Bhutan has a unique Art and Architecture. These arts and architecture derived inspiration from Buddhist doctrine and mythology. They are highly decorative and ornamental. From simple houses to massive dzongs, Bhutanese art and architecture always forms a major part in Bhutan.
Bhutanese art is similar to Tibetan art and is based upon Vajrayana Buddhism, its pantheon of teachers and divine beings. Bhutan’s art and craft is summarized into 13 groups and it is called Zorig Chusum (zo = the ability to make; rig = science or craft; chusum = thirteen) This practice of art and architecture was developed through the centuries. It was passed down through generations in families. Teron Pema Lingpa is said to have introduced the arts and crafts in Bhutan and its preservation became stronger when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal ordered the establishment of the school for learning thirteen traditional arts and crafts in 1680. It is believed that the 4th Druk Desi, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye first formally categorized these arts and crafts as Zorig Chusum.
The thirteen traditional arts are:
- Lug zo (Bronze casting): This is the art of making bronze roof-crests, statues, bells, and ritual instruments. It also means making of jewelry and household items using sand casting and lost-wax casting.
- Shag zo (Wood turning): This is the art of making a variety of bowls, plates, cups, and other containers using wood
- Dho zo (Stonework): This is the art of use of stones which are used in the construction dzongs, goembas, chortens and other buildings.
- Par zo (Carving): The art of carving Wood, slate, and stone for making printing blocks for religious texts, making masks, furniture, altars, and other images used to adorn shrines, altars, buildings and homes.
- Lha zo (Painting): This is the art of painting images and texts such as thangkas, walls paintings, and painting statues statues. This also applies in the painting (pictures, designs and images) of the furniture, homes, etc.
- Jim zo (Sculpting or clay arts): The art of making of religious statues, ritual objects, pottery and the construction of buildings using mortar, plaster, and rammed earth.
- Shing zo (Woodwork): The art of the carpenters, usually used in making of dzongs, bridges, houses and furnitures, etc.
- Gar zo (Blacksmithing): The art of making iron goods, such as farm tools, knives, swords, and utensils.
- Troe zo (Ornament making or silver/gold smithing): The art of working with gold, silver, and copper to make jewelry, ritual objects, and other household items.
- Tsha zo (Cane and bamboo work): This is the art of making bows and arrows, baskets, containers, utensils, musical instruments, fences, and mats using bamboo and canes.
- De zo (Paper making): This is the art of making handmade paper using Daphne plant and gum from a creeper root.
- Tshem zo (Tailoring, embroidery and appliqué or needlework ): The art of working with needle, thread and other necessary items to make clothes, boots, thangkas, and other items used for decorations and other household needs.
- Thag zo (Weaving): This is the art of weaving cloths and fabrics.
Architecture in Bhutan
The unique Bhutanese architecture is mainly depicted in the dzongs, monasteries, bridges and houses and is the most significant feature of the Bhutanese identity.
Traditionally there are certain rules and codes to be followed in the building of traditional buildings, such as dzongs, temples and monasteries and bridges.
There is a lavish use of wood and the wooden surfaces such as beams, windows and doors are normally painted with various traditional images and texts each with a special significance. Traditionally, nails are not used in the construction but wood pieces are assembled by the dove-tail technique. The walls are sloped and generally whitewashed and the sizes of windows increase with the stories. The windows are trefoil shaped with elaborate lintels painted with geometrical and floral motifs. There is a pitched roof covered with shingles (wooden planks) and weighed down with stones. The dzongs, monasteries and temples generally used to have stone walls and the houses were made from rammed earthen walls, pounded into wooden frames for up to a week and rendered with lime.
The main materials used were stones, compressed earth (mud), wood and bamboo. In some parts of eastern Bhutan bamboo mats are also used for roofing. Construction of any buildings or bridges used to be governed and guided by the astrologer’s calculations and always followed by rituals.
The Dzongs are the most famous living monuments of the past. These dzongs have many buildings and temples both inside and outside to serve the dual purposes of religious and civil administrations. It is the main centre for all political, social and religious activities in the region. The dzongs and the monasteries in Bhutan contain most of the artistic treasures of the country in the form of wall paintings, statues, carvings, etc.
The modern constructions are done with modern materials such as cement, rods, CGI sheets, however certain codes are followed so that the traditional art and architecture is still the integral part of the construction.