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Bhutan is proud of its artistic heritage and produces works of excellent quality and great artistic value.

The arts and crafts are grouped in one list under the name “Thirteen Arts”, the Zorig Chusum: Zo means “to make””, rig “science” and chusum “thirteen”.

They consist of

  • Painting
  • Sculpture
  • Carving
  • Calligraphy
  • Paper making
  • Casting
  • Embroidery
  • Weaving
  • Carpentry
  • Masonry
  • Bamboo and cane weaving
  • Gold/Silver Smithy
  • Blacksmithy

The first seven arts were considered more prestigious because dealing directly with the religious aspects of life .

This list was probably codified at the end of the 17th century during the reign of the 4th Temporal Ruler (Desi), Tenzin Rabgye (1680-1694) and incorporate all the arts which were necessary to the religious and administrative life developed by the Zhabdrung Ngwang Namgyel (1594-1651). One of the most famous artists whose name has been kept is Penlop Dragpa Gyatsho ( 1646-1719) of Paro.

Many of the eminents lamas were themselves great artists.

Monks and laymen who are assigned religious crafts, that is the first seven ones, considered these tasks as highly merituous actions and blessings.

Until the 1990s, women did not do any of the religious works which were the privilege of men, but by contrast they were almost exclusively the weavers.

Lay crafts persons were traditionally involved in farming the land or other rural activities and they devoted only part of the year to the production of objects which were used in daily life, or helping their neighbours with house construction.

Since the early 1990s, the development of a well-to-do urban class and tourism, have encouraged some, especially weavers, to take their art as a full time profession. International agencies, NGOs and government institutions such as specialised schools encourage the artists an promote their work, like the Seal of Excellence introduced in 2009.

Weaving woollen textiles called yatra is the specificity of the Bumthang district and is done by women, usually on pedal looms.

With different paterns having a symbolic meanings, and made of sheep or yak hair, yatra are synonymous with Bumthang and the most famous come from the Chhume valley although Ura and Tang valleys have their own tradition.