Page 1

Karin Altmann

fabric of life

Edition Angewandte Book Series of the University of Applied Arts Vienna Edited by Gerald Bast, Rector

Karin Altmann

fabric of life Textile Arts in Bhutan – Culture, Tradition and Transformation

contents 6 Introduction

9 Textiles in the Cultural History of Bhutan 91 Bon and Buddhism 105 Colours, Threads and Cloths in Ritual Contexts 121 Sacred Festivals and Dances 133 Jampe Lhakhang Drup – A Case Study 183 Cham Lineages and Dance Costumes of Bhutan 233 The Production of Textiles 289 Creativity and Tradition – Positioning Textile Art between Freedom of Artistic Expression and Subjection to Strict Rules 303 Textiles and Mysticism 309 Gender-Specific Attribution in Bhutanese Society 329 The Importance of Textiles to the Life of Society and Individuals 359 Bhutan's Textile Art in Transition 391 Prospects: Textile Art as a Cultural Heritage for Young People in Bhutan?

414 Epilogue 417 Acknowledgments 419 Appendix 420 Glossary 432 References 435 Imprint


INTRODUCTION Along the southern slopes of the Eastern Himalayas, wedged between its two powerful neighbours China and India, lies the small but quite remarkable Kingdom of Bhutan. Bhutan is the last remaining Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas and the only country in the world where the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism, the Vajrayana, constitutes the official state religion and infuses all aspects of life, from state policy to the everyday lives of its inhabitants. It is a small, independent country that was never colonised and which remained largely cut off from the rest of the world until the 1950s. It was only in the 1960s that it was opened up to the outside world, since when this little kingdom, which is undergoing a self-determined transfer to democracy, has been increasingly influenced by western culture. However, despite worldwide tendencies towards cultural homogenisation and globalisation, Bhutan’s confidence in itself as a nation has enabled its cultural traditions to be preserved. A code of etiquette (driglam namzhag) obliges all Bhutanese people to live in accordance with Bhutanese culture, by establishing norms that apply not only to manners and the organisation of public events, but also to clothes. Thus, this decree contains rules about dress, whereby all Bhutanese people are obliged to wear the national dress when attending official occasions; apparel that goes back to the Buddhist cleric and national unifier Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, who lived in the early 17 th century. Within the context of its specific geography, history, and way of life, Bhutan has developed a whole range of traditional arts. Among the richest and most complex of these art forms are the textiles of Bhutan, which combine many centuries of knowledge with individual creativity, and have been held in great regard as a symbol of the country’s national identity, right up to our times. It is this art form that this publication is dedicated to. As a result of its long, self-imposed isolation, it was subsequently identified by some westerners with an imaginary ‘last Shangri-La’, the utopian earthly paradise in the Himalayas – a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world – that the American author James Hilton presented to the world as a modern myth in his 1933 novel Lost Horizon. Bhutan is among the countries of the world that have always exerted a powerful attraction over travellers, researchers and scientists in very different disciplines. The first travellers to Bhutan undertook what was then the very difficult journey to this remote kingdom with very different motives. The first western visitors were two Portuguese Jesuits called Estevão Cacella and João Cabral, who travelled to Bhutan in 1627. Among those who entered the country after them in the 6

service of the British Government were George Bogle (1774), Dr Alexander Hamilton (1776 – 77), Captain Samuel Turner together with Lieutenant Samuel Davis, who accompanied this trade mission as an artist (1783), Captain Robert Boileau Pemberton (1838), and Ashley Eden (1864). In 1904, a British Colonel called Francis Younghusband led an expedition across Bhutan to Tibet, and in 1905 and 1907 John Claude White visited Bhutan as Political Officer of Sikkim. He was followed by researchers such as Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Marshman Bailey, who travelled in Bhutan between 1922 and 1928, and British botanist George Sherriff, who together with Frank Ludlow, undertook the journey to Bhutan and Tibet six times, between the years 1937 and 1949, in the service of the British Museum. In addition to these, French ethnologist Michel Peissel was driven by his enormous ambition to enter Bhutan, intending to be one of the first to cross on foot, ‘in the year 1968 […] the last country of Asia that is still unmapped.’ 1 The letters, reports and drawings and, latterly, photographs from these expeditions witness to Bhutan’s textile art, and the fashions of the age. In 1974, when Bhutan opened up to a managed form of tourism under the rule of the fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, more and more travellers started coming to Bhutan. Accordingly, the number of books on Bhutan increased and it soon seemed that anyone who had spent more than a fortnight in this small Himalayan kingdom felt qualified to publish an account of their experiences in a book. However, the last twenty years have also seen the appearance of qualitative academic studies and, although this present publication is largely based on my own empirical observations, it is also built on research that has already been conducted by a few important scientists. Among the profound experts on Bhutan whose sources I refer to are, in the first instance, British historian and Tibetologist Michael Aris, French ethno-historian and Tibetologist Françoise Pommaret, Austrian cultural anthropologist Christian Schicklgruber, and Swiss ethnologist Martin Brauen. With regard to expert accounts of the Bon religion, I have relied on the research carried out by British Tibetologist David L. Snellgrove, Norwegian anthropologist Per Kvaerne, German Indologist and Tibetologist Helmut Hoffmann, and Tibetan Tibetologist Samten Gyaltsen Karmay. With regard to information about Buddhism, its rituals and dances, the research published by French Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, who not only holds a PhD degree in molecular genetics but also translates for the 14 th Dalai Lama, has provided valuable information. In this context, I have also relied on the writings of Mynak Tulku Rinpoche, a Buddhist monk

and high cleric in Bhutan. With regard to Buddhist iconography, the work of British artist and author Robert Beer must be acknowledged. Information about Bhutan’s dances was supplied by Dasho Sithel Dorji, former Director of the Royal Academy of Performing Arts, and by the Core of Culture Dance Preservation, a NGO that has documented Bhutan’s mask dances as part of a lavish project involving the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Among the most significant Bhutanese authors whose reflections I have quoted in my work, are Dasho Karma Ura, President of The Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research (formerly The Centre for Bhutan Studies), an interdisciplinary research institute that engages with the culture and history of Bhutan; Bhutanese novelist Kunzang Choden and the Bhutanese lama, film-maker, novelist, and truly the most innovative spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism today, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. Important and up-to-date information has been supplied by Bhutanese weeklies Kuensel, Bhutan Observer and Bhutan Times, and Drukpa Magazine, all of which have their own Internet portals. Further mention should be made of the Thunlam Newsletter of The Bhutan-German Himalaya Society, in which German Tibetologist Gregor Verhufen and the Honorary Consul Manfred Kulessa publish up-to-date articles. With regard to Bhutan’s textile art, it should be noted that prior to the 1980s, Bhutanese textiles were scarcely known in the West. Although a few, mainly British museums already held textiles from Bhutan, these items were not included in their collections as examples of textile art but simply as evidence of diplomatic relations between Bhutan and Great Britain. Blanche Olschak was the only person to publish an article on Bhutanese Weaving in 1966, and there were no further publications in this field for the next 18 years. Most of the great collections of Bhutanese textile art that are nowadays on show in international museums were acquired item by item in the 1980s, from merchants in Kathmandu, Nepal. Among these private collections are those that belong to Barbara Adams and Mark Bartholomew. Both Barbara Adams’s publication Traditional Bhutanese Textiles, published in 1984, and Mark Bartholomew’s book, Thunder Dragon Textiles from Bhutan, published in 1985, describe the coincidental way that these collectors initially stumbled onto Bhutanese textiles. It was only years later, after a market had gradually been established, that Bhutanese people started coming to Kathmandu to exchange old textiles for new wares. Kathmandu became the most important source for collectors of Bhutanese textiles. In fact, during the last three decades, Bhutanese textiles have become some of the most high-

ly sought-after items in the world. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Osaka Museum in Japan and others have all acquired Bhutanese textiles. Private collectors have even paid tens of thousands of dollars for a single Bhutanese textile.2 1985 saw the appearance of David Keith Barker’s Designs of Bhutan, a collection of designs from the Kingdom of Bhutan collated in graphical format. Just a decade later, in 1994, Diana K. Myers and Susan S. Bean worked with Françoise Pommaret and Michael Aris to produce the catalogue for the exhibition, Textile Arts of Bhutan – From the Land of the Thunder Dragon in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem /  Massachusetts. This was one of the most extensive and remarkable publications on textile art in Bhutan yet to be published. A further contribution was made in 1997 by the Australian economic expert Barry Ison who wrote an article on traditional crafts, called The Thirteen Traditional Crafts, which was published in Bhutan – Mountain Fortress of the Gods by Christian Schicklgruber and Françoise Pommaret, for the exhibition under the same name at the Weltmuseum Wien (formerly Museum of Social Anthropology in Vienna) that ran during 1997 – 1998.3 Indeed, it was this exhibition that sparked my interest in Bhutan, and my enthusiasm to research this subject. The task of this book is now to present Bhutan’s textile arts, not in isolation but in connection with all aspects of life. Starting from the assumption that all forms of Bhutan’s art and culture are imbued with spiritual meaning, its textile arts can be used to show how the spiritual impact of Tantric Buddhism and pre-Buddhist religions has influenced the art and culture of Bhutan, and how closely art, spirituality and life are interwoven, like warp and weft. Through the medium of textiles, new insights into the cosmology of Bhutan, its worldview, culture, and society can be provided, which are, in turn, associated with a variety of historical, philosophical, religious, social and artistic perspectives.

Notes 1 Peissel 1970, p. 23. 2 Karen Mazurkewich, in: The Wall Street Journal, 10.08.2001: 7401053441, last accessed on 02.05.2014. 3 A virtual online version of the exhibition Bhutan – Mountain Fortress of the Gods can be viewed at: http:// 7


Textiles in the Cultural History of Bhutan

opposite: Bhutan, compared with other dry regions in the Himalayas, is blessed with a rich natural environment.

DRUK YUL – LAND OF THE THUNDER DRAGON above and opposite: Bhutan's environment, with high rugged mountains and deep valleys, feature ecosystems with an astounding diversity.


Bhutan, known in Dzongkha, the official language of Bhutan, as Druk Yul (‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’),1 lies on the southern slopes of the Eastern Himalayas, wedged between two powerful neighbours, China and India. To the north, the country borders the autonomous region of Tibet, and to the east, south and west lie the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal and Sikkim. With only 634,982 inhabitants 2 living in an area that measures 38,394 km2, Bhutan has an extremely low population density. Whereas 61.1 per cent of the population live on the land, 30.9 per cent live in urban centres; the capital Thimphu has 79,185 inhabitants.3

The geography of Bhutan is roughly divided into three main lateral zones that run from north to south: the Great Himalaya, Inner Himalaya and Sub-Himalaya.4 The mountainous central area extends from the glacier zones in the north with their eternal ice and snow, to the mild monsoon and alpine climates of the verdant valleys of Central Bhutan, right down to the sub-tropical zones in the south of the country. Rainfall levels and temperatures vary according to topography and degree of exposure. This is due to the high northsouth divide, which runs from the main chain of the Himalayas in the north to the Brahmaputra valleys in the south. Whereas to the south, the lowest point of the country is at 150 m above sea-level, you have only to fly 90 – 160 km north to encounter huge snow-covered mountains rising to

7,000 m. Furthermore, seven large rivers flow in a north-south direction, through clearly-demarcated valleys that can attain depths of 3,000 m, which themselves are subdivided into different climate zones and feature a great variety of habitats.5 This diverse environment, together with its bio-geographical location, has allowed Bhutan to develop a notable level of biodiversity, and the country’s long isolation has also been beneficial for its biodiversity inventory. With many rare and endemic plants and animals, Bhutan boasts an extraordinary wealth of flora and fauna. 70.5 per cent of the country is still covered with forests, and one tenth of the entire area is permanently enveloped in snow and ice, which leaves only seven per cent that can be cultivated, although 80 per cent of the population relies on agriculture for its

livelihood.6 To date, nine national parks and nature reserves have been set up; they are linked by biological corridors; the Constitution of Bhutan has declared that at least 60 per cent of the land area should remain under forest cover for all time, and that more than one quarter of the country must be preserved as a national park or a protected area for biodiversity conservation.7 This means that Bhutan, compared with other dry regions in the Himalayas, is blessed with a rich natural environment; this plays a significant role in the country’s cultural development. Although Bhutan is strongly influenced by Tibetan culture, its ability to establish itself as a state in the 17 th century gave rise to a separate culture, with distinctive features that serve to distinguish it clearly from other areas that have been influenced by Tibet. 11

HISTORY AND NATIONHOOD left: The Tantric mystic and teacher Guru Rinpoche introduced Tantric Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8 th century; from a wall painting inside a private temple in Northeastern Bhutan. right: The spiritual leader Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594 – 1651) unified Bhutan in the 17 th century, forming a Buddhist kingdom; from a wall painting inside a private temple in Northeastern Bhutan.


There are only a few sources that cast light on the prehistory of Bhutan,8 but stone implements and megaliths have survived in different parts of the country, suggesting that Bhutan was already populated around 2000 – 1500 BCE.9 The earliest written records about the history of Bhutan date from the 7 th century CE, when Buddhism reached the country for the first time, and the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo (629 – 710) built the first two Buddhist temples, Kyichu lhakhang in Paro (Western Bhutan) and Jampe lhakhang in Bumthang (Central Bhutan). Many records about this ‘mystical’ Himalayan kingdom present a closely interwoven web of reality and legend, a fact that serves to complicate and enrich the history of Bhutan. Imaginative narratives of religious events are often viewed as more significant than the actual historical and political developments. Mahayana Buddhism has primarily influenced the historical development of Bhutan. The Indian mystic and Tantric master Padmasambhava (‘The Lotus-born’), who is generally referred to in Tibet and Bhutan as Guru Rinpoche (‘Precious Master’) and is nowadays still revered as the Second Buddha, engaged in radical missionary activity during the 8 th century CE. His teaching brought about a flowering of Tantric Buddhism in Bhutan. Nevertheless, Buddhism was not firmly established until the 13 th century; in the course of the following centuries it developed into a rich and independent culture based on the population’s firm adherence to the teachings and values of the Mahayana. At that time though, Bhutan still consisted of numerous isolated valleys with their own

culture and topography, and small independent principalities, which meant that the country still lacked any form of political unity. It was only in the 17 th century that a unified Buddhist kingdom was established by a cleric called Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594 –  1651). Ngawang Namgyel was an adherent of the Buddhist Drukpa School, which was based in Ralung monastery in Tibet. In 1616, political power struggles forced him to leave the Tibetan monastery 10 and, guided by the protective deity Yeshe Gonpo (Mahakala), who appeared to him in a vision under the aspect of a black raven, he came to the region of what is now Northwestern Bhutan, specifically, Laya. There, he was sure of the support of many Drukpa clans.11 Known in Bhutan simply as Shabdrung (‘at whose feet one submits’)12 the unificator and founder of Bhutan conquered the previously independent principalities. Under his leadership and government, Bhutan coalesced into one state with a single administration, law and belief system based on the premises of Buddhism. The Shabdrung built impregnable fortresses (dzong) at strategic points, which can still be seen, dominating the landscape in every district (dzongkhag) in Bhutan. Since those days, dzong have been used to house the monastic community and the administrative organisation of each particular dzongkhag. Shabdrung also codified a system of rules of etiquette in the form of driglam namzhag (‘Code of Disciplined Behaviour’). The origins of the 13 traditional crafts (zorig chusum) can also be found in it. However, one of his most significant changes was the establishment of a dual system of government (choesi nyiden).13 The Shabdrung separated the religious

powers from the secular and proclaimed the Drukpa-Kagyu School the official state religion of Bhutan. To start with, the Shabdrung personally assumed both the spiritual and the secular leadership; later on, though, after retreating to the Punakha dzong to devote his final years to meditation, he appointed two individuals from his circle of relatives and close clerical friends to these central positions.14 A hierarchy of officials was appointed to run the regional administration, and he introduced the posts of Je Khenpo and Druk Desi. While the Je Khenpo (addressed by the British as Dharma Raja), the head abbot, represented the highest instance for religious matters and ruled over the monastic community (sangha), the Druk Desi (referred to as Deb Raja by the British), held the political and secular power. The secular ruler headed a hierarchy of officials, most of whom were monks 15 because in those days, monks were the only people who could read and write. The duties of the Desi included the administration of the monastic community’s wealth and landed property, the gathering of taxes in the form of goods – including textiles – and labour dues (gungda ula), by which means the public roads, bridges, temples and dzong were built. They also adjudicated in legal cases and were responsible for defence. Due to Bhutan’s remote mountainous location, in the course of his 35-year rule, the Shabdrung had to defend it against several invasions from Tibet, some of which involved Mongol troops. The legends tell how he was aided by deities who assumed the form of swarms of ravens and forced the invaders to flee. The raven is regarded as a manifestation of Mahakala, the guardian deity who had previously guided the Shabdrung to Bhutan. Later on, it was adopted as the protective deity of the Kingdom of Bhutan, which is why, nowadays, it

still features on the King’s imposing Raven Crown. However, it was some time before the monarchy could be established. Back then, Bhutan was divided into three large provinces; Paro, Trongsa and Dagana, which were administered by Provincial Governors (Penlop), who followed on from the first Desi Umzey Tenzin Drugyel (1591 – 1655). The reorganisation of the administration involved the appointment of additonal district administrators to sub-districts in the individual provinces; they were based in the local dzong and called Dzongpon (‘Lords / Masters of the dzong’). Nowadays they are referred to as Dzongdag. After the Shabdrung’s death, these regional rulers became increasingly powerful. Internal disputes and tacit power struggles between the Druk Desi, the Penlop and the Dzongpon served to rend the country’s stability.16 The central government was weakened and soon lost control of the country; furthermore, Bhutan came into conflict with British India. Jigme Namgyel emerged as the most powerful figure in Bhutan at that time, and he was made Penlop17 of Trongsa in 1853.18 It was said that the protective deity Mahakala appeared to him, too, in the form of a raven, urging him to re-establish Bhutan’s former unity.19 Jigme Namgyel was given the honorific title of ‘Black Regent’ on account of his dark countenance, and because he always wore black robes and rode a black horse.20 In 1870, he was enthroned as the 50 th Desi. Later on, even after he had delegated the position of Desi to his half-brother, he continued to hold the reins of power. Jigme Namgyel appointed his son Ugyen Wangchuck to the office of Dzongpon of Paro at the age of 17. Three years after his father’s death, the latter became Penlop of Trongsa Province and thus the ruler of Bhutan.21

Monastic fortresses (dzong) constitute the seats of secular and religious power in the district; Rinpung dzong in Paro (left) and Trongsa dzong (right ).


The first Raven Crown, which belonged to Jigme Namgyel, the Trongsa Penlop, the 50 th Druk Desi, and the father of the first king, Ugyen Wangchuck, dates back to the Tibetan Lama Changchub Tsöndrü (1817 – 56). The Lama designed this crown in the early 1840s to be Jigme Namgyel's personal symbol, one that endowed him with the combined strength and protection of two deities, namely Mahakala, who gave the Raven Crown its name and whose head rises above the crown, and the warrior god Gönpo Changdü, represented by the three eyes on the blue fabric. The first time the Raven Crown was displayed, it was regarded as a kind of magic war helmet rather than a royal symbol. Furthermore, the classical helmet shape of the crown refers back to Gönpo Changdü, also known as the 'Northern Demon', who was one of the warlike dralha deities. Gönpo Changdü was also Namgyel's birth deity (kye lha), his personal protective god who had accompanied him since his birth. Jigme Namgyel's Raven Crown is made of Chinese and English silk brocade and silk damask, silk satin, cotton, silk embroidery, silver-plated brass fittings and gilt copper foil (The Textile Museum, Bhutan, Photo by Erich Lessing). 14

The Raven Crown, as worn by the kings of Bhutan, is based on Jigme Namgyel's original crown, but the intention seems to have changed. Whereas the prototype was still viewed as a symbol of protection and victory in wartime, the subsequent model features brilliant kingship insignia. Bhutan's monarchy is still protected by the Raven-Headed Mahakala, symbolised by the raven's-head crest. The three eyes on the front represents the warrior god Gönpo Changdü who protects Their Majesties throughout their lives. The Raven Crown is made of cloth, adorned with embroidery and appliqué work. The raven head has a crescent moon, a sun disc, and a small turquoise on the top, and tassels of red threads flowing from its base. The upturned circular rim features embroidered skeletal heads. These tantric symbols were later replaced by the mythical bird garuda which is considered a positive force and a symbol of subjugation. The raven crown with the garuda was worn by the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck. On the crown of the fifth king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, however, the tantric skeletal heads appear once again (The Tower of Trongsa Museum, Bhutan, Photo by Stefan Zeisler). 15


On the 17 th December 1907, Ugyen Wangchuck (1862 – 1926) was finally installed as the first hereditary king of Bhutan, and invested with the title Druk Gyalpo (‘Dragon King’). Since that time, Bhutan has been ruled by the Wangchuck dynasty. Ugyen Wangchuck’s son and successor Jigme Wangchuck (1905 – 1952) reigned as Bhutan’s second king until his death in 1952. The reigns of these first two kings were marked by political stability, which helped consolidate the kingdom. Bhutan was never colonised and was the only one of the seven Himalayan kingdoms that succeeded in maintaining its independence with regard to the neighbouring powers, China and India.22 It was only during the reign of the third king Jigme Dorje Wangchuck (1924 – 1972), who reigned from 1952 to 1972 and is acclaimed as the ‘Father of modern Bhutan’, that the kingdom began to open up after its long, deliberate isolation, and to make cautious approaches to the West. His son, the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck, ascended the throne in 1972 at the age of 17. He is known all round the world for having instigated the widely-applied concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH).23 ‘A few years ago, in 1976, a small group of journalists visited Bhutan. They had an audience with the fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. One of the journalists asked him this question, “What is the annual Gross Domestic Production of Bhutan?” Of course, the journalist knew the answer precisely. At fifty US dollars it was the world’s lowest rate. […] The King replied spontaneously, saying: […] “I am not very interested in our GDP. In my opinion, our Gross National Happiness rate is more important”. So that’s how a term was created that has gained world-wide recognition.’ 24 Since that time, it has constituted an alternative to GDP and is used as

the strategic basis of Bhutan’s development policy. Whereas conventional development models concentrate on economic growth, the concept of Gross National Happiness starts from the premise that happiness requires not merely material prosperity, but also an intact environment, and a social, cultural and spiritual context. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck laid down the principles for his country’s social and economic development, albeit without neglecting the traditions and cultural heritage of Bhutan, or impairing the quality of his people’s lives and their largely intact environment. Bhutan’s concept of Gross National Happiness claims that happiness is the central value of its political process and defines it in terms of four columns: sustainable socio-economic development, conservation of the natural environment, preservation and promotion of cultural values, and good governance – thereby upholding the main principles of Buddhist ethics – harmony and compassion. Before King Jigme Singye Wangchuck abdicated in favour of his son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who was enthroned on 6 th November 2008, he surprised his people by introducing democracy to Bhutan; the hereditary monarchy thereby became a democratic and constitutional monarchy. On 24 th March 2008 the first free elections were held in all 20 administrative districts and were won by two parties; the Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), with 45 representatives in the Lower House, and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has two representatives in the Lower House. Lyonchhen Jigmi Yoeser Thinley was appointed Prime Minister by the majority party Druk Phuensum Tshogpa. The principle of Gross National Happiness was enshrined in Bhutan’s first constitution, which was

above left: In 2004, the crown prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was installed as the Penlop of Trongsa (Photo by Christine Leuthner). above centre: The fifth king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck wearing the Raven Crown (Karin Altmann Private Collection, copies of this photo were distributed in Bhutan during the coronation in 2008). above right: In 2011, the King's marriage to a commoner called Jetsun Pema was celebrated (Karin Altmann Private Collection, copies of this photo were distributed in Bhutan on this occasion). opposite: The first four kings on hand-coloured monochrome photos: Ugyen Wangchuck (top left), Jigme Wangchuck (top right ), Jigme Dorje Wangchuck (lower left), and Jigme Singye Wangchuck (lower right ) (KHM-Museumsverband). 17

above and opposite: Bhutanese citizens are required to wear the national dress in public places and at official occasions; apparel that goes back to the Buddhist cleric and national unifier Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.

signed in 2008 by the fifth king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck; it continues to underpin state policy in Bhutan. Of the offices that the Shabdrung had introduced only one remained – the Je Khenpo, who still represents the highest authority in the religious sphere. The current Je Khenpo, Trulku Jigme Choeda, was born in 1955 and is the seventieth postholder in his lineage. On 30th July 2013, Tshering Tobgay was nominated as the Prime Minister by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). DRIGLAM NAMZHAG – THE ESSENCE OF BHUTANESE IDENTITY Karma Ura, one of the country’s leading intellectuals, explains that the concept of the three foundations (tsawa sum) – Nation, People and King – is one of the key notions underpinning national sentiment in modern Bhutan. They are aligned with the holy trinity of Buddhism – Buddha, the ideal of enlightenment, dharma, his teachings and sangha, the spiritual community of his followers.25 The religious concepts and traditional values of


Buddhism constitute the basis for the country’s spiritual and political consolidation and thus form a vital part of Bhutan’s cultural identity. Some of these values and norms have been incorporated into a system which goes back to Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and regulates all the secular and religious aspects of their culture. As mentioned above, this religious officeholder has long been viewed both as the founder of the state and as the instigator of Bhutan’s cultural identity. In 1637, the Shabdrung introduced the first rules of social conduct, which go back to the teachings of Buddha, especially to the vinaya, which are instructions about Buddhist monastic discipline.26 The rules in this text provide a framework for monastic communities; they determine the monks’ and nuns’ daily schedule, and the forms of address to be employed. These regulations are designed to ensure a harmonious co-existence, both inside a monastery, and between monastic and lay communities. These principles were called driglam namzhag and were practised by the monastic and elite classes; later on, they were disseminated by the Desi and their aristocratic followers. Thus, the driglam namzhag is a Code of Etiquette based on

a Buddhist codex that stipulates the correct forms of physical, verbal and spiritual conduct. The term driglam namzhag is formed by combining the word drig (‘harmonious’), lam (‘way’, ‘presentation’, or ‘behaviour’), nam (‘in order’) and zhag (‘to keep’, or ‘to preserve’),27 and so it can be understood as ‘the way (lam) of conscious (namzha[g]) harmony (drig)’. 28 Driglam namzhag is viewed by Karma Ura as, ‘the observation of a distinctive [Bhutanese] culture.’ 29 In the mid-1980s, this unique culture and value system underwent a revival. The fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck appointed a Special Commission for Cultural Affairs (SCCA) in 1985 and gave it the task of preserving the country’s cultural identity. The aim of this decree was to prevent specific features of Bhutanese culture from disappearing, by ensuring they were re-rooted among the population, and to emphasise national identity. While this cultural code still influences the way Bhutanese people behave, and regulates their social events, it also affects every aspect of public life, including what people wear. Even in his day, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel seems to have had a high regard for clothing and outward appearance. The Bhutanese scholar Dasho Rigzin

Dorji, now deceased, wrote that, ‘Ever mindful of the small size of Druk Yul and the hostile and hegemonic attitude of the rulers of Tibet, the Shabdrung found it necessary to promote a distinct cultural identity for Bhutan although she shared with Tibet the common heritage of Mahayana Buddhism. He, therefore, developed distinct Bhutanese characteristics in religious ceremonies and rituals as well as in the dress and costumes of the people.’ 30 The 1963 National Assembly was the first occasion when these regulations about wearing national costume at official occasions were made statutory, 31 and in 1989 the first driglam namzhag decree made its appearance, along with a dress code that obliged all Bhutanese citizens to wear their national dress in public places, both within and in close proximity to monastic fortresses (dzong), monasteries (gompa) and temples (lhakhang), and in government buildings, including when on official business, in schools and institutions, and at official occasions and assemblies. However, residents of Bhutan who are not citizens are not obliged to wear the national costume. People in religious life are also exempt because they have their own dress code. In the National Library in Thimphu, 19


for instance, the following regulation can be found in the vinaya sections of the kanjur,32 the 108-volume set of canonical texts that contains the Buddha’s direct teachings: ‘The lower gown of the monks should be worn well wrapped around the body. The gown should be worn neither too high nor too low. It should not be worn like an elephant’s trunk or like palm leaves; it should not be folded or worn crumpled like hay. It should not even be worn spread out like a snake’s hood.’ 33 Further information about the dress code of the Drukpa Kagyu School in Bhutan will be provided in the section on Robes of Monks and Nuns in the chapter on The Production of Textiles. GHO AND KIRA – THE NATIONAL DRESS OF BHUTAN The invention of the Bhutanese men’s garment (gho) is attributed to Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel himself. To recall Dasho Rigzin Dorji’s explanation, the Shabdrung seems to have developed the gho as a mark of Bhutanese identity, to distinguish Bhutan from Tibet. For this purpose, he altered the Tibetan costume for men (chuba) and adapted it to the occasionally warmer and damper climate of Bhutan.34 Consequently, the Bhutanese gho is worn drawn up to the knees whereas the Tibetan chuba is worn long. In the Shabdrung’s time, the gho was mandatory only for members of the elite, but over time, it was gradually adopted by the whole male population, and since 1989 the gho

has been the national dress for Bhutanese men. Michael Aris and Françoise Pommaret think that the original Bhutanese clothing consisted of a pakhi, a wraparound garment that is still worn, very occasionally, in Southern Bhutan.35 This garment consists of a square length of cloth that is knotted at the neck, falls in two folds down the back, billows over a belt like a blouse and is worn short for the men; and knotted at the shoulders, fastened with a belt and worn long for the women.36 According to Françoise Pommaret, this dress was once woven of nettle fibre and nowadays made of machine-woven Indian cotton.37 The Bhutanese costume for women (kira) was also established as their national dress in 1989. Although parallel forms of their weaving and design techniques can be found among South East Asian textiles,38 there are no records of how the Bhutanese dress for women developed, and therefore, its origins are uncertain. However, it is generally thought that the kira was already being worn long before the Shabdrung’s time and that, prior to the kira, Bhutanese women traditionally wore a tunic-style garment made of nettle, cotton or wool fibres; the material and type of production determine whether it is a kushung or a shingkha. This archaic form of clothing will be discussed in greater detail in the chapter on Cham Lineages and Dance Costumes of Bhutan. As mentioned above, the decision to specify the gho and kira as the national dress was intended to strengthen Bhutanese national identity and to prevent its culture from disappearing. The main reason for this was the

above: The national dress for men (gho) consists of a long robe, which overlaps in front and is folded into two wide pleats at the back and held in place with a belt (kera) so that the hem hangs to the knees. opposite: The man's robe (gho) and the woman's wrapped dress (kira) are the national dress of the Drukpa, the largest ethnic group in Bhutan. Bhutanese monks (on the left) have their own dress code; their garments are mostly red and maroon, colours associated with the clergy.


Men combine their gho with knee stockings (omso) and every conceivable kind of footgear.

opening-up of Bhutan, which had introduced foreign clothes and had a profound impact on the prevalence of national dress among the population. Before driglam namzhag became law in 1989, many Bhutanese people could be seen wearing western clothes, mainly in the towns, and especially in Thimphu. Western fashions became status symbols that were displayed, for instance, by wearing trainers, which were adopted by court ladies and later by many other Bhutanese women, and by the fashion for jeans, which developed in Bhutan in the 1990s. The Royal Government of Bhutan tried to put a stop to this trend by establishing the traditional costume of the Drupka, the largest ethnic group in Bhutan, as its national dress, and by issuing a decree to that effect. In spite of all this, young Bhutanese in the town are generally dressed in western styles. GHO – THE NATIONAL DRESS FOR MEN The term gho is used for the national dress for men; it consists of three to four lengths of cloth that are sewn together to form a floor-length kimono-style robe with very long sleeves. This robe overlaps in front and is folded into two wide pleats at the back and held in place with a belt (kera); it is then drawn up to achieve the desired length. When wearing a


gho, the lengths of cloth (bjang) must be vertical, and are generally woven in cotton or silk. Gho are made in a variety of patterns, which are discussed at length in the chapter on The Production of Textiles. The gho is lined with an 8 cm-wide band of contrasting silk or cotton fabric at the inside collar, cuffs and hem. A gho can also be fully lined, in which case the lining (nashab) is generally made of a lightweight cotton fabric. But, linings are not obligatory, and men often avoid them, particularly in the warmer regions of Bhutan. Bhutanese men wear a shirt (tego) beneath their gho, along with knee stockings (omso) and possibly trousers and long underwear during the cold season. GO – MEN'S SHIRT Shirts for men (tego) consist of a loose, basic shirt with a collar and long sleeves that are turned back into long cuffs, like the sleeves of a gho. About 15 cm of the turned-back cuffs should be visible, along with a narrower strip of collar. The shirt cannot be closed at the front – it is simply overlaid. Tego for men are mainly made of cotton, sometimes silk, and are white or light blue. Nowadays, people tend to wear a cotton vest or T-shirt under their tego. Sometimes, gho are lined with light blue cotton cloth that can be seen at the collar

and cuffs; thus a gho can be worn without a shirt underneath it. However, the collar and cuffs soon become grubby, with the result that the entire gho has to be laundered. Therefore, some city people tend to opt for a simpler solution and wear white or blue cuffs and detachable collars; they simulate traditional shirts but are easy to change and wash. In everyday life, a fashionable T-shirt often replaces the shirt, and nowadays, western underwear has even replaced the cotton shorts that used to be worn under a gho. During the cold season, Bhutanese men wear trousers beneath their gho; here too, every possible kind of modern trousers has now replaced the traditional trousers (domtha) that are made of cotton or wild silk.39 OMSO AND TSHOGLHAM – KNEE STOCKINGS AND TRADITIONAL MEN'S BOOTS In fact, trousers are only worn beneath a gho during the cold season. Generally speaking, men wear their gho with knee stockings (omso), which are an important accessory for Bhutanese men and are often given as presents. The first knee stockings were introduced, along with European shoes, in the early 20 th century. To start with, these knee stockings were imported from England and then, in the 1980s, they were brought from the USA.40 They were all argyles, which feature checks and crossed stripes in contrasting colours. These traditional tartan knee stockings were originally

the preserve of the nobility but in the 1970s they became very fashionable in the towns; nowadays, though, they are definitely considered out-of-date by fashion-conscious Bhutanese. In fact, black and single-colour knee socks in dark hues are the fashion now – any patterns should be very small and discreet. However, the market currently offers knee socks in every possible format; most of them are imported from China and India. Nowadays, knee stockings are combined with every conceivable kind of footgear. Previously, Bhutanese boots (lham) made of leather and fabric were generally worn; Myers reports that they were padded with long aromatic pine needles for warmth and comfort.41 Leather sandals (thebthem) were also worn but nowadays, modern leather shoes, trainers, gumboots and plastic sandals have definitely replaced them. Of course, the choice of shoe depends on the topographical conditions and the climate. In the warmer regions, men prefer not to wear knee stockings, and indeed some still go about barefoot, the way they used to. Walking without shoes or socks has been the custom for a long time and has nothing to do with poverty. For instance, the first king Ugyen Wangchuck can be seen barefoot in some photographs taken by John Claude White. The embroidered and appliquéd boots (tshoglham) made of leather, silk damask and silk brocade are particularly interesting because the colour denotes the rank of each individual wearer. In the old days, tshoglham were only worn by nobles on formal occasions. By the end of the 20 th century, when high-ranking per-

Today cheap plastic sandals from China have now become so widespread that they crop up in even the most remote regions.


above left: Walking barefoot has been the custom for a long time and some Bhutanese still prefer it. above centre: The first king Ugyen Wangchuck, in this famous and much publicised photograph taken by John Claude White in 1905, is shown barefoot, for yet another reason: 'Ugyen Wangchuck wearing the Raven Crown and the insignia of the KCIE at Punakha, 1905. He is barefoot not only because this was his habit and preference but more particularly because the investiture ceremony in the main temple of the dzong required this gesture of humility in the presence of the ecclesiastical dignitaries who were presiding.' (Aris 1994, p.75) (Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California). above right, and left: Embroidered and appliquĂŠd boots (tshoglham) made of leather, silk damask and silk brocade are still worn at official events. 24

sons such as ministers (lyonpo or lyonchhen) 42 and Dasho, royal government officials who have been awarded the non-inheritable title of Dasho by the King for their services, were the only people who still wore these valuable boots, they had almost been forgotten. However, the Bhutanese government was able to prevent the exponents of this craft from dying out, and in 2002 the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) called on all higher officials to wear Bhutanese boots as part of their official functions. As a result of this, richly decorated tshoglham can once again be seen at official events such as the Bhutanese National Day, or the Birthday of the King, and at other important ceremonies. Boots for lower-ranking officials and ordinary citizens are called changkha tshoglham and there is no obligation to wear them. In spite of the relatively high price of up to 5,000 Ngultrum (about 80 Euro) that a pair of richly embroidered boots costs,43 tshoglham are steadily gaining in popularity with the Bhutanese population, and even among tourists. This is helped by the fact that the soles have undergone a change over the last few years. The thin leather soles have now been replaced with thick rubber soles with low heels; this may not be an improvement in aesthetic terms but they are much more comfortable to wear. KERA – MEN'S BELTS Bhutanese belts for men (kera), are long densely woven belts with twisted fringes at both ends; they are simply used for binding the gho at the waist

and end up hidden between the garment and its overlap. Kera are about 180 cm long and 5 cm wide; the materials used are cotton and wool. The pattern usually consists of narrow vertical warp stripes in various colours. Unlike the richly decorated belts for women, these men’s belts are very plain. This is because the belt is almost completely hidden by the overlapping gho, unlike the women’s national dress. Nevertheless no other textile of this type is so strongly associated with as many secret beliefs as these Bhutanese belts for men, which are invested with countless legends and mystical notions. Further information about these beliefs and meanings is provided in the chapter on Textiles and Mysticism. JEWELRY AND ACCESSORIES FOR MEN When a man holds a senior rank in the government service, he wears a long sword with gold and silver decorations (pata / patang). It is fixed to a sword belt made of woollen or leather panels, which may be partially decorated with carved silver plates. Traditional sword belts are equipped with two rings, one for the sword and one for a decorative woven sword band (losil) that features auspicious symbols such as the tree of life (shinglo). Swords are worn on the right hip, and the sword band on the left. According to Myers, there are several styles of swords, whose names refer to their place of origin.44 In rural areas, Bhutanese men also carry a knife. This may be a small dagger (dozum) or a round 40 cm-long kni-

Bhutanese men's belts (kera) are long densely woven belts with twisted fringes at both ends and vertical warp stripes in various colours.


