Bhutan are explained below:

#1 Art of Calligraphy – Yigzo

This is one of the oldest forms of arts in Zorig Chusum Bhutan. The ancient art of calligraphy isn’t an art of only historians and literates. Spiritual practitioners also used it in writing scriptures with gold and silver ink.

Bhutan calligraphy

Bhutan calligraphy now in digital version like any other calligraphy.

Bhutan’s calligraphy art started when Guru came to Bumthang with his favourite calligrapher. Some of the finest calligraphic scriptures of his visit are now Bhutan’s national treasures. Tourists travelling to Bhutan can see them in National Library of Bhutan at Thimphu.

#2 Art of Painting – Lhazo

This is the only canvas form of painting out of 13 arts and crafts of Bhutan. It’s usually in Thangka tradition. They usually use natural pigments and mineral paints. This makes Bhutanese paintings quite a unique one.

Phallus paintings in Bhutan

You can see paintings of phallus on walls in Bhutan.

Paintings are also common on walls of temples and monasteries. You can also find paintings of blazing phallus and lucky symbols on walls of many rural houses. Chimi Lhakhang of Punakha is popular place to see phallus paintings on walls.

#3 Art of Sculpting – Jimzo

Bhutanese clay sculpture is unique in the Himalayan region. This arts still lives through many training in various vocational institutes of Bhutan. You can see students learning this art in Thimphu Zorig Chusum School of Traditional Arts. Choki Traditional Art School also provides similar training.

statues in Pangrizampa lhakhang

These small statues seen near Thimphu Drolma Zhingkham Lhakhang is products of Jimzo.

Towering clay statues of Guru Rinpoche, Buddha, and Zhabdrung are in temples and monasteries across Bhutan. Giant statues inside Paro Taktsang are also clay statues. Small ceramic statues also have place in family altars.

#4 Art of Metal Casting – Lugzo

Art of metal casting is very popular in Bhutan. Metallic statues, Patas and pinnacles for roofs as well as decorative ornaments for monasteries are its products.

Art of metal casting in Bhutan

Pinnacles on top of stupas or temples are products of lugzo.

These days few workshops in Bhutan are doing brisk business in this types of art in Bhutan. The number of new monasteries, dzongs, temples and chortens are increasing.

#5 Art of Gold & Silver Crafts – Troezo

Bhutanese make gold and silver utensils and ornaments for both ceremonial and daily uses. Wares like cups & vases, offering bowls and butter lamps and swords are household pride.

Jewelries like brooches, bracelets, ear rings, necklaces and betel nut containers are very popular in Bhutan. These are end products of Bhutan’s art of Gold and silver crafts.

#6 Art of Woodcraft – Shing zo

The majestic Dzongs in every district of Bhutan represent rare and disappearing form of architecture today. They are built with such skill without using any nails or other steel joiners.

The whole structure represents perfect skill of joinery. Wood is the main element. Bhutanese carpentry is one of the national identities. Craftsmen also create elaborate wall plaques, intricate pillars and furniture. They make Bhutanese buildings appear different for onlookers.

#7 Art of Embroidery – Tshemzo

Bhutan’s art of embroidery and plaques (Tshemzo) dates back to ancient times with creation of elaborate Thangkas or Thongdrels. However, it’s one of the types of arts in Bhutan which originally monks and Gomchens practiced.

Some of the finest thangkas or Thongdrels are shown in annual tshechus. In Bhutan, art of embroidery can be found even in traditional boots and table clothes. You can see Thongdrels during Thimphu Tshechu, Paro Tshechu, and Punakha Tshechu.

#8 Art of wood turning – Shakzo

Before advent of modern melamine and stainless utensils, Bhutanese used wooden bowls and plates. The most highly prized are wood bowls and containers made of burl wood polished by hand with dried leaves.

There are many Bhutanese now who spend months in forest hunting for the best burls. The demand for them is also increasing among tourists and locals alike giving good income for them.

