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Art and Architecture Bhutan

Bhutan is well-known for its Zorig Chusum, the thirteen traditional arts and crafts which comprises painting, carpentry, carving, sculpture, casting, black smithy, bamboo work, weaving, embroidery, masonry, paper work, leather work and silver and gold smithy.

The castle-like Dzong 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 Ngawang Namgyal in the 17th century. Most of the Dzong 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.

1: Shing zo (Woodwork)
2: Dho zo (Stonework)
3: Par zo (Carving)

Patra, the art of wood carving, is one of the most important craft among thirteen arts and crafts in Bhutan. Patra involves extensive carving of religious text, images, and other representatives on wooden materials. Intricate works of Patra are seen extensively as interior and exterior designs in monasteries and Dzong. Huge pillars, window panes, doors and even furniture have works of Patra on them.

Wood carving has also entered the forays of everyday Bhutanese life. Simple traditional houses would also have some aspect of Patra on windowpanes and doors. These days, works of Patra are also used extensively in hotels and resorts for interior decorations.

4: Lha zo (Painting)
5: Jim zo (Sculpting)
6: Lug zo (Casting)
7: Shag zo (Wood Turning)

The art of wood turning in Bhutan is known as Shagzo. It is one of the vibrant crafts among woodwork practiced by the people of Trashiyangtse in eastern Bhutan. Craftsman who practice wood turning are know as Shagzop. In Trashiyangtse, for some families, Shagzo skills were passed on for generations from father to son and maintained their livelihood by selling or exchanging these wooden wares for cash and kinds. However, this trend is apparently diminishing with the younger generation taking up different career opportunities.

Shagzo or the wood turning cottage industry extracts its raw materials from the country’s vast forest resources. Mostly soft and semi- hardwood are used for wood turning as it offers better durability and convenience while turning. Wooden wares are lacquered with substance tapped from fruits, stem and leaves of Rhus succedanea known as Sey Shing in Bhutan. Lacquering is a seasonal activity since substance used as lac on turned wooden wares will not dry from the onset Autumn due to change in air humidity. The substance is collected from April to May and lacquering begins from June to September.

8: Gar zo (Blacksmith)
9: Troe zo (Ornament Making)
10: Tsha zo (Bamboo Work)

Traditional cane and bamboo products are struggling to find a place within the Bhutanese household against the competing commercial products that are more durable, cheaper and abundantly available than them. The products that once played an immensely important part in the Bhutanese household activities have come under a threat of becoming things of the past. Today, not only there is a decline in their utilization but the craftsmanship is practiced by only a handful of old and elderly people in villages. Thus, the urgency to promote, preserve and document the craft has become a priority.

11: De zo (Paper Making)
12: Tshem zo (Tailoring, embroidery and applique)
13: Thag zo (Weaving)

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