Short straight knives are traditionally carried by Bhutanese men but most of them have simple wooden handles and scabbards (left and object below); the knife is tucked under the belt within the large pocket made by the fold of the robe (right ) (Photo by Christine Leuthner). Objects clockwise from top right: This intricate silver amulet container (gau) is a personal charm box, containing prayers, small statues or relics. It is carried around the neck when travelling, and used as a portable altar or as a shrine on an altar for a precious relic. The reliquary is often ornamented as here with the eight auspicious symbols; this gold-plated silver dagger with intricate metal work is probably of royal provenance; length: 39.5 cm (National Museum, Paro, Bhutan, Photo by Erich Lessing); previously worn as a prestigious symbol of the nobility, today only senior officers in the government service are allowed to carry a sword. These swords with sheaths and textile covers, however, come from a protective deity's chapel (goenkhang) and belong to the local deity's armoury; length: 93 cm (Photo by Erich Lessing).


fe (patang) fitted with a wooden grip and sheath. The knife is included for practical reasons because it is a useful adjunct to village life; for cutting a path through the undergrowth, for slicing betel nuts, for peeling vegetables, for harvesting and chopping up bamboos – its uses are many and various. Bhutanese men sometimes also wear jewelry. For instance, the yak herdsmen of Merak Sakteng in the East wear earrings made of turquoise (yue). Large silver or gold rings with turquoise, coral (bjuru) and beads of black agate (dzi / zi) are more commonly worn, though nowadays there is a growing trend to replace them with smaller and more modern silver and gold rings. One accessory that is scarcely ever worn these days is a small charm box called a gau. This is a little amulet container that is strung from a cord and worn around the neck, at chest level. They were used as travelling altars and would be worn as protective talismans, during long journeys or when fighting in a war, for instance. Inside was a miniature of a protective deity, a relic of a holy person, prayer scripts, sacred diagrams or other objects that had been blessed to protect the wearer from danger – for instance, evil-intentioned demons at the passes and rivers, and in the mountains. PUTTING ON AND WEARING A GHO Putting on a gho takes a bit of practice. You start by slipping on the man’s shirt (tego), then you slide your arms into the sleeves of the voluminious gho and let it hang loosely to the ground. At this point, you can already see if your gho is the right size, because the lower edge of the gho should ideally reach your ankles. The shirt collar is turned up, although only a narrow strip will be visible once it is covered by the gho. The two front panels of the gho are made to overlap, the right half beneath the

left half. This is done by aligning the upper part of the right panel with the seam on the left side, and then covering it with the left front panel, and aligning it with the right seam. The front left panel is fixed to the right side by means of two attached narrow strips (jogthag / drothag). After briefly checking that the seams on both sides are aligned, the gho is drawn up to the knees. This forms a large sack-like pouch over the stomach. To finish, the two parts below the waist are pulled backwards to form two deep folds. These folds reveal whether a man is correctly dressed or not. Indeed, this is probably the most challenging aspect of putting on a gho, because the folds at the back need to be the same size and symmetrical. After checking the folds and smoothing the fabric down, the gho is bound by wrapping a woven belt (kera) tightly around the waist. The pouch that was formed at the front is smoothed flat. Finally, the shirt sleeves are cuffed over the gho sleeves twice. The cuffs (lagyen) must not be too narrow, and, above all, they have to be the same size, and, like the collar, clean. According to the driglam namzhag, the depth of the cuffs depends on the rank of the wearer; high-ranking government officials should have deeper ones. The same rule applies to the length of the gho. The seams of a gho should run parallel, and reveal or cover the knees, depending on the wearer’s social standing. Consequently, ordinary citizens raise their hems above the knees to indicate their lower status, but high-ranking officials may lower their hems halfway over the knees, and the King may cover his knees entirely. These rules are discussed in greater detail in the section on Bhutanese Etiquette and Dress Code – the Rules of driglam namzhag. While men have the disadvantage of wearing a knee-length costume in the winter – the kira is much warmer, being full-length and possibly lined – it is a great advantage during the hot sea-

How to put on a gho (Drawing by Karin Altmann after Bartholomew 1985).


top row, left: The front pouch of the gho has room for all sorts of things; top row, right, and middle row, left: The back part of a gho displays two deep, symmetrical folds; middle row, right: Bhutanese men can easily slip off their gho sleeves and tie them comfortably around their waist; bottom row: The sleeves of a man's shirt (tego) are cuffed over the gho sleeves twice. The cuffs must not be too narrow and, above all, they have to be the same size, and clean.


son: in summertime, men – when the occasion allows – can easily slip off their gho sleeves and tie them comfortably around their waist. The front pouch of the gho constitutes a special feature. It is considerably larger than the pouch that is formed on a kira, and has room for all sorts of things. Traditionally, it was used to hold wooden drinking cups for tea or home-brewed alcohol (ara), a couple of lumps of dried cheese (chugo) to chew on the way, eating implements and silver boxes containing the ingredients for chewing betel (doma). Nowadays, it is more likely to hold wallets, handkerchiefs, sunglasses, car keys, papers or files, all of which are stored in this extensive pouch – occasionally, it will even hold a baby. KIRA – WOMEN'S NATIONAL DRESS The Bhutanese national dress for women is called kira; it consists of a large square cloth that is wrapped tightly around the body, fixed at the shoulders with two brooches (koma) and held in place at the waist with a belt (kera). Under this is worn a long-sleeved blouse (wonju), with a short, long-sleeved jacket (tego) on top. A kira consists of three panels of cloth (bjang), which – unlike the gho – are aligned horizontally and sewn together lengthwise. The exception to this is the style of kira that is made of woollen cloth, in which case it is aligned vertically and consists of at least six lengths. Regardless of the material that it is made

from, a kira will measure between 150 cm and 170 cm in width and between 215 cm and 270 cm in length. The exact measurements depend on the size of the wearer. The narrow ends of the kira have fringes made from the warp threads. Normally, these threads are cut off at lengths of between 1.5 cm and 3 cm, but sometimes they are not cut off at all, to allow the kira to be sold on as ‘new’. The ends of a woollen kira are edged with an 8 cm-wide strip of cotton or silk material. If a kira is too short, it can be extended by adding threads or sewing on ties; these extensions are not visible beneath the jacket.

Bhutanese girls and women wearing their national costume (kira).

WONJU AND TEGO – BLOUSE AND JACKET Under their kira, Bhutanese women wear a long, loose blouse with wide sleeves (wonju) in Tibetan style. It is cut very plainly and fitted with a collar that is turned over twice. It does not fasten at the front but many women use a safety pin to hold it together. Wonju are made of silk, synthetic fibres (mostly polyester) and light cotton; the fabrics are mainly imported from China and India. Another short jacket (tego) is worn on top of the kira; it has long, wide sleeves, cut in a very similar style to the wonju. It can be worn open or can be closed with a brooch. The long sleeves of the blouse are folded back over the sleeves of the jacket into about 10 cm deep cuffs, to just above the wrist, ensuring 29

Bhutanese women wear a long-sleeved blouse (wonju) under their kira; a short, long-sleeved jacket (tego) is worn on top.


that both the inner side of the contrasting blouse sleeve and the woman’s jewelry – nowadays, mainly her watch – are clearly visible. The jackets are also mostly made of imported silk, polyester or cotton. Occasionally, tego will be made of wild silk; they are then worn on special occasions by better-off women, the same applies to jackets that are made of richly-decorated brocade cloth. Silk brocade from Hong Kong is particularly popular. For practical reasons, Bhutanese women generally prefer their everyday jackets to be made of solid fabrics in dark colours, such as blue, green, brown or dark red. According to Myers, elite women at the start of the 1990s favoured tego made of pastelcoloured Thai silk for everyday wear.45 The blouses and jackets are always in matching colours, with a preference for strongly contrasting colours over more harmonious hues. Furthermore, colour combinations are dependent on changing fashions and the age of the particular wearer.46 Previously,

Bhutanese women used to wear sleeveless vests (gotsum) or petticoats made of Indian cotton as underwear. However, over time these items have been replaced by western underwear. LHAM – TRADITIONAL WOMEN'S BOOTS These items used to be finely worked leathersoled boots (lham) with woollen shafts that were bound beneath the knee with woven shoe bands (lhamju); this constituted the usual footwear for elite women in Bhutan. According to Myers, these decorated boots were modelled on Tibetan examples.47 Simpler but very similar boots were also known in Bhutan, but they were only worn in the colder regions; in the warmer regions, Bhutanese women went barefoot, just like the men. For longer expeditions on foot, Myers tells us that they bound sturdy pieces of leather (thebthem) to the

soles of their feet.48 Nowadays, traditional women’s boots are seldom seen, and only a few elderly women in rural parts of Bhutan still go barefoot. That’s because cheap rubber sandals from China have now become so widespread that they crop up in even the most remote regions. Gumboots and trainers are gaining in popularity, too. As mentioned above, the latter were already being worn by court ladies in the 1930s, and Bhutanese women in the cities prefer high-heeled western shoes. KERA – WOMEN'S BELTS Bhutanese belts for women (kera) are long, densely woven belts with long twisted fringes at both ends; they are tucked between the dress and the belt to hold the kira firmly at the waist. Kera are always between 180 cm and 240 cm long, but their widths differ greatly – showing how fashion has

changed over time. Old models still had widths of between 30 cm and 45 cm, but modern belts are only between 5 cm and 8 cm wide. The old broad belts were folded over lengthwise twice or three times, and then wound several times around the waist. As we can see from old photos, this was the style until the mid-20th century, when solid figures and hips were considered elegant, and it was quite normal for Bhutanese women to sew two belts together, to emphasise their stomachs. Often, two belts would be woven as a single piece with intermittent patterning in the centre. The woven fabric was then cut in half along the middle weft, which is why these older examples have fringes at one end only. This patterned fringed end was visible when worn. Occasionally, two differently coloured belts would be sewn together to provide alternate colours. The matching jacket (tego) was worn very short, to direct attention to a jutting stomach. These days, however, traditional broad

Traditional women's boots (top left) give way to high-heeled shoes (lower left / Photo by Bhutan Street Fashion). Plastic sandals (right ) have definitely replaced traditional women's footwear and are popular with all age groups.


from left to right: This kera from the mid-20 th century is 45 cm wide and 200 cm long (without fringes) and shows naturally dyed wild silk supplementary-weft patterning on an unbleached cotton ground; the next kera is 22 cm wide and 210 cm long (without fringes) and made of pure silk; the contemporary kera is 7 cm wide and 190 cm long (without fringes) and features different synthetic-dyed silk patterning on cotton ground at both fringed ends, so that they are reversible (Karin Altmann Private Collection); far right, from top to bottom: Bhutanese women's belts (kera) through the ages. 32

kera of this kind are mainly worn by elderly women. Young Bhutanese women prefer narrower Bhutanese belts that are 5 cm to 8 cm wide, to show off their slim waists. They are made as a single piece and have a fringe at either end which is shorter than the fringe on the older kera. In addition to the traditional very wide belts and the modern, slight variants, kera were also woven in widths of around 12 cm to 22 cm. These versions are not bound as tightly, but are still considered old-fashioned by young women. As a weaver in Eastern Bhutan commented pointedly, they are only popular with women who want to hide their fat bellies. According to a Bhutanese woman from Bumthang, though, these wide kera are used for supporting the spine and making it easier to carry heavy burdens. The designs on the early kera consist mainly of red and blue or black patterns on an unbleached white ground. Myers thinks that this style of kera came from Eastern Bhutan, because the patterns on these belts are all described in Tshangla, the language

of Eastern Bhutan: ‘The textiles show single-color, geometric pattern bands (Tshangla: thangshing), executed in red alternating with blue or black on a white ground. Every fourth pattern band combines two colors and features repeating diamonds (thok). In some belts, floral pattern bands (komtsham) also occur. Between the bands of patterning are narrow weft-wise stripes (tsimpiring), formed by supplementary weft floats whose intervals (jhipi) create almost identical patterns on both sides of the fabric.’ 49 At the same time, there are older kera that feature colourful patterns on a yellow or orange ground (lungsem kera). Modern belts have decorative patterns woven in silk, cotton, acrylic, and even metallic threads on a cotton ground, which may be distributed all over the belt, or concentrated at the ends. The cotton ground sometimes features vertical stripes that appear horizontal when worn. Every now and again, different patterns will be woven at the ends, so that the wearer – to some extent as in earlier times – can display each pattern alternately.

KOMA AND THINKHAB – BROOCHES AND PINS Every kira needs these accessories; two brooches (koma) to clasp the edges of the kira at the shoulders. In the old days, needle-like pins (thinkhab) were used to hold garments in place. The simplest versions were plain bamboo slivers, and the most precious ones were made of gold and silver. Metal thinkhab were about 10 cm to 30 cm long and were also used as weapons for women to defend themselves with when attacked. Generally, metal thinkhab were linked by a chain (jabtha) that was fitted to large rings at the ends of the pins. This chain would hang over the woman’s back, to offset the heavy weight of the pins. The size of the pins varied depending on how many layers of fabric they had to pierce, because it was very usual, earlier on, for Bhutanese ladies to wear several

superimposed kira. Consequently, their pins had to be long and strong enough to hold several layers of cloth together. During the 1930s, smaller pins made an appearance, paired with a brooch, to clasp the fabric; these designs were called khab thinkhab.50 Later on, presumably during the 1940s, the pins were replaced by brooches (koma). They are made of silver and gold, using pure metals, and alloys. Older models are rather larger, with an average diameter of 8 cm. Like the pins, they are joined by a chain (dongtha), which can be very artistic and involve a row of little diamond sceptres (dorje) or eternal knots (peyab). Consequently, these chains are worn in front, on the woman’s chest, so they can be seen. There are also some chains that are made of old silver coins, which Myers claims are mainly derived from China and the former British India.51 Silver coin jewelry is still very popular, and many Bhutanese women

Bhutanese women fasten their wrapped dress (kira) with dress fasteners at the front of each shoulder; lower right: In the old days, needle-like pins (thinkhab) were used to hold garments in place (Photo by Erich Lessing); top right and lower left: thinkhab were often attached to a chain (jabtha) (Photos by Erich Lessing); top left: in the mid-20 th century, the pins were replaced by round brooches (koma) (Karin Altmann Private Collection). 33

Occasionally round brooches (koma) are still combined with ornamental necklaces worn on the chest. A woman from Radi in Eastern Bhutan (left) wears a necklace with eternal knots – one of the eight auspicious Buddhist symbols – and a traditional style of earrings; sometimes these necklaces are made of old silver coins (centre), originally from China and the former British India (Photo by Dorji Wangchuk); a woman from Laya in Northwestern Bhutan (right ) adorns herself with necklaces made of turquoises, corals, dzi beads and other pendants; Layap women also wear conical bamboo hats (opposite right ); sickle-shaped knives are kept under the belt (kera) and are mainly used at harvest time (opposite left).


are delighted to receive foreign silver coins, which they then have made into chains, brooches and other kinds of jewelry. Traditionally, round koma are decorated with chased flower decorations and auspicious symbols, often with a small round piece of turquoise embedded in the centre. There are also other designs for brooches, for instance, in the shape of a small thunderbolt (dorje). The more recent koma are very light and, since the 1990s, they have also been made in a strap-like style. This innovation has led to a new trend for wearing the kira a bit lower down. JEWELRY AND ACCESSORIES FOR WOMEN In Bhutan, items of jewelry – like textiles – are family heirlooms that are passed down to the daughters, who treasure their inheritance and pass it on to the next generation. Many pieces of jewelry form an essential part of the textiles that comprise a woman’s outfit, since her brooches, pins and chains perform an essential function by holding the fabric together and making it wearable. Furthermore, most Bhutanese women also wear earrings (sinchu), which are made of silver and gold, and shaped like droplets, blossoms or leaves, and are often decorated with small pieces of turquoise. Bracelets (dobchu) are also favourite accessories and are skilfully fashioned from silver, partly gilt, and frequently decorated with auspicious symbols and blossom motifs. Necklaces (dongtha) are worn with little silver and gold amulet or charm boxes (gau), turquoises, corals and other pendants. As everywhere in the Himalayas, turquoises are the favourite semi-precious stones in Bhutan as well.

These stones are believed to bring good fortune and – when worn around the neck – to emit vital energy. Similarly, red coral is traded as a precious decoration. Beads of black agate are called zi or dzi; they are very special because they are believed to provide effective protection against magic, misfortune and illness. These rare agates are worn by many women in the Himalaya region, from Ladakh to Eastern Tibet, as auspicious stones, which are passed from mother to daughter as their most precious family heirlooms. Their value depends on their place of origin, and on the quality of the eye in the agate stone. Naturally occurring dzi beads are very rare and expensive, and can cost up to 300,000 US Dollars depending on their quality. There are also elaborate ways of making dzi beads out of agate; these beads are more affordable albeit still expensive. In Thimphu, a dzi with a single eye will cost about 100,000 Ngultrum (equivalent to 1,600 Euro). Recently, these high prices, together with the strong demand, have stimulated the introduction of glass or plastic imitations on the market; nowadays, these beads are worn alongside the rare single pieces that cannot be sold. Silver headbands (rumnang) that are made of fine chainwork and set with turquoises are also rare, these days. According to Myers, these decorative items originated in Eastern Bhutan and can be traced right back to pre-Buddhist times; they were worn prior to the conversion of women to Buddhism, when they cut their hair off.52 Regarding the women’s hair, Aris remarks that this short hairstyle is similar to that worn by monks and nuns when the hair has grown back on their shaven heads; consequently, it symbolises the lay community’s religious commitment.53 Nowadays, these silver diadems are owned by a few women in

Eastern and Central Bhutan and, as Myers claims, are worn at ritual ceremonies.54 The accessories that are worn by women in rural regions will occasionally include a knife, which they keep under their belts with the point facing backwards. These knives are generally small and sickle-shaped; they are mainly used at harvest time. HEADWEAR To protect themselves from the weather, especially the fierce rays of the sun, women in the rural regions of Bhutan cover their heads with hats made of woven bamboo (buley / bello). All over Bhutan, women (sometimes also men) can be seen working in the fields and wearing a variety of bamboo hats. These hats mostly come from the Kheng region. However, the conical bamboo hats from Laya region (layap bulo) constitute an exception, as do the felt caps that are called shamu and are made by the Brokpa people in Merak and Sakteng. Furthermore, Bhutanese women can fairly often be seen working on the land, wearing a garland of leaves to protect their faces from the sun. PUTTING ON AND WEARING A KIRA A woman starts by slipping on the long-sleeved blouse (wonju) followed by the kira, which is put on this way: the square material is laid over the back with one corner of a shorter end lying on the left shoulder. Now, while the left hand keeps this corner firmly on the left shoulder, the right hand conveys the material around the back, under the right arm and over the chest to the left shoulder,

where it is pinned relatively tightly at the corner with a brooch (koma). The brooch is positioned about four fingers in from the edge. Next, the second corner, which is still hanging loose, is conducted under the left arm and over the back to the right shoulder. The remaining material at the front is gathered in a deep fold on the right, where it will be pinned when the second koma is fixed to the right shoulder. To make this move easier, it’s also possible to pin this corner to the right shoulder as temporary measure, thereby leaving both hands free for getting the fold right. This temporary clasp can then be released in order to pin the fold at the corner. To finish, the front fold is straightened and smoothed. To achieve this, the left hand holds the fold firmly while the right hand runs along the line of the fold, adjusts it and pulls the kira up a bit from inside so that only the outer hem can be seen, and the hems of the inner layers are hidden. At this point, the kira is fixed in place with a belt (kera), which is drawn very tightly and firmly round the waist, to give the whole garment its shape. Binding the belt tightly makes sure that the kira doesn’t slip. The long twisted fringes at both ends of the belt should be invisible. The first fring is hidden under the kera, and the one at the other end is split into two halves, and each half is tucked behind the belt, one above, and one below. When the belt is in place, a sizeable pouch is formed above the waist. Various small items are kept inside it – in rural regions, these are generally wooden drinking cups and implements for chewing betel; city women are more likely to use their pouch for storing mobile phones, car keys and the like. As with the men’s gho, certain criteria need to be observed with regard to the kira, which deter-

Bamboo hats (above) and garlands of leaves (top centre) fend off the sun's fierce rays when working on the land; woven bamboo hats (buley / bello) mostly come from the Kheng region and are still worn in rural regions of Bhutan. 35

How to put on a kira (Drawing by Karin Altmann after Bartholomew 1985).


mine whether it has been put on correctly. For instance, on the right side of the kira, where the inner and outer layers of cloth meet, the patterns must be aligned. This means that the horizontal stripes must form a single line, and not meet at a tangent. Furthermore, the distance between the front fold and the furthermost-fringed edge on the right hip must be no more than a finger’s breadth. In addition, the hem of a properly arranged kira must be parallel with the ground, and its length from the waist must be the same all the way round. The length of a kira depends on the age and social standing of its wearer. Formerly, village or low status women were supposed to reveal their ankles, while higher status women, including those in government employment, could allow their kira to reach their instep, and women of the royal family could let their kira sweep the ground. Over time, this has changed to the extent that kira are generally worn longer nowadays and are only hitched up above the ankles for the sake of convenience, as when working on the land, or walking a long distance. Nowadays, old women are far more likely to wear their clothes rather shorter, to avoid tripping over them while walking. Young woman, especially women in town, prefer to wear their kira long. The role models for this style are female members of the royal family, as well as Bhutanese film stars and singers. The colours, materials and patterns of each kira depend on the wearer’s status, age, region and wealth, while also reflecting the fashions of the day and her personal taste. When choosing a kira Bhutanese women take a lot of care to ensure that its patterns, colours and material match the occasion. Simple striped or checked kira in dark colour schemes are preferred for everyday wear; rather lighter shades combined with a more expensive jacket in a lighter colour are used for office wear.

Formal occasions require small patterns and a silk jacket, while richly decorated kira made of pure silk with a tego made of silk or silk brocade are worn for special ceremonies, together with the best jewelry. Religious festivals such as tshechu provide the main opportunities for Bhutanese women to show off their best clothes and most precious jewelry. In addition to the occasion, the woman’s age plays a very important role when choosing a kira. While girls and young women tend to reach for bright colours and delicate patterns, their mothers wear stronger colours and striking patterns, and their grandmothers wear dark colours with restrained patterns. Myers explains this approach as follows, ‘As people grow older, dressing “soberly”, as the Bhutanese put it, is more the rule – partly as householders they must provide for their children’s education, clothing, and well-being, and partly because older people are supposed to become less worldly in their concerns.’ 55 KABNE AND RACHU – CEREMONIAL SHOULDER CLOTHS However, the traditional dress is not complete until the ceremonial shawl (kabne) has been laid on top of it; it is worn by women as well as men on official occasions. Such occasions include visits to dzong, monasteries and temples, and attending religious festivals such as the tshechu. Since monastic forts, monasteries and temples are places where holy objects and texts are kept, and which often house members of monastic communities, all visitors to these sacred places, even foreigners – if they are wearing Bhutanese national dress – are obliged to wear a kabne as a mark of respect. The same rule applies with regard to an audience with a Rinpoche, a spiritual leader, or a high-ranking

clockwise from top left: The front pouch of the kira has room for all sorts of things. There is also room for prayer wheels and snacks inside a kira; richly decorated kira made of pure silk with a tego made of silk or silk brocade are worn for special ceremonies and sacred festivals; simple striped or plaid kira in dark colours are preferred for everyday wear (bottom right: Photo by Christine Leuthner).


Left: Ordinary citizens wear white kabne made of unbleached cotton or wild silk, with long fringes at the ends. right: Milarepa is shown here as an ascetic, wrapped in his white cotton robe (repa). The green highlights on Milarepa's skin refer to his practice of eating only nettle soup when meditating in the mountains; from a thangka in Dhodeydrag gompa, Thimphu, Bhutan.


government official. In these cases, too, a ceremonial shawl will be worn as a sign of respect and veneration. The term kabne – literally, covering56 – is applied to ceremonial shawls in general, but can also refer specifically to shawls for men. Ceremonial shawls for women are called kabne or rachu, depending on their design. KABNE – CEREMONIAL SHAWLS FOR MEN The kabne that is worn by Bhutanese men is a long shoulder cloth measuring 90 cm by 300 cm, with long fringes. It is made of wild silk, sometimes cotton. Ordinary citizens wear white kabne made of unbleached cotton or wild silk with long fringes at either end. In addition to these, there are other ceremonial shawls in different colours, which designate the wearer’s rank or office. The origins of these shoulder cloths go back to the time of Buddha Shakyamuni; more precisely, to his first discourse in Varanasi, when Buddha Shakyamuni first turned the Wheel of dharma. At this discourse, the five ascetics and other monks made an appearance, wrapped in shoulder cloths

to show respect for the Buddha. These white ceremonial shawls are still used in Bhutan, and go back to the time of Shabdrung’s yogi-attendants, who wore white kabne, in accordance with their Tantric tradition57. These white cotton cloths also recall the cloths that yogis and ascetics in the Himalayas wear to cover themselves. In Bhutan, they are primarily associated with a much-loved personality in Vajrayana Buddhism, the poet and holy man Milarepa (1052 – 1135), who played an important part in the transmission lineage of the Kagyu School.58 Milarepa devoted most of his life to a strict form of asceticism and for this reason is always depicted wrapped in a white cotton cloth. The name Milarepa is actually derived from the word for white cotton cloth (repa) and can be translated as ‘the cotton-robed member of the Mila clan’ or as ‘Mila, who wears the cotton robe of the ascetes’. Milarepa derived his teachings from the mahasiddhas (84 Indian saints, the first to receive the Tantric teachings), along with the teachings of Naropa (1016 – 1100), especially the practice of ‘inner heat’ (Tib. tummo). Tummo refers to an advanced, Tantric meditation technique used in Vajrayana Buddhism. The aim of this contemplative practice is to consciously raise the body

temperature while simultaneously immunising it against low ambient temperatures without resorting to external aids. The higher aim, however, involves directing a stream of energy from within to the outside, to extinguish negative emotions and attitudes by burning them away. Milarepa’s name also refers to the perfectibility of this Tantric meditation technique, whereby he managed to raise his body temperature and retire for a whole year to the icy mountain caves of the Himalayas, wrapped in only a thin cotton cloth. According to Aris, the white kabne is intended as a reminder that every Bhutanese man took the minor vows of the yogin, not with a view to assuming the burden of celibacy, but in order to be inducted into the generally applicable moral guidelines of society.59 Likewise, Myers stresses the links between the kabne and the monks’ shoulder cloths (zen): ‘When religious and civil authority first emanated from the dzongs, senior lay officials took certain monastic vows, and some even received religious names when they assumed their positions. […] Out of deference to their surroundings, officials living in proximity to the monks, as well as citizens visiting the dzong on business, were required to wear shoulder cloths.’ 60 She goes on to say that, in former times, wild silk textiles of this kind were believed

to protect their wearers from swords and knives during battles.61 At the same time, they are useful in everyday terms, for carrying packs, as covers at night-time, and they can be rolled up to serve as pillows. During the 18th century, according to Myers, these shoulder cloths were used for special purposes by the elite. Noblemen, and later on kings as well, employed a red-white-red striped cloth of wild silk (tshoré khamar) to cover their feet, legs and knees when seated. This cloth was similar to the shoulder cloths that are called khamar (‘red mouth’) kabne and are worn by village headmen (Gup) and occasionally by lay priests these days.62 Similar to the former tshoré khamar, a khamar kabne has a white central panel and two red panels with fine white lines running along both lengths, and long fringes at either end. What’s more, on formal occasions, it is nowadays still obligatory for both officials and ordinary citizens to cover their legs and knees with their shoulder cloths when seated. Myers adds that, ‘Thus, the multipurpose wraps have evolved into a particular element of dress governed by a code of etiquette that is vigorously taught and strictly observed.’ 63 As mentioned above, shoulder cloths in Bhutan are made in different colours. For the clergy, red cloths have, since the arrival of Buddhism, primarily been

left: The Trongsa Penlop's medical attendant, a lama from one of the Lhasa monasteries, is shown wearing a khamar kabne (Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California). right: khamar kabne are woven in wild silk and dyed with lac.


clockwise from top left: khamar kabne worn by the village headmen (Gup); Drungpa and Dzongrab both wear a white kabne with fringes and a red central stripe along its length, and three red vertical stripes at either end; green kabne without fringes are reserved for judges (Drangpen), white kabne with blue stripes were once worn by the Chimi, the people's representatives in the National Assembly, and yellow scarves with red and green decorations, in the style of mentsi cloths, mark the organisers of the Thimphu tshechu. 40

worn by Bhutanese monks, who drape them over their left shoulders. For his part, the country’s senior religious leader, the Je Khenpo, wears a yellow shawl to indicate his rank. The use of ceremonial shawls then passed from the monastic tradition to the secular sphere, which is why the King wears the same fringeless yellow kabne as the Je Khenpo.64 To the present, the saffron yellow shawl is reserved for the King and the Je Khenpo, thereby emphasising once again the close bond between the secular and spiritual leadership of Bhutan. The manner in which the King is wearing his shawl is similar to that adopted by monks. The King lays the left end of his cloth in nine folds over his left shoulder. A fringeless shawl in dark red wild silk (bura map or kabne map), is presented by the king as an exclusive honour. It is given to a Dasho, a royal official, on being awarded the non-hereditary title of Dasho in recognition of his or her special services. According to Aris, this shawl is equivalent to the outer red shawls (zen) that monks wear. In much the same way as Myers, he writes that, ‘It

is a reminder of the fact that all senior officials under the theocracy were either fully ordained monks who took on secular duties or else laymen who were required to observe monastic vows for the duration of their office.’ 65 Women who have been awarded the title of Dasho do not wear a dark red shoulder cloth like their male colleagues; they wear a monochrome dark red women’s shawl. Kabne in other colours all indicate the wearer’s official ranking. It is said that Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel had already established the official kabne colours for the different ranks, back in the 17th century. This tradition has been retained to this day. Ministers wear an orange kabne (called namza leewang) without fringes, while a Dasho receives the dark red fringeless kabne mentioned above; blue fringeless shawls go to members of the National Council, and members of Parliament; green kabne without fringes are reserved for judges (Drangpen). Furthermore, there are khamar kabne, mentioned earlier, which have white and red lateral stripes for village leaders (Gup), and dark red

kabne with no fringes but a white central stripe for district administrators (Dzongdag). A white shawl with fringes and a broad red central stripe along its length and three thin red vertical stripes at either end, denotes a Dzongrab or Rabjam, an assistant to a district administrator and a Drungpa, the administrator of a sub-district. The kabne of a deputy Dzongrab features just two thin vertical stripes. White kabne with blue stripes, which were formerly worn by the Chimi, the people’s representatives in the National Assembly (tshongdu), have been abolished, along with the position. In their place are the elected members of the National Council with their own blue fringeless kabne. All kabne that designate a rank of service are issued only for the duration of that position and when the officeholder leaves that job, he or she must revert to wearing white shoulder cloths with fringes. However, government secretaries and officials are given a white fringeless kabne as a mark of distinction. In the meantime, scarves that indicate an official rank have been introduced. For instance, the Royal Bodyguard, the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) and the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) wear narrow scarves made of stiff material to which their insignia of rank are applied. As for the Thimphu tshechu, the organisers are identified by their yellow scarves with red and green decorations, in the style of mentsi cloths.

KABNE / RACHU – CEREMONIAL SHAWLS FOR WOMEN Ceremonial shawls for women (kabne or rachu) are between 180 cm and 240 cm in length, with varying widths of between 15 cm and 90 cm, and long twisted fringes at both ends. The wider examples are folded twice lengthwise before being folded again to bring the fringed ends together and laid over the left shoulder in such a way that all the fringes are aligned and hanging in front, down to the waist. Women are supposed to place their shawls over their left shoulders, to cover their hearts. Sometimes, especially when dancing, Bhutanese women can be seen tucking the loose ends of their shawls into their belts at the back, to avoid losing them. In fact, this is a very popular manoeuvre, although not officially sanctioned on formal occasions. With regard to the women’s dances which take place during religious festivals, yet another variation in how they wear their scarves can be noted: the dancers cross their kabne over their chests and back, and either tuck the ends into their belts or fix them at one side with a pin. In the secular sphere, kabne are used for carrying babies, as well as for transporting packages and large goods. In these cases, they are used fully extended. Kabne are also practical for journeys: when folded up, they serve as pillows; when extended, they are used for sheltering from sun or rain,

The yellow fringeless kabne is reserved for the King (left) and the Je Khenpo (right), thereby emphasising once again the close bond between the secular and spiritual leadership of Bhutan. The photo of His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel was presented to the author by His Majesty (Karin Altmann Private Collection).


left: kabne (top) and rachu (below); nowadays, all these variants exist alongside each other. right: Women are supposed to place their shawls over their left shoulders, to cover their hearts. As officially required, this kabne is worn in such a way that all the fringes are aligned and hanging in front, down to the waist. far right: These examples display how the shoulder cloth has become more and more narrow, transformed into a textile for ceremonial use only (Karin Altmann Private Collection). opposite: Dancers often cross their shawls over their chest and back or tuck the ends into their belts at the back, to avoid losing them. In the secular sphere, women's shawls are constantly used for carrying babies. In this case, they are being used fully extended. 42

or as a covering. When the popular archery tournaments are taking place, the Bhutanese women wave their shawls in the air to distract the opposing team and to encourage their own team. Traditional women’s shawls are red with all sorts of patterns. When a shawl has alternating stripes along its length and small woven patterns with wide, colourful patterned borders at both ends, it is called a rachu. All other variants, regardless of whether their patterns are small and regular, or on a large scale, are generally referred to as kabne. Cotton, silk, and wild silk are the preferred materials. As with kera, ceremonial women’s shawls are also subject to the vagaries of fashion. Recently, kabne appear in various shades of red – varying from a bright orange-red to pink tones, and to a deep wine-red – and their patterns are partly composed of large format motifs, such as eternal knots or other auspicious Buddhist symbols. For special occasions, they are elaborate and made of pure silk; for a while, examples with metal threads worked into the pattern were very popular. Furthermore, women’s shawls have become narrower. While some still measure between 45 cm and 90 cm in width and are used for all sorts of purposes, the latest versions are often only 15 cm wide, and no longer need to be folded lengthwise, just once, width-wise. According to Myers, these narrower shawls for women came into fashion in the 1970s, showing that these items are definitely intended for formal wear only.66 These modified kabne are particularly popular with Bhutanese city-dwellers. For some time now, women who hold high-ranking positions in the government have been wearing kabne that are the same colour as the kabne worn by their male counterparts. Female Dasho can be

recognised by their monochrome dark red kabne, and female members of the National Council by their monochrome blue kabne, while female judges have a green one, and women who assume the position of Dzongdag wear a dark red kabne with a white central stripe. BHUTANESE ETIQUETTE AND DRESS CODE – THE RULES OF DRIGLAM NAMZHAG Regardless of whether worn by men or women, the clothes that Bhutanese people choose for their national dress should always observe the conventions. Overdressing is just as much of a faux pas as underdressing. Generally speaking, a neat appearance is greatly valued, and when entering a dzong during festivals and ritual ceremonies, attention is paid to the quality of the material and the pattern. While the suitable selection of women’s clothes has already been mentioned, Bhutanese men also make sure that their clothes are appropriate. For special occasions, if they can afford it, they will wear a richly decorated gho made of wild silk or silk, with a white kabne made of wild silk. Tshoglham boots made of silk damask and brocade complete the well-dressed Bhutanese citizen’s outfit. The rules about the correct way to wear these clothes are enshrined in the driglam namzhag.67 This decree contains rigorous regulations about how higher officials should appear in public. The following regulations have been taken from the 1999 driglam namzhag with a view to providing an insight into the strict rules that Bhutanese government officials are subject to. According to these rules, a


The former Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Yoeser Thinley (wearing an orange kabne) with Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck, the patron of Bhutan's Textile Arts (second from left ), and the Royal Princesses (right ) (Photo by Christine Leuthner).


minister is obliged to wear his gho just below knee level, his sleeves (lagyen) must be turned up one tho (the distance between the thumb and the middle finger when the hand is stretched as widely as possible), and his collar must be folded over the width of two fingers. A minister’s kabne must be orange and measure 21 tho in length, and be 6 tho wide. The left end of the cloth must fall in seven folds over his left shoulder. No more than the tip of his sword should be visible beneath this kabne, but its grip can remain in view. During an audience with the King, he is not allowed to hold his sword or place his hand on the grip. Boots are also subject to specific rules with regard to colour. Accordingly, the colour of the lower part of the boot shank (tshoglham kor) – i.e. the coloured decorative strip at ankle level that indicates the rank of the wearer – must be orange in the case of a minister. A deputy minister must wear his gho at knee level and his sleeves must be turned up a chatho’s worth. Chatho means the span between thumb and index finger when splayed. The deputy minister’s collar turnover must not exceed a finger’s width (sor). The deputy minister’s kabne must be bright red and measure 21 tho in length, and be 5 tho wide. He is not allowed to fold his kabne at the front, and his sword tip must emerge rather

further from beneath his kabne than that of a minister. His sword grip must also be visible. The colour of the lower strip on his boot shank (tshoglham kor) must be bright red. For a Dasho, the same regulations apply as for the deputy minister, with the difference that his kabne and his boot strips must be red. Drungpa, administrators of a sub-district, together with Dzongrab or Rabjam, assistant district administrators, are supposed to wear their gho just above the knee. Their sleeves (lagyen) should be turned back a gi’s worth; this is the span between thumb and index finger, when both are splayed but bent at the joints. The collar turnover must not exceed half a finger’s width. Although a kabne that is worn by a Drungpa or Dzongrab must measure 21 tho, its length can be adjusted to fit the wearer. However, its width must measure a constant 4 tho. Drungpa and Dzongrab both wear a white kabne with fringes and a red central stripe along its length, and three red vertical stripes at either end. A deputy Rabjam is entitled to two vertical stripes. Everyone, whether they be Drungpa, Dzongrab or a deputy, is obliged to make sure the lower fold of their ceremonial shawl does not cover the flat strip of metal (dolep khachang) that is fixed to their sword tip. The strips on their boots (tshoglham kor) must also be

red, but the decorative strips (tshogyug) along the shanks must be green. Village elders (Gup) are also entitled to wear their gho at the same length as a Drungpa or a Dzongrab, and this also applies to the width of their sleeve turnbacks and collars. Their kabnes must also be 21 tho long and 4 tho wide. A Gup can be recognised by his khamar kabne, which has wide red borders, with white lines running lengthwise, at the edges. Since the position of Representative of the People in the National Assembly (Chimi) still existed when the decree was issued in 1999, the driglam namzhag also refers to this post. According to it, the kabne worn by a Chimi was the same size as that of a Gup, but with a different pattern, namely the stripes running along its lengths had to be blue. Chimi were allowed to let their kabne reach the lower hem band (jaa) of their gho, as is still the custom with Gup today. They were only obliged to wear boots when attending the National Assembly, in which case the boots had to feature a green strip at ankle level, and a black decorative strip along each shank. Furthermore, it was stipulated that although female Chimi were allowed to wear their kira down to their ankles, their kabne were not to be distinguished from those of ordinary women.68 The driglam namzhag contains many more regulations about the ceremonial shawl. For instance, a section is dedicated entirely to the correct and very complex way of putting on a kabne, which must be done as follows: the ceremonial shoulder cloth for men is slung around the body so that it loops over the left shoulder, and continues well below the right arm. To achieve a correctly positioned kabne, the longer side must first be held firmly in the

middle, using both hands. Then, one half is placed over the left shoulder and held in position with the left hand, while the other half is conducted under the right arm and held loosely in the right hand one tho above the fringed edge. The right end of the kabne is then laid on the outstretched left arm, making sure the end is folded into the bend of the elbow. At this stage, three fringes should lie outside the fold.69 Now, the left end is brought up to the left shoulder, using the left hand. The whole thing is fixed and adjusted by grasping the fold with the left elbow and the fringes firmly with the left hand and pulling the other end with the right hand. The left end, which has now been drawn over the left shoulder, should fall in a vertical line over the back. The right end that was placed inside the fold should not emerge; the little fold at the left elbow should run parallel with the chest and the large soft gather on the right side should hang above the hem of the gho.70 Indeed, the driglam namzhag contains so many rules about wearing and managing a kabne that only a few extracts can be included here: for instance, when a Bhutanese man has an audience (chawang) with a highranking person or even a member of the royal family, he must unfold his shawl with a noble ceremonial gesture (kabne phabshe) and bow while conducting the right end of his kabne towards the ground with his right hand. The higher the rank of his interlocutor, the lower he must hold his kabne.71 According to Bhutanese records, this gesture of opening once served to demonstrate that there was no weapon hiding beneath the voluminous kabne.72 When meeting a high-ranking monk, a Bhutanese man must prostrate himself three

left: A Dzongdag (on the left ) can be recognised by a red kabne with a white central stripe, a Dasho (on the right ) wears a fringeless shawl in dark red wild silk (bura map or kabne map). right: Higher officials are obliged to observe strict regulations concerning their appearance in public, for instance, during an audience with Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck (Photo by Christine Leuthner).


