Cradled in the folds of the Himalayas, Bhutan has relied on its geographical isolation to protect itself from outside cultural influences. A sparsely populated country bordered by India to the south, and China to the north, Bhutan has long maintained a policy of strict isolationism, both culturally and economically, with the goal of preserving its cultural heritage and independence. Only in the last decades of the 20th century were foreigners allowed to visit the country, and only then in limited numbers. In this way, Bhutan has successfully preserved many aspects of its culture, which dates directly back to the mid-17th century.
Modern Bhutanese culture derives from ancient culture. This culture affected the early growth of this country. Dzongkha and Sharchop, the principal Bhutanese languages, are closely related to Tibetan, and Bhutanese monks read and write the ancient variant of the Tibetan language, known as chhokey. The Bhutanese are physically similar to the Tibetans, but history does not record when they crossed over the Himalayas and settled in the south-draining valleys of Bhutan. Both Tibetans and Bhutanese revere the tantric guru, Padmasambhava, the founder of Himalayan Buddhism in the 8th century.
Bhutan has a rich living tradition of arts and crafts dating back to the first artistic skills introduced by Terton Pema Lingpa, the great treasure discoverer of the 15th century. In the 17th century, Desi Tenzin Rabgye codified the artistic skills passed down through generations of Bhutanese artisans under the Zorig Chosum or “Thirteen Arts & Crafts,” which aresummarized as follows:
- Woodworking (shingzo)—building of dzongs, temples and houses.
- Stone carving (dozo)—building stone walls and stupas.
- Carving (parzo)—woodcarving, stone carving and slate carving.
- Painting (lhazo)—such as for thangkas, mandalas and house decoration.
- Clay arts (jinzo)—used in construction of rammed-earth houses, making of statues, masks and pottery.
- Metal casting (lugzo)—casting of statues (mainly bronze), bells, musical instruments, and the crafting of kitchen tools and utensils; slip casting for jewelry and pottery.
- Wood-turning (shagzo)—using the treadle lathe to turn bowls and other vessels from wood burls and roots of trees, including hand drums and ladles.
- Blacksmithing (garzo)—the making of chains, ploughs and weapons such as swords, knives and axes.
- Gold and silver works (trözo)—this includes all ornaments of copper, silver and gold, and the various techniques associated with their production, such as drawing, engraving, beating, etc.
- Basketry (tshazo)—using cane and bamboo in the making of storage baskets, hats, beer containers, floor mats, bamboo thatching, and bows and arrows.
- Paper-making (dezo)—making traditional paper out of Daphne bark (de). Nowadays, bamboo and rice stalk are also used.
- Needlework (tshemzo)—sewing and embroidery.
- Weaving (thagzo)—this is the largest industry and includes yarn preparation, dyeing, designing and weaving of intricate textiles.
Even today, the Zorig Chusum is manifested as a living tradition in various aspects of Bhutanese society. Its preservation and promotion is accorded high priority in Bhutan. The Institute of Zorig Chusum, established in 1971, has two schools devoted to the Thirteen Traditional Arts and Crafts, where skilled artisan instructors pass down time-honored skills to their students who further
perpetuate this living tradition in Bhutan. However, to effectively promote and sustain this rich cultural heritage in a rapidly changing economic environment, it is necessary to ensure that the production of arts and crafts is a viable trade for Bhutanese artisans. The Dharma Project seeks to complement the efforts of the Institute of Zorig Chusum and its establishmentunder the patronage of His Majesty is a step in that direction.
Established in 2007, the Dharma Project specializes in the production of traditional artifacts under the patronage of His Majesty the King. The project aims to preserve and promote the age-old Bhutanese craftsmanship and Buddhist traditions of religious craft-making by enhancing the capabilities and capacity of the traditional arts and crafts industry.
The project has introduced modern technology to enhance the tools of artisans and is currently providing training for skill enhancement for local artisans and craftsman. An apprenticeship program for trainees of the Institute of Zorig Chusum includes hands-on experience in innovative methods of design and production of the different arts and crafts. The Project seeks to construct
a “Dharma Complex” in Thimphu with the objective to expand its work facilities, exhibit artifacts and provide housing for artisans.
Reconstruction of Druk Khamsum Wangdi Choki Phodrang Dzong
The Wangdue Dzong (Fortress) was completely gutted by a fire that broke out on the 24th of June 2012. When the Wangdue Dzong was completely burned to the ground, the Bhutanese people from all walks of life came forward in large numbers to provide any support they could – given the high esteem and regard that the people of Bhutan have for one the oldest and one of the most
impressive fortresses in the country. As the Dharma King, His Majesty the King offered Nu. 200 Million on behalf of the people of Bhutan to morally support the people and restore this important national heritage. Of the total grant of Nu. 200 Million, Nu. 100 Million was from the Kidu Foundation and Nu. 100 Million from the Armed Forces. The Kasho stated (Royal Edict):
“On the 24th of June 2012, the historic Wangdiphodrang Dzong was destroyed by fire. However, through the efforts of the armed forces, Dzongkhag officials, De-suups and concerned citizens, we were able to retrieve our sacred relics. I am deeply grateful.
It is through the strength and faith of our people and spirituality of our nation that these sacred ancient treasures remain with us, is spite of the tragic fires.
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, our people from all walks of life have strived, within each one’s mean, to contribute towards fulfilling our fervent hope that the Dzong may be urgently restored.
I am deeply touched and inspired by our people’s unity and nobility of purpose.
Therefore, I hereby grant Nu. 100 Million from the Armed Forces to the Zhung Dratshang for the Dzong Reconstruction Fund.
In addition, I offer Nu. 100 Million from the Kidu Foundation. These funds I grant on behalf of the people of the 20 Dzongkhags and together as one, my people and I, pray for the continued peace, prosperity and happiness of our beloved nation.”
Support to CSOs
CSOs according to the CSO Act of Bhutan refers to “associations, societies, foundations, charitable trusts, not-for-profit organizations or other entities that are not part of the government and do not distribute any income or profits to its members, founders, donors, directors or trustees.” CSOs in essence complement government efforts to “protect human life and health, prevent and
alleviate human suffering and poverty” and basically promote sustainable economic development. CSOs essentially try to add on to government activities to improve livelihoods.
His Majesty’s Kidu activities also complement government activities and provide help in areas where the government is not able to fully cover due to lack of resources. Since it is impossible for His Majesty, through the Office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon, to cover all gaps in relation to improving livelihoods through government activities, it is essential to support CSOs – especially those that are more focused and requires specialized expertise and skills.
There are currently 28 CSOs registered in the country – of which most are Public Benefit Organizations and few are Mutual Benefit Organizations. The Kidu Foundation to date has provided technical and/or financial support directly or through its partners such as Civil Society Organization Secretariat and external funding agencies.