Art and Architecture
Bhutan places great emphasis on cultural conversation, both tangible arts and architecture as well as intangible ways of life and customs. Although skills in various arts and crafts are believed to have existed much earlier, their categorization into 13 forms (Zorig Chusum) was initiated in the 17th Century. These are paper making, stonework, blacksmithing, clay arts, paiting, bronze casting, wood, slate and stone carving, woodturning, woodworking, weaving, silver and goldsmithing, cane and bamboo work, needlework. To preserve and promote the thirteen arts and crafts, two institutes Institute of Zorig Chusum in the capital, and the Trashiyangtse institute of Zorig Chusum in the east were established. In addition to these institutes, numerous small family enterprises have grown around these arts and crafts. These enterprises rely on tourism as well as the fact that the values attached to some of these crafts go beyond their aesthetic significance. For example, farming tools for household use, woven fabrics we wear every day, and ornaments. Certain regions have their specialty art form such as Trashiyangtse in the east excelling in woodturning and Lhuntse in the creation of some of the most intricate hand woven fabrics. One of the most exquisite art forms is the painting or embroidery of sacred religious scrolls (Thangkhas). The subject of these scrolls are generally rooted in religion, and their creation demands knowledge on religious themes as well as artisanship. Their size can vary from modest three feet long Thangkhas hung in family altars to over hundred feet in length Thongdrels (roughly translated as liberation on sight).
Bhutanese architecture combines different art and craft forms. From small traditional homes that display skills in woodwork, stonework and painting to Dzongs (fortresses) that are a visual delight and architectural and engineering feats, Bhutanese architecture presents one of the most stimulating expressions of Bhutan’s identity. Building materials generally include rammed earth, stones, and abundance of timber. Most of the Dzongs were built in the 17th Century, and are said to have been constructed without structural drawings, nail less, and based on visions and omens. The immense earth walls of Dzongs are punctuated by timber bay windows rabseys (projected windows) normally on the second or third floor, all of which are crowned by intricately decorated cornices. Inside, there are murals, elaborate wood carvings, and paintings on tapering columns, walls, and ceilings. A wide red stripe that goes all the way around a structure signifies a religious building. Bhutan has over 2000 Lhakhangs and over 10,000 chortens of various sizes and architectural beauty. Like the fortresses, traditional homes also use rammed mud or stones walls as the base, depending on climatic conditions and availability of building materials in different regions. The timber bay windows are fitted with sliding wooden shutters. The ground floor is generally used for keeping animals. The first floor is used for residential purposes and includes a room dedicated to the family chapel. Under the roof is an open space, bordered by earth walls, used for storage and drying. The roof is made of wooden shingles, although that is now being replaced by galvanized metal sheets. In most houses in southern Bhutan, rammed earth is plastered over closely matted bamboo. In some parts of rural Bhutan, one storey houses are built on wooden silts. In urban centers today and also seen in the middle of rice fields, cement, bricks and steel are replacing traditional architecture. These concrete apartments and shopping centers continue to retain some elements of tradition in their design of windows, maintaining the cornices, and colorful painting.