Bhutanese men putting on their kabne.


times before him. While so doing, he must wear his kabne open, over his left shoulder, with two ends held in his folded hands.73 When a Bhutanese man sits on the ground, he must constantly ensure that his kabne covers his crossed legs completely; his hands should rest under the kabne. When seated on a chair, both his knees should at least be covered, and his hands should rest on his closed knees. Neither men nor women are allowed to lean back on a chair or sit with their legs spread wide or crossed. In designated places such as dzong, monasteries, temples etc., a kabne must always be worn correctly. If there’s a particular reason why it can’t be bound to the body, then it should at least be folded and placed over the left lower arm with the fringes to the fore.74 Regardless of all this, kabne are more often than not worn draped casually over the shoulder, or hung over a chassis or a car seat. Furthermore, according to the driglam namzhag, it is not permitted to wear a kabne over one’s head or wrapped around one’s neck. However, this only applies within or close to sacred and official premises. After all, these shawls have great practical value and are used to protect the wearer from the sun and the rain. When a Bhutanese man encounters someone of higher rank, though, he is obliged to remove his kabne from any irregular part of the body that it might be covering.75 When a woman meets a person of higher rank she must perform a ceremonial bow (kabne phabshe), which involves holding her kabne to the fore with both hands.76 Here, too, the higher the rank of the person the woman meets, the lower she must hold her kabne. If she then goes on to address this person of rank, she must

hold the lower end of her shawl in front of her mouth to avoid ‘polluting’ her interlocutor with her words. When a woman sits on the ground, she must make sure her legs are entirely covered by her kira and keep both hands in her lap. While engaged in an audience with a high-ranking Rinpoche, the ceremonial shawl is unfolded and laid over the shoulders in such a way that both fringes touch the ground, or lie in the woman’s open hands.77 This prevents the kabne from slipping off her shoulders during the obligatory prostrations. When a woman is seated and taking part in a religious ceremony or receiving a blessing, she is also allowed to place her kabne over both shoulders. Otherwise, this way of wearing it is reserved for the members of the royal family. During his journeys, the King provides material support for needy people, generally in the form of financial assistance (kidu). If a Bhutanese person is receiving kidu, he or she must do so in the following manner: a hand-woven material, which can be any colour, including black, and should measure one bub (about 5 m), is folded over three times. On this is set the petition that is presented to the King. After that, he or she waits with lowered kabne for the King. When His Majesty appears, the petitioner prostrates his or her self and performs a ceremonial bow. Immediately after that, the petition for kidu must be submitted with folded hands.78 This extract from the driglam namzhag rules provides a glimpse into the huge extent to which Bhutanese society is regulated. During the last decade, three editions of different driglam namzhag regulations have been published, and a fourth is underway. New norms are constantly being added,

about, for instance, wearing the tshoglham, the traditional Bhutanese boots, or the introduction of the blue kabne for all members of Parliament, with its associated privilege, the right to carry a ceremonial sword (patang). The government’s insistence on continuing to adhere strictly to this code of etiquette, in spite of new ideas about progress and modernisation, has had a mixed reception by local people. Some of them are very critical about this insistence, including Karma Phuntsho, whose article, Echoes of Ancient Ethos: Reflections on Some Popular Bhutanese Social Themes tackles the ongoing debate about this Code of Etiquette in Bhutan.79 Karma Phuntsho makes the following observations: ‘The qualms about declining tradition and lack of driglam namzha came simultaneously with the worry about increasing western influence on the Bhutanese people. This decline in the practice of Bhutanese etiquette and the acquisition of modern western influences occurred mostly among the rising bureaucratic class and the affluent section of the urban population. Ironically, the criticism regarding the deterioration of driglam namzha was also mainly voiced by the same people. The rural population on the whole was outside this arena being neither the critic nor targets of criticism. The call for driglam namzha and dzongkha and the complaints about modern western influences were criticisms of which the actual targets were mostly the circles of critics themselves. It was thus what Karma Ura calls “a deflected criticism”.’ 80 He goes on to say: ‘At about the same time, the perception and understanding of driglam namzha also began to change. While on one hand, driglam namzha continued to be used as a political rhetoric, on the other, it saw an

unprecedented codification and systematisation.’ 81 However, the main problem, according to Karma Phuntsho, is that the driglam namzhag simply describes how a lower-ranking person should behave towards a person of higher rank, and not the other way round. He goes on to comment that traditions are not set in stone but should be constantly renewed, ‘It is not a static entity but a flux and its course of development, like fashion, is decided by what is right at the time. To hold onto an out-dated custom which time has rendered ineffective and unappealing or to wilfully invent and introduce prematurely a new tradition are both to interfere in the natural course of tradition, and therefore rob tradition of its beauty and purpose.’ 82 In his opinion, the true spirit and beauty of etiquette are found when it is practised spontaneously, following an inner acknowledgement of its usefulness. He thinks that this spontaneity is under threat: ‘Moreover, the imposition of one tradition across the board and the standardization of numerous variants destroy the diversity and the spontaneity of traditions.’ 83 To this he adds that ‘Homogenisation through the implementation of uniform values and customs, and standardization of localised variations, I have mentioned earlier, kills the spirit of tradition and subverts the policy of cultural preservation.’ 84 The government has currently undertaken the important task of reviewing this Code of Etiquette with regard to its rigid aspects and, especially, to bring it closer to Bhutan’s younger generation. At the same time, it is important to bear in mind that Bhutanese culture is basically made up of different sub-cultures, as will be shown.

Kabne are also put to very practical uses, which include providing shade.



THE ETHNIC GROUPS OF BHUTAN, THEIR TRADITIONAL COSTUMES AND TEXTILES Bhutanese people are referred to as Drukpa in their national language Dzongkha, the ‘language (kha) of the dzong’,85 whereby this term refers explicitly to the largest ethnic group in Bhutan, which is also the ruling class, and does not include all the inhabitants of Bhutan. This majority is ethnically Mongol and their language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman family of languages.86 The term Drukpa derives from the name of the country, Druk Yul (‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’). Both these terms, for the inhabitants of Bhutan and the country itself, are originated from the religious Drukpa School, which has dominated Bhutan since the 17th century. The manner in which Bhutan gained its name is described in the following anecdote, ‘It is said that in the twelfth century in Tibet, a monk called Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje wanted to build a monastery. At the chosen spot, he heard the sound of thunder which is believed to be the roar of a dragon. Taking this as a a good omen, he decided to call his monastery Druk, which means thunder / dragon. As often in Tibet, the name of the religious school he founded took the name of the monastery, and his followers were called Drukpas. Much later, in the seventeenth century, the

Drukpa religious figure, the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, unified Bhutan. The country was then known as Druk Yul, it’s inhabitants as Drukpas.’ 87 Although the Kingdom of Bhutan is a small country, it represents a great cultural and ethnic diversity. Centuries of isolated existence in the various valleys have contributed to the emergence of numerous local languages and distinct cultural features.88 Most Bhutanese people feel they belong to one of the following ethnic groups, the Ngalong in the west, the Drukpa in Central Bhutan, the Sharchopa in the east and the Lhotshampa in the south of the country. Furthermore, there are many small communities such as the Bjob, who live in the mountain regions of Northwestern Bhutan (among whom belong, for instance, the Layap), the Brokpa, who are yak herders from the high valleys of Merak and Sakteng in the eastern part of the country, and the Monpa / Mönpa89 in Central South Bhutan, who are considered to be an indigenous ethnic group. In today’s Bhutan, the costume worn by the Drupka, which, as mentioned previously, became the national dress in 1989 when the driglam namzhag decree came into force, is considered the dominant form. However, as also mentioned above, not all Bhutanese people are Drukpa. In this little Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan very different ethnic groups can be found,

above: To the north, Bhutan is bordered by huge snow-covered mountains rising to 7,000 m. opposite: Layap women are famous for wearing their distinctive dress, and adorning themselves with heavy necklaces of coral, turquoise, and black-and-white agate beads.


above and opposite: In northern Bhutan, people live at heights of 3,500 m to 5,000 m, in a challenging climate with plentiful rain in the summer and snow in the winter. The inhabitants are mainly yak herders, living a semi-nomadic way of life.


co-existing and sharing their cultures. They exhibit specific features and reciprocal forms of exchange, with regard both to their particular ecosystems (from alpine to sub-tropical) and their settlement patterns (from nomadic to sedentary). Thus we are presented with a multi-faceted ethnic mosaic, from the yak herders of the north to the orange growers of the south. Some of these ethnic groups, especially the small groups in the border regions of Bhutan, possess their own style of dress, which they have preserved in part to this day, and which is adapted to their own way of life. Among these are, for instance, the Layap, the inhabitants of Laya, who live in the mountain regions of Northwestern Bhutan. In the following, the different regions of Bhutan and the ethnic groups that inhabit them will be discussed, along with their distinct costumes and textiles. The regions have been subdivided in line with the geographical division of Bhutan into Northern, Central and Southern Bhutan, and the usual sub-division of Central Bhutan into its Western, Central and Eastern parts. Furthermore, Bhutan is divided into 20 administrative districts (dzongkhag), which are subdivided into 205 administrative units or blocks (gewog). Larger dzongkhag are also divided into sub-districts, called dungkhag. A gewog consists of a group of villages (chiwog), and a village consists of several households (gung).

NORTHERN BHUTAN The northernmost zone of Bhutan runs along the frontier with Tibet and the foothills of the Himalayas. In this mountain landscape, people live at heights of 3,500 m to 5,000 m, in a challenging climate with plentiful rain in the summer and snow in the winter. Most of the uplands are used for pasturing yaks; agriculture has a rather subordinate role here. The population in the northern region consists of three groups, the inhabitants of Lingshi in the north of Thimphu district, together with those of Laya and Lunana, which form part of Gasa district (Gasa is divided into the four blocks (gewog) of Khamae, Khatoe, Laya and Lunana). The inhabitants are mainly yak herders, living a semi-nomadic way of life, partly in houses and partly in tents (gur) made of black yak hair. The rough covering hair and soft undercoat of their yaks are used for making various everyday items such as tents, ropes, sacks, bags, covers and clothes. In the summertime, most of the herders move their own yak herds, – sometimes supplemented by animals that belong to people in Central Bhutan – up to the higher mountain regions, where they use the milk that the females produce to make butter (mar), fresh cheese (datsi) and hard cheese (chugo). In October, they move back down to the warmer valleys, where they sell their milk and yak hair products, or exchange them for other goods.


above, clockwise from left: Laya in Northern Bhutan is situated at an altitude of 3,800 m; this village is accessible only by a three day trek; Layap people also take care of the royal yaks. The term yak is applied only to the male of the species; females are called dri. below: harvesting cordyceps sinensis (this example measures about 3 cm) is an important moneyearning opportunity for the inhabitants of the northern mountain regions.


Before the onset of winter, they make their way back home or travel further down, to the regions around Thimphu, Paro and Punakha. In December, the villages of Laya, Lingshi and Lunana are almost empty, apart from a few old people who are unable to undertake the long trek on foot. Only in March, when the snow-covered passes are open again, will the inhabitants return to their villages. Before the border with Tibet was closed in 1959, there was a lively salt trade with Tibet. Wool and yaks were also brought down from the Tibetan mountains to Bhutan, while the Tibetan capital was a centre for the sale of spices, tea and fabrics from India, as well as cereals and medicinal plants, especially cordyceps sinensis, a caterpillar mushroom that is referred to in Bhutan as yartsa gunbu / yartsa goenbub (‘summer grass – winter worm’) and is one of the most expensive traditional Chinese herbal medicines. At present, these four mountain passes are empty; the border is closed. The closure of the border is a consequence of the Chinese invasion of Tibet and is connected to a vague old claim to the land, which was upheld in 1961 when China produced a map showing the original line of the northern frontier, which

favoured China. Bhutan then closed its northern border. However, trade with Tibet continues as before, though clearly within a much smaller and more problematic context. Among the goods that are carried over the border these days are primarily Chinese acrylic blankets, carpets, Thermos flasks, shoes, down jackets, and all sorts of plastic items; the most recent additions are Chinese cigarettes and medicines. Nowadays, salt is sourced in the mountain valleys of Central Bhutan. According to Lyonpo Dr Pema Gyamtsho, Bhutan’s Minister for Agriculture and Forests, the nomads are very important for Bhutan in many respects because they defend the borders and also play an important part in safeguarding nature.90 Bhutan’s nomadic population is involved in intensive barter transactions. Laden with a variety of yak products and sacks full of alpine plants that are required both for burning incense and for medicinal purposes, they journey through the valleys to barter their wares for chillies, oil, rice and other cereals. Sometimes, one or two yaks are brought down to the valley and sold in the market. This exchange of goods is being increasingly replaced by a monetary economy and is further affected by the decline in internal mi-

gration. However, the number of well-built large houses on two floors attests to the continuing financial viability of the inhabitants of Northern Bhutan. Laya, in particular, is still in the midst of a continuous building boom. The ground floor of the farmhouses is used for stalls, storerooms and shops, while the upper floor is used as a living space. Many houses already have solar panels. Of the four gewog in Gasa district, Laya has the largest population, nowadays. According Laya’s Gup Passang, 90 per cent of the 140 households own yaks and / or horses. The most prosperous Layap own more than 300 yaks. These animals represent wealth and also have an important role to play in the growing tourism sector, since they are essential for carrying loads on trekking tours. Another important money-earning opportunity for the settlers and yak herders of the northern mountain regions is provided by harvesting and selling the caterpillar mushroom, mentioned above, which has been legally exported since 2004. Top prices of 87,000 Ngultrum or around 1,400 Euro per kilogram have been reached at public auctions. In Hong Kong, a kilogram of these dried cordyceps sinensis can even be sold for 40,000 Euro.91

Nowadays, the population of Lingshi and Lunana wears the Bhutanese national dress, consisting of gho and kira. In Laya though, women in particular, have retained their original form of dress and wear clothes made of yak hair and sheep’s wool, which are woven on horizontal backstrap looms with long warps that run parallel to the ground. The woollen material that the women weave and make up into clothes in wintertime is thick and heavy and provides the best possible protection against the cold, damp weather. Unlike the rest of Bhutan, Layap men undertake work that forms part of the weaving process and is thus strictly speaking women’s work. For instance, they spin yak hair on drop spindles. The costume of the Layap women consists of a thick black woollen skirt (zoom) with brown, red and orange coloured vertical stripes in different versions, and a colourful apron (dongkheb) with horizontal stripes made of Tibetan woollen cloth, and a formerly kneelength, but now mainly waist-length, long-sleeved black woollen jacket (khenja), and a blouse. This outfit is finished with boots made of black and green wool and fitted with leather soles. Sometimes Layap include Tibetan woollen cloth with

Laya is still in the midst of a continuous building boom. The ground floor of the farmhouses is used for stalls, storerooms and shops, while the upper floor is used as a living space.


Layap women weave on horizontal backstrap looms with long warps that run parallel to the ground. They possess their own style of dress, which they have preserved in part to this day, and have adapted to their own way of life. 54

striped and tie-dyed designs as part of their traditional dress. These materials are called hothra jalo, ‘Mongolian weaving’ (hothra) with a ‘rainbow’ (ja).92 On their heads, the women of Laya wear a conical bamboo hat (layap bulo), with colourful strings of beads, mostly white, bright blue, orange, and red, trailing over the back of their heads; their combined weight serves to keep the hat on. They also like to wear silver jewelry, on their fronts and backs, along with necklaces made of coral, turquoise and black-and-white agate (dzi / zi). Unlike the majority of the female population whose hair is cut short (apart from women of the royal family, and for the last few years, some young women in the towns), the women of Laya wear their hair long. Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck tells of a legend that explains how the Layap, along with their distinctive traditional dress, came to be: ‘There is a curious legend about the origin of the Layaps and their strange way of dressing. It is said that they originally lived in Southern Tibet, in a region that was suddenly struck by a series of disasters. Clearly, a curse had fallen on the region, but how was it to be got rid of? The local practice for ending a spell of misfortune was to perform a voodoo-like ritual, by making doll-sized figures of clay or dough, dress them in black costumes and make them scapegoats for the misfortune. They were then symbolically loaded with the curses and bad luck and cast out of the area. But in this case, so powerful was the curse that it was felt human scapegoats had to be found, and the choice fell on the entire population of a particular village. These unfortunate villagers were made to wear a strange black costume and pointed hat, similar to those put on the dummy figures, and banished en masse, taking away with them the ill luck that had dogged the region. The hapless villagers wandered homeless for several days until they stumbled upon a

beautiful valley, with the majestic Mount Masagang (7144 metres) towering over it. “La Ya!!” they exclaimed in wonder and admiration, and that is what they decided to name their new home. They continued wearing their strange costume because, in the end, it had brought them good luck.’ 93

While women wear their distinct traditional dress on an everyday basis, men prefer wearing gho or western clothing.

THE CENTRAL MOUNTAIN VALLEYS The central valleys of Bhutan are cut off from the north by high mountain passes. The partially fertile valleys lie at altitudes of between 1,000 m and 2,800 m; these altitude differences produce a very variable climate that includes alpine and subtropical zones. The central mountain valleys are usually divided into a western, a central and an eastern part. Two passes provide vital links; Pele La in the Black Mountains divides Western from Central Bhutan while Thrumshing La traces a natural dividing line between Central and Eastern Bhutan. To state that this division follows geographical, historical and linguistic criteria can only hint at its complexity, given that each valley represents its own little world. Indeed, prior to the construction of a main road which now runs right through Bhutan, thus connecting the western and eastern parts, each of the central valleys was cut off from the other. The north-south mountain chain formed a barrier between the individual regions that could only be crossed via 3,000 m-high passes. Given that communication between the individual mountain valleys was necessarily difficult, their inhabitants engaged in trade with Tibet to the north, and with India to the south. Following improvements to Bhutan’s infrastructure, connections have now been established throughout the country, and between the separate valleys of Central Bhutan. 55


WESTERN BHUTAN The western regions of Central Bhutan, which extend as far as the Black Mountains, comprise five valleys, Haa, Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang. The wealth of these regions is displayed in the generously sized houses of their inhabitants, called Ngalong. This generic term is applied to all the inhabitants of Western Bhutan, and means the ‘first-converted’ or, the ‘first risen’; it refers to their conversion to Buddhism. Bhutanese popular tradition tells that this conversion first took place in a part of Western Bhutan.94 According to Aris, this term can be linked to the Tibetan population, which settled in Western Bhutan.95 Yet another translation is based on the term ngonlung, which means ‘ancient region’.96 According to the monk Longchen Rabjampa (1308 – 1363), this was what the regions around Paro and Shar (nowadays Wangdue Phodrang) were called.97 In Western Bhutan, especially in the southern part, there are unmistakable affinities with Sikkim, which feature in the sphere of weaving and clothing, and also in their spiritual life, for instance in their use of local village oracles. According to Aris, these resemblances point to a previously shared cultural area.98 Myers and Pommaret have also established common areas between the Lepcha who live in Sikkim and the inhabitants of Southwestern Bhutan. ‘Although the Lepchas are most often

thought of as the indigenous inhabitants of Sikkim, […] their settlements extended well beyond Sikkim’s borders to Kalimpong and surrounding territory that was, or is now, part of southern Bhutan. Lepcha dress and cloth production exhibit strong affinities with the traditions of nearby native peoples in southwestern Bhutan.’  99 In fact, there are similarities between the weaving that is done by the Lepcha in Sikkim and by Bhutanese weavers. Myers and Pommaret describe that the Lepcha use an almost identical backstrap loom, and also produce supplementary-warp-patterned cloth, which, – unlike the striped patterns that are present over the entire Himalaya area, – is found only in Bhutan.100 Myers and Pommaret go on to claim that this decorative material was reserved for festive occasions, while everyday clothes were made of plain and very rough cloth, woven from nettle fibre, wild silk or cotton, as in Bhutan.101 Regardless of these similarities and links with the neighbouring country of Sikkim, the inhabitants of Western Bhutan refer to themselves simply in terms of the individual valleys that they come from. In the most westerly part lies the mountain region of Haa, at an altitude of more than 2,800 m, which is divided into the six gewog of Bji, Eusu, Gakiling, Katsho, Samar and Sangbay, and is relatively isolated due to the absence of infrastructure. Prior to the opening of the road to Phuntsholing in 1962, the southern part of Haa was the main gateway to Sikkim and

clockwise from top left: Paro and Punakha valley in Western Bhutan, Bumthang in Central Bhutan, and Lhuentse in Eastern Bhutan, among others, belong to the partially fertile central mountain valleys of the country. opposite: The prominent Taktshang monastery, also known as Tiger's Nest, clings on a steep cliff about 900 m above the Paro valley in Western Bhutan.


top row: In the relatively isolated mountain valley of Haa, buckwheat, millet and barley are grown, but only two per cent of this mountainous, densely wooded region can be farmed; lower row: Paro valley is a particularly fertile region.


the Chumbi valley in Tibet. Through Haa ran one of the most important trade routes that connected Bhutan with the two market towns of Tibet; Phari and Yatung in the Chumbi valley. In Haa, buckwheat, millet and barley are grown, but only two per cent of this mountainous, densely wooded region can be farmed. They mainly raise cattle. The inhabitants of Haa are called Haap, while those in Paro valley are called Parop.102 According to Bhutanese tradition, Paro was the first valley that came into contact with Buddhism. This is proven by the Kyichu-lhakhang, which was built back in the 7 th century. Not far from it lies the important Taktshang (‘Tiger’s Nest’) monastery, that is built into a precipitous cliff about 900 m above the Paro valley, and which will be referred to again later in connection with Guru Rinpoche. The Paro dzongkhag is divided into ten gewog, Doga, Dopshari, Doteng, Hungrel, Lamgong, Lungnyi, Naja, Shaba, Tsento and Wangchang, and is one of the most developed districts in Bhutan, since it contains the country’s only international airport along with a highway that links it to the capital Thimphu and the frontier town of Phuntsholing, the gateway to India. Paro valley is a particularly fertile region where red rice, wheat, potatoes,

apples and seasonal vegetables are cultivated. To the west of Paro lies the Thimphu dzongkhag with its nine gewog, Chang, Dagala, Geney, Kawang, Lingshi, Mewang, Naro, Thim Throm and Soe. Along with the 79,185 people (2005) from very different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds who live in the capital city of Thimphu, this district shows signs of considerable progress. 60 per cent of all households have access to electricity, and, apart from the three northern gewog, Lingshi, Naro and Soe, which can only be reached on foot, Thimphu dzongkhag has a well-developed network of roads. Yaks are bred in the northern part of the district, while rice and winter wheat are grown in the southern part. The inhabitants of Thimphu, like those of Punakha, are referred to as wang in the ancient texts.103 According to Pommaret, they were thought to be the same people, who changed their place of residence on a seasonal basis.104 One traditional practice has been retained from the past; during the winter months, the state clergy move out of the summer residence in Thimphu, which is 2,300 m up, and relocate to Punakha, which lies at 1,220 m, because this valley enjoys a relatively mild climate, especially in wintertime. Indeed, Punakha was the capital of Bhutan until 1955.

clockwise from top left: View of Thimphu, the capital city; view of Tashichhodzong in Thimphu, the seat of Bhutan's government and summer residence of the state clergy; instead of traffic lights, Thimphu takes pride in its traffic police who direct the oncoming traffic with elegant arm and hand gestures; Thimphu town is experiencing a considerable construction boom; the only cinema hall in Thimphu. 59

The 3,116 m-high Dochu La cuts Thimphu off from Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang.


Nowadays, this region is divided into 11 gewog: Barp, Chubu, Dzomesa, Goenshari, Guma, Kabjisa, Lingmukha, Shengabjime, Talo, Toeb and Toewang. Favoured with a mild climate and irrigated by the rivers Pho Chhu (‘father river’) and Mo Chhu (‘mother river’), Punakha is a very fertile area, where rice and orange trees are cultivated. This is why prosperous families in Thimphu often own land and cattle in Punakha, which are tended by local herders. Punakha shares a single long valley with the neighbouring region of Wangdue Phodrang, which is cut off from Thimphu by a 3,116 m high pass, called Dochu La. Wangdue Phodrang is composed of 15 gewog: Athang, Bjena, Daga, Dangchu, Gangtey, Gase Tshogom, Gase Tshoom, Kazhi, Nahi, Nyisho, Phangyul, Phobjika, Rubesa, Sephu and Thedtsho. 65 per cent of this district is covered with forest; cattle are pastured on the higher regions while barley and potatoes are cultivated on the lower ones. Rice, citrus fruits and ginger are also grown. In addition, Wangdue Phodrang is famous for its bamboo products. In some scattered villages of Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang women are also engaged in weaving, using wool, wild silk and cotton. According to Myers, the three textiles that are wide-

ly known in Bhutan as adha rachu, adha mathra and adha khamar come from these villages, namely from the eponymous Adhang in Wangdue Phodrang. The first is a wide red rachu, which was also used for carrying babies, the second a striped material intended for a gho, which is commemorated in a folk song as ‘the dress of the Wanchuck king’, while the third is a red-white-red men’s kabne.105 Although all Western Bhutanese people wear the national dress, which consists of kira and gho, they seldom weave it themselves. According to Myers, though, oral traditions and occasional records, including the textiles themselves, all point to the existence of an earlier textile tradition in Western Bhutan.106 At the present time, weaving plays a minor part in Western Bhutan. The textiles for kira and gho are primarily derived from the eastern part, where weaving is well established and the weavers are still held in great esteem. The silk- and cotton cloths that are made by Eastern Bhutanese weavers are sold in many shops in Paro and Thimphu. Furthermore, there is a distinct weaving tradition in Central Bhutan, whereby the women specialise mainly in woollen fabrics.

top row: Punakha is a very fertile area, where rice, among other crops, is cultivated. middle row: The Punakha dzong in the mist – located at the confluence of the rivers Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu – was the administrative centre and the seat of the Government of Bhutan until 1955 (left). Rice fields with the Wangdue Phodrang dzong in the distance (right ). bottom row: Vegetable market at the town of Wangdue Phodrang (left ). adha mathra is a striped material intended for a gho and one of the very few textiles associated with western Bhutan (top right ); adha rachu were originally meant for carrying babies (lower right ). 61


CENTRAL BHUTAN To the east of Wangdue Phodrang stands the 3,400 m-high Pele La, the pass (la) through the Black Mountains, which is actually the boundary between Western and Central Bhutan. On the western side of the Black Mountains, close to Pela La, there are several high mountain valleys which rise to above 3,000 m, where cattle are pastured because the land is not suitable for agriculture. In Phobjika, a wide glacial valley in the Wangdue Phodrang dzongkhag, a hand-woven carpet factory was launched a few years ago. The rugs of this small workshop are similar to Tibetan ones. To the east of Pele La lies the region of Sephu, which extends northwards as far as Luanana. In this region, which is not suitable for agriculture either, yaks and sheep are raised and in summertime the Lap people, the ‘people of the mountain passes’, drive them from the slopes of Pele La up to the higher regions.107 Further to the east lies the Trongsa dzongkhag, which is divided into five gewog, Drakten, Korphu, Langthil, Nubee and Tangsibjee.

Trongsa has an important history, since it lies in a strategically significant position, which Penlop Ugyen Wangchuck knew how to exploit. Since Trongsa was the only connecting point between Western and Eastern Bhutan, its Penlop was able to control the entire eastern region. Trongsa lies in a valley that was carved out by the river Mangde Chhu; it is a forested region and also contains fertile agricultural land. However, its steep slopes mean that most of the fields are terraced, and in some places, only potatoes are grown. Trongsa is cut off from neighbouring Bumthang by the 3,300 mhigh Yutong La. However, the Yuton La between Bumthang and Trongsa had never presented an insuperable barrier and therefore, these two areas have always enjoyed close links. The situation is similar to the one in Thimphu and Punakha, since noble families living in Bumthang, part of which lies above 2,700 m, owned winter quarters in Trongsa, which lies further down the valley.108 Before taking a closer look at the central district of Bumthang, I would like to proceed southwards from Trongsa, where splendid forests and rice

above, clockwise from top left: The 3,400 mhigh Pele La forms a boundary between Western and Central Bhutan; in summertime the Lap people drive their yaks from the slopes of Pele La up to the higher regions; a handwoven carpet factory was launched a few years ago in Phobjika valley. Dorji Wangmo (on left) is the owner of the Norsang Carpet Factory. opposite: Yathra cloths are famous for Central Bhutan; nowadays they are also turned into warm jackets. 63

top row: Overlooking Trongsa dzong and the valley of the river Mangde Chhu; Trongsa dzong is a powerfully built fortress at a central location, ideal for controlling Bhutan. lower row: The forest floor of this region is covered with hemp plants and nettles that can also be used for weaving.


paddies, interspersed with scattered farmhouses, dominate the landscape. Nowadays, a road leads from Trongsa to Kheng, which is situated to the south and covers an area that extends almost as far as the border with India. Kheng is divided between the districts Zhemgang (in Southern Bhutan) and Mongar (in Eastern Bhutan). Thanks to its mainly subtropical climate, Kheng has densely wooded subtropical forests, which supply the inhabitants with a great proportion of their basic food and needs. The forest floor is covered with bamboos, hemp plants and nettles; materials that can all be used for wickerwork and weaving. Furthermore, Aris claims that the inhabitants of Kheng used to pay their taxes in cotton and wild silk fabrics and that they were famed for this for a very long time. Furthermore, Aris goes on to say that the people in the eastern part of Kheng produced their own clothes independently and did not rely on materials from other regions.109 Nowadays, the inhabitants of Kheng are famous for their high quality bamboo wickerwork products. A few of these Kheng inhabitants are referred to as Monpa. These days, they live in Trongsa on the west bank of the Mangde Chhu, to the south of the

Black Mountains, in three villages called Jangbi, Phumzur and Wangling in Langthil gewog. According to the Bhutanese film director Dorji Wangchuk, who dedicated a short documentary to the Monpa, and the French historical ethnologist and Tibetologist Françoise Pommaret, they probably represent the original inhabitants of the country.110 Going by their language, which is known as Monkha and has nothing in common with other languages in Bhutan, as well as their living patterns, Pommaret concludes that they arrived in the country at a very early stage in its history. This is also suggested by the fact that the Monpa people themselves are never referred to as immigrants, even in the most ancient historical sources.111 Their distinctive way of life has allowed the Monpa to retain their own culture and language for a long time. Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck has some interesting details about one aspect of their culture: ‘The Monpas are a matriarchal community. Marriages between first cousins are common, and their marriage customs are unique. When a young couple decides to get married, the boy goes to live in the girl’s house, works in her family’s fields and contrib-

utes to their earnings. After three years the girl’s parents send an emissary to the boy’s family to convey the following message: “Your son is in my house, his eyes are not blind, his legs and arms are not broken, do you need him back?” If they say no, the boy stays on in his wife’s house, but if his parents want him back, they send a formal apology and gifts to the bride’s house, and the young couple then move into the husband’s house. There, his parents transfer all their property to their daughter-in-law, as an assurance that her husband will not abandon her. But if he does, it is he who must leave the house, and his wife retains all his family’s assets. She can even remarry and bring her new husband to the house.’ 112 However, the lives of the about 260 Monpa who currently live in 41 households have altered considerably as a result of modernisation; their specific cultural features are rapidly being lost. Although a few of their originally non-Buddhist ritual practices have survived in modified form – for instance, boiled eggs are offered instead of animal sacrifices – Buddhism is slowly making inroads into even the most remote regions. As a result, growing numbers of Monpa have converted to Buddhism and in Jangbi village the Monpa inhabitants have built their first lhakhang. Nowadays, it

is almost impossible to find the garment called pagay that was made of nettle fibres, and was once worn by Monpa people. This traditional garment was replaced long ago by the kira and gho. Nyontemo, a 75 year-old Monpa woman who lives in a little bamboo hut that serves as kitchen, bedroom, workshop and storeroom, remembers that she wore the traditional nettle garment called pagay until her tenth year. From then onwards, she was able to replace the rough nettle cloth with some soft cotton fabric, provided by her uncle. Seventyyear-old Nyepo from the village of Phumzur, which can only be reached by walking for four to five hours, adds that she abandoned traditional nettle-weaving due to a lack of resources and the incredible amount of time that is required for processing nettles. None of these women was willing to invest so much time in weaving this coarse material, when there is a great selection of finer fabrics available on the market.113 Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck contributes her memories of this change: ‘I saw only a few of the older generation wearing the traditional Monpa dress called pagay, a sleeveless tunic. It is woven of fibre made from nettle plants, rough but extremely durable. Sadly, only a handful of women

The Olep village Rukha is located along the border between Tsirang and Wangdue Phodrang in the Black Mountains of Central Bhutan. Long ago, the Olep people were hunters and gatherers; they are slowly drawing closer to the Bhutanese culture and lifestyle (Photos by Dorji Wangchuk).


clockwise from top left: The valleys of Bumthang are broad and gentle, carved out by ancient glaciers and surrounded by tree-covered mountains; Ura valley; the scenic Shingkhar village; Jakar dzong sits atop a ridge above the town of Jakar in Choekhor valley.


today know how to weave this nettle cloth – the Monpas now prefer wearing kiras and ghos which they buy in Tongsa.’ 114 Even the art of weaving bamboo artefacts, another traditional craft among the Monpa, could be dying out. Previously, woven bamboo products such as baskets were bartered for food and clothes from Trongsa. Nowadays, however, very few people in the village of Phumzur now engage in this activity. Indeed, the Monpa community does not appear to think that preserving their traditions is important. This may be linked to low self-esteem; they view themselves as ‘people living under poor social economic conditions’ rather than as an indigenous ethnic group.115 Nowadays the Monpa community is supported by the Tarayana Foundation, a NGO that was set up by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck in 2003, which seeks to improve living standards and to create work opportunities for these small rural communities. Among the aims of the Tarayana Foundation are plans to support and promote nettle-weaving. Alongside the Monpa communities of Trongsa is another small community in the village of Rukha, in the Athang gewog of Wangdue Phodrang. According to Dorji Wangchuk, this village is very remote and

can only be reached from Thimphu by driving for four hours and then trekking for another eight hours. Rukha contains 12 households and about 108 inhabitants who, according to Dorji Wangchuk, are called Olep and are also considered to be an indigenous ethnic group. Long ago, the Olep people were hunters and gatherers, but they too have gradually been assimilated to the culture and lifestyle of Bhutan. The Olep community is also supported by the Tarayana Foundation.116 Let us now return to our starting point in Trongsa and set out for Bumthang, which in earlier times enjoyed close links with Trongsa and Kheng. Bumthang comprises four mountain valleys, which also constitute the four gewog in this district: Choekhor, Chumey, Tang and Ura. While Chumey and Choekhor were once closely associated with Trongsa and western Kheng, Ura was gradually drawn towards the eastern part of Kheng, which is cut off by the Thrumshing La. These links were commercial in nature, but they served a religious purpose too, because various lamas from Bumthang extended their sphere of activity to include Kheng.117 Along with Paro, Bumthang was one of the first districts that came into contact with Buddhism in the 7 th century, and were convert-

ed to Buddhism by Guru Rinpoche in the 8 th century. Some of the oldest temples in Bhutan are to be found in Bumthang, such as Jampe lhakhang in Choekhor valley, which will be referred to again. Choekhor at 2,600 m and Chumey at 2,800 m altitude are the lowest-lying valleys in Bumthang. In earlier times, an important trade route between Tibet and Bhutan passed through Choekhor valley. The ruins of the former Drapham dzong, which was built in the 16 th century at an important strategic site in the upper Choekhor valley, testify to this.118 These close links with Tibet are also reflected in their textiles. Between the valleys lie dense pine forests, along with fields of winter wheat and buckwheat (formerly the staple food of Bumthang, nowadays largely replaced by rice) together with barley, potatoes and apples, which are now grown here. In the Tang and Ura valleys, which both lie at 3,000 m, animal husbandry is practised. Bumthang is one of the few sheepbreeding regions. Along with yaks, these sheep constitute the most important source of wool and Bumthang is known all over Bhutan for its patterned woollen cloths (yathra) made of yak and sheep’s wool. Given that yathra (‘pattern from the upper regions’)119 are woven on horizontal frame

looms, which allow a maximum width of only 65 cm, these woollen cloths are mostly produced in three metre lengths, and then cut into two or three equal parts, depending on the width, and sewn together length-wise. Yathra cloths were originally used as blankets and to keep off the rain, but nowadays they are turned into warm jackets, coats, bags, shawls, seat cushions and car seat covers. The production methods have changed too. Whereas yathra used to be woven on backstrap looms, they are now made on horizontal frame looms, respectively treadle looms. Bumthang is famous for another woollen cloth, called mathra, also commonly referred to as bumthang mathra. This is a much finer, checked woollen cloth that is used for kira and gho. Although the Bumthap women are famed for the cloth they weave from sheep’s wool, their herds have been massively reduced over the last few years. In 1998, the dzongkhag livestock records still listed 3,000 sheep but by 2007 the number had fallen to around 800.120 The reasons for this include the growing number of incidents involving attacks by bears and wild dogs, which have drastically decimated the sheep population. Every year, each herd loses about 20 animals, and herding sheep has become very expensive, part-

Bumthang is famous for a plaid woollen cloth, called bumthang mathra (left ), and for its patterned woollen cloths (yathra) made of yak and sheep's wool (right).



ly because growing numbers of younger family members are attending school instead of working. So, too, the yak herders in Bumthang are decreasing. With regard to textile production, Bumthang has an important role, since it flourished from the mid-19th century until the abolition of feudal dues in 1957 as the place where communal weaving was practised in noble households.121 If you follow the road from Ura, over Thrumshing La, and on to Mongar in the south, you come to an area that is sparsely settled and covered with ravines and forests. Patches of agricultural land can be found close to the river Kuri Chhu that lies at 600 m and constitutes the lowest point of Bhutan’s valleyed landscape. In geographical terms, Mongar is part of Eastern Bhutan, like Lhuentse district, which is situated to the north of Bumthang, although in linguistic and historical terms it belongs more to Central Bhutan. According to Myers, Central Bhutan and Eastern Bhutan used to engage in a lively trade, whereby the inhabitants of Central Bhutan descended to the warmer valley in the eastern part in the autumn to barter their woollen textiles for dyeplants and textiles made of wild silk.122 Nowadays these exchanges continue to take place, but on a much smaller scale.