Trashigangtse Dzongkhag in Eastern Bhutan is popular for producing the highest number of Bhutan wooden bowls. There is Trashiyangtse Institute for Zorig Chusum where students learn these 13 arts and crafts. Many handicraft shops in Trashiyangtse town indeed sell products of those students.

#9 Art of cane weaving – Tsharzo

All bamboo and cane products are hand-made. People in central Bhutan often spend post harvest seasons in Bhutanese handicrafts and arts of making various bamboo products. These days bamboo products are also sold for tourists.

Art of bamboo weaving in Bhutan

Bamboo hat she wears is one of the products of Tsarzo. Courtesy: Gem Tshering.

In Bhutan, bamboo products weaving are types of handicrafts in Bhutan that are popular in Bjoka of Zhemgang and Ngagor of Mongar. Good bamboo baskets of different sizes and for various purposes are now at Thimphu National Handicraft Emporium, Craft Market and also in Tarayana Handicraft Shop.

#10 Art of weaving – Thakzo

Bhutanese weaving tradition is rich in mythology. Tales and songs describe the art of weaving. It’s a tradition that is almost exclusively a creation of women. Rural women weave for an alternative source of income. There are folk songs that describe it.

In Eastern District of Lhuentse and specifically, Khoma village women are bread earners of their households. Women from Khoma are said to be the best weavers in Bhutan. Bumthang also weave Yathra from hair of domestic animal yaks.

Art of weaving in Bhutan

Bhutanese women weave using traditional hand-loom. Courtesy: Gem Tshering.

This art is now in town places in Royal Textile Academy, Thimphu Institute for Zorig Chusum and also in Choki Traditional Art School. No matter an influence from global fashion industry increases, traditional weaving still earns many women a decent living in Bhutan.

#11 Art of pottery – Dzazo

Art of pottery in Bhutan

Art of earthen pots making in Bhutan. Picture courtesy: Owang Travels.

This is an art of making earthen pots that is mostly done by women. It always had a functional role in Bhutanese households. It’s one of the special skills of Bhutanese.  It’s now being revived with government supported training and programs.

#12 Art of blacksmithing – Chakzo

One of the Bhutan’s earliest craftsman and artist is the legendary Pema Lingpa. His swords are national legacies inspiring generations of blacksmiths who make long swords and varieties of knives. Long knives made at Paro Wochu and Samtse Tendu are often sources of pride for Bhutanese carpenters.

Oldest bridge of Bhutan

Iron bridge built by Lam Thangthog – a product of blacksmithing art

Lam Thangthong also practiced the art of blacksmith and built many iron suspension bridges in Bhutan. 900+ years old iron bridge near Tachog Lhakhang was built by him. It’s said he actually had built 58+ similar bridges to be lost with time.

#13 Art of masonry – Dhozo

The skill of building fortresses (Dzongs), monasteries and striking stone has developed as an indigenous form of building. Skills that produced these buildings give character to Bhutanese landscape. Bhutanese are skillful in creating many such arts and crafts.

Punakha Dzong

Dzongs in Bhutan are products of Dhozo, Shingzo, and even Lugzo.

Art of paper making (Dhezo) and art of incense making (Poezo) are also recent arts that are in extensively practices. However they are not in the list of 13 arts and crafts of Bhutan (Zorig Chusum).

These 13 arts and crafts of Bhutan (Zorig Chusum) represent the skills and tradition that forms the basis for number of cultural industries and cultural capital in Bhutan. They are testimonies of Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage that had been contributing so much in their societal and economic needs.

Therefore, government has established two institutes to train young people in art architecture and handicrafts of Bhutan. This ensures continuous existence as one of Bhutan’s national identities. Tourists travelling to Bhutan can now also find Bhutan handicrafts online for direct purchases.

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About Author

He is a Bhutanese currently residing in Singapore. He is a passionate traveller, blogger and photographer. DrukTrails is basically a small world of his passions. You can find rants of his experiences of traveling various destinations.

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