In many ways, Bhutanese art has remained intact and true to its original form because it is very deeply rooted in the Bhutanese’ belief in Vajrayana Buddhism. The divine being that is often depicted in paintings and sculptures are assigned specific symbols, shapes, colors, or an attached object that is repetitive in Buddhism such as the begging bowl, conch shell, and thunderbolt. The divine depictions are often very structured, however, the artist is freer to play with his depiction of the demon world.
There are thirteen traditional arts and crafts in Bhutan, carefully protected, preserved, and passed on by Bhutan’s culture. Identified as the zorig chosum (zo means the ability to make, rig means science), the thirteen crafts are painting, paper making, weaving, sculpting, carpentry, woodcarving, embroidery, calligraphy, casting, goldsmithing, bamboo or cane weaving, masonry, and blacksmithing.
Bhutanese paintings are quintessential of the arts and crafts tradition known as Lha-zo.
An ancient art that has been practiced since antiquity, paintings captures the imagery of the Bhutanese landscape. Master painters are known as Lha Rips and their work is apparent in every architectural piece from the massive Dzongs to glorious temples and spiritual monasteries and even in modest Bhutanese homes.
Paintings and their varied colors and hues epitomize the Bhutanese art and craft. A perfect example of this art form are the massive thongdrols or thangkas, huge scrolls depicting religious figures that are displayed during annual religious festivals. The mere sight of these enormous scrolls is believed to cleanse the viewer of his sins and bring him closer to attaining nirvana. Thus, it brings merit not only to the believers but for the painters as well.
Young novices are taught by the master Lha Rips.
The materials used in Bhutanese paint are the natural pigmented soils that are found throughout the country. These natural soil pigments are of different colours and are named accordingly. The black lumps of soil is known as ‘sa na’, and red lumps as ‘Tsag sa’, for instance.