EASTERN BHUTAN The eastern part is lower than Central Bhutan, and the climate is usually warmer and dryer. The forests are sparser and the v-shaped valleys are steeper and more deeply cut. Eastern Bhutan is densely settled, but most of the villages are literally hanging on the steep slopes instead of clustering in the valleys. In addition to agriculture, the farmers in Eastern Bhutan keep livestock – especially mithun, the native Gaur cattle (bos gaurus), which have splendid horns – for their milk. Given that winters in the eastern part are less harsh, these people did not move their cattle south, as was the custom elsewhere. However, they did attend the markets in Assam to engage in trade. In fact, an important trade route used to run through Eastern Bhutan, linking Tibet and India. The inhabitants of Eastern Bhutan are generally referred to as Sharchopa, the ‘people from the east’, and occasionally as Tshangla, which is also the name of their language. The historical sources have little to say about when they arrived. Wilhelm Klein assumes that they were the animistic Mon people who ruled over various regions of Bhutan, together with the Indo-Mongols from the Brahmaputra valley, right up until the 15th century.123 The bor-

left: View of Mongar Town, the seat of Mongar dzongkhag. right: The valleys in the eastern part of Bhutan enjoy a favourable climate. opposite: The women of Northeastern Bhutan are famous for weaving kushuthara kira with elaborate silk patterns (kushu).


In Eastern Bhutan, the v-shaped valleys are steeper and more deeply cut, and are generally linked by suspension bridges; most of the villages are located on the steep slopes instead of clustering in the valleys below. Lhuentse dzong (lower right ) lies on the eastern side of the Kuri Chhu at the end of a narrow valley.


der with Eastern Bhutan is marked by the Mongar dzongkhag with its 17 gewog, Balam, Chali, Chaskhar, Depong, Drametse, Gungdue, Jurmey, Kengkhar, Mongar, Narang, Ngatshang, Saling, Sherimung, Silambi, Thangrong, Tsamang and Tshakaling. Maize and potatoes are mainly cultivated in this place, and for the last few years the production of local lemongrass oil has been encouraged. To the north of Mongar one can find Lhuentse district, which contains eight gewog; Gangzur, Jaray, Khoma, Kurtoe, Menbi, Menji, Metsho and Tshenkhar. In Northeastern Bhutan, the Lhuentse dzongkhag was and to some extent still is divided into two regions, upper and lower Kuri Chuu. Kuri Chhu is the name of the river that flows through Central Lhuentse. Kurtoe, as the upper Kuri Chhu is called, extends from the Lhuentse dzong and the west side of the river up to the northern border. A formerly important footpath led from Bumthang across the 4,000 mhigh Radong La to Lhuentse dzong; it will be replaced by a vehicular road soon. Close trading and religious contacts have always existed between Bumthang and Kurtoe.124 Kurtoe lies further down the valley and is suitable for rice cultivation. The farmers would barter their rice for

various animal products and use it to pay for religious rites, which were then conducted in Kurtoe in wintertime. High-ranking lamas settled in this area and established an elite group of nobles who married into the nobility of Bumthang.125 These families also owned residences in Bumthang. This applied to the family of the Wangchuck dynasty, which originally came from Dungkhar in Kurtoe. This family resided at Wangduechoeling Palace in Bumthang, which was built in 1857 by Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel. When the royal family migrated from Kurtoe to Bumthang they introduced various changes, including that of raising the local weaving tradition of Northern Bhutan to national level. As mentioned above, Eastern Bhutan could look back over a long tradition of weaving. In the old days, the local nobles had employed several weavers within their own establishments and nowadays, practically every house still contains its own loom. The most convenient looms are backstrap looms that can be set up inside a building, on a balcony or on a terrace beside an entrance, or in a little hut with a straw roof, built for that purpose. To some extent, card looms and a few horizontal frame looms are also used. These weavers often form little communities, where the women

can meet up to work, as they do in Lhuentse. Lhuentse district is even referred to frequently as the ‘Valley of the Weavers’; the women of this region are specialised in silk weaving. Kurtoe is especially famous for the extremely fine quality of its silk fabrics with elaborate patterns, which are made on backstrap looms. One of the most famous weaving centres is the village of Khoma; when I was doing this fieldwork in 2007, it could only be reached by trekking for one and a half hours from the road between Mongar and Lhuentse. Since that time, a road to this little weaving village has been built. Above Khoma lies the equally highly esteemed weaving village of Gonpakap, whose inhabitants ascribe the quality of their weaving to the favour of their local deities. The textiles that were originally produced in this region display a white ground with fine, richly coloured and complicated patterns, which resemble chain-stitch embroidery, but are achieved by inserting supplementary weft threads. They are called kushuthara

and are sewn up to make the traditional Bhutanese women’s kira. Made of pure silk, they are very expensive garments which are only worn for special occasions. We will take a more detailed look at this elaborate weaving technique at a later stage. According to Myers, older Bhutanese people remember that in the 1930s this region was famous for its mathra cloths, some of which had stripes at their ends (khacha). Nowadays, these cloths are mainly connected with Bumthang.126 The region of the lower Kuri Chhu, which used to be called Kurme,127 covers Lhuentse in the south and Mongar in the north. Some parts of Mongar district are famous both for their silk and cotton weaving. These fabrics generally feature stripes and checks. The eastern central mountain valleys also include the districts Trashiyangtse and Trashigang. The northern Trashiyangtse dzongkhag with its eight gewog of Bumdeling, Jamkhar, Khamdang, Ramjar, Toesho, Tongzhang, Yalang and Yangtse,

clockwise from top left: In Lhuentse, the women often form small weaving communities; kira with elaborate kushu patterns made of pure silk are very expensive garments, which are only worn for special occasions; the weavers of Khoma are gathering to sell their elaborate textiles. Kurtoe is especially famous for the extremely fine quality of their kushuthara, a regional style of discontinuous supplementaryweft patterns on a white ground.


clockwise from top left: Trashigang enjoys a mild climate; view of Trashiyangtse; agriculture does not play a very important role in Trashiyangtse, since only eight per cent of the area is cultivated; Bumdeling valley. opposite: top row, left: In Trashigang and Trashiyangtse, women produce supplementary-warp-patterned fabrics (aikapur) made of cotton and silk. The Bhutanese man on the right wears an aikapur gho with supplementaryweft patterns (Photo by Christine Leuthner); top row, right: rice fields in wintertime (right). middle row: Women weave in the wintertime, and in the evenings, if electricity is available; bottom row: the weavers of Radi are famous primarily for their wild silk fabrics. 72

was formerly an important gateway to Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh in India. Trashiyangtse is primarily famous for its dapa, turned wooden bowls, and containers made of burl wood, but handwoven cotton fabrics are also sourced in Trashiyangtse. Furthermore, this district contains the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary where, every year, the auspicious blacknecked cranes from Tibet spend the winter. Agriculture does not play a very important role here, since only eight per cent of the area is cultivated. The large Trashigang district with its 15 gewog of Bartsham, Bidung, Kanglung, Kangpara, Khaling, Lumang, Merak, Phongmey, Radi, Sakteng, Samkhar, Shongphu, Thrimshing, Uzarung and Yangnyer, is rather different. This dzongkhag is warmer and enjoys a mild climate; grain crops such as maize, rice and wheat can be grown, while mustard,

various kinds of vegetables and tropical fruit such as oranges and bananas flourish here too. In Trashigang, weaving also plays an important role. The women produce supplementary-warp-patterned fabrics (aikapur) made of cotton and silk. If you drive from the town of Trashigang towards the east you will eventually reach Radi, which is famous primarily for its handwoven fabrics made of wild silk. Leaving Radi, a two to three days’ journey on foot will bring you to the eastern tip of Bhutan, to the high valleys of Merak and Sakteng. This is where about 5,000 members of an ethnic group called Brokpa live, whose culture and features are wholly distinctive. Within the Tibetan cultural sphere, the name Brokpa means ‘pastoralists’ or ‘herders’.128 However, in Bhutan, this term is applied exclusively to the inhabitants of Merak and Sakteng, when pronounced this



way. All the other nomadic people are also referred to by the same term, but in Dzongkha, the national language, it is pronunced Bjop.129 Among the semi-nomadic Brokpa, polyandry is still widely practised; the Brokpa women generally have two to three husbands, with the oldest acting as head of the family, and the younger ones tending their yak herds. According to the Merakpa, 45 per cent of the 255 Merak households feature this form of communal marriage. In their villages they grow maize, barley and turnip, but their herds of sheep and yak are their most treasured possessions. A Brokpa family owns on average 40 to 50 animals. In September, most of the Brokpa people will leave their villages and move their herds to warmer, often very distant grazing grounds until the following March or April. In Sakteng village, which comprises about 300 households, only about 100 of the 1,500 inhabitants will stay behind during the winter months, on account of this seasonal migration. According to the Saktengpa, these individuals are primarily old people who can no longer undertake the long walk, shopkeepers, and people, who are taking care of the houses of prosperous Saktengpa, the village headman (Gup) and a few officials as well as a couple of monks

from Namgaychholing. The Saktengpa people set off on these intermittent transmigrations to select places in the upper regions of Trashigang (i.e. Khelphug, Shingkharong or Thongrung). The Merakpa for their part, primarily head for Khaling, which is also famous for its nettle weaving and is home to an important weaving centre, the National Handloom Development Centre (NHDC). While life back in the village grinds more or less to a halt during the winter months, the nomadic Brokpa have plenty to do. They tend and milk their animals; they spin and weave their wool, and trade with the inhabitants of the lower regions as part of a mutually dependent process of exchange. In the first instance, yak meat and milk products are exchanged for grain, rice, chillies, salt, sugar and kerosene. From Samdrup Jongkhar, they also procure wild silk cocoons, and ready-woven fabrics. However, they also engage in a lively trade with the frontier town of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, in India, where the herdsmen obtain clothes, food and aluminium goods, because Tawang is within easy reach, only a day’s march away, whereas the journey to Trashigang can take up to three full days. From time to time, the inhabitants of Merak and Sakteng, especially those who run

above: Leaving Radi, a two to three days' journey on foot will bring you to the eastern tip of Bhutan, to the high valleys of Merak and Sakteng (Photos by Christine Leuthner). opposite: A Brokpa boy from the Merak and Sakteng region with his distinctive black cap made of yak hair felt (Photo by John Scofield / National Geographic / Getty Images).


A Brokpa woman in her traditional dress; a thick maroon woollen cape (themba) has been draped over her shoulders to keep her warm (Photo by Christine Leuthner).


small shops, will undertake the long journey on foot to Trashigang or Tawang to buy salt, sugar, beer, whisky and kerosene. They will sleep out in the open beside campfires, keeping themselves warm under their heavy yak hair wraps and bags. According to Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, the Brokpa enjoy a very special relationship with the inhabitants of the valley: ‘A unique relationship, known as Drukor, has developed between the Brokpas and the lowland villagers – in a tradition going back centuries, most Brokpa families have a “host family” or Nepo in the lowland villages, with whom they have a close trading as well as social relationship. They stay in their Nepo’s house for weeks, eat and sleep there like members of his family, and leave butter and cheese for him to barter in exchange for grain and maize. The Nepo in turn, comes up to Sakteng and Merak to stay with his Brokpa family in summer, bringing grain, vegetables and fruit.’ 130 Similar to the close relationships that can be found between Sikkim and Western Bhutan, the most eastern part of Bhutan also maintains close cultural ties with

Arunachal Pradesh; especially with Tawang. According to Aris, and Myers and Pommaret too, until the mid-16 th century, there was an area called mon yul (‘Land of the Mon’), that extended from the Tsona dzong in Southeastern Tibet via Tawang and parts of Eastern Bhutan, right down to Assam in India, and formed a single cultural and religious region.131 Given this shared history, it is no surprise to find that the traditional dress of the Merakpa and Saktengpa is similar to that of the inhabitants of Tawang. The women wear a sleeveless unbleached, or red and white striped, knee to ankle length tunic (shingkha) made of wild silk, which is bound at the waist with a broad woven belt (kichin). Sometimes, two tunics will be worn, one on top of the other, as Myers says, not only to keep themselves warm, but also to indicate status.132 The women combine this with two jackets: an unbleached jacket made of cotton or wild silk, with a hip-length red jacket (nornang teothung) made of wild silk, on top. The lower part of the latter is decorated with woven geometrical patterns such as swastikas and flowers, or stylised animal figures

such as elephants, birds and butterflies. During the cold months they put on an extra black woollen jacket, which is often trimmed with blue or green woollen piping. In addition, they wear a thick maroon woollen cape (themba) draped over the shoulders and tied at the front with woollen or leather laces. The Brokpa women also tie a black woollen apron (tenga kema) and a round black cushion (kobtin) measuring about 15 cm in diameter at their backs. The cushion is made of felted yak hair and used for sitting on. Their traditional footgear used to consist of knee-high woollen felt boots (bidar),133 but modern gumboots replaced them some time ago. The Brokpa men wear loose trousers (kango) made of thick white wool, which fall to the mid-calf and show a kind of apron at the front and back. At the sides, the trousers are open and can be fixed with ties at the waist. Under that, they wear tight leather puttees (pishup), held up with leather straps. On top, they wear a longsleeved red or brown woollen jacket (tshoskam chuba) with contrasting green woollen inserts at the seam splits. On top of that, they wear a sleeve-

less goatskin vest (paktsa); the hairy side is generally worn inwards but it can be turned outwards in rainy weather. The goatskin is simply sewn together at the shoulders and held in place with a yak-hair cord or a leather belt. Sometimes, a woven belt (kera / kichin) will be used for this purpose, too. The hide vest is intended to protect the men from the thorny forest undergrowth when rounding up their yaks. The Brokpa men’s traditional footwear used to consist of red woollen boots with leather soles and tufts of sheep’s wool and pine needles.134 Nowadays, there’s a growing trend towards wearing western trousers and gumboots, combined with traditional upper garments. Both men and women wear a black cap made of felted yak hair. This typical Brokpa cap is called shamu or tsipee cham, according to Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck. 135 It has five long felted tails to conduct rainwater away from the face. Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck describes the production of these very special caps as follows: ‘About 300 grams of yak hair is first untangled and cleaned, and then

Brokpa in their traditional dress; like the Brokpa men, the boys are wearing goatskins (left) and red woollen jackets (tshoskam chuba) with contrasting green woollen inserts at the seam splits (top right ); hides are used as garments (lower right) (Photos by Christine Leuthner).


left: The typical Brokpa cap (shamu) has five long felted tails to conduct rainwater away from the face (Photo by Dorji Wangchuk). right: A Brokpa woman weaves her garments on a backstrap loom (Photo by Dorji Wangchuk). below: The Brokpa men wear loose trousers (kango) made of thick white wool, which fall to the mid-calf and feature a kind of apron at the front and back.


packed into a small, round pot with a liquid that serves as a binder – either whey or the residue from making grain alcohol. It is amazing how effectively this binds the hair into a mat. The mixture is then pounded and kneaded until it forms a compressed round wafer. Five points at the rim are pulled out to make tails and another bunch of yak hair is added to these and rolled to the required length, making the cap look like a giant black spider. Once the cap is dry, the tsipee cham is ready.’ 136 Felt is a non-woven textile that is made by matting, condensing and pressing fibres together to make a dense fabric that can be cut without fraying the edges. It’s an

easy technique that just needs fleece, moisture and agitation. Feltmaking is still practised by many nomadic peoples in Central Asia;137 in Bhutan, however, this technique is only used for Brokpa caps. Women and men also wear turquoise earrings as well as individual turquoises, corals, or black agates around their necks. ‘They believe the turquoise ensures that after death they will never be short of water, to quench the soul’s thirst’, is how Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck accounts for the Brokpa’s predilection for turquoises.138 Further accessories include white and black striped woven bags made of rough yak hair, and small leather bags of cowrie shells, which the yak herdsmen use to summon their animals, by striking them with the palms of their hands.139 Just like the Layap, the herdsmen of Northern Bhutan, the women of Merak and Sakteng spin the yak hair and wool as well as sheep’s wool into yarn that they then weave into clothes. Their wild silk shirts and jackets, however, have mostly been made in Radi for the last few years.140 According to Myers, the villages of Phongmey, Bartsham and Yabrang are also engaged in weaving garments and jackets for the Merakpa and Saktengpa, which they barter for the yak herders’ butter, cheese and meat.141 With regard to the origins of the villagers of Merak and Sakteng, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck tells the following legend: ‘Once upon a time, in the Tshona region of Southern

Tibet, there lived a tyrannical chieftain called Yarsang. One day, he thought up a diabolical new way to oppress his people – he ordered them to cut down the mountain in front of his palace, so that more sunlight would come into his rooms. The people toiled for years at this backbreaking task, from sunrise to sunset, but were barely able to make a dent in the mountain. In desperation, they gathered together one evening to discuss what they should do. Among those present was a beautiful young woman, Aum Jomo, who spoke up: “Wouldn’t it be easier to cut off the soft head of the chieftain, than to cut down the hard, rocky mountain?” she said. Her logic was irrefutable. And so the people of Tshona arranged a grand feast in honour of the chieftain, with plenty to eat and drink. As a grand finale, they announced that they would perform the spectacular sword dance for which the young men of the region were renowned. As the chieftain watched in a drunken stupor, they took out their swords and after a few twirls and flourishes advanced on him and cut off his head. After the deed was done, the people realized that they had to flee Tshona, and Aum Jomo, together with their revered Lama Jarepa, offered to lead them to a new home. Travelling for several months through snowbound mountains and dense forests, crossing roaring rivers and deep gorges, and taking their yaks and sheep with them, the refugees finally arrived at the base of a very high pass. The strongest and fittest people and animals managed to climb over the pass, where they found a beautiful uninhabited plateau covered with shrubs.

They set the shrubs on fire to clear the land, and settled down there. The place was named Merak, which means “set on fire”. But the majority was too tired to even attempt to cross the pass and decided to turn back. […] On their way back they climbed a small hill and came upon a wide and beautiful flat valley covered with bamboo and surrounded by rhododendrons, and realized that they had at last found their promised land. They named it Sakteng which means “the land on the top”.’  142 All these mountain valleys are also inhabited by Tibetans, who came to Bhutan in the 1950s, when Tibet was in turmoil. Most of them live in the urban centres of Paro, Thimphu, Trongsa, Jakar and Trashigang, where they run small businesses. As citizens, they form an integral part of Bhutanese society. While the men wear the traditional Bhutanese garment, the gho, some of the older women have retained the Tibetan traditional dress. They wear a sleeveless coat, which is bound at the waist with two folds at the back. On top of this they wear a colourful apron (dongkheb) with horizontal stripes, made of Tibetan woollen cloth. Tibetan traditional dress and fabrics have always exercised a strong influence on Bhutanese fashions. As mentioned earlier, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel had already modelled the Bhutanese gho on the Tibetan chuba in the 17 th century, and women’s fashions were also influenced by Tibet, to some extent. For instance, the blouses (wonju) that are so common in Bhutan and are worn beneath the kira, also have a Tibetan origin.

Tibetan textiles have always exercised a strong influence on Bhutanese fashion.


SOUTHERN BHUTAN top: Southern Bhutan has a hot, humid, subtropical climate that is fairly unchanging throughout the year. lower left: The border town of Phuntsholing with its gateway to India. lower right: Phuntsholing and Jaigaon have an important part to play as a cultural melting pot.


In the south, the largely Hindu ethnic group consisting of people of Nepali descent, known as Lhotshampa, which means ‘people of the southern border’;143 they make up about a quarter of the entire population of Bhutan. Their origin is easily deduced from their clothes, which are strongly influenced by India and Nepal. The women wear a kind of sari made of imported Indian fabrics. They seldom wear hand-woven Bhutanese cloth, which is far too warm for the climate in the south of the country. Southern Bhutan comprises the districts of Samtse, Chukha, Dagana, Tsirang, Sarpang, Zhemgang, Pemagatshel and Samdrup Jongkhar. The altitudes of this low-lying strip of land range

from 100 m to 1000 m, and it borders the frontier with the Indian states of Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Although some of the inhabitants of Western and Central Bhutan do move their cattle southwards, they do not tolerate the subtropical climate and heat of Southern Bhutan very well or, indeed, appear to enjoy them. For this reason, at the beginning of the 19 th century, the Bhutanese government invited people of Nepalese origin to this part of the country along the border with India (still part of British India at the time) with a view to cultivating it. At the same time, it seemed a good idea for Bhutan to settle people in this hilly frontier area, to keep an eye on their neighbour to the south, and to be prepared for eventual military incursions. Since the introduction of orange groves, these southern settle-

ments are now being intensively farmed. In the southwestern Samtse district, which includes the 15 gewog of Bara, Biru, Chargharey, Chengmari, Denchukha, Dorokha, Dumtoe, Ghumauney  /  Yoesheltse, Lahireni, Nainital / Ugyentse, Pugli, Samtse, Sipsu, Tading and Tendu, mandarins, cardamon and ginger are also cultivated. In Samtse dzongkhag, there live a few ethnic groups, which are viewed as indigenous by the Bhutanese. One of these ethnic groups is called Lhop (‘Southerners’) in Dzongkha, and also Doya. The following information has been supplied by Bhutanese scholar Jagar Dorji, whose research into the Lhop / Doya people can be found in his unpublished work, The Lhopus of Western Bhutan:144 Jagar Dorji has established that the name Doya comes from daya (‘kind’), a designation that goes back to the Lhop community’s tradition of always welcoming strangers, in this case, the Nepalese migrants, to their district.145 The Lhop / Doya people are a small group of several hundred people who live in hill country along the Amo Chhu valley in Dorokha gewog. They cultivate fruit trees, along with barley, maize and sorghum, engage in animal husbandry, and live from hunting, fishing, and by foraging for various forest products. Ever since this region started growing orange groves and cardamom plantations, they have also managed to earn a living from agriculture, or as porters transporting the harvest all the way to Samtse. According to Pommaret, Lhop live in close-knit communities and practise cross-cousins marriages; in addition to their animistic beliefs and worship of local deities they retain many specific cultural features such as their cult of the dead.146 In their case, the dead are not cremated, as is otherwise the norm, but are buried in a wooden or stone coffin, and a tumulus is raised above it. This funerary mound is topped with a hut to prevent rain from seeping in,

and a fence is built around it. In earlier times, it was still the custom to store the dead person’s effects inside this hut, but nowadays only a few coins are placed there.147 Another interesting feature is the traditional dress of the Lop / Doya people, which is very seldom seen these days. Both men and women used to wear a sort of wraparound garment (pakhi) made of nettle fabric, which was worn at knee-height and had no sleeves. This type of garment consists of a rectangular cloth that is knotted behind the neck, in the men’s case (at the shoulder in the women’s case), falls in two folds down the back, and billows over the belt like a blouse. The women’s wrap-around garment is worn longer than the men’s. According to Myers, these pakhi used to be fixed in place with a sliver of bamboo (khab), but nowadays, they are either knotted or held by a safety pin.148 In fact, this type of wrap-around garment is not only found among the Lop / Doya people of Dorokha, in Samtse district. According to Myers and Pommaret, this archaic garment made of nettle fibres was until recently also known among the Toktop people in Chukha district, and among the Monpa in the southern part of Trongsa.149 Even beyond the borders of Bhutan, it was a convenient item of clothing, used particularly by the Lepcha people in Sikkim, mentioned above. Nowadays, nettle cloth has been widely replaced by machine-made cotton from India. Chukha district, with its 11 gewog, Bjachho, Bongo, Chapchha, Dala, Dungna, Geling, Getana, Logchina, Metakha, Phuntsholing and Sampheling, has mainly been settled by migrants from the central mountain valleys. Although only nine per cent of the surface can be cultivated, they make a living mainly by growing oranges, cardamom, and potatoes, in addition to their livestock. The border town of Phuntsholing has an important part to play as a cultural melting pot. It is the

left: The Doya women of Samtse in their traditional dress (Photo by Tourism Council of Bhutan). right: The two men in the foreground wear a wrap-around garment (pakhi), the traditional dress of the Lhop / Doya men (Photo by George van Driem).


Southern Bhutan is a fertile agricultural land where maize, rice, cardamom and chillies grow, among other products.


place where Bhutanese people from all over the country and immigrants from India have settled. Many of them work as shopkeepers, such as the Indian Marwari, who have been running shops and businesses for Bhutanese people since 1960. They have a great sense of belonging; however, their contacts with Bhutanese people are mainly of a commercial nature. The neighbouring dzongkhag, Dagana, is divided into 14 gewog, Deorali, Dorona, Drujeygang, Gesarling, Goshi, Kana, Khebisa, Lajab, Lhamoyzingkhag / Kalikhola, Nichula, Trashiding, Tsendagang, Tseza and Tshangkha; 79 per cent of this area is covered in dense forests and it is considered to be one of the remotest parts of Bhutan. The villages are small, and individual houses are often at a considerable distance from their neighbours. The adjoining Tsirang district with its 12 gewog, Barshong, Beteni, Dunglagang, Gosarling, Kikhorthang, Mendrelgang, Patala, Phuentenchu, Rangthangling, Semzong, Tsholingkhar and Tsirangtoe, features 58 per cent forest; the remaining 42 per cent of land can be farmed, on account of its gentle hilly contours and mild climate. The main crops are rice, maize, millet, oranges, cardamom, and vegetables. Animal husbandry represents an equally important source of

income. The conditions in Sarpang are relatively suited to agriculture, although only 12 per cent of the land in the 12 gewog of Bhur, Chuzagang, Dekiling, Dovan, Gelephu, Hilley, Jigmechoeling, Sarpangtar, Sershong, Singhi, Taklai and Umling is capable of being cultivated. Rice, maize, barley, millet, oranges, areca nuts (betel nuts), cardamom, ginger, guavas and mangos all do well here. Sarpang contains many people from the Kheng region who have settled there. As mentioned earlier, the region of Kheng is located in both Zhemgang district, which lies further to the east, and Mongar district. Zemgang, with its eight gewog, Bardo, Bjoka, Goshing, Nangkor, Nangla, Phangkhar, Shingkhar and Trong, is considered, like Dagana, to be very remote and difficult to reach. It is often divided into three areas: Upper Kheng, which lies further up, with its relatively infertile soil on steep slopes; Central Kheng, which has good potential for irrigation and agricultural; and Lower Kheng, where the soil is fertile but the water supply is limited. Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck describes Kheng as a ‘Densely forested region with a population of 26,000, who live scattered in a succession of narrow valleys enclosed by steep slopes. […] Swidden agriculture –

more commonly known as the slash-and-burn method of cultivation, where a piece of forest land is cleared by burning, cultivated for a while and then left fallow to renew itself – is particularly prevalent in Kheng. […] Another consequence of the isolation of Kheng villages is the survival of ancient shamanistic rites and Bon rituals that have died out elsewhere in the country.’ 150 In Zhemgang district, moreover, traditional forms of weaving are practised. In earlier times, their fabrics were primarily woven from nettles, though cotton and wild silk were also used; these materials were cultivated in the densely wooded hills of Zhemgang. If you travel further east by following the road from Trashigang towards the south, you will reach the two southeastern districts of Pemagatshel and Samdrup Jongkhar respectively. Pemagatshel is divided into 11 gewog: Chimung, Choekhorling, Chongshing, Dechheling, Dungmin, Khar, Nanong, Norbugang, Shumar, Yurung and Zobel. Despite its steep slopes and narrow valleys, 45 per cent of the area can be cultivated. Most of this is devoted to a slash-and-burn-type of rotational cultivation, locally known as tseri cultivation, and growing maize. The Samdrup Jongkhar dzongkhag is divided into the following 11 gewog, Deothang, Gomdar, Langchenphu, Lauri, Martshala, Orong, Pemathang / Dalim, Phuntshothang / Bakuli, Samrang, Serthi and Wangphu, and it borders the Indian states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Samdrup Jongkhar has always featured trade routes to India and, since the road between Trashigang and Samdrup Jongkhar was constructed in the 1960s, the entire eastern region has been able to reap the benefits. This is how Myers and Pommaret put it: ‘At the Samdrup Jongkhar border today, Bhu-

tanese continue to purchase Assamese wild silk cocoons, yarns, and cloth, along with dyes from Armenian Street in Calcutta, toys from Hong Kong, aluminium trunks from New Delhi, and argyle socks from the United States.’ 151 The two districts of Pemagatshel and Samdrup Jongkhar were settled early on by Sharchopa people, who live cheek by jowl with the Indians. Here, in Southeastern Bhutan, both cotton and wild silk textiles (bura) are woven. Pemagatshel is primarily famous for its yurung bura, the wild silk from the Yurung community, and in Samdrup Jongkhar the NGO Tarayana Foundation is promoting the use of natural dyes. In Pemagatshel, Myers reports, the girls and women do their weaving beneath shelters that are propped up on poles. This allows them to work in the shade, while keeping an eye on their crops and cattle.152 The constant influx of people of Nepali origin, since the beginning of the 20th century, has clearly altered the ethnic and linguistic character of this southern region of Bhutan. Various Nepalese ethnic groups have arrived in successive waves of immigration, either directly from Nepal or via Nepali-speaking parts of the Indian district of Darjeeling. According to Pommaret, they include the high Hindu Nepalese castes, the Bahun and Chhetri, the Brahmans and Kshatriyas (members of the aristocratic warrior caste of Nepal), the only people whose mother tongue is still the Nepali language. They are Hindus and are careful to ensure that the purity of their caste is not compromised by exogamous marriages. All the other Nepalese people, Pommaret claims, are of Mongol origin. Among them are found adherents of Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity, with an

left: The two districts of Pemagatshel and Samdrup Jongkhar are famous for wild silk textiles (bura). right: Women sometimes do their weaving beneath shelters that are propped up on poles. This allows them to work in the shade, while keeping an eye on their crops and cattle (Photo by Christine Leuthner).


clockwise from left: Bhutanese refugee women and girls spin their fabrics on simple spinning wheels; here, men also take part in the weaving process (Photos by Prakash Mathema / AFP / Getty Images).


element of animistic beliefs. In the higher regions of the two dzongkhag Dagana and Tsirang live Sherpa, who, like the Gurung and Tamang people, travelled from Tibet and through Nepal to reach Bhutan. Sherpa and Tamang are Buddhists with strong animistic tendencies. The Gurung people who live in Samtse district are both Buddhists and Hindus. The Hindus who have settled in Southern Bhutan include the Pradhan people whose roots lie in the valley of Kathmandu, and the Rai and Limbu people who have also not entirely abandoned their animistic beliefs.153 As a result, the population of Southern Bhutan is strongly Nepalese in character. The advent of numerous Nepalese ethnic groups has not, however, merely served to enrich the ethnic mix; unfortunately, it has also led to conflict within Bhutan. It is relatively difficult for outsiders to view these ethnic conflicts between groups that originally came from Nepal and the central government of Bhutan in an objective way. It is very difficult to know whether to believe Nepalese or Bhutanese statements. The only solution is to stick to the facts: at the beginning of the 19th century, the Bhutanese government invited people of Nepalese descent to clear the southern forests of Bhutan and to cultivate the land

along the border with India (part of British India at the time). The rationale was that the climate in that area was not particularly appreciated by the mountain-dwellers of Bhutan. Living conditions in Bhutan were far better than in Nepal, with the result that growing numbers of Nepalese moved to Bhutan. Gradually, the entire southern part of the country, up to about 1,200 m at least, was settled by them, mainly in the southern parts of the Dagana and Tsirang. In the 1980s, representatives of this rapidly growing minority began demanding so many political rights that the Bhutanese government felt that the sovereignty of their state was threatened. These anxieties were heightened by developments in Sikkim, where Hindu immigrants had reduced the native population of Sikkim to a minority within their own country. As a result, this formerly independent Buddhist kingdom was annexed and Sikkim is now part of an Indian state. In 1985 Bhutan adopted laws which firmly established its policy on citizenship; the intention was thereby to strengthen the country’s sense of its national identity. One of the Bhutanese government’s most fundamental measures, strongly criticised by the UN, was to pass the Citizenship Acts of 1958 and 1985, whereby all Nepalese individuals who

were unable to produce evidence to show that they or their family were settled in Bhutan prior to 1958 were rendered ineligible for citizenship.154 All those who had entered prior to 1958 were awarded Bhutanese citizenship, but the majority of those who were affected – more than 100,000 people – fled to refugee camps in Eastern Nepal. While the revised 1985 Citizen Act, followed by mass expulsions in 1988 and the ‘Bhutanisation campaign’ of 1989, served to bolster the hegemonic position of Bhutanese culture, it also sowed the seeds of subsequent grave internal political problems. The results were disaffection, discontent, and uprisings, followed by the flight and expulsion of the Nepalese population. In 1993, serious talks were held between Bhutan and Nepal about the return of these refugees, talks that often remained fruitless during the years that followed. It was only in 2001 that these lengthy negotiations between Nepal and Bhutan resulted in a joint agreement about the refugee camps, with a view to solving the problem of the exiles, who live there. However, the situation at the time – which featured Maoist risings in Nepal – prevented any swift joint resolution of the problem. In the meantime, refugees living in these camps have been allowed to emigrate to se-

veral industrial countries in the West. Forty-one thousand people emigrated to eight countries in 2011, most of them (about 35,000) to the US. By 2013 the resettlement of a further 71,000 refugees in the camps of Eastern Nepal was supposed to have been achieved.155 Manfred Kulessa, president of the Bhutan-German Himalaya Society published an article in the Thunlam Newsletter which addresses this difficult subject and provides an insight into the current situation: ‘When critical observers talk about “ethnic cleansing” in Bhutan, this needs to be corrected. The Lhotshampas represent a significant minority, now, as in the past, and in the southern districts of Bhutan they are the majority population group. The democratisation process has reinforced their position and they now enjoy proportional representation in Parliament and the Cabinet. As a result, it is likely that most of the laws and administrative practises that they find discriminatory, such as the “no objection certificate” will gradually be removed. Although the unfortunately restrictive citizenship law of 1985 was influenced by formulas used in the corresponding clauses of the constitution, even this sensitive area is likely to develop a more sensitive approach in due course’.156

Many Bhutanese refugees are still registered in refugee camps in Eastern Nepal (Photo by Diptendu Dutta /  AFP / Getty Images).


Notes 1 For an etymological explanation of the name Druk Yul see subsection, The Ethnic Groups of Bhutan, their Traditional Costumes and Textiles. 2 The number of people in Bhutan varies, depending on which source is used, from ca 500,000 to over 1 million inhabitants. This considerable variation is due to the fact that prior to 2005 there were no precise figures for the population of Bhutan. When Bhutan applied to join the United Nations in 1971, the third king, Jigme Dorje Wangchuck, was advised to provide a figure of at least 1 million head of population, as a smaller population figure might affect their application in a negative way. Consequently, Jigme Dorje Wangchuck, although he could not have known the exact figure, estimated the population of Bhutan at 1 million inhabitants. During the following years, the annual reports assumed an average rate of population growth, and were soon quoting a figure of 1,300,000 for the population. In 2005, the first official census of the Bhutanese population took place, which returned 634,982 Bhutanese citizens – 301,387 women (47.5 per cent) and 333,595 men (52.5 per cent). When non-resident individuals are included (foreigners, tourists and Indian migrants working on the southern border of Bhutan) the number rises to 672,425. (See Population and Housing Census of Bhutan 2005, p.17); based on a population growth rate of 1.8 per cent, the population was calculated at 708,265 in 2011. (Statistical Yearbook of Bhutan 2012, p.1.) 3 Population and Housing Census of Bhutan 2005, p.20. 4 Sinha 2001, p.19ff. 5 Navara, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.31. 6 Statistical Yearbook of Bhutan 2012, p.XIV. 7 Lily Wangchhuk 2008, p.203ff. (Bhutanese authors are referred to by their full names in this book. Since there are only about 50 surnames in Bhutan, and Wangchuk, Dorje, Karma, Tashi, Sonam, etc. are the most common names, the intention is to avoid confusion). 8 An important reason for this is that many centuriesold textual sources have been destroyed by fire – for instance, during the 1897 earthquake. 9 Lopen Pemala, in: Bartholomew and Johnston 2008, p.30. 10 In Tibet, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel was recognised as the reincarnation of Drukpa Scholar Pema Karpo 86

(1527 – 92), who in his turn was a reincarnation of Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (1161 – 1211), the founder of the Drukpa-Kagyu School. However, his enemies refuted this. (Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.192; Schicklgruber 2009, p.48.) 11 Aris 1994, p.27; Schicklgruber 2009, p.48ff. 12 According to Schicklgruber, the title of Shabdrung refers to Ngawang Namgyel’s career in the monastic and religious spheres and to his religious destiny. (Schicklgruber 2009, p.48.) 13 Schicklgruber 2009, p.50; Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.200. 14 Schicklgruber 2009, p.50. 15 Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.200. 16 When the Shabdrung died in 1651, there was nobody capable of succeeding him, so they resorted to announcing that Shabdrung had retired to meditate. With a view to preventing possible unrest, his death was kept a secret for more than fifty years. (Aris 1994, p.37f.); when the Je Khenpo finally announced the Shabdrung’s death in 1705, he presented a complex system for ensuring his reincarnation, involving the re-embodiment of the three Buddhist principles of Body, Speech and Mind. ‘Eventually, a triple system of reincarnation was sanctioned, allowing three different individuals all to be reincarnations of the Shabdrung, one representing the Shabdrung’s Body, the second his Speech, and the third, who was usually selected as the chief successor, the Shabdrung’s Mind. The problem with this system was that since reincarnations are usually recognised in very young children, for the first eighteen years of his reign the new Shabdrung was a minor. The main power thus fell to the Druk Desi who was usually unwilling to relinquish it later on. To make matters worse, the district governors or Dzongpons (now known as Dzong dhas), often rebelled against the central authority, deciding to rule their own region exactly as they wished. Thus, by the end of the nineteenth century, the dual system established by the Shabdrung which started so admirably, had all but collapsed.’ (Edmunds 1990, p.12.) 17 Around the turn of the century there were two influential provincial governors in Bhutan who ruled the country from their dzong: Paro Penlop in the west, and Trongsa Penlop in the centre of Bhutan.

