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


13 arts and crafts of Bhutan (Zorig Chusum) came to existence at around seventeenth century when unification of the country actually started and Bhutanese culture took root. Zhabdrung started the unification of the country.

These 13 arts and crafts Bhutan are drawn from Buddhism. Therefore, they are symbolic in nature and individually 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 arts and crafts in Bhutan. They also in many ways add uniqueness to Bhutan as a country 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 out of 13 arts and crafts of Bhutan. The ancient art of calligraphy isn’t an art of only historians and literates. Spiritual practitioners also used it in writing and copying 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 Rinpoche 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 ancient calligraphy of Bhutan in Thimphu National Library of Bhutan.

#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 making 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 as main figures of deities and lamas. You can also find paintings of blazing phallus and lucky symbols on walls of many rural houses. Chimi Lhakhang, tourist attraction of Bhutan that is en route to Punakha is popular place to see phallus paintings on walls.

#3 Art of Sculpting – Jimzo

Bhutanese clay sculpture is among unique in the Himalayan region. This arts still lives through many rigorous courses in various vocational training institutes of Bhutan and other private firms. You can see students learning this art in Thimphu Institute for Zorig Chusum and Choki Traditional Art School.

statues in Pangrizampa lhakhang

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

Towering clay statues of Guru Rinpoche, Buddha, Zhabdrung and other key religious figures are in temples and monasteries across Bhutan. Giant statues inside Paro Taktshang (Tiger Nest Monastery) 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 metal casting with increase in number of new monasteries, dzongs, temples and chortens.

#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, swords and scabbards are sources pride for Bhutanese households.

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 – Shingzo

The majestic Dzongs (fortresses) that sit in commanding positions 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 of Bhutan. Craftsmen also create elaborate wall plaques, intricate pillars and furniture giving Bhutanese buildings different appearances 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 using embroidery. However, originally monks and Gomchens practiced this art.

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, Punakha Tshechu and also during that of other districts.

#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 and months in forest hunting for the best burls that would give best wooden bowls. 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 wooden bowls in Bhutan. There is Trashiyangtse Institute for Zorig Chusum where students learn these 13 arts and crafts of Bhutan. 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 making bamboo baskets, containers, hats and tea strainers. 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 baskets and other cane products weaving 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. Bhutanese women there are said to be the best weavers in Bhutan. Women in 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 in Thimphu for tourists. 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, a blacksmith by profession. 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 leading to the creation of 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 with these traditional arts and crafts. 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 it. This ensures continuous existence as one of Bhutan’s national identities.

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About Author

An auditor by profession, but a traveller, blogger and photographer by passion. This site was created to share travel stories of various destinations within Bhutan and also travel tips of travelling to Bhutan. Read More>>

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