18 Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.220. 19 Schicklgruber, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.25. 20 Schicklgruber 2009, p.55. 21 Ibid., p.77. 22 The kingdoms of Guge, Ladakh and Zanskar fell to their powerful neighbours, Tibet and India; Sikkim lost its independence to India; the kingdom of Mustang was annexed by Nepal, as was Tibet, finally, by China. 23 According to Manfred Kulessa, GNH was not invented by His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Rather, as Kulessa points out, ‘As a young ruler he had appropriated this idea from the international discussion, and, from his own cultural background, had formulated it as a national concept, and had gradually applied it to serious policy-making. Other prominent thinkers such as Barbara Ward, Robert Kennedy and Jan Tinbergen and even Farah Diba had not succeeded in doing this, although they had presented their ideas about GNH before he did.’ (Kulessa, in: Kulessa 2010, p.12.) The preamble to the USA Declaration of Independence of 4 July 1776 enshrines the pursuit of happiness: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’. ( wiki/United_States_Declaration_of_Independence; last accessed on 29.12.2013.) Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index includes a lengthy reference to the GNH concept in the Kingdom of Bhutan: ‘The 1729 legal code, which dates from the unification of Bhutan, declared that if the Government cannot create happiness (dekid) for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist.’ (Karma Ura, Sabina Alkire, Tshoki Zangmo and Karma Wangdi 2012, p.6.) 24 Rutland, in: Thunlam Newsletter 2 / 2009, p.31f. 25 Karma Ura, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.247. 26 The disciplinary texts (Skt. vinaya), together with the teachings of Buddha (Skt. sutra) and the scholastic /  philosophical texts (Skt. abhidharma), constitute what is known as the Three Baskets (Skt. tripitaka) of the canonical texts of Buddhas’ teachings. Accordingly, it

is also known as vinaya pitaka (‘Basket of Discipline’). 27 Driglam Namzhag 1999, p. XXXVII. 28 Karma Ura, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.247. 29 Ibid., p.247. 30 D  asho Rigzin Dorji, quoted in Dujardin, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.66. 31 National Assembly Secretariat 1998, vol. I, p.129; see Karma Phuntsho 2004, p.573. 32 The corpus of the Buddha’s direct teachings that have been translated into Tibetan is called kanjur; they were compiled by the learned Buton Rinchendrup (1290 – 1364) and other masters. Depending on the edition, they comprise between 100 and 108 volumes. (; last accessed on 03.02.2012.) 33 Driglam Namzhag 1999, p.XXXIV – XXXV. 34 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.35. 35 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.30, 36; Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.55. 36 Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.55f. 37 Ibid., p.55. 38 Bean, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.17. 39 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.119. 40 Ibid., p.122. 41 Ibid., p.122. 42 L  yonchhen is the current substitute for the title lyonpo (Dzk. ‘Minister’). 43 All the prices mentioned in this book relate to my field work in 2007; the same applies to the exchange rate. 44 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.122. 45 Ibid., p.100. 46 See subsection Putting on and Wearing a kira, and chapter on Bhutan’s Textile Art in Transition. 47 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.106. 48 Ibid., p.101. 49 Ibid., p.99. 50 Ibid., p.105. 51 Ibid., p.101. 52 Ibid., p.105. 53 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.37. 54 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.105. 55 Ibid., p.91. 56 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.37. 87

57 Driglam Namzhag 1999, p.171. 59 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.37. 60 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.124f. 61 Ibid., p.125. 62 Ibid., p.125. 63 Ibid., p.125. 64 Driglam Namzhag 1999, p.171. 65 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.38. 66 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.103. 67 Driglam Namzhag 1999, p.167f. 68 Ibid., p.172 – 176. 69 Ibid., p.178. 70 Ibid., p.177 – 180. 71 Ibid., p.181f. 72 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994‚ p.210. 73 Driglam Namzhag 1999, p.223. 74 Ibid., p.197. 75 Ibid., p.197. 76 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994‚ p.103. 77 Driglam Namzhag 1999, p.207. 78 Ibid., p.194. 79 Karma Phuntsho, in: Karma Ura and Sonam Kinga 2004, p.564–579. 80 Ibid., p.574. 81 Ibid., p.574. 82 Ibid., p.575. 83 Ibid., p.575. 84 Ibid., p.577f. 85 Given that Bhutan features a great variety of languages, the national language Dzongkha acts as a lingua franca. Dzongkha is based on a West Bhutanese language, which used to be restricted to the area up to the Pele La pass in the Black Mountains of Central Bhutan. It plays an important part in the unification of the nation, and in promoting the identity of Bhutan. Recently, it has been strongly promoted: Dzongkha is the official language of government and is taught in all the schools of Bhutan. Dzongkha was only written down about 40 years ago; prior to that it was purely a spoken language. 86 Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.43. 88

87 Ibid., p.43. 88 An introduction to the linguistic variety of Bhutan is provided by van Driem, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.87 – 106. 89 Both terms are attested in the literature – mon and mön –; mön is a closer phonetic rendering. However, for the sake of consistency, the form mon is used in this book. Mon was originally a term used by the Tibetan population to describe all non-Buddhist lands to the south of the Himalayas; accordingly, the inhabitants of these regions were called monpa. Nowadays, the term monpa is used by Bhutanese people to describe the inhabitants of the Tawang region in the Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh as well as the indigenous ethnic groups of Central South Bhutan. Aris, together with Myers and Pommaret, distinguishes between three monpa groups in Arunachal Pradesh, which are linked to Bhutan through their history, religion and way of life. (Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.48ff.) 90 Dr Pema Gyamtsho, quoted by Gregor Verhufen in: Thunlam Newsletter 1 / 2011, p.12. 91; last accessed on 15.03.2013. 92 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.62. 93 Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck 2006, p.139f. 94 Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.47. 95 van Driem, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.88. 96 Pommaret, in Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.47. 97 Ibid., p.47; van Driem, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.88. 98 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.25. 99 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.50f. 100 Ibid., p.52. 101 Ibid., p.52. 102 The suffix -pa is used in Bhutan as well as in the entire Tibetan linguistic area to describe the inhabitants of a particular stretch of land; it is inserted before the final syllable. In the case of a region, the -pa ending is shortened to -p. Hence, the inhabitants of Laya are called Layap, those of

Paro Parop, and those of Haa, Haap. 103 Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.47. 104 Ibid., p.47. 105 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.185. 106 Ibid., p.184f. 107 Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.47. 108 Ibid., p.49. 109 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.27. 110 Dorji Wangchuk from Thimphu, 11th May 2007, interview. 111 Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.49f. 112 Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck 2006, p.188. 113 Tashi Dema, in: kuensel online, 26.09.2008: the-monpas-of-trongsa-are-monpas-no-more, last accessed on 24.02.2013. 114 Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck 2006, p.187. 115 Tashi Dema, in: kuensel online, 26.09.2008: the-monpas-of-trongsa-are-monpas-no-more, last accessed on 24.02.2013. 116 Dorji Wangchuk from Thimphu, 11th May 2007, interview. 117 Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.49. kuensel online, 01.02.2011: http://www.bhutan 118, last accessed on 28.02.2013. 119 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.184. 120 Nima Wangdi, in: kuensel online, 26.08.2008:, last accessed on 01.03.2013. 121 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.180. 122 Ibid., p.169f. 123 Klein 2006, p.79. 124 Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.50. 125 Ibid., p.50.

126 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.177. 127 Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.50. 128 Ibid., p.53. 129 Ibid., p.53. 130 Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck 2006, p.173. 131 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.47. 132 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.117. 133 Ibid., p.117. 134 Ibid., p.129. 135 Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck 2006, p.167. 136 Ibid., p.167. 137 See Altmann, Kyrgyz Felt Art in the Context of Nomadism and Shamanism 2005. 138 Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck 2006, p.167. 139 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.129. 140 Aum Sena from Radi, 15th April 2007, interview. 141 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.170. 142 Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck 2006, p.165f. 143 Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.58. 144 Ibid., p.55. 145 Ibid., p.55. 146 Ibid., p.55. 147 Ibid., p.55; Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck 2006, p.184. 148 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.126f. 149 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.51. 150 Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck 2006, p.130. 151 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.61. 152 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.170. 153 Pommaret, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.58. 154 Schicklgruber, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.16. 155 Kulessa, in: Thunlam Newsletter 1 / 2011, p.5. 156 Kulessa, in: Thunlam Newsletter 2 / 2009, p.27f.




opposite: The sacred mountain Jomolhari (7,315 m) at the border between Tibet and the Thimphu district of Bhutan is considered to be the abode of the goddess Aum Jomo, a female protector deity, who was bound under oath by Guru Rinpoche to protect Buddhism, the land, and the local people.

The mountains, which on the one hand, threaten humans with avalanches and rock falls and, on the other hand, elicit a deep inner delight when the sun lights up their tips, are especially associated with deities.

Given that Bhutan’s art and culture have always been deeply embedded in a religious context, it is absolutely essential to take a deeper look at Bhutanese Buddhism and pre-Buddhist religions if we are to understand Bhutanese textile art. Although the written sources do not provide much information about this period and its religious concepts, they do suggest that a combination of animistic beliefs and shamanistic practices predominated in pre-Buddhist times. Animistic and shamanistic traditions can be found among ethnic groups all the way from Siberia to the Ganges delta, and they are attested to in Tibet as well as in Bhutan by the Bon religion, which has established a powerful pantheon for all their deities and demons, as well as a wealth of ritual practices.1 BON – ANIMISTIC WORLD VIEW WITH SHAMANISTIC PRACTIcES The Bon religion is often described as a fusion of animistic and shamanistic elements; nevertheless, it is not easy to find an adequate translation


of the word Bon. In his work on the Bon religion, Hoffmann employs the terms animism and shamanism, and claims that ‘The original Bon religion was characterised by the Tibetans’ total dependence on their natural environment. In order to deal with the fear and respect that nature and its manifestations elicited in their conscious minds, the Tibetans worshiped nature spirits and used magic and divination.’ 2 According to their own tradition, the Bon religion was founded by Tonpa Shenrab Miwo3 and is supposed to have originated in an area called Tazig. Snellgrove contributes the following: ‘The Bonpo […] claim that their scriptures come originally from a land known as Tazig (modern Tajikistan), suggesting to them the western end of the ancient silk route bordering on Gilgit and Khotan.’ 4 He goes on to say, ‘I suppose that Bon is best described as a heterodox form of Tibetan Buddhism, being more ancient in its origins than the more orthodox forms of Tibetan Buddhism.’ 5 According to Hoffmann, the history of Bon can be divided into three periods: a preBuddhist time, which featured an animistic and shamanistic worldview; a period when an organised priesthood and an actual doctrine emerged;

and a period when the adherents of Bon were obliged by the supremacy of Buddhism to retreat to more remote areas and to adopt vital aspects of the Buddhist religion.6 Since 1977, the Bon religion has been officially recognised by the Dalai Lama as the Fifth Wisdom School of Tibetan Buddhism, alongside the Four Schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Samten G. Karmay comments on this as follows: ‘Bon has even gained currency as a teaching called Bon Buddhism. This has been further stretched to “The Fifth School of Tibetan Buddhism”. It is true that Bon does have the look of an amalgam of different beliefs in much the same way as Tibetan Buddhism itself ’.7 In Bhutan, a religious interpretation of the landscape and its deities, and ideas about the spiritual dimension of nature, can still be directly experienced. The mountains, which on the one hand, threaten humans with avalanches and rock falls and, on the other hand, elicit a deep inner delight when the sun lights up their tips, are especially associated with deities. ‘The sacred mountain’, Schicklgruber explains, ‘is the spiritual centre of a territory, it serves to protect the inhabitants under certain conditions, its worship (re-)establishes its

relationship to the people, its character is more similar to that of men than to that of the gods-on-high, its space has to be kept pure, and the mountain god’s position is subordinate to Buddhism.’ 8 However, the mountains are not the only forms that contain divinities or refer explicitly to them. All entities of the natural environment, be they rivers, lakes, cliffs or forests, have supernatural powers attributed to them. In terms of an animistic worldview, the entire environment that people live in possesses a spiritual essence; the whole of nature is inhabited by deities and spirits. Furthermore, animism encompasses the concept of a three-fold world consisting of heaven, earth, and the underworld. These three cosmological levels are, on the one hand, clearly divided from each other and, on the other hand, interwoven, because the spiritual sphere overlaps with the ordinary material level and is present within it. Our familiar, workaday and perceptible world is only one of many worlds, according to animistic notions. Bon is a complex system of beliefs, myths and ritual practices. Bon priests (bonpo) are required to act as intermediaries or messengers between these various levels of

According to an animistic worldview, the entire environment that people live in possesses a spiritual essence.


above: Serpent deities (lu) have their own abode, called lukhang. left: This image of the Six Symbols of Longevity, displayed as a wall painting at the Institute of Traditional Medicine Services in Thimphu, is referred to as tshering drugkhor. Although of Chinese origin, it also appears in Bhutanese art and represents a life lived in unity with nature. It shows an old man with a rosary symbolizing continuity and purity, two deer, who were believed to live to a great age, two cranes symbolizing happiness, fidelity and longevity, a rock, a stream and a pine tree. The man symbolises the world of humans, the deer the world of the animals that dwell on the ground, the cranes the world of all flying creatures, the rock earth, the stream water, and the tree the world of all the plants. The man who lives in unity with all others has attained a great age and shows that long life can be achieved when one lives in unity with nature. Respect for nature was present in Bhutan long before the introduction of Buddhism, and continues to this day to influence the rituals that are still practised in Bhutan.

existence. Whether by making contact with higher powers when in a state of trance or by acting as mediums for deities, demons and spirits, they always represent the relationship between the human world and transcendental reality, and serve as funnels for people’s wishes and needs. The great respect that people feel for nature and its manifestations contributes to the high social standing of these Bon priests. To some extent, this is still the case today. The relationship between Bon and Buddhism is well summed up by this Bhutanese man, quoted here by Christian Schicklgruber: ‘I would never dare to ask the Buddha to keep my cows healthy or to protect me in war.’ 9 Instead, local deities are called on, and Schicklgruber offers the following expla94

nation: ‘According to the pre-Buddhist traditional understanding, every rock and piece of earth belongs to a shidag (gzhi bdag), a non-human “owner of the earth”. In this context, “earth” stands for the foundation of human existence in its entirety. […] But not all shidag are powerful. In the Himalayas and their northern high plateau, height is an abstract entity constituting purity, power and authority. A three-tiered model (lha bn klu rigs gsum) explains the universe: heaven above (gnam), the human sphere in the middle (bar) and the underworld below (‘og). Each has its own category of non-human beings: above are the heavenly gods (gnam ki lha), in the middle the owners of the land and the tutelary deities of men and Buddhism (btsan, yul lha, dgra

lha, chos skyong), and below the serpent-like beings (klu) [who inhabit the lakes, rivers and springs].’ 10 Accordingly, the heavenly gods should show the way out of the circle of reincarnation, while the deities of the middle level protect humans and Buddhism, and the spirits of the lower world preserved the fertility of the fields and living things. Schicklgruber’s description of this animistic cosmos has already provided an overall idea of the immense number of Bon divinities. Listing all of them lies well beyond the scope of this book; Mynak Tulku has listed 360 different spirits and demons causing diseases, along with 80,000 malevolent spirits or evils causing obstacles or hindrances.11 Among the most malicious of these spirits is the gyalpo, the ‘king’; followed by kow, who accompanies the gyalpo, phoshi, the ‘spirit of the dead man’ and moshi, the ‘spirit of the dead woman’, not forgetting nyelpo, mem, dud or dudmo, to cite but a few.12 Numerous local deities are still honoured and invoked by Bhutanese people by engaging in as many different ritual practices. This topic will be discussed in greater detail in the chapter on Colours, Threads and Cloths in Ritual Contexts. DEVELOPMENT AND NATURE OF BUDDHISM IN BHUTAN The teachings of Buddha date back to Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha who lived in the 5th century BCE and was born in Lumbini / Nepal. His life was divided into three parts: he grew up as Prince Siddharta Gautama in a noble family, he left his father’s palace to seek religious enlightenment, and finally disseminated his teachings as Buddha, ‘the enlightened one’ or ‘the awakened one’. ‘Siddhartha’s awakening from the illusion of permanence gives us reason to refer to him as the Buddha, the Awakened One.’ 13 Shakyamuni Buddha,

‘The enlightened one from the Shakya clan’, realised that human existence basically consists of suffering, aging, sickness and death, and that fear, anger, arrogance, jealousy, greed, and ignorance trap living beings within this eternal circle of rebirth. Having gained this insight into the ultimate highest truth he became a teacher and taught his method for putting an end to suffering by following the ‘Middle Way’. Shakyamuni Buddha told his pupils to consider his teaching carefully, to test it out in practical ways, to test its value for themselves, and only after establishing its value, to be mindful of it. ‘Bhikkhus,14 the teaching is merely a vehicle to describe the truth. Don’t mistake it for the truth itself. […] Bhikkhus, all the teaching I have given you, such as the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path [also known as the ‘Middle Way’], the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Seven Factors of Awakening, Impermanence, Non-self, Suffering, Emptiness, Signlessness, and Aimlessness, should be studied in an intelligent, open manner. Use the teachings to help you reach liberation. Do not become attached to them.’ 15 Shakyamuni Buddha, who is known both in Bhutan and Tibet as Sangay Shakya Thubpa, or simply Sangay, embodies transcendental wisdom of Buddhism and its timeless validity, and all the schools of Buddhism are based on his teachings about the ‘Middle Way’. As mentioned earlier, Buddhism made its first appearance in Bhutan in the 7 th century, when the Kyichu lhakhang was built in Paro (Western Bhutan) and the Jampe lhakhang in Bumthang (Central Bhutan) by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo,16 albeit without suppressing the pre-Buddhist religious practices, such as the Bon religion. The central doctrine of Buddhism, Hinayana,17 initially proved too stringent and demanding for people who were still caught up in their animistic customs. The development of Mahayana Buddhism18 led to the syncretic adoption of religious traditions, a process

Kyichu lhakhang (left ) in Paro and Jampe lhakhang (right ) in Bumthang are considered to be the first two Buddhist temples in Bhutan, built by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century.



that did not affect the core teachings of Buddhism and yet assigned the ancient non-Buddhist rituals a place within it. Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), the Tantric teacher from Uddiyana,19 who is still revered today as the Second Buddha, converted the local deities and demons of the Bon religion and their powers to Buddhism in the 8th century, by vanquishing them through his magic powers, and integrating them as protective deities into the Buddhist pantheon. By proceeding in this way, he successfully engaged with Bhutanese understanding and defused the unconscious, collective opposition to the new Buddhist ideals that was felt by a population which retained its animistic beliefs. At the same time, he instilled in the people’s minds an awareness of the central tenet of Mahayana, which is compassion and non-violence. After this forceful encounter with Buddhism, a dark period of suppression followed in the 9th and 10th centuries. Given that many vital impulses came from Tibet, certain events in Tibetan history had a direct impact on Bhutan, as in 836, for instance, when Langdarma was named King of Tibet. Langdarma was hostile to Buddhism; he re-established the ancient rights of the Bon religion and began suppressing Buddhism. This led to internal political disputes, which weakened Tibet. Many Tibetan monks fled to Bhutan during this period. Given that Buddhism had been mainly established among the Tibetan elite, numerous noble families were among the refugees. They settled in the valleys of Bhutan and gradually extended their power. Later on, they even fought each other. When the Tibetan king Langdarma was murdered by a monk called Lhalungpa Pelgyi Dorje in 842, Tibet was thrown into political turmoil. Tibet lost its unity; Buddhism was almost extinct and survived in only a few remote areas. The beginning of the 11th century saw the onset of a new flowering of Buddhism in Tibet. In Bhutan, this was marked by the discovery of the ‘hidden treasures’ (terma) of the Nyingma tradition. These terma, which had been concealed by Guru Rinpoche and his disciples, included mystical texts that contained sophisticated religious concepts; treasures which had been preserved during the time of decline under King Langdarma and which were intended, when the time was appropriate, to be rediscovered by ‘treasure revealers’ (terton), who passed them down to their disciples. The terma had been discovered as physical objects, often in rocks and lakes, or had appeared in visions that were experienced by the terton. These revelations include, for instance, the dances that will be discussed in detail in the chapter on Sacred Festivals and Dances. The terton who discovered the terma were individuals of great spiritual insight, who were often incarnations of Guru Rinpoche’s 25 main disciples. According to

his prophecies, which revealed where and when they would be found, and by whom, some of these Buddhist texts started turning up in Bhutan in the 11th century, along with ritual objects and reliquaries. Among the most popular terma is the bardo thoedol, which was discovered by a 14th century terton called Karma Lingpa, and which was later known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Given its importance for the sacred dances of Bhutan, it will be discussed in greater detail in the chapter Sacred Festivals and Dances, too. The Nyingma tradition developed a dual form of transmission; the ‘long oral transmission’ from teacher to pupil, through an unbroken line, and the ‘short transmission’ of the ‘hidden treasures’ (terma). Consequently, a many-layered system involving different lines of transmission developed over the centuries, which were continually supplementing the teachings of the Nyingma School with new teachings, adapted to their times. This ‘second expansion’ of Buddhism in Tibet gave rise to numerous different religious schools competing for new circles of influence, which also reached neighbouring Bhutan. However, Buddhism did not actually become embedded in Bhutan until the 13th century, and it was only in the 17th century, when a unified Buddhist state was achieved under Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Led by the protective deity Mahakala, he was inspired to create a realm where Buddhism could spread in peace. Like a fortress, the country was conceived to confront its external enemies, who were bent on destroying their religion by force, and its internal enemies, hate, greed and ignorance, which bar the way to enlightenment.20 The Shabdrung codified the teachings and traditions of Buddhism that are still widely applied in Bhutan today.

opposite: Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), who is still revered today as the Second Buddha, converted the local deities and demons of the Bon religion and their powers to Buddhism in the 8th century.

VAJRAYANA – TANTRIC BUDDHISM Bhutan is the last Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas and the only country in the world where the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism, known as the ‘Diamond Vehicle’, (Skt. vajrayana), constitutes the official state religion. Vajrayana Buddhism is identical to Tibetan Buddhism and is also called the ‘mantra Vehicle’ (Skt. mantrayana) or ‘tantra Vehicle’ (Skt. tantrayana). The vajra (Tib. dorje), which means literally ‘Diamond Sceptre’, is a symbol that was derived from Hindu mythology; it stands for the indestructibility and irresistibility of Tantric Buddhism. Sometimes the Tibetan word dorje is also translated as ‘diamond thunderbolt’. According to Schicklgruber, different connotations are ascribed to both these terms. If the ritual object is being used to signify the eternal truth of Buddhism, it is translated as ‘diamond sceptre’, but when being used as a tool against negative for97

The dorje, the quintessential symbol of Vajrayana Buddhism, symbolises the characteristics of both a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (irresistible force).


ces, ‘thunderbolt’ is a more suitable translation.21 Pure and hard as a diamond, the dorje represents an enlightenment that is as translucent as glass. ‘Vajrayana mythologises the doctrine of emptiness and says, the pupil will be returned after performing a number of different rites, to his true diamond nature, receive a diamond body and become a diamond being (Vajrasattva).’ 22 The terms Tantrayana and Tantrism are derived from tantra (Skt. ‘thread’, ‘weave’, ‘interconnection’, ‘continuum’, ‘divine energy’) and are based on a collection of ancient sacred texts that have been dated to between the 3rd and 10th centuries. These texts contain secret teachings about the transformation of ‘impure vision’ into ‘pure vision’, highly sophisticated meditation practices, whereby selected practitioners are initiated by a master and are working with the body, energy, and mind, after a long period of preparation. Consequently, a central role was ascribed to the close, unconditional relationship between a teacher and his disciples. The teacher, his initiations and power transferences, along with a complex system of rituals, meditation practices, and yoga exercises, make up the core features of the Tantric Way. Tantra can be divided into six classes, each with its own level of difficulty; the Kriya tantra (‘action tantra’), the Charya tantra (‘conduct tantra’), and the Yoga tantra, belong to the three outer classes of tantra;

the three inner classes of tantra, which are specific to the Nyingma School consist of the Mahayoga tantra, the Anuyoga tantra, and finally the Atiyoga tantra (which is synonymous with dzogchen (‘the highest perfection’). The three perfect inner tantra are also known as Anuttarayoga tantra (‘the highest yoga tantra’). Beside Tantric practices such as meditation and visualisation, recitations of mantra (‘holy syllables’) are also included, which has given rise to the term Mantrayana. The ‘Diamond Vehicle’ is distinguished from the general ‘Great Vehicle’, especially in terms of its powerful, rapid and consequently not entirely safe methods, whereby inner spiritual powers are activated, resulting in an expanded awareness that is capable of encountering the subconscious, or indeed the unknown, and of achieving enlightenment. In Tibetan Buddhism, Tantrism represents the highest level in the development of Buddhism. Nevertheless, Vajrayana Buddhism is based on the same beliefs as Mahayana and Hinayana; on Buddha’s teachings about the dependent creation of all phenomena, leading to the law of causality, and the doctrine of karma, whereby human beings are reborn, following the law of cause and effect, and can hope for release from the cycle of rebirth and for the prospect of enlightenment, for instance by entering nirvana and overcoming the suffering that forms an inevitable part of all existence.

THE RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS OF BHUTAN ‘Lord Buddha is said to have taught no less than 84,000 dharma teachings to combat the 84,000 delusions. He ‘turned’ (that is, taught) the wheel of Hinayana, the wheel of Mahayana and the wheel of Tantrayana. Almost all these teachings were translated into Tibetan and compiled in the Kanjur (bKa’ ‘gyur), which runs to 108 volumes, while a collection of 225 volumes known as Tenjur (bsTan ‘gyur) contains early Indian commentaries on the Buddha’s teachings.’ 23 Buddhism can refer not only to deeply impenetrable and convoluted sacred texts and spiritual expositions; it has also produced numerous schools, which promulgate different interpretations of Buddhist teachings. These juxtaposed schools can be very confusing, in that they recognise different important texts and commentaries by their own spiritual teachers, and emphasise theory and practice in different ways, apply their own individual style of meditation, and have their own way of performing ritual and of worshipping their protective deities. However they all basically adhere to the same fundamental concepts of dharma. They all seek refuge in the

Triple Gem (Buddha, the ideal of Enlightenment, dharma, his teachings, and sangha, the community of his followers), hope for enlightenment and to overcome suffering, and accept the central tenets of Buddhism: the ‘Four Noble Truths’ 24 and the ‘Noble Eightfold Path’, 25 which lead to the cessation of suffering. Consequently, the various schools are generally not easily distinguished from each other; instead, they complete each other, sharing similar features with one or several other schools. At this point, it may be useful to provide a rough outline of the religious schools of Tibetan Buddhism, especially the ones that are present in Bhutan: within the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, four major schools can be distinguished: the Gelug, the ‘Way of Virtue’ School, whose members are described as ‘Yellow Hats’ and whose spiritual leader is the Dalai Lama, who is regarded as the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara (Skt.) or Chenrezig (Tib.), also known as the Bodhisattva of Compassion; the Sakya, the ‘Pale Earth’ School, which is centred on the deity Manjushri (Skt.) or Jampelyang (Tib.), the Bodhisattva of Wisdom; the Nyingma School, which is based on Guru Rinpoche, and finally the Kagyu School, ‘The Oral Lineage’, who refer

The Nyingma tradition is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.


Tango Monastery in Thimphu valley was one of Bhutan's first Drukpa monasteries.


to Marpa (1012 – 1097), who studied the Tantric lineage of Tilopa and Naropa, and brought it to Tibet. The last two schools are also represented in Bhutan. The Nyingma School, the ‘Old School’ or ‘School of the ancient translation’, is considered to be the eldest school and also referred to as ‘Red Hat sect’. Nyingma literally means ‘ancient’, and refers to the use of ancient translations of the Buddha’s teachings into Tibetan. The Nyingma tradition has produced many important spiritual masters; it is mainly present in the central and eastern regions of the country. Drukpa Kagyu, one of the eight sub-schools of the Kagyu tradition, tends to be concentrated in Western Bhutan. Kagyu can be translated literally as ‘transmission’, and it conveys the great importance that is attributed to the personal transmission from teacher to pupils. The teachers are honoured as enlightened masters, who initiate selected pupils into secret teachings and meditation practices. Consequently, many independent schools and sub-schools have arisen on the basis of having been founded by a particular charismatic master. In Bhutan the Drukpa Kagyu is the dominant school and the state religion. This school gave the kingdom its Bhutanese name, Druk Yul, and is dedicated to maintaining the oral tradition of transmission that was started by Lingchen Repa (1128 – 1188) and Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (1161 – 1211). The latter founded numerous monasteries, including Ralung Monastery in Tibet, the centre of the Drukpa Kagyu. In 1222, one of the Drukpa Kagyu disciples, Lama Phajo Drukgom Shigpo (1184 – 1251), was sent as a missionary to Western Bhutan, where he built Phajoding and Tango in Thimphu valley as Bhutan’s first Drukpa

monasteries. By the time of his death in 1251, the Drukpa Kagyu School was already well established in Western Bhutan. The period that came after the 11th century, in particular, saw the arrival of several important holy men and Tibetan scholars in Bhutan, where crowds of disciples soon clustered around them. The successors of these clerics formed the local elites and helped establish Buddhist communities in the various valleys. Drukpa Kunley (1455 – 1529) is surely one of the most remarkable individuals who spread the teachings of the Drukpa Kagyu. As the exponent of ‘crazy wisdom’, he broke with all the conventions, norms and formal rules of Buddhism and society, and was definitely the 15th century’s most controversial holy man. Drukpa Kunley’s teachings often took the form of blasphemous, obscene songs and legends full of subtle, coarse wit. In Bhutan, this ‘Divine Madman’, as Drukpa Kunley is often called, is still held in great honour, precisely on account of his rejection of dogmatic thought, his unconventional way of life, and his eccentric behaviour. ‘He is so beloved by the Bhutanese that they often like to think that his title refers to a Bhutanese origin rather than the Drukpa Kagyu School.’ 26 Another highly revered individual who belonged to the Drukpa lineage was Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, who has already been mentioned. As the head abbot of all the Drukpa monasteries in Bhutan, the Je Khenpo officiated, and continues to do so today, as the spiritual leader of both the Drukpa Kagyu and the whole of Bhutan. His spiritual rank was comparable to that of the king in the lay world. Both the Drukpa Kagyu and the

Nyingma traditions have not only produced many important ‘treasure revealers’ (terton) such as Longchen Rabjampa (1308 – 1363), Dorje Lingpa (1346 – 1405) or Pema Lingpa (1450 – 1521), they are also followed by the royal Wangchuck dynasty, and they continue to coexist in contemporary Bhutan, in the spirit of tolerance. Right up until the present time, these two schools of Buddhism have influenced every aspect of life, from state policy to everyday human affairs. RELIGION IN PRACTIcE In Bhutan, popular religion spans the whole of their faith system, from believing in demons to complex philosophical concepts and difficult forms of meditation. Schicklgruber describes the expression and practice of religion in Bhutan as follows: ‘The religious traditions established by the great masters form the basis of a system of meditative and ritual practices which aim at release from the cycle of rebirths. However the elaboration of such practices, as well as knowledge of the philosophic texts, is reserved for the monks in the monasteries.

The mainly rural population also regards entering nirvana as the great goal of their religious activities, but for its daily survival needs divine support.’ 27 In fact, Buddhism, as practised by the lay community, mainly consists of prayers for Buddha, Guru Rinpoche and other deities of the Tantric pantheon. Given that they believe that their daily survival depends on the favour of local deities, it is just as effective to worship these locally effective tutelary deities, who offer protection against malevolent demons and every kind of hindrance, ensure fertility, and maintain the social order by ensuring that its norms are observed. In order to live together in harmony, the people see it as their duty to show respect for their local deities. Should they fail in this, the wrathful deities can inflict harm on individuals, families, and entire villages. Consequently, there is great pressure to observe social norms, because if only one person acts against these rules and principles, the deities could turn again the whole village.28 Indeed, this happens when their repose is disturbed, and when they receive no offerings. The generalised worship also includes spiritual teachers, who are viewed as reincarnations of great lamas, and are addressed

A Buddhist practitioner turns the prayer wheels clockwise while repeating the mantra 'Om mani padme hum' in order to accumulate merit.



by the title of Rinpoche (‘Precious One’). The faith of the Bhutanese population is also expressed in daily recitations of mantra with the help of a prayer chain (Dzk. pchem, Skt. mala), by spinning a prayer wheel (mani khorlo), by presenting morning offerings in the form of butter lamps and incense on their own house altar, and, when visiting a temple or monastery, by placing gifts and offerings, such as butter lamps, incense, or white silk scarves (khada) on the altars, and by donating money, etc. to the monks and high-ranking lamas for their temples and monasteries, by venerating relics, by setting up prayer flags (lung ta), by creating or restoring religious scrolls (thangka) and statues, by producing miniature chorten and clay tablets (tsatsa), by undertaking pilgrimages to holy places, by walking around Buddhist monuments (Dzk. chorten, Skt. stupa), by building or restoring religious monuments, by taking part in religious festi-

vals (such as tshechu) and collective blessings (wang) or collective initiations into religious texts (lung) by a great spiritual teacher, and by arranging religious rituals (Dzk. rimdro, Skt. puja), which are performed by monks on specific occasions. All these activities serve to acquire merit for the future life, with the general aim of quitting the cycle of rebirth and achieving enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. The religious practice of the monks is much more complex. Their duties also include assisting the lay community in the exercise of their religious offices and rituals. The rituals of Bhutan, in which textiles play an important part, will be treated in the next chapter, Colours, Threads and Cloths in Ritual Contexts. Life in the monastic communities will be discussed at greater length in the chapter on Gender-Specific Attributions in Bhutanese Society.

Notes 1 According to Klimburg-Salter, between 20 to 25 per cent of the Tibetan population adheres to the Bon religion. Furthermore, Bon traditions are found in Mustang (Nepal), Himachal Pradesh (North India), among the Naxi in Yunnan (China) and in Bhutan. (Klimburg-Salter 2013, p.7.) 2 Hoffmann 1950. Quoted in Manfred Kremser and Veronica Futterknecht: Einführung in die Religions- und Bewusstseinsforschung, rebespektrum-titel.html; last accessed on 11.03.2013. 3 Kvaerne, in: Karmay and Watt 2007, p.83. 4 Snellgrove, in: Karmay and Watt 2007, p.11. 5 Ibid., p.11. 6 Ibid., p.11. 7 Karmay, in: Karmay and Watt 2007, p.55. 8 Schicklgruber, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.162. 9 Ibid., p.161. 10 Ibid., p.161. 11 Mynak Tulku, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.154. 12 These details were taken from a speech by Karma Pedey at ICTAM VII, 2009. 13 Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche 2007, p.16. 14 B  hikkhus are ordained Buddhist monks; Buddhist nuns are called bhikkhunis. 15 Thich Nhat Hanh, 1991, p.384. 16 According to Tibetan records, the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo was married to Bhrikuti, the Nepalese princess, and Wen Cheng, the daughter of the Chinese emperor of the Tang Dynasty. Both princesses were Buddhists, and it was their influence that drove the King to introduce Buddhism and combat the ancient Bon religion. 17  H  inayana (Skt. ‘Smaller or Lesser Vehicle’) is often used synonymously for Theravada Buddhism, the oldest branch of Buddhism still in existence today, and the only surviving line of the Hinayana. 18 M  ahayana (Skt. ‘Great Vehicle’) is, after the Hinayana, the most recent of the two great Buddhist traditions, which have in their turn

opposite: Religious faith in Bhutan is expressed in many ways, including, for instance, visiting a temple, offering miniature chorten or clay tablets (tsatsa), burning incense, or reciting mantra.

produced many new schools. The term Vehicle (Skt. yana) should be grasped in terms of spiritual progress; it indicates a way or path, along which all living creatures can achieve a higher form of existence, according to their capacities. Based on the older teachings of the Hinayana or Theravada, which are primarily about personal liberation, the Mahayana tradition, which arose in the 1st century BC, gave rise to a great sense of responsibility among its followers, and to compassion for all living creatures on the path of salvation. The highest ideal of the Mahayana is a Bodhisattva, an ‘enlightened (bodhi) being (sattva)’, who, in his compassion for all other living creatures, has renounced his own entrance into nirvana until all living creatures have attained enlightenment. 19 The kingdom of Uddiyana lies in the Swat valley of what is now northern Pakistan. Patrul Rinpoche provides us with more detail when describing that the kingdom of Uddiyana is lying to the West of India, being close to Lake Kutra in the region of Dhanakosa (Patrul Rinpoche 1994, p.338). According to Tibetan tradition, Padmasambhava grew up in Uddiyana as a foster son of King Indrabhuti. Neither his accession to the kingship nor his marriage were enough to bind him to the royal house. He left the palace and studied every form of Buddhism as an itinerant monk. 20 Schicklgruber, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.14. 21 Schicklgruber 2009, p.111. 22 Conze 1956, p.170. 23 Mynak Tulku, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.137. 24 The ‘Four Noble Truths’ are the existence of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path, which leads to the cessation of suffering. 25 ‘The Noble Eightfold Path’ comprised right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. 26 Tulku Dugu Choegyal Gyamtso, in: Dowman and Paljor 2000, p.23. 27 Schicklgruber, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.14. 28 Ibid., p.14. 103



opposite: Colours, threads and cloths play a significant role in many ritual ceremonies. For instance, thread-cross constructions (doe) are used as 'spirit catchers'.

above and opposite: Religious ceremonies and healing rituals are all-pervading in daily life and are performed for the recovery of sick people as well as for the maintenance of people's health and the well-being of people in general (above left: ˇ okl). Photo by Ulrike C


Bhutan’s dominant syncretism, comprising Tantric Buddhism and pre-Buddhist, shamanic elements, can be most clearly observed in the country’s countless ritual ceremonies. Given that threads and textiles play a significant role in many of these rituals, light will also be cast on this aspect of Bhutanese culture. However, it would be far beyond the scope of this work to provide a full account of ritual practices in Bhutan, since as Mynak Tulku puts it, ‘The different rituals performed by Mahayana Buddhists are so varied that any attempt at a comprehensive summary can do no more than hint at the variety of beliefs and rituals in the religious domain.’ 1 Religious rituals open ways to transcendental experiences and also mitigate against those negative forces which threaten humans in everyday life. The rural population has always been particularly strongly aware of the relationship between humans and the local deities and spirits, which are manifested in various features of the landscape, as mentioned above. Their protective function is however, not limited to the lay world; they have also become an established part of Buddhist monasteries. Belief in supernatural forces and evil spirits is very deeply rooted in Bhutan. Karma Pedey’s statistical findings show that 22.7 per cent of all Bhutanese feel uncertain about supernatural forces and spirits. On the other hand, only 18 per cent feel threatened by animals, and a mere 13.2 per cent are worried about being attacked by a human.2 There are two different types of evil spirits: shindey, who refers to the evil spirit of a dead person, and sondey, who refers to the evil spirit of a living person. ‘Shin’ is derived from death or a dead person and ‘dey’ means evil spirit. ‘Son’ means a healthy, living person. It is believed that

the sondey leaves the body of a living person at night when they are sleeping or even when they are thinking of someone. In this way, the person can bring about different forms of disorder. The names of these evil spirits vary from region to region; they are without number, as are the rituals that appease these malevolent beings, invoke them, and soothe them. By repeating ritual practices on a regular basis, negative influences are neutralised and positive outcomes, including the relationship with the local deities, are promoted, thereby ensuring the general wellbeing of humanity. Religious ceremonies and healing rituals pervade every aspect of daily life and are performed especially for the recovery of sick people and the maintenance of people’s health. The type of ritual is generally adapted to the size and influence of the being that is addressed. Consequently, deities of large territories (yul lha) are appeased with appropriately lavish collective ritual ceremonies.3 While simple religious interventions, such as the daily offering of incense and butter lamps on the household altar (choesham) can be performed by every member of the family, the larger and more complex rituals are the preserve of the lamas and monks. Whether on the occasion of births, weddings, promotions, building projects, the start of a journey, or in the event of sickness or death, a suitable ritual process for every different kind of event and emergency is observed, thereby establishing a fixed element in the lives of the Bhutanese population. As Mynak Tulku explains, ‘Water or incense purification ceremonies are performed for birth, while sometimes a simple initiation for long life is performed. Incense and water purification ceremonies and consecrations with the presentation of the eight lucky signs, initiation for a long life, etc., are performed for pro-

motions and marriages. Offerings of torma, fireoffering, ceremonies and the long life initiation are performed against sickness, while fire-offering ceremonies and initiation for a departed person are performed to overcome misfortune in the intermediate state (bar do) and to help rebirth in a better state of existence.’ 4 Normally, it is up to the families to decide how often lamas should be invited into the home to perform rituals, and on which occasions. Similarly, the hosts decide how extensive each ritual ceremony will be, and how many people will attend it, because they are the ones who must pay for the ritual activity. Lamas will be invited at least once a year to perform the annual ritual within the family circle. In Bhutan, ritual ceremonies are called rimdro, or are referred to as puja in Sanskrit. Generally speaking, a distinction is made between rituals that are performed with a particular purpose in mind, and those which are directed at specific deities. The first type of ritual practice can be further divided into four categories; rituals of peaceful actions, rituals for prosperity, rituals of subjugation, and rituals of forceful actions against hostile forces. The second type of ritual can be directed at Tantric divinities as much as at local protective deities.5 Colours, threads and cloths assume an important role in many rituals; especially in healing rituals. In Bhutan, many illnesses are still associated with cases of possession. In the remote regions of the country, the availability of modern medical care has had very little influence on the worldview of the locals; many Bhutanese people would rather insist on performing the appropriate rituals before they take an ill person to hospital. This attitude is based on the assumption that medical treatment will only make the patient’s illness worse if it is

due to a spirit attack.6 Furthermore, for the rural population, rituals are often their only means of coping with a difficult situation such as illness or death. According to Lopen Pemala,7 former director of the National Library in Thimphu, there are three kinds of illness: the first kind includes physical illnesses that can be healed by medical treatment. The second kind is based on the Buddhist doctrine of karma (Dzk. lay), the spiritual concept of moral causality, whereby every physical and spiritual action produces an inevitable consequence and every human being is reborn, in line with the principle of cause and effect (Dzk. gyum-dre). Consequently, a moral life can bring about good karma and positive results, while evil actions produce bad karma and have negative consequences. These karmic consequences may not actually take place during a person’s lifetime; they are just as likely to manifest in their next life. For Lopen Pemala, it was clear that the person concerned will be affected by them, since nobody can escape the effects of the law of action, cause and effect (lay gyum-dre). Every individual is responsible for his or her own karma. Thus, if an illness is due to a person’s karma, no medicine can help. The affected person is the only one who can improve his or her condition, by acquiring good karma. Health and personal merits are thus shown to be inescapably bound up with each other. A thangka from the Institute of Traditional Medicine Services in Thimphu (see p.108) shows the Wheel of Five Elements in Healing and Treatment. Fundamental ignorance gives rise to desire, hatred and delusion (depicted by a cock, a snake and a pig in the centre), which in turn give rise to the three humours wind, bile and phlegm. Diseases are caused when there are imbalances in these three humours. 107


The third form of illness is caused by evil spirits and demons and can only be resolved by means of divination and the ritual ceremonies that are directed against negative forces.8 Rituals (rimdro) can be applied in the event of an acute illness, or as a preventive measure. According to Drungtsho 9 Tandin Phurpa, there are auspicious days (la-za /  so-za) and inauspicious days (shey-za) for starting a traditional medical treatment or conducting a rimdro.10 The favourable time for the required ritual is established by consulting an astrologer. Astrologers (tsip) are qualified in mathematics, astronomy, and astrology, and enjoy a very high social standing within Bhutanese society. By applying astrological calculations, the tsip can determine the auspicious date and time for the rimdro. His calculations are based on the Tibetan and Bhutanese lunisolar calendar, a system for computing time that relies on a 12 and a 60-year cycle. Within the 12-year cycle, each year is assigned to a particular ani-

mal in the East Asian cycle. The twelve animal signs are the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog and Pig. The 60-year cycle combines these twelve animal signs with the five elements, wood, fire, earth, iron and water. Each element is associated with two consecutive years, first in its male aspect (Tib. pho), then in its female aspect (Tib. mo). The elements of each particular conjunction influence the lives of everyone born in that year. The rituals themselves are performed by lamas, Tantric masters (ngagpa), and lay monks (gomchen). In cases of acute illness, a Bon priest (bonpo), oracle healer or medium (female: neljorma / pamo, male: pawo / pawa),11 will be brought in to help. Their function is to diagnose and cure illness through different rituals. They enter a trance state in order to discover the cause of the illness, to appease the angry deity that is involved, and to advise the patient. Neljorma and pawo are the first to be

top left and lower right: Many rimdro require ritual objects like a diamond sceptre (dorje), a bell (drilbu), and a hand drum (damaru). top right: Lamas and lay monks (gomchen) performing a ritual (rimdro). lower left: Pamo are female mediums who are possessed by divine powers. Pamo Norbu Lhamo was invited to Bephu village in order to perform a ritual for a sick woman (Photo by Yannick Jooris). opposite: Thangka from the Institute of Traditional Medicine Services in Thimphu. 109

top row and middle row, left: Torma are ritual dough figures made of flour and butter, which are produced in precisely specified shapes, according to the ritual and the deity involved, and then placed on the altar. These ritual dough figures can be employed in different ways; to represent deities, as an offering to the gods, or as a means of banishing hostile spirits. middle row, centre: The forces emanating from evil spirits can be banned by enticing them inside a torma ˇ okl). that represents a human being (Photo by Ulrike C middle row, right: Thread-cross constructions (doe) are offered to deities to be their 'dwellings'. left: In order to ensure that the ritual ceremony is effective, they are then destroyed, cast away or burned. 110

consulted, to avert misfortune and to ensure the fertility of the soil and the livestock. They are not competent for carrying out the rites of the dead, which only the lamas can perform.12 Lay monks are not as fully qualified as lamas, either. According to Mynak Tulku, gomchen must have received an appropriate initiation, authorisation and explanation by their teacher, along with a full mantra recitation retreat for that particular divinity. Only then are they able to assume the office of master of ceremonies. The other participants must, at least, have been authorised to read the texts.13 In addition to reciting prayers, many rimdro require ritual objects and offerings. In Tantric Buddhism, these include diamond sceptres (Tib. dorje, Skt. vajra), bells (Tib. drilbu), hand drums (Skt. damaru) and ritual daggers (Tib. phurba, Skt. kila), offerings in the form of ritual dough figures (Tib. torma, Skt. bali), cosmic diagrams (Tib. khyilkhor, Skt. mandala), along with threads and textiles. Mandalas, for instance, can not only be traced in coloured sand, painted on walls or constructed in three-dimensional shapes, they can also be painted onto cloth. According to Mynak Tulku, different sorts of mandala are used for particular rites. Each deity has its own mandala that represents the palace and the retinue of that particular deity, and serves, in terms of Buddhist philosophy, as a support (Tib. rten) for persons engaged in meditation.14 Colourful thread-cross constructions (doe / namkha) perform a similar role in representing the palaces of the gods. These thread-crosses can be very simple shapes made by wrapping coloured threads around two crossed sticks to form a web, or very elaborate versions,

several metres high. The latter require several kinds of thread structure and represent the entire palace along with its surroundings, weapons, animals and the attributes that are associated with that particular deity. Their shapes, sizes and colours vary according to the tradition and the deity involved. They are offered to the divinity to be their ‘dwelling’ in the course of complex ritual ceremonies; a gesture that is intended to prevent the deities from harming humans or animals, and inflicting illness or death on them. These thread structures themselves are reminiscent of stylised spiders’ webs; they are designed to trap ‘the evil’ and everything that can cause harm. Once the ritual ceremony has been completed, these threadcrosses are generally destroyed, thrown away or burnt, to ensure the ritual is effective. ‘[…] all the evil and sickness of an individual or a community are transferred and thereby eliminated’, Mynak Tulku emphasises.15 In Bhutan, colourful thread structures of this type can also be seen at the gates

above: In Bhutan, threadcross constructions are created for special ritual ceremonies in order to banish deities and spirits. Shapes, sizes and colours vary according to the tradition and the deity involved. below: The five colours (yellow, red, blue, green and white) of the threadcross correspond to the five elements (earth, fire, water, wood and iron). The choice of colours is more essential than the selection of materials, which can be cotton, silk or even nettle fibres.


left: 'Protection and blessing cords' are distributed during sacred festivals. right: Talismans (sunkey), wrapped in threads or cloth, serve to repel negative forces. below: Texts of prayers are folded into a square and wrapped in coloured threads.


of monasteries, on roofs or at the entrances to villages, where they are placed to entrap all the negative forces that threaten their land and faith. Sometimes these crossed thread structures are called ‘spirit catchers’. According to Tashi Choden, this practice dates back to pre-Buddhist times, when similar thread-crosses used to be erected as part of Bon burial rituals, to serve as ‘demon traps’.16 Individual threads can also be invested with protective qualities. In Bhutan, it is generally believed that threads can keep evil spirits, demons and local deities at bay, or at least appease them. This protective power is deployed in very different ways. One popular method takes the form of thin cords that have been blessed by a high-ranking lama or Rinpoche. These usually come in white, yellow, orange, red, blue, or green, and are made of cotton, silk or synthetics. They all have a three-fold knot at the centre, to represent the Buddha’s Body (ku), Speech (sung) and Mind (thug). As ‘protection and blessing cords’, these threads are then tied around the neck and should be worn for at least three days, ideally until they fall off. Drukpa Kunley is known for having worn similar blessed threads around his penis as well as his neck. ‘“What shall I do with this thread?” he thought to himself. “It is not comfortable to wear around my neck. I have no pocket to put it into, and I don’t want to carry it in my hand. Better I tie it around my penis which is quite clean and has nothing to carry.”’ 17

Another form consists of sunkey, little talismans wrapped in threads or simply made of knotted threads. These diminutive objects are thought to be particularly effective in protecting and bringing good fortune to their wearers. For instance, little black or black and white knot-work pieces are made to ward off evil spirits. The longer the threads are, the more effective the protection they provide. Furthermore, prayer scripts are folded into a square and wrapped in coloured threads. Sometimes, a little portrait of a Buddhist deity will be fixed to the outside, or the whole talisman will be sewn into a cloth. These little amulets are worn around the neck and also serve to repel all negative forces. Tiny little sunkey are also attached to babies as talismans. The colours in these cases are not selected at random; they are carefully chosen. Regardless of the particular context, colours have different associations. The five colours (yellow, red, blue, green and white) correspond to the five elements (earth, fire, water, wood and iron) and the five directions (centre, north, south, east and west), and to the five transcendental Buddhas (Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, Akshobhya, Amoghasiddhi and Vairocana), along with calendar years and a person’s astrological birth horoscope. Furthermore, colours constitute an important aspect of the person’s identity. Consequently, great significance is attributed to determining the personal element and the colours that belong to it.

The astrologer’s horoscope will reveal not only the suitable date of the ritual but also discover which would be the most effective colour in this respect. The following example may help explain the process: in this case, the unwell person was myself. In order to speed up the healing process, a lama advised me to perform a rimdro, which can be implemented very simply, for instance by setting up prayer flags. I am 36 years old, measure 1.70 m and, according to my date of birth, my bodyelement is earth. In my case, yellow prayer flags (yellow relates to the element earth), which were made in 61.2 m lengths (my age multiplied by my height), have to be erected to ensure my recovery.18 Prayer flags are among the most widespread ritual textiles. They can be seen all over Bhutan, waving in the wind on the tops of passes and mountain peaks, on roofs of the houses and on bridges, at the entrances to villages, and over monastery doorways. The wind is supposed to convey the prayers printed on these flags and spread their protective energies about. The origins of the Tibetan prayer flags (lung ta), which are identical to the ones in Bhutan, are described by Matthieu Ricard, the 14th Dalai-Lama’s French translator who is a Buddhist monk and a former molecular biologist, as follows: ‘From the historical point of view, it is assumed that that prayer flags in the form that we know them today, were brought from India to Tibet by the great Pandit Atisha in the eleventh century. He taught his pupils how to print sacred texts and mantras of various Buddhas onto cloths. Kept in motion by the wind, these flags became a source of redemptive merit and a blessing on the environment. The wind as the element that communicates with all people, bears the blessing of the holy texts in every direction. One of the reasons why prayer flags are so widespread in Tibet is presumably because

they refer to the ancient Bon tradition of hanging woollen threads to trees, as sacrifices to the gods, and to bring good fortune. However, this does not answer the question about how people think the flags function. After all, they are not talismans, used for making some kind of white magic. It is much more a matter of viewing all happy events as the result of a good karma. By printing sacred texts, people try to accumulate merit, which produces this good karma.’ 19 Prayer flags are produced in every shape and size. As a lung ta (‘wind horse’), they can be small, square, or rectangular prayer flags that feature an image of a horse. The wind horse is generally found in the centre of the prayer flag and his appearance is supposed to bestow peace, prosperity, and harmony. According to the Shamanic traditions of Central Asia, the wind horse is an allegory for the human soul. In Tibetan Buddhism, it was adopted as the central element surrounded by the four allegorical animals of the cardinal directions, and so gave the prayer flag its name. On his back are three flaming jewels (norbu) to symbolise Buddha, the ideal of enlightenment, dharma, his teachings and sangha, the spiritual community of his followers. For Buddhists, the Three Jewels represent the objects for the three refuges: I take refuge in Buddha, I take refuge in his dharma, I take refuge in sangha. In Bhutan, they are also called yeedzin norbu, the wish-fulfilling jewels. On Buddhist prayer flags, the horse is shown in company with the animals of the four cardinal directions, which are found in the corners of the flag: dragon, tiger, snow lion and garuda. The space between the wind horse and the four animals is filled with mantra, whose power is activated every time the flag moves in the wind. According to Philippe Cornu, the wind horse represents the harmony

left: Little black knot-work pieces are made to ward off evil spirits. right: Prayer flags are among the most widespread ritual textiles.


top and bottom row: Prayer flags can be seen all over Bhutan, including on passes and mountaintops. They are part of everyday life for the Bhutanese, and of their Buddhist religion. middle row: The left prayer flag shows the central wind horse (lung ta); the other flag displays a Bodhisattva. 114

of the living wind in connection with the inner elements. ‘Furthermore,’ he writes, ‘it has the ability to unite and harmonize, which means, to strengthen vitality, health, and personal vital energy (wangthang). These concepts are also older than Tibetan Buddhism. According to traditional beliefs, the wind horse is the personification of good fortune and is able to keep negative influences away. Represented with various mantras, it is supposed to endow the beings and places on the fluttering prayer flags with equanimity.’ 20 Some prayer flags also depict a portrait of Buddha, and an image of a Buddhist monument (chorten). The smaller lung ta are generally attached in long rows to strings; large numbers of them are suspended from bridges, passes, temples and houses. Another variant consists of long narrow prayer flags, called darpa or chopen, which are often erected in great numbers, near villages and temples or at specific sites such as fields, rivers and mountains. This type generally has mantra printed all over it, and is attached to tall posts, which can be several metres high. A wooden sword is fixed to the tip of this wooden pole, to represent the flaming sword of wisdom (sherab redri / prajna khadga), which is associated with Jampelyang, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. The sword is his most characteristic attribute and its task is to cut through ignorance and delusion. The tip of the prayer flag rests on a disk featuring the sun and the moon, as a reminder of the necessity of acquiring wisdom on the way to enlightenment. The wooden pendant is also brightly coloured to evoke Jampelyang’s flaming metal sword. The sword is painted blue like blue iron, its blade is red like the flames that surrounded it. The sun is

painted yellow, and the moon white. According to Bhutanese tradition, the sword blade must never point towards the donor’s own house. Similarly, the prayer flags should not be erected in the eastern and western side of the house because if the sword’s shadow falls on the house, it will render the house inauspicious and misfortune will befall the household. Furthermore, it is said that 108 narrow prayer flags have to be erected when someone dies, to benefit the deceased person’s soul. The number 108 is considered particularly holy, powerful and auspicious. Both types of prayer flags – lung ta and darpa / chopen – exist in five colours, yellow, red, blue, green and white, which do not, however, represent the five elements of earth, fire, water, wood and iron mentioned earlier. In fact, they represent earth (sa), fire (me), water (chu), wind (lung) and ether or space (namkha). The colours, together with the mantra that are printed on the prayer flags, endow them with positive forces. In former times, prayer flags were printed in Bhutan from wooden blocks or slates, which were borrowed from the dzong and temples. It was a time consuming and expensive task, because they were printed with a mixture of soot and roasted wheat on woven local cotton, grown in the lower regions of the country. Nowadays, these flags are mostly produced in India. The mantra and the images are woodblock-printed onto cheap cotton, and then baled up and imported. The colours, lengths and number of the individual flags will vary, depending on the occasion, but they should always represent an odd number. Another relevant fact is that they must be blessed by a lama before being hoisted, or they will attract hindrances

Lung ta can be found hung from strings near temples (left) or along mountain ridges, like the Sangaygang view above the capital Thimphu (right ).


left: Darpa or chopen are erected in large numbers. right: A wooden sword is fixed to the tip of this wooden pole, to represent the flaming sword of wisdom (sherab redri / prajna khadga), which is associated with Jampelyang, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom.


as long as the prayer flags last. A sacrament ceremony (ramney) is required to ensure that these prayer flags are effective, prior to setting them up on an auspicious day. Should this blessing not have been performed at the time the prayer flags were set up, for whatever reason, then there is also a specific ritual for providing a later blessing. In Bhutan, there are also other kinds of prayer flags, which can be seen waving on rooftops; they are called gungdar. During his interview, Thuksey Rinpoche also mentioned the Tibetan term baden for this kind of flag.21 They consist of a white cloth, about one metre in length and half a metre wide, to which three parallel strips of blue, red and yellow cloth are sewn. While the white cloth represents purity, the three coloured strips represent the three cosmological levels; heaven, earth, and the underworld. Blue represents heaven, red the earth, and yellow the underworld. In their entirety, these flags stand for the harmony that must be maintained between the cosmological levels and all living beings. These flags are attached to a two to three-metre tall pole, with a wooden ‘Sword of Wisdom’ fixed to its tip. The primary function of this type of prayer flag is to protect the house and all the members of the family within. It is renewed every year, as part of the annual family ceremony (lochoed) and blessed by the lama. The task of setting up the flag mainly falls on the men of the household; during the ceremony to bless the house and appease the local protective deities, they attach the flag to the central part of the roof, while reciting sacred verses. The ceremony is completed by uttering a victory cry, a sound that can also be heard during archery competitions.

In addition to the prayer flags, there are many other textiles that are used in a ritual context. For instance, fabrics are selected for the portraits of deities on religious scrolls (thangka). Similarly, textiles are used for decorating and identifying the sacred sites where these rituals are performed. This function involves three different kinds of hangings (phen, gyeltshen, chubur / chephur); canopies (ladri), throne covers (thrikheb), wall hangings made of brocade panels (chenzi), and various altar cloths (tenkheb / choekheb) or torma covers (torkheb), to name but a few. The types of textiles that are used for sacred spaces will be discussed in greater detail in the section on Embroidery and Appliqué Work (tshemdru) at the chapter on The Production of Textiles. Furthermore, fabrics are used during rituals that endow them with powers – similar to the cords mentioned above. Their colours, sizes, and formats are prescribed by the occasion, the place, the respective deity, and the illness or the horoscope of the person who requires healing. Thus, Mynak Tulku explains that during the fire offering, for instance, the table that the substances for the offering are placed on must be covered with a cloth of the appropriate colour. Furthermore, this colour must match the colour of the garments worn by the master of ceremonies, or the ritual practitioner. He goes on to describe the four kinds of fire offering, which are peaceful, increasing, subduing, and forceful fire-offering rituals. When all these fire ceremonies are performed at the same time, each ritual master must be dressed in a different coloured garment that corresponds to a specific direction: white and east for peaceful offerings, yellow and south for increasing, red

and west for subduing, and black or dark blue and north for forceful offerings.22 However, deities and spirits are not alone in being able to cause illness and harm, and consequently requiring rituals; human rivals can do the same. A good example of this is the archery competitions, Bhutan’s national sport. According to Bhutanese records, competitions of this kind could determine the fate of the participating villages. Failed harvests and storms threatened to overwhelm the losing village. This attitude is still very widespread, and challenges are treated very seriously. For larger competitions with a neighbouring village, for instance, the men will certainly train hard but they will also devote a few nights, weeks and even months to developing supernatural plans and strategies. Talismans, scarves, and bows and arrows are brought to the surrounding temples, and mantra are recited for each team, prayer flags are set up, and an astrologer (tsip) is consulted. His task is to perform the appropriate rituals to ensure that the home team plays well and that victory is assured, while also averting the opposing team’s curses and spells. Phangsee nen sum is one of the most powerful magic rituals. It involves writing the name and age of the rival competitor on a scrap of paper and wrapping it in a piece of black cloth. To finish, the little packet is pushed inside a ritual dough figure (torma), and either locked up in an earthen

pot or placed under a bridge, thereby sealing the opponent’s fate for the duration of the competition.23 Another way of casting a spell on rivals involves dipping a white cloth in menstrual blood and concealing it in a tree on the way to the archery competition, having first made sure that the opposing team will walk beneath it.24 Textiles also form an integral part of the rituals that are performed during the sacred festivals, which are celebrated all year round, throughout Bhutan. These rituals often continue for several days and are conducted away from the public gaze. Ricard provides a glimpse of this kind of ritual: ‘In a type of annual ceremony known as drupchen the ritual continues day and night nonstop for nine days and nine nights. A ritual is a call to reflection, contemplation, prayer, and meditation. […] A ritual is a spiritual practice which, carried out in the inspiring environment of a monastery whose serene atmosphere is reinforced by the sacred music, helps to free the mind from discursive thoughts and bring it to a contemplative state. The deep-voiced chanting of the liturgy is interspersed with bursts of musical offerings, mingling the sounds of long trumpets, bells, drums, and cymbals. […] Sometimes the ceremonies end with dances which serve as visual teaching, in which the world is transformed, negative forces subdued, and beings awakened to their ultimate nature and freed from suffering.’ 25

top left: The prayer flags that are seen waving on rooftops are called gungdar. lower left: Setting up prayer flags also contributes to the acquisition of merit for one's future life. right: Prayer flags must be blessed by a lama prior to being hoisted on the day and at the time specified by the astrologer (Photo by Lam Ngodup Dorji).



above left: For archery competitions Bhutanese men devote a number of nights, weeks and even months to developing supernatural plans and strategies. above right: Objects like this priest's hat are used to venerate local deities, and are generally red. Once the medium has placed this tsen hat on his head, the deity takes possession of him (Photo by Erich Lessing). ˇ okl). opposite: During rituals, textiles can be endowed with powers that overcome black magic (Photo by Ulrike C

Notes 1 Mynak Tulku, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.137. 2 These details were taken from a speech by Karma Pedey at ICTAM VII, 2009. 3 Ibid. 4 Mynak Tulku, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.148. 5 Pommaret 2006, p.78. 6 Speech by Karma Pedey, ICTAM VII, 2009. 7 Lam Pema Tshewang (1926 – 2009), referred to as Lopen Pemala, was an author, astrologer, iconographer, historian, royal private tutor, architect, tailor and Director of the National Library in Thimphu (1973 – 93). In retirement, he was head abbot of Nimalung Monastery. 8 Imaeda 2008, p.90f. 9 Drungtsho is the term for a doctor who deals in traditional Bhutanese medicine (sowa rigpa). 10 These details have been taken from a speech by Drungtsho Tandin Phurpa at ICTAM VII, 2009. 11 Female oracle healers are called neljorma in Western Bhutan, but the term pamo is more commonly used in Central and Eastern Bhutan. According to Pommaret, male oracle healers are also called terda in the northeastern district of Lhuentse, for instance in Kurtoe.

(These details have been taken from a speech by Françoise Pommaret, The Terda – Medium Oracle in Kurtoe, at ICTAM VII, 2009.) 12 See Sonam Chhoki, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.111f. 13 Mynak Tulku, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.144. 14 Ibid., p.143. 15 Ibid., p.144. 16 Tashi Choden, in: The Centre for Bhutan Studies 2004, p.14. 17 Dowman and Paljor 2000, p.70. 18 Acquired during a conversation with Lama Gendun Dhargay on 20 th April 2009. 19 Ricard, in: Ricard and Föllmi 2002, p.155. 20 Cornu, in: Ricard and Föllmi 2002, p.235. 21 Lhalung Thuksey Tulku (Thuksey Rinpoche), 28th April 2007, interview. 22 Mynak Tulku, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.147f. 23 Tashi Gyeltshen, in: Drukpa Magazine, March 2010, p.37f. 24 See the competition between Radi and Trashigang in the documentary by Holger Riedel, Die Bogenschützin von Bhutan, 2004. 25 Ricard 2003, p.54f.




opposite: The sacred cham dances afford a deeper insight into the religious and cultural heritage of Bhutan.

Bhutan's sacred festivals, such as the dromchoe, also pay reverence to the two main tutelary deities Palden Lhamo (left) and Yeshe Gompo /  Mahakala (right).

In the course of the Bhutanese year numerous sacred festivals are celebrated; they express the bond between the Bhutanese population and their faith, their rituals and their art, which is imbued with Vajrayana Buddhism. These religious festivals are a form of living art, sacred ceremonies and, as Gisela Bonn has put it so concisely, the ‘keys to the country’s religion and history’, 1 because their dances and offerings do indeed afford a deeper insight into the religious and cultural heritage of Bhutan and the country’s spiritual and social structure. Furthermore – and this is particularly significant for this research project – they provide valuable opportunities for studying the clothes of Bhutanese people, their finest hand-woven fabrics, and the splendid costumes that are worn by the dancers. SACRED FESTIVALS IN BHUTAN Sacred festivals take place all year round, all over Bhutan – in every fortress monastery (dzong) in each district, and in the numerous temples (lhakhang) and monasteries (gompa) around the country – and they can continue for up to five days. Among the most important religious festivals are the tshechu, which are held in honour of Guru Rinpoche. According to Bhutanese records, these festivals should celebrate his birthday and his


outstanding deeds, and also commemorate his arrival in Bhutan and his great influence over the kingdom. His birthday is dated to the tenth day of the seventh month of the Tibetan-Bhutanese lunisolar calendar. Furthermore, the Bhutanese assume that all the great deeds of this Tantric master have taken place on the tenth day of a month; this is why the Bhutanese call this festival tshechu (‘tenth day’). Given that other deities, especially the local divinities, need to be venerated in addition to Guru Rinpoche, each individual tshechu will have its own regional features. They take place on or around the tenth day of any given month and are spread over the entire year. The precise timepoint is specified by an astrologer (tsip) according to the Tibetan-Bhutanese calendar, and it will vary by a few days from one year to the next. Alongside the tshechu there are many other religious festivals, who have different names according to their forms and the purpose of the celebration, such as the domchoe, which is dedicated to the two main protective deities Yeshe Gonpo (Mahakala) and Palden Lhamo. The following table provides a rough overview of the most important festivals in Bhutan; the dates are based on the Tibetan-Bhutanese calendar.2 The fact that no festivals take place in the sixth and seventh months is due to the monsoon and the heavy rain that falls at that time.

1st month 7 – 9

Punakha domchoe, Punakha dzong

10 – 12

Punakha tshechu, Punakha dzong

14 – 18

Tangsibi mani, Ura, Bumthang


Tharpaling thongdrol, Bumthang

15 – 30

Chorten Kora, Trashiyangtse

16 – 18

Bulli mani, Bumthang

28 – 30

Gaden chodpa, Bumthang

2 nd month 8 – 10

Gom Kora tshechu, Trashigang

11 – 15

Paro tshechu, Paro dzong (Rinpungdzong)

13 – 15

Chukha tshechu, Chukha dzong

3 rd month 10 – 12

Domkhar tshechu, Bumthang

12 – 16

Ura yakchoe, Bumthang

4 th month 20 – 21

Petselling kuchod, Bumthang

5 th month 8 – 10

Nimalung tshechu, Bumthang


Kurje tshechu, Bumthang

8 th month 5 – 9

Thimphu drubchen, Thimphu dzong (Tashichhodzong)

8 – 10

Wangdue tshechu, Wangdue Phodrang

10 – 12

Thimphu tshechu, Thimphu dzong (Tashichhodzong)

10 – 12

Tamshingphala choepa, Bumthang

14 – 16

Thangbi mani, Bumthang

9 th month 6 – 10

Shingkhar rabney, Bumthang

8 – 11

Jakar dzong tshechu, Bumthang

15 – 18

Jampe lhakhang drup, Bumthang

16 – 18

Prakhar Duchhoed tshechu, Bumthang

26 – 30

Sumrang khangsol, Ura, Bumthang

10 th month 7 – 10

Mongar tshechu, Mongar dzong

7 – 10

Pemagatshel tshechu, Pemagatshel dzong

8 – 11

Trashigang tshechu, Trashigang dzong

9 – 10

Namkha rabney, Tang, Bumthang

14 – 18

Chojam rabney, Tang, Bumthang

15 – 17

Nalakhar tshechu, Bumthang

11th month 9 – 11

Trongsa tshechu, Trongsa dzong

9 – 11

Lhuentse tshechu, Lhuentse dzong


Shingkhar metochodpa, Bumthang

15 – 19

Nabji lhakhang drup, Trongsa

Festivals form an essential part of the religious and social life of Bhutan and for many Bhutanese people they represent the festive highpoints of the year. Given that many Bhutanese still live in remote parts of the country and earn their living from agriculture and animal husbandry, they have few opportunities to visit their local temples and monasteries. The annual festivals often present a welcome opportunity to attend one. Furthermore, these festivals provide an incentive for greater involvement with Buddhist teachings, and to acquire merit, because attendance at sacred festivals is considered a form of blessing that can protect those who take part from misfortune and negative influences. At the same time, simply watching a festival can bestow enlightenment and it is in this sense that these festivals promote the spiritual wellbeing of the population. However, these great gatherings are not merely religious occasions; they also allow people to socialise. Each festival is an opportunity for exchanging news, making informal marriage contracts or finding a new life partner, purchasing the latest products at the little stalls, being entertained by games of chance and competitions, and for eating, drinking and having fun. Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo has recorded similar recollections of her childhood in Nobgang: ‘They [the festivals] also provided opportunities for the people of Nobgang to meet people from neighbouring villages, and strike deals for the trade and barter of goods, and the buying and selling of land and livestock.’ 3 Thus, it is to enjoy all these opportunities that the Bhutanese stream in from miles around, dressed in their best clothes and displaying their most valuable jewelry. Women are particularly competitive and vie with each other to see who is wearing the loveliest kira. In addition to this cheerful year-market atmosphere, full of relaxed merriment, each locality has a dance ground where monks gather, dressed in brocade and silken garments, some of them wearing heavy masks. Accompanied by cymbals, horns, oboes and trumpets, they engage in the sacred dances (cham) singly and in groups, thereby presenting the central feature of each particular religious festival; the Bhutanese will often watch these dances for hours at a time. According to Schicklgruber, the Tibetan term cham, which denotes the dramatic performances of the monks, can perhaps best be translated as ‘mystery plays’. In his opinion, this term conveys the meaning of the event more effectively than the more commonly used ‘dance’. ‘In Western concepts of liturgy there is no place for dance, it being regarded rather as a folk custom. However, as the term “dance” is so firmly established in the literature, it will also be used here, despite its slight inaccuracy. It is true as well that dance in Asia was originally a religious phenomenon. The cham are also purely religious, being sacred ceremonies whose esoteric meaning is deeply embedded in the philosophical concepts of Tantric Budhhism.’ 4 CHAM – AN INTRODUCTION TO THE WORLD OF SACRED MASK DANCES IN BHUTAN The complex world of cham dances, or cham mystery plays, with their artistic movements, costumes, masks and attributes, is revealed in the first instance by taking a close look at their Buddhist context. After all, these cham dances are the ritual dances of Vajrayana Buddhism, which are based on dharma, the teachings of Buddha. Cham may be translated as ‘a dance’ or ‘aiming at a union’, and they present yoga in its danced form. The term yoga is derived from Sanskrit and means to be in relation to, connected with, to enter into and to merge with, and it describes a spiritual path that seeks enlightenment. The roots of this ancient Indian yoga philosophy are to be found in Hinduism and parts of Buddhism. The individual is regarded by it as a person travelling inside the vehicle of the material body. The body is the vehicle, the driver is the understanding, the five horses the five senses, and the traveller is the soul. Yoga is the harness that serves to bind body, mind and soul. The most ancient records about yoga doctrines are found 123

above: Outside the Trongsa dzong a cheerful market atmosphere prevails, while the monks perform the sacred dances in the courtyard (opposite top left ). opposite: Attendance at sacred festivals is an important social event. The Bhutanese take the opportunity to be entertained by games of chance and competitions, and to eat, drink and make merry.

in the Upanishads. There, they take the form of texts that contain spiritual revelations – which are conveyed directly from teacher to disciple – and are thought to have been composed between 700 and 500 BCE. However, the most important textual sources are derived from Patanjali, who compiled the fundamental aspects of yoga in the Yogasutras, the ‘Yoga aphorisms’, which are thought to date from ca 400 BCE. In the Vajrayana the following description of the link between meditation, yoga and dance is found: In the realm of the words, meanings are made clear. In the realm of the secret mantras, the practice of meditation is perfected. In the realm of one-pointed concentration, the mind’s equanimity is reached. In the realm of dances and symbols, the Mahamudra is realized. 5 Mahamudra (‘the Great Seal’) is an expression that indicates the highest form of meditation in the Vajrayana, especially in the Kagyu tradition. The mahamudra method is described as the essence of Buddha’s teaching and the recognition that it brings is also known as ‘recognising the highest reality’, ‘recognising the nature of the mind’, and as ‘recognising the Buddha-nature’. In this perfect state, all dualistic mental concepts should be overcome and an enduring experience of an absolute reality, which is synonymous with the highest wisdom, should be achieved. As the above excerpt explains, the mask dances form part of the teachings of the Vajrayana, which help people achieve


Buddhahood and attain perfect enlightenment. This means that simply watching the dances can liberate the observer from the circle of suffering or the circle of existence (Skt. samsara). Furthermore, the dances are interpreted as maintaining the ties between humans and their deities because, as mentioned earlier, other local deities are venerated, alongside Guru Rinpoche. THE ORIGINS OF THE CHAM DANCES The origins of these sacred dances are difficult to trace, and have often only been passed down in the form of legends. According to these accounts, Buddha Shakyamuni is supposed to have revealed himself to a few gifted disciples in the form of different deities, for instance, as the Tantric deity Kalachakra (Skt. ‘from time’ (kāla) and ‘wheel’ (chakra), the ‘Wheel of Time’) – to enable them to progress more quickly and achieve enlightenment by practicing higher forms of Tantric meditation. In those days, he also appeared in the guise of wrathful deities, whose awe-inspiring appearance symbolised the invincible power of compassion. These emanations gave rise to thousands of distinctive dances, which in turn served to express the many facets of their beneficial function for all beings. The sacred dances are thought to have reached India in this form, where they are performed on specific spiritual occasions and at spiritual feasts (ganachakra).6 Schicklgruber mentions in this respect that the adherents of Buddhism claim that the origins of the cham dances are derived from Heruka, the highest wrathful manifes-


tation in Tantric Buddhism.7 According to Bhutanese legend, the deity Heruka danced the sacred cham with his female aspect along with his followers. In kalachakra tantra the verse runs as follows, ‘Without fear, without second thoughts, and without effort, let flow from the space of mind the divine gestures and movements of unknown dances and unheard chants.’ 8 Many elements of cham can be found in shamanic ritual dances, which were intended to influence and regulate the micro and macro cosmos. These mystery plays appear to have been instituted within the Bon religion, since Bon deities were often appeased with animal and blood sacrifices, as well as by singing and dancing. The oracle healers used dancing to enter trance states, in order to establish contact with the gods, or to enable them to enter their human bodies. The arrival of Buddhism led to some modifications to the content of these ritual mask dances, whereby the subjection of local demons and the victory of good over evil were removed from their shamanic roots and interpreted as the victory of Buddhism over the ancient Bon beliefs. Mynak Tulku also concludes that the adherents of the Bon religion were already familiar with cham. However, he connects the first Buddhist cham dance with the arrival of Guru Rinpoche and the introduction of Buddhism in the 8th century.9 According to this version, Guru Rinpoche studied this dance after it had been revealed to him by Buddha Amitabha in his homeland; he then performed it in 747 CE at the consecration ceremony for the Samye monastery, the first Tantric Buddhist monastery, to purify and bless the site. ‘When Padmasambhava was preparing to consecrate the site of the monastery of Samye he rose into the air and subdued the spirits of the ground with a majestic dance. The story goes that the area where his shadow fell on the ground marked the boundaries of the monastery,’ Ricard explains.10 Over time, these dances have been codified and transmitted to disciples with explanations. The fifth Dalai Lama (1617 – 1682) has also described how Padmasambhava performed this dance in order to appease local mountain deities (lha) and malevolent spirits (srin). He went on to add that Padmasambhava set up a threadcross construction to trap evil things and everything that can cause harm.11 According to Ricard and Pearlman, the dance that was performed by Guru Rinpoche is linked with the dance of the wrathful deity Vajrakila / Vajrakilaya, embodied in the ritual dagger (phurba).12 Schicklgruber goes on to emphasise that cham represents a part of atiyoga, one of the most subtle forms of Buddhist meditation.13 Atiyoga, as mentioned above, is a central teaching of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Revealed by the Buddha Samantabhadra, who was venerated by the Nying126

mapa as the primordial Buddha, it teaches the highest perfection. Guru Rinpoche established cham as a part of monastic life, as a way of uniting meditation and dance, and cham has been performed ever since in all the schools of Tantric Buddhism. The first recorded performance of these dances in Bhutan is also connected to Guru Rinpoche, who is supposed to have danced the cham at Kurje lhakhang in Bumthang to overthrow the demon Shelging Karpo and force him to swear an oath to serve Buddhism as a protective deity.14 In Bhutan, the following story is told in this respect: it was in the year 746. At that time, Bumthang was ruled by King Sendarkha (also known as Sindhu Raja), who was engaged in permanent warfare with his neighbour, King Naoche. One day, King Naoche succeeded in killing his enemy’s son. In his despair over the slaying of his only son and his anger that his personal protective deity Shelging Karpo had let him down, King Sendarkha ceased entirely to venerate him. His protective deity was in his turn angered and he punished the king by depriving him of his vital energy. King Sendarkha grew very ill, and when on the point of death, his ministers decided to seek help from Guru Rinpoche, since he was known throughout the Himalayas for his magical powers. Guru Rinpoche responded to this summons and came to Bumthang to help the king. It is said that he went to a place north of Jakar and climbed a rock resembling a diamond sceptre, in order to meditate. While he was meditating, he left deep impressions of his body on the rock, which can still be seen today. Finally, Guru Rinpoche turned himself into his eight manifestations and began to dance. The performance of his dances attracted many curious local deities, all of them apart from Shelging Karpo. Thereupon he transformed King Sendarkha’s daughter, who he had just sent off with an ewer to fetch some water, into five princesses, each of them bearing a golden ewer. The princesses’ ewers trapped the sunlight and reflected it back onto Shelging Karpo’s rock. The latter was curious to see where these reflections were coming from and turned himself into a white lion in order to leave his hideout and take a closer look. This was the moment Guru Rinpoche was waiting for. He immediately turned himself into a garuda, a mythical half-human and half-eagle creature, and swooped down onto Shelging Karpo in his lion shape, seized him and forced him to restore the king’s vital energy. Cowed, Shelging Karpo promised never to harm Buddhism again, after which he was obliged to serve it as its protective deity. King Sendarkha recovered and also converted to Buddhism. Finally, Guru Rinpoche succeeded in brokering a peace between the two kings. There are many such myths and legends about Guru Rinpoche, in which he overthrows hostile local deities and demons with

the help of rituals, mantra and dances, and converts them to Buddhism. Many of his deeds are still recalled in the numerous sacred dances of Bhutan. TRANSMISSIONS AND VISIONS The cham dances were passed from one generation to the next, for centuries, in Bhutan. One the one hand, these transmissions were as accurate as possible – as is so often the case with sacred art. On the other hand, they were developed and renewed following the visionary experiences and spiritual revelations that had been granted to a few important individuals. These individuals were incarnations of Padmasambhava’s disciples, referred to above as the ‘treasure revealers’ (terton). In these visions they were given precise instructions about new forms of sacred dance, which they then transmitted as exactly as possible to their disciples, who passed them on to succeeding generations. Consequently, many of the dances and performances of today are based on the visions of these terton. One of the earliest and most famous terton is Guru Chöwang (1212 – 1270) whose visions brought about the introduction of the

festival of the tenth day in Tibet.15 In his vision, this Tibetan teacher saw himself riding through the air, borne on a white horse, to zangdo pelri, the ‘pure land of the glorious copper-coloured mountain’, as Padmasambhava’s paradise is often described. On arriving, he encountered Padmasambhava’s eight manifestations, from whom he received teachings on the nature of mind, and finally he saw a great company of celestial beings performing a dance.16 Following this transcendental experience, Guru Chöwang founded the festival of the tenth day in honor of Padmasambhava and the introduction of Buddhism. In Bhutan, Dorje Lingpa (1346 –  1405), Pema Lingpa (1450 – 1521), and Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594 – 1651), the unificator of the kingdom, are all held to be the great renewers of the cham dances. Pema Lingpa, for instance, received instructions in his vision about the dances for accompanying consecrations of temples and other sanctuaries. He passed them on to his disciples, who danced these traditional cham dances at the consecration of the Tamshing lhakhang in Bumthang.17 Pema Lingpa had another dream in which Yeshe Tshogyal, the ‘Princess of the Lake of Wisdom’ appeared to him. Yeshe Tshogyal (757 – 817) was a princess of the noble Tibetan family of

In Bhutan, the symbiotic relationship between dance and art is based on the practice of Tantric Buddhism. This Bhutanese mural is a portrait of Guru Rinpoche's zangdo pelri; inhabited by, among others, heroes and Dakini (Photo by Core of Culture).



Kharchen. She was Guru Rinpoche’s Tantric consort and is one of the most important female figures in Tibetan Buddhism. Furthermore, she was deeply involved in disseminating Guru Rinpoche’s terma texts in Tibet. With these words, ‘This is the way to dance the ritual of the Rain of Blessings,’ she introduced Pema Lingpa to the dance of the five Dakini.18 These celestial beings or ‘sky dancers’ (Skt. dakini, Tib. khandro / khandroma) are female beings, who evoke the movement of energy in space. Kha can be translated as heaven, since its infinite nature is a symbol of emptiness; dro means to move away, and ma indicates the female gender. They can appear in peaceful or wrathful forms, and represent encouragement and inspiration along the spiritual path. In Vajrayana Buddhism Dakini also have the power and responsibility to protect the integrity of oral transmissions.19 It is thought that in earlier times, Dakini were female shamans who used ecstatic dances to enter trance states in which they travelled to other worlds. The term ‘sky dancers’ may also relate to the journeys to the heavenly spheres that are undertaken during these dances. Guru Rinpoche’s Tantric consort Yeshe Tshogyal is also referred to as the archetypal Dakini. When Pema Lingpa awoke from his dream he was able to recall the images of the dance exactly. During the days that followed he received further revelations, which contained supplementary instructions. Pema Lingpa studied the movements and went on to teach them to his disciples.20 According to Schicklgruber, Pema Lingpa’s vision also revealed to him the splendid

silken and brocade costumes of the dancers, whose cut, colours and patterns are itemized in the sacred texts about Pema Lingpa’s visions.21 The choreography of these religious dances is handed down as peling tercham in Bhutan. DANCED MEDITATION Nowadays, the process of learning the dances is still a highly regarded aspect of monastic discipline. Each dzong has its own dance group, made up of monks of various ages who are instructed by their champon, the master of the dance. Dancing lessons involve learning the steps and acquiring a thorough training in religion, philosophy, history, and magic, since, as mentioned above, cham dances are not simply visual experiences; aspects of meditation and yoga are involved to an equal degree. Consequently, cham dances can be understood as a fusion of dance, yoga and meditation, as well as a form of instruction through images, whereby negative forces are overthrown and all living beings are awakened to their ultimate nature and liberated from suffering. For the monks, these dances also represent a spiritual interaction with the lay community. Matthieu Ricard, who is himself a Buddhist monk, explains the meaning of the dances as follows: ‘It is said that this kind of dance liberates by seeing, just as sacred music liberates through hearing, the blessing of a spiritual master liberates through touch, imbibing sacred substances liberates by

above left: Detail of the opposite thangka; it was a vision of such celestial beings, dancing for the terton Pema Lingpa, which became an actual mask dances that he taught and added to the canon of sacred dances (Photo by Erich Lessing). above right: Celestial beings or 'sky dancers' (dakini / khandro) are female beings, who evoke the movement of energy in space. opposite: This thangka depicts zangdo pelri, the 'pure land of the glorious copper-coloured mountain', as Guru Rinpoche's paradise is also described, which often appeared to Bhutanese saints and 'treasure revealers' (terton) in mystical visions (Photo by Erich Lessing).


left: In Tantric Buddhism the deities dance in meditation visualisations, in paintings, sculptures and in the cham dances. Here, a mural at Thangsibi depicts wrathful deities with animal heads dancing (Photo by Core of Culture). right: Chokkor Nyip, Master of Dance at the Drukpa Kagyu School (Photo by Core of Culture).


taste, and meditation liberates by thought. “Liberate” here means to liberate from the bondage of the five mental poisons that destroy inner peace – hatred, covetousness, ignorance, pride and jealousy.’ 22 Ricard goes on to explain that the art of dancing, as with all spiritual practices, is based on a three-fold structure. ‘Firstly he [the dancer] should prepare himself beforehand by having the right motivation, which means to have the “mind of enlightenment,” the wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. Secondly, when he dances he should be perfectly concentrated, with an awareness that all phenomena are like dreams.’ 23 ‘The third point is that once the dance is over, it is indispensable that the dancer should dedicate the merit of what he has done so that he himself and all beings in the universe may be liberated from suffering and its causes and attain buddhahood.’ 24 Furthermore, Ricard describes that what happens during a dance is that the performer can clearly visualise the deity which he represents, and he gradually becomes wholly aware that he himself is the divinity, since the Buddha nature is present in every being. He must not allow himself to be distracted by external events, and must clearly apprehend that the world is but a dream, an illusion. His mind must be watchful, cheerful, relaxed and free from any kind of attachment.25 The fifth Dalai Lama describes the demands that are placed on a cham dancer as follows: ‘The dancer should flourish the tails of his robe like a great garuda gliding through the firmament, and shake his hair like a snow lion shaking its turquoise mane. His body should have the grace of a tiger gliding through the Indian jungle; his trunk should be straight, his waist should form an elegant curve; his calves should be elastic,

his elbows and knees fast-moving, his footwork elegant, and every movement of his body should be ample and majestic, full of ease and grace, precise and clearly defined.’ 26 Further on, he says that, ‘the dancer should move as if his feet were drawing a lotus on the ground, and that his movements should be like the wing-beats of an eagle.’ 27 It is not enough for the dancer to know the meaning of the dances, he must also have gained real experience in meditation to be able to merge with the deity that he is representing. Before the dancer enters the dance ground he meditates in the inner part of the temple on the deity that he will be representing; he visualises the divinity and begins to create the deity in himself. ‘The mudra of the dance is a reflection in the mirror of enlightenment,’ Lochen Dharmashri emphasises.28 This is why many of the best dancers are also spiritual masters. During the performance they embody aspects of wrathful and compassionate deities, of heroes, demons and animal shapes. Every mask, every costume, every motion and every gesture has a special meaning and represents the values of Buddhism. Ricard provides the following example to illustrate this: ‘For instance, when a lone dancer in a stag mask cuts up an effigy with a sword it is not an act of violence but symbolizes destroying the ego with the sword of wisdom. The masked dancers who chase each other in a colorful noisy riot do not represent the pursuit of demons but the movements of inner energy, which gives rise to the mental activity that continually agitates our mind. The silent dance that follows symbolizes the inner calm that ensures when discursive thoughts are pacified. But a few symbolic elements like these cannot encompass the profound meaning that the dances

find in the much vaster sphere of the meditation on “pure vision”, the perception of the primordial purity of all phenomena, both animate and inanimate.’ 29 The sacred dances are accompanied by music from a variety of instruments: large double-sided frame drums (nga), which are struck with a curved drumstick; various kinds of cymbals such as pairs of bronze cymbals (rolmo) which strike deeper notes; telescopic horns (dungchen) which are generally played in pairs to sustain long notes; oboes (gyaling) which are played with circular breathing; trumpets made of human thigh-bones (kangling); conches (dungkhar); hand-bells (drilbu), and small double-sided hand drums (damaru), which are struck with rapid wrist movements, using two small balls that are attached with a cord. To the accompaniment of these musical instruments, which set the rhythm, the dancers move as individuals or in synchronised groups in a large circle, pacing the dance ground with dignified steps, or

Notes 1 Bonn 1986, p.16. 2 This list was compiled by Lily Wangchhuk (Lily Wangchhuk 2008, p.336f.) 3 Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck 2006, p.37. 4 Schicklgruber 2009, p.101. 5 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.i. 6 Ricard 2003, p.12f. 7 Schicklgruber, in: Kuhnt-Saptodewo, Somers Heidhues and Zorn 2013, p.55. 8 Ricard 2003, p.8. 9 Mynak Tulku, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.146.

they twirl and leap about like acrobats, exuding a mystical aura in which the presence of the deities can be directly apprehended. These cham dances enable Bhutanese people to engage in direct encounters with their deities as well as gaining insights into Buddhist teachings that could not be achieved through a solely verbal process of transmission. Apart from the fact that the viewers’ ability to understand Buddhist art depends on their level of religious knowledge, many Bhutanese people have neither the leisure nor the education to concentrate on reading religious texts because they are obliged to labor long and hard in the fields. Although these dances feature the content of sacred texts that can only be read and interpreted by Buddhist scholars, through the medium of dance, Buddhist teachings find a direct way of reaching the majority of Bhutan’s population.

10 Ricard 2003, p.14. 11 The fifth Dalai Lama, in: Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1976, p.113 and Pearlman 2002, p.18. 12 Ricard 2003, p.14; Pearlman 2002, p.18ff. 13 Schicklgruber, in: Kuhnt-Saptodewo, Somers Heidhues and Zorn 2013, p.57. 14 Mynak Tulku, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.146. 15 Ricard 2003, p.14ff. 16 Ibid., p.14. 17 Ibid., p.17. 18 Ibid., p.17.

The musicians set the rhythm for the dancers; at the same time, they dedicate their music to the deities.

19 Simmer-Brown 2001, p.139f. 20 Ricard 2003, p.17. 21 Schicklgruber 2009, p.102. 22 Ricard 2003, p.8. 23 Ibid., p.50. 24 Ibid., p.54. 25 Ibid., p.51f; Ricard, in: Ricard and Föllmi 2002, p.362. 26 Ricard 2003, p.50f. 27 Ibid., p.51. 28 Ibid., p.12. 29 Ibid., p.35. 131



opposite: The gathering of Bhutanese people in the background watches the dance of the tsholing and ging of the Jampe lhakhang drup, a dance that was initiated by Pema Lingpa.

left and top right: The Jampe lhakhang is said to be the first that the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo built in Bhutan in the 7 th century. The temple complex consists of several temples and is named after the main temple, which is dedicated to the Future Buddha (Tib. Jampa, Skt. Maitreya). lower right: Karma Tshering studies an ancient cham text with Lam Pemala (Photo by Core of Culture).

The Jampe lhakhang drup in Bumthang (Central Bhutan) has been selected as a case study, to provide an in-depth view of a sacred festival. It takes place every year in the autumn, and runs for four days. The descriptive part of the following presentation is based on a participatory study of the Jampe lhakhang drup in 2006. The details about the background of these dances have been derived, unless otherwise stated, from an interview with Karma Tshering, a Bhutanese film director who worked on the production of Core of Culture Dance Preservation1 and from Dasho Sithel Dorji, former director of the Royal Academy of Performing Arts. His book, The Origin and Description of Bhutanese Mask Dances, includes explanations of 26 dances. JAMPE LHAKHANG – THE TEMPLE AND ITS ORIGINS On the left bank of the Bumthang Valley lies the Jampe temple complex, which consists of several temples. It is named after the main temple, Jampe lhakhang, which is dedicated to the Future Buddha (Tib. Jampa, Skt. Maitreya), and is named after him. As mentioned above, Mahayana Buddhism developed about 500 years after the death of the historical Buddha; it is based on the premise that


each and every being possesses an inner Buddhanature or the potential of Buddhahood, and thus the ability to attain enlightenment. Consequently Mahayana Buddhism acknowledges the existence of numerous Buddhas in other, including future, ages. The Buddha of the future and the Buddha of the past (Tib. Marmedze, Skt. Dipankara) are often represented on either side of the historical Buddha (Tib. Sangay, Skt. Shakyamuni). Usually Maitreya is represented seated on a throne in a body posture called pralambapadasana, with his splayed legs pendant, and his hand in the teaching gesture (dharmachakra-mudra); Dipankara is also seated, with a protection mudra (abhaya mudra), and Shakyamuni is shown in the lotus position (padmasana) with his earth-touching gesture (bhumisparsa-mudra). In the Buddhist context, mudra has many meanings, including that of ‘symbolic gesture’. The word is derived from the Sanskrit and means ‘seal’ or ‘sign’. Literally, mud can be translated as ‘joy’ and even ‘gesture to please the gods’, and ra as ‘that which exists’. In Bhutan, numerous sacred sites are dedicated to the Future Buddha. Buddhists are convinced that Shakyamuni’s teaching will be falsified over time, and even forgotten. When this happens, the age of Maitreya will commence, when he will be reborn on earth and the teachings of Buddha will be transmitted all over again. Inside the main tem-

ple of the Jampe lhakhang complex there is a large statue of the Future Buddha Maitreya, surrounded by a richly carved gilt archway, and framed on either side by four Bodhisattva clay statues which are probably very ancient. The murals in this shrine portray the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche, and the walls of the circumambulation path depict paintings of the Thousand Buddhas. As mentioned above, the Jampe lhakhang is said to be one of the oldest temples in Bhutan; it was built in the 7 th century by Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo to overcome a powerful demoness that was residing in the Himalayas. In order to nail this hostile demoness down firmly, the king erected 108 temples in the Himalayas in 641.2 According to Tibetan tradition, all these temples are supposed to have been built in a single day. The first, the famous Jokhang temple in Lhasa, was erected on top of the demoness’ heart, and two of these 108 temples are located in Bhutan: the Kyichu lhakhang in Paro was positioned on the demoness’ left foot, and the Jampe lhakhang in Bumthang on her left knee. Back in those days, Central Bhutan was deeply committed to the Bon religion, and the Jampe lhakhang was soon neglected. It was only in the 9 th century, after Guru Rinpoche had saved the life of King Sendarkha of Bumthang and had subsequently converted him to Buddhism, that

the ruined Jampe lhakhang was rebuilt and restored by Sendarkha. Guru Rinpoche’s journey to Bumthang marked the actual start of Buddhism in Bhutan; since that time, Bumthang has constituted one of the country’s most important spiritual centres. During the lifetime of the famous saint of the Nyingma School, Dorje Lingpa (1346 – 1405), the Jampe lhakhang fell once again into a terrible state of repair. Dorje Lingpa restored it and made it his main residence in Bhutan. As related in the previous chapter, this saint is reckoned among the five great ‘treasure revealers’ (terton) of the Nyingma tradition; he is supposed to have discovered 158 minor and 43 major ‘hidden treasures’ (terma). Among these were ritual dances, which are still performed during the Jampe lhakhang drup. Dorje Lingpa founded – as Pema Lingpa also did – a separate tradition within the Nyingma School. Both this tradition and the dances that date back to him are termed dorling. In the mid-19th century, four more temples were built beside the Jampe lhakhang, which now features a closed courtyard in front of the main temple. In 1999, a long extended structure was built to serve as an assembly place for the great prayers (monlam chenmo) that are conducted annually. The dance ground is in front of this building; this is where the Jampe lhakhang drup is performed every year.

108 Buddhist temples were built to nail the demoness down firmly; Map, Tibet, late 19 th / early 20 th century, pigments on cloth (Rubin Museum of Art, NY).


left: The Chakhar Lam. right: The Chakhar Lam's daughter (in the centre) leads the women's dance group.




The Jampe lhakhang drup is one of the oldest and most sacred of Bhutan’s festivals. It was introduced in the 14th century by Dorje Lingpa, after he had discovered important texts in Jampe lhakhang. The dances of this festival are supposed to have appeared to him as mystical visions. Dorje Lingpa appointed the Chakhar Lam, the head of the Jakar / Chakhar family, to preserve them. The descendants of this family have ensured that these dances have been preserved and performed, right down to the present time. During the annual Jampe lhakhang drup, these dances are performed by local lay monks (gomchen) and are led by the Chakhar Lam. Bhutan is the only country in the Himalayas where sacred dances are performed by Buddhist monks as well as by lay monks. Women are not included, but they do engage in folk dances in the intervals between the sacred performances, and provide their own sung accompaniment. The current Chakhar Lam is over eighty, a great age, so he has been obliged to pass on the roles of lead dancer (champon) and guardian of the Jampe lhakhang and the dances to his oldest son, Tenzin. Since then, Chakar Lam Jr. Tenzin has been leading the group of dancers; Tenzin’s sister leads the women’s dances. Together, these siblings also make sure that the costumes are maintained and repaired, with support from the dancers and the community. Each performance of the Jampe lhakhang drup evokes the construction of the Jampe lhakhang, which to some extent marked the advent of Buddhism in Bhutan, while also honouring Guru Rinpoche, who brought Tantric Buddhism to Bhutan and disseminated it.

THE PRECEDING DAY On the eve of 5th November 2006, prior to the actual start of the Jampe lhakhang drup, the first dances started at 8.30 pm, with a view to preparing and cleansing the dance ground. These dances included, for instance, the zha nag, the dance of the Black Hat Magicians, and the ging cham, the Dance of the ging, which represent emanations from Guru Rinpoche. The purpose of both these dances was to cleanse the ground and remove negative energies; the enemies of Buddhist teaching were excluded, and the Buddhist protective deities were invited to enter the consecrated site. The highpoint of the evening, though, was the fire blessing ceremony (mewang). Although most sacred festivals include collective blessings (wang), fire ceremonies are not performed at every one. The Jampe lhakhang drup offers one of the most spectacular versions. MEWANG – FIRE BLESSING CEREMONY The Fire Blessing Ceremony (mewang) is composed of fire dances (mecham) and a fire blessing (bey). The fire dances are preceded by a sacrificial dance (tshog cham), which involves presenting the body of an evil spirit to the deities. This symbolic offering is presented during a fire ritual (jinsek), when they burn a skeleton that has been painted onto hand-made paper. The image of the skeleton symbolises the negative forces that are about to be removed by the fire ritual. According to Bhutanese

tradition, which exemplifies the lay interpretation, the fire dance’s main virtue is to bestow the blessings of childbirth on infertile women. When the fire dance was over, the dancers held torches and escorted the public outside, where a huge gate had been constructed for the fire blessing, using wood, straw and bundles of twigs. The arch was set alight and the public fire blessing ritual began. The festival-goers ran three times through the burning archway to free themselves from the sins or evil deeds of the past year. Passing through the blazing gate three times ensures protection from misfortune and illness of every kind, and secures happiness and a bountiful harvest in the forthcoming year. However, not all fire blessings are the same. For instance, the participants of the Thangbi mani in Bumthang leap three times over a burning fire, to purge themselves of their sins and cleanse themselves of their evil deeds. Sometimes, these fire blessings turn into competitions, and a way of testing the courage of young Bhutanese, as only the hardiest will leap boldly through the flames or race through the burning gate. Most people wait a bit, until the fire has died down, and approach it when the flames and acrid swathes of smoke have diminished. After the Fire Blessing, the following dances were performed inside the courtyard of Jampe lhakhang until midnight, in the following sequence: yuley mai cham, the Dance of the nyulema (evil spirits), the Dance of the ging with Sticks (peling jug ging), the Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds (durdag), the Dance of the ging with Swords (peling dri ging) and the Dance of the ging with Drums (peling nga ging). The first four dances were a type of dance that is performed to purify a place and protect it from negative in-

fluences. However, the last dance of the evening, the Dance of the ging with Drums, proclaimed the victory of Buddhism, as all drum dances do. These five dances were repeated the next day, to mark the official start of the festival. THE FIRST DAY EARLY MORNING

Fire dances (left) and a fire blessing (centre) form part of a great fire blessing ceremony (mewang). During the Thangbi mani, the fire blessing took place on the open field in front of Thangbi Temple (right).

The first people to attend the Jampe lhakhang drup arrived early on the morning of 6th November 2006, streaming in from every direction. Many of them had travelled long distances. They brought baskets packed with food and drink, coverings and carpets, cloths and hats, to protect themselves from the November sun, which was still fierce, and to establish themselves on a good spot within the festival area. The Bhutanese arrived wearing their national dress, many of them displaying their most festive clothes and most precious family jewels. Most of the older women wore a kira with a checked pattern (mathra kira), a few were sporting a colourful striped apron (dongkheb) of Tibetan origin, on top. For their part, the younger women had chosen a pesar kira, a handwoven kira with a new design, the preference being for pastel colours with small silk patterns. They combined this with matching silk wonju, brocade tego (gaychen tego), high-heeled shoes and modern handbags. Pema Yuden is a senior festival-goer who notes that it has been the tradition for a long time to wear one’s best clothes at the festival. Previously, these clothes were only worn on the last day of the festival. Nowadays, many Bhutanese wear their most valuable 137


clothes on the very first day. Back then, Pema Yuden says, hardly anyone could have afforded to do that. The Bhutanese men were mainly dressed in gho that displayed different plaid patterns (mathra gho) or warp-wise patterns (aikapur gho) in silk or wool. A few older visitors arrived wearing their own costumes, which harked back to their Tibetan origins. Schoolchildren were usually dressed in small machine-woven kira and gho made of mathra material. A few girls turned up wearing kira in the new designs (pesar kira). Small children generally wore modern leisure clothing imported from China. The young monks wore their red robes, frequently combining with modern T-shirts, sweatshirts and hoodies, some of which featured prints. Among their favourite accessories were mobile phones and toy pistols. A few tourists also wandered among the public, slung about with large cameras and very conspicuous in the sea of colourful Bhutanese people. Sadly, few of them had observed their tour guides’ polite instructions about the correct form of dress, and many of these tourists turned up on the festival ground wearing shorts and sleeveless T-shirts, much to the annoyance and amusement of the Bhutanese visitors. In the meantime, a public festival of another kind was being set up beyond the temple complex. Stalls made of blue plastic sheeting and wooden poles were rising up to constitute the year market (throm), on which every conceivable form of goods was being offered. Tables and chairs were set up for food stalls, and even crates of beer and spirits were being brought in to be sold discreetly inside these temporary bars. Officially, no alcohol

or gambling is allowed during the Festival period. While the area outside the temple walls was alive with workers busy building, stacking and cooking, the first visitors were awaiting the start of the festival. PROCESSION and marchang ceremony The official start was marked on this first day of the festival by the traditional ceremonial procession (chipdrel). By 9 am, dancers, civil servants and a few observers had gathered beside the wooden gate to the small street that leads to the Jampe lhakhang, to greet the procession and conduct it to the temple. While the spiritual and secular dignitaries, guests, dancers and banner-bearers processed onto the dance ground, they were accompanied by the entertainers’ (atsara) drumrolls and sacred music, played by monks who offered their music to the local deities. After the procession, a marchang ceremony was performed, which served to consecrate the dance ground and to appease the local protective deities. This marchang ceremony is based on an ancient Buddhist, possibly a pre-Buddhist, belief or rather an attempt to explain how the world began: ‘There is a belief in Buddhism that at the earth’s beginning, the oceans churned so much that it led to the formation of a black smoke, the moon and the holy water. The gods and goddesses then rushed to drink the holy water which satisfied and rejuvenated their beings. From then on the holy water was considered an elixir by

above: Attendance at sacred festivals is an important social activity. opposite: Festival-goers wearing their national dress at the Jampe lkakhang drup; many of them displaying their most festive clothes.



divine spirits. Today, the holy spirits are invoked in the form of wine during the Marchang ceremony.’ 3 The prayers that are recited during this ceremony are directed at both Mahakala and the other protective deities and Dakini of the three cosmological levels, imploring their permission to hold a successful festival. The marchang ceremony for the Jampe lhakhang drup required a low carved wooden table (chogdrom) to be placed in the centre of the dance ground, on which was set a wine bowl (changthro) containing the ceremonial wine (marchang), made of fermented grain (changlum). This vessel contained a bamboo sieve (changsho) and a ladle (kuchu). Its rim was decorated with three horn-shaped objects (yangdron), carved from radish (alternatively, they can be made of butter, and even, on special occasions, ivory or wood) to symbolise elephant’s tusks. The elephant is a very common Buddhist symbol. The majestic elephant’s strength, endurance and peaceful charisma represent mental strength. In Bhutan elephant tusks are often seen flanking Buddhist altars, to represent virtue and prosperity. According to Beer, elephants are among the seven precious jewels or possessions of the cakravartin, the person who sets the Wheel (Skt. cakra) of dharma in motion, or turns it (Skt. vartin). In the Buddhist tradition, these seven possessions of the cakravartin are equated with the seven factors or limbs of enlightenment. Elephant tusks, as representations of the precious elephant, are numbered among the seven jewel insignia of the cakravartin.4 The driglam namzhag Code of Etiquette emphasises the need to pay special care to the arrangement of the yangdron, whereby one of them must point at the person who is performing the marchang ceremony, and the other two are placed on either side of it. It must never point at the guest of honour.5 The marchang ceremony in-

volved the marchang server holding up his arms, with his left hand open and his right hand holding the wine-filled ladle. The wine was then offered symbolically to the ground by lifting the ladle and pouring the wine into the wine bowl three times. Finally, the guest of honour was offered the ceremonial banner (thugmon darshing) with the following prayer: ‘“jigten dezhing loleg dang drunam phalzhing chug phalwa deleg thamcad jungwa dang yidla doepa kundrup shog” (Have peaceful good harvest, increased productivity of grain, and healthy cattle, and every other auspicious accomplishment. May all wishes be fulfilled.)’ 6 ATSARA CHAM / SA CHAK – THE DANCE OF THE ATSARA The opening dance, the Dance of the atsara (atsara cham), served to prepare the ground for the deities that the next dancers represented. The term sa chak (‘ground purification’) points to the purifying function of the next dances. Atsara are clown-like entertainers who wear colourful costumes, and keep the public amused while making sure the event is orderly and peaceful. Accordingly, they prevented the spectators from entering the dedicated dance area; anyone who arrived late and tried to sneak across the dance ground after the mask dances had started received a slap on his or her rear. The atsara preceded the religious dances, carrying an oversized wooden phallus and striking exaggerated poses. They filled the intervals while the dancers were changing their costumes, collected donations of money, and helped dancers whose costumes and masks had slipped, or who had forgotten their steps. This particular task requires that the atsara know all the dance sequences and know exactly how the festival should pro-

above left: Three horn-shaped objects (yangdron) decorate the wine bowl during the marchang ceremony. above right: The marchang ceremony at the beginning of the Jampe lhakhang drup. opposite: Welcome by the ceremonial procession (top left); dancers, dignitaries, musicians and bannerbearers march in procession. The five chogdar banners represent the five elements, earth, water, fire, air and ether, as well as the five directions, North, East, South, West and the Centre.


Atsara are jesters entertaining the public with crude jokes and antics in between dances.


ceed. On top of all this, they have a didactic religious function. According to Pommaret, they represent the acarya (Skt. ‘scholar’, ‘teacher’), the spiritual masters of India, since they are the only ones who are allowed to poke fun at their religion.7 Schicklgruber adds, ‘However, their jokes conceal a deep religious meaning: Buddhism teaches that prajnaparamita, the Absolute Truth, remains closed to man as long he remains entangled in the circle of rebirth. Accordingly, what the monks perform cannot constitute this ultimate insight. It is man who dances and it is man who has choreographed the dances. Thus whatever is performed cannot be the ultimate goal of Buddhist religious practice but only an attempt to achieve this goal. Here the role of the clowns is to qualify what is portrayed with regard to this insight. They are free to relativise the performance of the monks, a freedom which can only be assumed by somebody who is regarded as being outside any system of ordering principles.’ 8 Ricard also connects them with the mahasiddha, the great yogi of India, who, as the sons of wealthy houses, often turned away from luxury and riches and opted for the spiritual life as itinerant hermits. As divine madmen, they were especially noted for their eccentric and immoral behaviour.9 In Bhutan, they were also called dubthop. Ugyen Penjore has also written about them: ‘Legends say that about 84 dubthops (mahasiddhas), who had extinguished all defilements and afflictions, roamed the uni-

verse to subdue evil thoughts by mocking at worldly things. Colourfully dressed, eccentric in behaviour, and even vulgar and abusive in language, the dubthops used their wit and tricks together with their powers to uproot evil from the minds of mortals.’ 10 Within the context of this Bhutanese festival, atsara enjoy the freedom that jesters have: they provide a cheerful alternative to the general solemnity and entertain the crowd with rude jokes and pranks, while their parodies make both young and old rock with laughter. Their task is also to demonstrate that religious masters can appear under any guise. Lama Govinda comments on them as follows: ‘Far from destroying the atmosphere of wonder and sacredness, the juxtaposition of the sublime and the ridiculous rather seems to deepen the sense of reality, in which the highest and the lowest have their place and condition each other, thus giving perspective and proportion to our conception of the world and of ourselves.’ 11 According to Lopen Pem Dendup from the central monastic body (dratshang) in Trongsa, the atsara illustrate the Bhutanese version of the sutrada, a historical storyteller that provides background information to the mask dances while they are being performed.12 In the Buddhist context, the atsara have three functions: external (pchi), internal (nang) and hidden (sang). Their external functions include helping the mask dancers, should they require assistance with their costumes or dance

steps. Ordinary people are not allowed to help. Their inner task consists of bringing the uninitiated public closer to the essence of the cham dances, while simultaneously entertaining them. With regard to this secret level, Tashi Phuntsho Jr. explains the following: ‘On the secret level the Atsaras have attained such levels of understanding the perpetual adventure in pursuit of eternal salvation that they are totally above worldly attachments, feelings and other desires. They are in their own ways trying to pass down the message. In the past they even went to the extent of adopting nudism, somewhat like the Hindu Sadhus.’ 13 The atsara at the Jampe lhakhang drup were dressed in colourful, patched costumes and wearing brown and red masks with large conspicuous noses. If not actually waving a stuffed phallus in front of their faces, they were at least holding a large wooden phallus and entertaining the public with their occasionally crude improvisations. According to Dasho Lam Sanga, the wooden phallus symbolises the accomplishment of wisdom by the dubthop.14 Furthermore, symbolic phalluses of every kind are associated with the eccentric saint Drukpa Kunley. Similar to the stories that are told about Drukpa Kunley, these atsara also appear to be breaking the taboos around good behaviour with their antics. Their wooden phalluses recall Drukpa Kunley’s magical and sexual powers: ‘Drukpa Kunley demonstrated not merely how to destroy demons, but how

to transform them into guardians and protectors of the Buddhas’ Truth. The agent of transformation that effects this miracle is the immutable strength and consistency of the ultimate, transcending awareness of the mind, symbolized herein by Drukpa Kunley’s stick with a penis head, or by his own penis (Vajra, Dorje), referred to as “The Flaming Thunderbolt of Wisdom”. The demon takes refuge in Buddha immediately the Dorje reveals its empty nature, and, thereafter, so long as the Master occasionally reminds the demon of his continuous intuitive awareness of demonic apparitions’ essential Emptiness, it is tied to his will.’ 15 While one atsara of the Jampe lhakhangdrup embodied ‘the Old Woman’ (atsara ganmo), another played ‘the Old Man’ (atsara gathbo), who assumed an important and, above all, a leading role. Accordingly, the atsara gathbo’s clothes distinguished him from the other entertainers. He wore a long brownish robe with floral patterns and held a large wooden phallus, which he presented to the observers, together with his blessing. It is said that infertile women are most likely to allow themselves to be blessed by his wooden phallus in the hope of bearing a child. Atsara gathbo’s mask is especially interesting: it is dark brown, with lots of lines, a twisted mouth, and little beard. According to Bhutanese tradition, it was carved by a saint and is thought to be more than 300 years old. The mask of the atsara gathbo is kept in a shrine inside the Jampe lhakhang and

left: The wooden phalluses of the atsara recall Drukpa Kunley's magical and sexual powers. right: The phallus is supposed to provide particularly effective protection against negative forces and is also a fertility symbol; consequently it is painted on the walls of many Bhutanese farmhouses.


The atsara ganmo (left ) and the atsara gathbo (centre) with his legendary mask; in between sacred dances, women entertain the audience with folk songs and dances.


can only be seen once a year, on the occasion of the Jampe lhakhang drup. This ancient wooden mask is worn only by Jigme, the oldest man in Bumthang. Whenever other dancers attempted to wear this mask, something terrible happened. Karma Tshering tells of two such cases: the first involved a monk who was a great public entertainer, which was why he wanted to play the atsara gathbo, just once. Jigme asked him to take care, but as the monk was walking out of the changing room, he tripped over a gutter and broke his leg. Another dancer tried to wear this mask, just once, but felt dazed as soon as he stepped onto the dance ground, and could not find his way among the press of people. He was obliged to remove the mask. Since then, the rule says that the successor, who is allowed to wear this mask once, has to be carefully selected. The new possessor will be identified by Jigme himself, who will usually choose a few men who know how to entertain the public, and then allow the tsip to throw his dice to determine which of these men is allowed to be the new atsara gathbo. A particular ritual will then take place, and the chosen man will finally be handed the mask. Masks that make an appearance during religious festivals are definitely attributed with magical powers. Many Bhutanese are convinced that the dancers really do turn into deities for a while. On the first day, the atsara introduced the following dances: shinjey yab yum, the Dance of the Lord of the Death and his Consort, yuley mai cham, the Dance of the nyulema (evil spirits), peling jug ging, the Dance of the ging with Sticks, durdag, the Dance of the Lord of the Cremation

Grounds, peling dri ging, the Dance of the ging with Swords, peling nga ging, the Dance of the ging with Drums, pa cham, the Dance of the Heroes, zha nag nga cham, the Dance of the Black Hat Magicians with Drums, and jachung boechung, the Dance of the Garuda and a display by the atsara, which marked the end of that day’s events at 4 pm. Before the first sacred performance took place, a group of ten women sang and danced and waved a white shawl (khada) as a symbolic offering. The women were dressed in floor length kira, with rich decorations on a white ground (kushuthara), different-coloured jackets (tego) and blouses (wonju) along with red kabne. They were not wearing their kabne over their left shoulders in the usual manner, but slung around their upper torsos, so as not to slip off during the dance. These women performed folk dances between each of the sacred performances, and accompanied them with singing. Their songs were an expression of traditional Bhutanese ways of living and told of universal themes such as love, joy and suffering. At the same time, they also reflected Buddhist values, such as the importance of harmonious relations and coexistence between people, all sentient beings, and nature. According to Pommaret, those songs that have a religious kernel used to be sung in Tibetan, while the songs that deal with everyday issues were sung in Dzongkha or local dialects. Previously, many of these songs used to be sung in everyday situations, for instance while planting rice, ploughing or bringing in the harvest, on the meadow, or to the rhythm of the weaver’s shuttle.16

SHINJEY YAB YUM – THE DANCE OF THE LORD OF THE DEATH AND HIS CONSORT The first sacred dance performed was shinjey yab yum, which served to purify the dance ground, remove evil influences, and bless the arena prior to the arrival on earth of the deities. This dance refers to Shinjey, the Lord of the Death, who is commonly known by the name of Yama. In the Tibetan and Buddhist context, the legend tells how Yamantaka, the wrathful aspect of the Bodhisattva of Wisdom (Tib. Jampelyang, Skt. Manjushri), overthrew the Lord of the Death, and transformed him into a dharmapala, a defender of Buddhist teaching. According to the popular version of the mythological origins of Yama which also introduces the role of Yamantaka, a hermit was meditating in a cave and after spending nearly fifty years living in meditation, was on the verge of attaining enlightenment. On the night before his enlightenment, two cattle rustlers entered his cave with a stolen bull and cut off the bull’s head. When they realised the hermit had witnessed their crime, they decided to kill the hermit; he begged them to spare his life, explaining that he would reach enlightenment soon and that all his years of efforts would have been in vain. The rustlers ignored his plea and beheaded him but the hermit, who had acquired special powers, put the bull’s head on his own headless body and killed the raiders. In his rage he went on a murderous rampage and decimated whole populations, thereby earning the title of Shinjey / Yama, the Lord of the Death. The people appealed to Jampelyang / Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, to protect them from the Lord of the Death.

He himself assumed the form of Yamantaka (the conquerer of Death or terminator of the Lord of the Death), defeated Yama, and bound him by an oath to serve as a protector of the dharma. Since that time, Shinjey / Yama has, as a protective deity, held an important position in the religious practice of Tibetan Buddhists. ‘The great battle between Yamantaka and Yama has also been regarded as a metaphorical incident that epitomizes the tension and struggle between Wisdom and Ego-grasping.’ 17 The Dance of Shinjey involves him as the male principal, yab, slowly dancing in a circle with his female principle yum. This was performed by two dancers wearing long gold brocade costumes featuring red stripes and wide sleeves. They also wore petrol coloured cloud collars (dorjigong), boots (cham lham) and red-gold wrathful bull masks. Each mask was crowned with a skull, and displayed the forehead chakra; this is often described as a ‘third eye’ or ‘inner eye’. It represents the ‘Eye of Wisdom and Insight’. Blue woollen strips were wound around their splayed horns and, as is the case with many cham masks, the dancers peered through the gaping mouths, rather than through the eyeholes in their masks. Consequently, these masks sat high above the dancers’ heads and needed to be stuffed with cloths and tied on with strips of cloth. Each dancer held a sword (dri) in his right hand with which to combat negative forces. During the yab yum dance they traced ellipses, moving towards and then away from each other. They shifted their weight from leg to leg, leant their upper torsos towards the ground and turned round, constantly repeating the same step, the same movement, in a meditative way. The two dancers also

Shinjey yab yum – The Dance of the Lord of the Death and his Consort.


above and opposite: Yuley mai cham – The Dance of the nyulema.


shook their heads as they faced each other. This movement is called sheljor, and is typically found in the shinjey yab yum. It is said that it symbolises the wrathful aspect of the two figures and its purpose is to frighten the evil spirits. Their dance was based on the philosophy of Tantric Buddhism, whereby the male principle is linked to knowledge and method, and the female principle embodies wisdom. The symbolism that it conveyed is derived from the association of two originally Sanskrit words: prajna (‘wisdom’) for the female gender and upaya (‘expedient means’) as male characteristics. According to Vajrayana symbolism, the term yab yum (Tib. father-mother) represents the sublimated union of these two principles, which always determine each other, since both are needed, wisdom and method, to achieve the enlightened state. Occasionally, these two principles also indicate male creative energy and female static wisdom. According to Gisela Bonn, the male and female divinities in this dance represent not only the unification of the principles of active realisation and concentrated insight; they also, more generally, represent the dual polarity that underpins all phenomena, and present the abolition of this dualism, ‘Light and darkness, day and night, this world and the afterworld, life and death, moon and sun, vajra (Diamond sceptre) and bell, man and woman, are bound indissolubly together […] Through their unification, the two forces destroy the antagonism between the male and female principles. They achieve the condition of triumphant non-duality, whereby each one is both, and both one.’ 18 ‘But the danced circle of the divinities of Death stands not only for

mutual fulfilment, closure, it is simultaneously the completion of Samsara, the never-ending circular movement, the wheel of life […] What the gods dance is the real life of humanity, its passionate desire for salvation, its longing for unity.’ 19 The next dances (yuley mai cham, peling jug ging, durdag, peling dri ging and peling nga ging) are just as deeply embedded in the Buddhist context. Dasho Sithel Dorji explains these five interwoven dances in such a way that, while Buddhist teaching is seen as the source of happiness and peace for all sentient beings in the three worlds (khamsum), which are composed of the phenomenal world, the world of astral forms, and the spiritual world, there are also beings hostile to Buddhism, which oppose the dissemination of Buddhist teaching. Beer divides these three worlds or realms into the desire realm (Skt. kamadhatu), the form realm (Skt. rupadhatu) and the formless realm (Skt. arupadhatu).20 The desire realm consists of the realm of being in which humans, among other beings, can be reborn. The form and the formless realms are states of meditation. According to Beer the expression ‘three worlds’ is also based on the three levels of existence: above the earth, where the deities dwell, on the earth, where the humans live and under the earth, where the serpent beings or deities are to be found.21 The human and nonhuman beings, mentioned above, with their supernatural powers, evil intentions (evil spirits), and obstacles to the dharma, are referred to as jungpo nyulema and are represented in the first of the next five dances.22

YULEY MAI CHAM – THE DANCE OF THE NYULEMA (EVIL SPIRIT) The yuley mai cham serves as a visible reference to the existence of evil in the world. The dance featured a dancer who represented just such a nyulema entity, which is said to cause harmful thoughts and delusions within human beings. In his antics he was supported by the atsara who also teased him relentlessly and interpreted his actions to the audience. The nyulema dancer wore a wooden mask with large red hollows for the eyes and a broad grin, together with knee-length yellow trousers with patches on the seat. His upper body and feet were bare. He held a bamboo stick and a dark brown pelt pinned under one arm, which he then lay down in the centre of the dance ground in order to take a nap; happy about all the harm he has done and all the souls he has won over to help him. Although he was repeatedly and roughly disturbed by the two atsara with their red masks, he finally fell asleep. The remaining dances are sometimes interpreted as reflections of his dreams. As the nyulema dancer lay on his pelt in the middle of the dance ground, the first of the ging dances started up. These ging dances formed a trilogy, comprised of the peling jug ging, the ging Dance with Sticks, which locates and points out the adversary, the peling dri ging, the ging Dance with Swords, to conquer and destroy it, and the peling nga ging, the ging Dance with Drums, celebrating the victory over the adversary. The ging dances served both to purify the dance ground from all negative influences and to disseminate the teachings of Buddha. The original ging Dance Trilogy (ging sum), also known as Peling tercham (‘revealed treasure dances’) is based on a vision that terton Pema Lingpa is supposed to have experienced during

the latter part of the 15 th century in Lhodrak, in southern Tibet, close to the Bhutanese border.23 According to Dasho Sithel Dorji, it was while he was staying at Guru Rinpoche’s zangdo pelri that Pema Lingpa received precise instructions about the three forms of the ging, and was shown how the nyulema could be overthrown with the help of these ging dances.24 The jug ging, dri ging and nga ging dances represent the activities of the ging, the heavenly heroes or guardians, who are described as supernatural beings from a different spiritual dimension and as emanations of Guru Rinpoche. Each segment features its own distinct steps and movements. Following Pema Lingpa’s original vision, the choreography remained unchanged for more than 500 years. The monks of the Lhalung Monastery in Tibet then brought the dances to Tamshing monastery in Bhutan when they were exiled and found their new home there.25 This set of three ging dances, as taught by Pema Lingpa in 1501 in Tamshing, was originally a version that was intended for the rural population. The ging dances soon spread throughout Bhutan and are still regularly performed nowadays, though they correspond very seldom to Pema Lingpa’s original version. According to Karma Tshering, they have undergone constant changes over the centuries, having been passed by oral transmission from one master to another, and from one place to the next. Frequently, a step will have been forgotten in one place, and a new step introduced in another. Consequently, there are many different versions of the ging dances. That said, the dances of Tamshing are thought to be the most authentic versions, because Tamshing is the only monastery that maintains both versions of Pema Lingpa’s ging sum, the monastic and the rural versions.26 147

PELING JUG GING – THE GING DANCE WITH STICKS Peling jug ging – The Dance of the ging with Sticks.


The ging Dance with Sticks featured eight dancers wearing animal masks representing a monkey, two garuda, a stag, a dog, a leopard, a snake and a tiger. They wore long skirts (darna mentsi) made of four fabrics, each a different colour, overlaid with a soft cloth made of yellow silk with green and red patterns (mentsi), cloud collars (dorjigong) and colourful broad sashes (gotrab) which they wore crisscrossed over their fronts and backs. The champon’s scarf was decorated with applied cowrie shells; another was ornamented with white buttons. All the dancers held sticks in their hands, which they used for purifying the dance floor. Jug literally means baton or wand; it depicts a sensitive instrument that is able to discern and point at the location of malevolent spirits or negative forces. Each stick is painted with three different combinations of red, blue and white stripes, which are intended to symbolise the three poisons (doksum) of ignorance, attachment and aversion. The ging Dance with Sticks is the visual representation of the ging, the emanations of Guru Rinpoche, subduing the nyulema through their clairvoyance. It is said that the peling jug ging starts by identifying the obstacles that constantly appear on the way to enlightenment. The jug ging are said to have powers of divination, with which they can detect the nyulema that have fled to all three worlds. According to Bhutanese tradition, there are innumerable magic formula for subduing these evil beings, but Dasho Sithel Dorji says that the jug ging catch the nyulema with the hook of affection, and tie them up with the noose of compassion, and beat them with their sticks of wisdom until they have been rendered powerless.27 Khenpo

Phuntsok Tashi explains: ‘The stick dance also includes three main sections: the first section is a type of divination dance from where the malevolent spirit can be found, the middle section represents the search for evil spirits, and the final one is the pointing and locating of the malevolent spirit and finding of this within the mind.’ 28 ‘At the end all dancers then kneel down to the ground and point their sticks to the earth, but the chamjug indicates with his stick that the evil spirit is actually located inside the body and points to the heart three times. This is meant to demonstrate that it is our own delusions which are the real evil spirits that need to be subdued and transformed by following the truth of dharma.’ 29 While the peling jug ging was still underway, the nyulema dancer left the dance floor. DURDAG – THE DANCE OF THE LORD OF THE CREMATION GROUNDS Between the peling jug ging and the peling dri ging, the Dance of the Lord of the Cremation Grounds (durdag) was performed. This dance requires a certain understanding of the symbolism of Tantric Buddhism, which features eight cemeteries lying along the rim of the cosmic diagrams (mandala) of the Tantric Deities, inhabited by defenders of the dharma (Skt. dharmapala, Tib. chhokyong), who have been bound by an oath. Among these is the Lord of the Cremation Grounds, whose allotted task is to protect the cosmic diagram from harmful influences. In Vajrayana, a mandala (Skt. ‘circle’) symbolises the nature of the pure land or the enlightened mind. Ricard explains: ‘A mandala is a plan representing a pure land, a palace that corresponds to a purified vision of the external world. In that palace reside the

“deities,” who are the reflection of a purified vision of ourselves and other beings and represent the different inherent qualities of enlightenment, such as wisdom and compassion.’ 30 A mandala also represents the entire universe, depicted with Mount Meru as the axis mundi in the centre. In this imaginary space the eight cemeteries are located on the external edges of Mount Meru. Their purpose is to remind us of the truth of death and of impermanence, one of the essential Buddhist doctrines. Ricard accounts for the symbolism of these eight places as follows: ‘The eight cemeteries that surround the palace represent the pure aspects of the eight consciousnesses: the ground consciousness, the five sense-consciousnesses, the consciousness linked to the negative emotions, and the intellectual consciousness. They also symbolize the eight similes which illustrate the illusory nature of phenomena: like a dream, a bubble, a mirage, the reflection of the moon in water, an optical illusion, an echo, a city of gandharvas, and a magical show.’ 31 The durdag was performed by four dancers wearing white skeleton costumes and white skull masks, with horrible bare-toothed grins painted on them. The eye-sockets were red and narrow; their heads were decorated with five-pointed crowns, representing their supremacy over natural forces, and with small semi-circular pieces of cloth in rainbow colours hanging at ear level. According to Pearlman, these rainbow-coloured patches of cloth are called ‘Butterflies’ in the Mongolian cham dances.32 The backs of the dancers’ heads were covered with white cloths. Their white garments with their long sleeves and legs featured a skeleton outlined in orange, and on their hands they wore orange and white gloves with very long fingers. The four Lords of Cemeteries wore further cotton garments, imitating a tiger-and-leopard

skin, as well as orange cloud collars around their necks and a colourful sashes running crosswise over their breasts and backs. The symbolism that these costumes conveyed was related to the death of the ego and the spirit’s progress towards enlightenment. The skeleton is also a reminder of the impermanence of all things and an incitement to spiritual practice.33 Ricard writes: ‘When the flesh and blood of ignorance have been devoured by emptiness, there remains only the pure skeleton of clear awareness, the non-duality of enlightenment which transcends fear.’ 34 During the durdag the dancers demonstrated how the dharmapala subdue evil spirits in order to protect the dharma. The durdag dancers brought in a black cloth, bearing a small skin-coloured dough figure with breasts and an oversized erect penis, lying on its back on a wooden board that was placed in the middle of the dance floor. Then, for a long time, the Lords of the Cremation Grounds danced around this small anthropomorphic figure. This kind of effigy or linga (Skt. ‘sign’, ‘mark’, ‘characteristic’) can be presented in very different materials and forms. The only important factor is that elementary anthropomorphic traits are present. This effigy or linga served as a scapegoat while simultaneously personifying the ego, attachment to the reality of self; it would then be removed with swords in the course of the next dance. Ricard explains: ‘The consciousness of all the negative forces is concentrated into the effigy. During one of the dances that follow, the master of the ceremony liberates this consciousness by dissolving it in the space of emptiness, which is absolute truth.’ 35 This ritual killing is reminiscent of earlier cults during the pre-Buddhist era, when animals and even humans were indeed sacrificed.

Durdag – The Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds.



PELING DRI GING – THE GING DANCE WITH SWORDS For the second ging dance eight dancers appeared on the dance ground, wearing silken darna mentsi skirts, cloud collars, and broad sashes running crosswise over their breasts and backs. This time though, they were wearing wrathful masks and holding swords (dri) in their right hands, with which to combat the hostile forces. The swords represented the self-arising wisdom that cuts through all delusions in a single stroke. Their terrifying masks were in various colours and crowned with five skulls, symbolising the five spiritual poisons of ignorance, attachment, aversion, pride and envy, which are to be overcome or transformed. These five spiritual poisons are supposed to be transformed into the five aspects of wisdom that are fundamental to them, which are presented in the crown of the Tathagata or Dhyani Buddhas that can be seen during the Dance of the Heroes (pacham). Furthermore, the masks of the ging had distinctive large eyes, a ‘third eye’ in their foreheads, symbolising their enlightened state, and wide-open mouths filled with sharp teeth. The dance with the swords showed how the obstacles on the way to enlightenment are destroyed. The dancers demonstrated how the nyulema were subjugated, and slayed with compassion, and how their karma was purified, and their souls were dispatched to the paradise of pure consciousness or ‘pure heavens’ as Dasho Sithel Dorji depicts it.36

The removal of the hindrances, or the killing of the nyulema, was symbolised by slashing the ritual figure in the middle of the dance floor. With wrathful steps the ging began by pointing their swords at the sky and the ground to purify the atmosphere of deeds such as robbery, murder and even separation from personal protective deities, for which the nyulema were held to account. They then met up in the centre and chopped up the anthropomorphic figure as a metaphor for the destruction of the ego and of ignorance. As a sign of this ritual death, they crossed their swords above the effigy, whose body had now been transformed symbolically into a sacrificial victim. To represent this, the little carved wooden table was brought in again, bearing the wine bowl filled with ceremonial marchang. The dancers formed a circle, spread their arms out and turned their palms towards heaven, while the champon presented the ceremonial wine, holding the ladle in his right hand. Finally, the ging bore the black cloth with the slain figure away from the dance floor; after a final dance, the ging emerged with drums.

above and opposite: Peling dri ging – The ging Dance with Swords.

PELING NGA GING – THE GING DANCE WITH DRUMS The third and final ging dance, the ging Dance with Drums, featured eight dancers once again wearing the same costumes, but with different terrifying masks in a variety of colours. Each mask 151

Peling nga ging – The ging Dance with Drums.


was crowned with five skulls, but instead of eyes, they simply had eye sockets, and tusks poked out of their gaping mouths alarmingly. In their hands they held large drums (nga), with which they proclaimed the victory over evil spirits through their subjugation, and the victory of Buddhism, which could now once again be disseminated unhindered. Khenpo Phuntsok Tashi explains the dance as follows: ‘Each beat brings liberation to all who are present in the dance courtyard and helps to remove suffering and its cause. In Mahayana Buddhist tradition, drum is known as the drum of dharma which liberates all from suffering just through the action of hearing its sound.’ 37 Even the nyulema were set free, thereby receiving the opportunity to aim for enlightenment. According to Dasho Sithel Dorji, the ging Dance with Drums involves a prayer for peace and happiness for all sentient beings, which is why it is considered a particularly auspicious dance, and a blessing.38 Khenpo Phuntsok Tashi goes on to emphasise: ‘Therefore, these sacred dances are not to be seen as rituals to exorcise evil spirits, even though the origins of the tradition as a genre may lie in socalled shamanistic practices. To be effective and meaningful, the dance must be seen as a mandala. The dance ground is considered sacred space, symbolizing the forces present within our psyches through physical form. Mandalas of many types exist, each representing particular deities and their associated psychic forces. To precipitate awareness in the observers and participants, the dance resonates on a physical or body level as well as invoking speech through its verbal liturgies, and those are in turn analogous to meditation practices, which cultivate the mind. Thus, the function of dance – both

for dancers and viewers – is one of concentrating the mind and subsequently releasing it from the obscurations of the senses. However, the dance will have no effect unless those involved initiate and propagate those processes that result in transformation within them.’ 39 PA CHAM – THE DANCE OF THE HEROES The Dance of the Heroes (pa cham) also refers back to Pema Lingpa’s vision of Guru Rinpoche’s zangdo pelri; basically, to a vision that he was granted during the 15 th century in Bumthang. Pema Lingpa is alleged to have described it as follows: ‘At the summit stood the palace of light, radiant with the brilliance of primordial wisdom and vast as the sky. In the center of the palace, in a space of shimmering dots and lattices of rainbow lights, sat Padmasambhava, union of the buddhas of the past, present, and future. He was surrounded by a retinue of male and female deities, dancing with myriad movements and singing the profound teachings of the great vehicle with melodious voices. The myriad deities formed a splendid cloud, accomplishing the benefit of beings in inconceivable ways.’ 40 Thus, on the peak of the copper-coloured mountain zangdo pelri, Pema Lingpa saw heavenly beings dancing in the midst of rainbows for the wellbeing of mankind. They included protective deities, heroes and heroines in their very different emanations; however, the dance of the peaceful heroes and heroines is supposed to be the most impressive one. According to Bonn, Pema Lingpa – enchanted by the rhythm – is supposed to have invited these heavenly soloists to dance on earth

as well. Since that time, they have danced on the occasion of sacred festivals; and through the power of their rhythms they open the way for all the faithful to the heavenly dwelling of Guru Rinpoche.41 The seven performers of the pa cham danced barefoot, wearing silken skirts (darna mentsi). When they leapt high in the air, their kneelength trousers with leopard patterns (zigdor) were revealed. They combined them with long-sleeved silk jackets (tego), colourful criss-crossed sashes and cloud collars. The dancers were not masked; instead, they wore cloths (jabdar) that covered their heads and backs, along with five-leaf crowns (rigna), from which hung braids of artificial hair (zuencha). These crowns refer to the crown of Tathagata, or the Dhyani Buddhas, and symbolise the five aspects of their wisdom. The Tathagata are considered to embody the five transcendental Buddhas (Adibuddhas). They are removed from earthly boundaries and natural laws, they are timeless and ever-present, and symbolise various aspects of the absolute, which is basically impossible to represent. On the conscious level, they represent the five aggregates, or skandha, which comprise physical form, sensation, perception, mental formations and consciousness. They appear to practising Buddhists during meditation in order

to transform negative attitudes to positive ones. Akshobhya (Skt. ‘the Unshakeable One’) is capable of transforming anger and hatred to wisdom, which allows the true nature of being to be revealed; Amitabha (Skt. ‘Infinite Light’) changes desire, greed and possessive thoughts into compassion, Ratnasambhava (Skt. ‘the Jewel-Born’) changes pride and egoism into awareness that all beings are the same; Vairocana (Skt. ‘the Intensley Luminescent One’) removes ignorance and delusion by conveying the insight that all being is ultimately based on the rule of dharma, and Amoghasiddhi (Skt. ‘Unfailing Success’) transforms envy and jealously into all-accomplishing wisdom, which explains how every action inevitably entails its karmic effects and results in the appropriate reincarnations. The transcendent Buddhas are linked to a complex system of forms of appearance, attributes and colours. Whereas the Buddhas of different ages are shown in monks’ habits, the crowned Tathagata wears noble garments and is covered in jewels. According to Schicklgruber, all Tathagata Buddhas have 13 ornaments, consisting of five silken accessories (silk ribbons, silk upper garment, silk scarf, a silk sash at the waist and silken undergarment) and eight jewels (crown, earrings, gorget, armlets, necklaces,

Pa cham – the Dance of the Heroes.


The zha nag nga cham, the Dance of the Black Hat Magicians with Drums is thought to be the most powerful dance in the canon of Black Hat dances.

bracelets, finger rings and anklets).42 In addition, each of the dancers held a small double-sided hand-drum (damaru) in the right hand and a bell (drilbu) in the left hand. The little drum is a ritual object whose sound summons heavenly dancers (Skt. dakini). The hollow bells symbolise wisdom and allow the natural sound of emptiness to ring out.43 ZHA NAG NGA CHAM – THE DANCE OF THE BLACK HAT MAGICIANS WITH DRUMS Black Hat Dances (zha nag cham) are considered extremely powerful because the Black Hat Magicians that the dancers represent are influential Tantric masters, who are invested with powers that can create and destroy life, and who are essential for maintaining the equilibrium between humans and the universe. The tradition of the Black Hat Dances goes back to an established cult of magicians in pre-Buddhist Tibet, according to which these dances were used for transmitting secret magic formulae. Nowadays, the movements of the Black Hat Dances are still derived from those dances, which were used during pre-Buddhist rituals for white and black magic.44 Furthermore, the dance of the Black Hat Magicians refers to an important event in Tibetan history in the 9 th century, which is recounted as follows: it took place in the year 838. King Langdarma ascended to the Tibetan throne after killing his


brother, and he immediately gave orders to persecute Buddhism. As a supporter of the old Bon Religion, he was hostile to Buddhism and, during his short time in office he destroyed Buddhist monasteries, stripped monks of their robes and de-consecrated a large number of temples. This suppression of Buddhism persisted until the year 842, when a monk called Lhalungpa Pelgyi Dorje turned up mysteriously in the capital city Lhasa, wearing a black robe and a big black hat. No sooner had he learnt about King Langdarma’s resistance than he began dancing, thereby drawing the attention of the servants to himself; he was eventually invited to come before the king, to repeat his dance in front of Langdarma. Lhalungpa Pelgyi Dorje accepted this invitation, but at the highpoint of his performance, he suddenly drew a small bow and arrow from the wide sleeves of his robe and slew the king by shooting an arrow into his right eye. Pelgyi Dorje took advantage of the subsequent confusion and escaped on a sooty horse. As he was crossing the river, the black colour was washed off and the horse emerged gleaming white once more. At the same time, the monk turned his robe inside out, so that its white lining was turned outwards. Since none of his pursuers were looking for a man in white on a white horse, Pelgyi Dorje was able to escape unharmed. But the dance of the Black Hat Magicians does not simply tell a story from the Tibetan Buddhist past; it provides an insight into Buddhist teaching as well. For all that the monk initiated a deadly event, it occurred in the Buddhist sense. This may appear

paradoxical, especially when one considers that a core feature of Buddhist ethics is the prohibition against killing a sentient being. However, the Buddhist texts in the Mahayana tradition often employ terms such as ‘killing’ and ‘freeing’ as synonyms and refer to the act of killing as freeing the person from their karmicallyloaded existence. Consequently, Pelgyi Dorje’s deed took place not for selfish reasons, but out of compassion for the king and for the benefit of all living beings and the entire world. The brocade costumes of the Black Hat Magicians still serve to remind us of this fact. Thus, like the monk Lhalungpa Pelgyi Dorje, the nine dancers at the Jampe lhakhang drup were dressed in wide robes with long wide sleeves and large hats – the costume of a ‘black magician’ or Bon priest, just as Pelgyi Dorje had appeared in Lhasa. The Black Hat Magicians did not wear masks and their wide hats with small braids were set deep over their faces. These hats were black on the outside, and covered with golden lettering, but the inside of the broad brims was lined with coloured stripes. These hats were covered in elaborate decorations, based on two white horns, a white sickle moon, a golden sun and a round mirror. All these symbols were surrounded by a colourful arc of flames. The middle part consisted of a small colourful base on which stood a white skull, crowned in its turn with a half gold-coloured diamond sceptre (dorje). The whole effect was finished off with a fan-shaped ornament consisting of a small gold-coloured disk covered with jewels and sporting nine peacock

feathers. The symbolism of this richly decorated hat is provided by Ricard: ‘The black hat […] is in itself a symbol of the whole mandala. The base of the hat represents the mandala of wind which supports the universe. The outside border of the brim is the ring of iron mountains surrounding the universe and containing the great outer ocean. The inner border is the ring of mountains which surrounds the inner ocean. The eight angles of the octagon drawn with five-colored threads on the brim are the four continents and the four subcontinents. The main part of the hat is Mount Meru, the axis of the world, on whose summit is the realm of the thirty-three gods, represented by the nucleus of a vajra. The branches of the half-vajra on top of it are the palaces of the gods. The crest of peacock-feathers is the wishfulfilling tree, to which is attached a symbol of the principal deity of the mandala.’ 45 Sun (Skt. surya, Tib., Dzk. nima) and moon (Skt. chandra, Tib. zlaba, Dzk. dawa) constitute one of the most important symbols of polarity in Vajrayana Buddhism. The red or golden sun represents the female aspect of wisdom; the white moon the male aspect of method, or compassion.46 The zha nag nga cham, the Dance of the Black Hat Magicians with Drums, is considered one of the most powerful dances in the canon of Black Hat Dances. It is said that Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel himself was constantly practising this dance. According to Bhutanese tradition, the Shabdrung attempted, for instance, to harm high-ranking lamas of the Tibetan Drukpa School by writing their names on a triangular cloth, which was then laid beneath

The Black Hat dance is performed without masks; instead the dancers wear black hats with elaborate decorations and rich symbolism.


This drama, which is actually intended to convey Buddhist content, is accompanied by the atsara whose rude jokes and antics make the people roar with laughter.


the sacrificial substitute (linga), to be ripped to pieces during the next dance. Furthermore, it is said that whoever watches this dance not only gains the highest blessing but also experiences the removal of all obstacles on the way to enlightenment, and that these dances leave powerful karmic imprints in the minds of all those who witness it. This dance resembles a ritual purification of the ground and for this reason is primarily performed prior to building and consecrating a dzong, temple or chorten, to frighten away all hostile spirits that have taken possession of the earth and to transform the place into a sacred space. The zha nag nga cham is performed every year by the best dancers of the Drukpa-Kagyu School during the Thimphu drubchen in Tashichhodzong, in order to sustain the protection and prosperity of the entire kingdom. They also constitute part of the inner, secret dances that are conducted during the Punakha drubchen. In this case, the Je Khenpo himself performs the sacred dance dressed in the costume of the Black Hat magician that identifies him as a powerful Tantric master. During the zha nag nga cham of the Jampe lhakhang drup, the Black Hat Magicians beat their drums (nga), whose sounds represent Buddhist teaching – which cannot be shown in any visible form. Regarding the drum Ricard comments that: ‘The drum is a symbol and a reminder of the deep drumroll that resounded in space after the enlightenment of the Buddha under the bodhi tree, two thousand years ago, proclaiming the victory of wisdom over the darkness of ignorance.’ 47 With their steps the dancers purified the dance ground, chased away evil influences and destroyed hostile demons, or rather their ignorance, with compassion whereby they found their freedom. After that, the Tantric masters took possession of the earth

and placed it under their protection, and proclaimed with every beat of their drums the dissemination of the Buddhist dharma. By dancing, the gestures of their hands were transformed into holy mystical mudra, while their feet, which traversed the dance floor in the steps of the thunderbolt, formed the sacred geometric figure of a mandala on the ground and demonstrated their power in this way. Furthermore, the entire dance area was held to be a mandala in which the deities assumed their places. JACHUNG BOECHUNG – THE DANCE OF THE GARUDA The day ended with a dance called jachung boechung that comprised the Dance of Two Mystical Birds (garuda) and a display by atsara. The two dancers wore red garuda masks, long blue brocade garments, cloud collars and boots (cham lham). After their dance, the atsara performed a play to teach the public that even the greatest sinner can find enlightenment, if only he follows the way of Buddha. Although this drama is intended to convey Buddhist content, most of the audience seemed to regard it as a comedy. The story was about a man – played by the atsara gathbo – who had gone mad and in his madness, wounded his own son, having failed to recognise him on account of his illness. In his despair, he tried to save his son’s life – the son was played by an atsara in a white garment and a brown mask. First he intervened as an oracle healer (pawo), then he conducted various religious rituals, and when both these attempts proved useless, he finally consulted a doctor and a monk about healing his son.

THE NIGHT OF THE FULL MOON TER CHAM – THE TREASURE DANCE At midnight, on a night of the full moon, a special dance was performed in the inner court of the Jampe lhakhang: this was the ter cham (‘Treasure Dance’), popularly referred to as the ‘Naked Dance’. This dance is much loved by local people. However, the date of its performance is kept a secret, with the result that many Bhutanese people have never seen this dance, and even dismiss it as a rumour. Furthermore, photographs are strictly forbidden. For all that, the ter cham does exist, and is even a well-established tradition in Bumthang. It was introduced by terton Dorje Lingpa, as prophesied by Guru Rinpoche back in the 8 th century. The first performance is linked with the story of the construction of a lhakhang in Nabjikorphu in Trongsa district. According to Bhutanese tradition, the work of building the temple was constantly being interrupted by local demons. Any part of the temple that was built during the day was immediately destroyed by them during the night. This nightly devastation continued for a while until the day when Dorje Lingpa had the idea of performing a ‘naked dance’ to distract the demons and prevent them from destroying the temple every night-time. This is what happened, thereby enabling the temple to be raised up that very night and dedicated by Dorje Lingpa. It was Dorje Lingpa who also blessed the Jampe lhakhang, and who brought this dance to the region.

Since then, it has been firmly established in Jampe lhakhang drup. The dance is attributed with the power of ensuring a successful harvest and of freeing its watchers from their sins. On that chilly night, the audience crowded into the small inner court of the Jampe lhakhang, and pressed close together to watch nine men dancing around a fire to the rhythm of cymbals and drumbeats. The dancers’ faces were covered with white cloths, but their bodies were totally naked. Inflated condoms bounced about, suspended from their genitals, and they made farcical use of them, in between their skilful leaps and turns. Every year, the dancers of the dorling ter cham are selected from four villages, and their names and origins are kept very secret. Given that some of them take part in it many times, it is possible for local people to recognise one or more dancers by their physique. Although it is strictly forbidden to call out a dancer’s name, on this occasion, people were constantly shouting all kinds of names in the darkness, followed by laughter. Some of the Bhutanese audience were simply ragging the dancers by shouting all kinds of common names. The prohibition on photographs was also disregarded by some Bhutanese, who took photos with well-concealed mobiles. While the dance gave rise to merriment and joking among the younger public, a few tourists viewed it with embarrassment. The spiritual aspect of the dance seemed only to be appreciated by the elder generation. ‘We must view this with respect and not turn it into a joke,’ one of the villagers said, folding his hands during

To save his son, the atsara gathbo conducts various religious rituals (left), and also intervenes as an oracle healer (right ).


Atsara cham /  dralha pangtoe.

the dance. ‘The younger generation may think it’s funny, but this dance was introduced by our great saints.’ 48 The Chakhar Lam has also referred to the ter cham during an interview with Kuensel as one of the most holy dances of Bumthang, explaining that, ‘They should not simply view that as a bare male organ. It is one of the most precious Ter (treasures) in this world. All living beings are born into our world through this organ.’ 49 The ter cham was banned once, on account of its vulgarity, by the Bumthang Dzongkhag Administration; however, the ban was soon lifted, after another religious festival, the dzongkhag drub, had to be cancelled on account of heavy rainfall. The local astrologers blamed it on the non-performance of the ter cham.50 Since then, it has been performed every year and it is said that the participating dancers and their families gain special blessings from this sacred dance. In Merak and Sakteng there is a similar tradition. There, every three years on the 15 th and 16 th day of the fifth month in the Tibetan-Bhutanese calendar, 12 selected dancers will perform a ter cham. Their clothing consists only of a head cloth, a mask and a cloud collar (dorjigong) that covers part of the upper body; otherwise they are entirely naked. THE SECOND DAY The second day of the Jampe lhakhang drup began on 7 th November 2006 at 9.30 am with the atsara cham / dralha pangtoe, the Dance of the atsara, which referred to the local deity Dralha Pangtoe. After this dance came the shzam cham,


the Dance of the Four Stags, zha nag phur cham, the Dance of the Black Hat Magicians with ritual daggers, durdag, the Dance of the Lord of the Cremation Grounds, tsholing ging cham, the Dance of the tsholing and the ging, tshechu ging, the Dance of the ging with Drums, and drametse nga cham, the Dance of the drametse Drums were presented. The final performance that day took place at about 5 pm, and was called phole mole, a play about two princes and two princesses. ATSARA CHAM / DRALHA PANGTOE – THE DANCE OF THE ATSARA AND THE LOCAL DEITY DRALHA PANGTOE Once the public had settled down in the small square and the spiritual and secular dignitaries had entered and sat down in the places of honour, the atsara started the atsara cham / dralha pangtoe, a dance that referred to local deity Dralha Pangtoe. In this dance, seven atsara made an appearance in various costumes. Five of the atsara wore the colourful patched garments of the previous day; the two long-nosed red masks and the brown mask that had also been displayed on the previous day were supplemented by two white masks with large noses and painted green hair that was pulled back to form a knot of blue hair on the top of the head. One of the white-masked atsara was wearing an additional tall warrior head-ornament made of dark red dyed fur. The atsara gathbo appeared with his notorious mask and wearing a new long garment, decorated with flowers. Yet another atsara was wearing the atsara ganmo mask, a sword,

and a red skirt over his gho. According to Karma Tshering, this is not just a feminine dress; it’s also an item of clothing that used to form part of a warrior’s outfit. The drum and spear, which form a small installation in the middle of the square, are also seen as attributes of war. Once again, the atsara made all sorts of lewd jokes during their show. This astara performance may possibly be based on a sword-dance that used to be performed with lance and sword by the village elder, wearing a long garment that touched the ground, and a tall, red-dyed fur cap, in the Jakar dzong.51 After that, the group of ten women sang and danced. Once again, they turned up in elaborate

kira, but this time they wore multi-coloured richly decorated kira, which they combined with jackets (tego) in different colours and blouses (wonju) and red kabne. This time, they wore their kabne over their left shoulders, with the ends of each kabne pinned together and hanging at the side. On that day, the women performed their folk dances again, in the intervals between the individual sacred dances, accompanied by their singing. After the women’s appearance, a wooden table (chogdrom) was placed in the middle of the dance area, on which stood a dish with a ritual figure made of dough (torma).

top left: The women's dance group wearing colourful, richly decorated kira. lower left and right: Shazam cham – The Dance of the Four Stags.


SHAZAM CHAM – THE DANCE OF THE FOUR STAGS Zha nag phur cham – The Dance of the Black Hat Magicians with Ritual Daggers. The aprons which display wrathful faces are meant to chase away evil spirits.


According to Dasho Sithel Dorji, the Dance of the Four Stags recalls the episode when Guru Rinpoche overcame the King of the Earth Spirits (sadag). This king’s rule extended mainly in a northwesterly direction and he was called the ‘Royal Wind God’. He spread much misfortune and unhappiness among all sentient beings. Guru Rinpoche subjugated the sadag, and took possession of his mount, a large white stag; he rode all round the world on it, to restore happiness and peace. This dance is a way of thanking Guru Rinpoche and to maintain happiness and peace. Namkhai Nyingpo, one of Guru Rinpoche’s twentyfive closest disciples, revealed the Dance of the White Stag and its stag masks as terma.52 As a subjugation dance, this dance wards off evil influences but it also creates benefits for all viewers and restores peace and harmony to their lives. The four dancers who represented the stags appeared barefooted in long darna mentsi skirts, cloud collars and with sashes laid criss-cross over their bare torsos, and wearing stag masks with ribbons in their large antlers. In their right hands they held swords, each attached to a mentsi cloth, and a small tortoiseshell bowl resembling a skull cup (Skt. kapala), from which a silken scarf also hung. It is said that evil spirits feel attracted by the flickering scarves. Pearlman claims that these silken scarves symbolise the dissemination of the active quality of compassion.53 According to Beer, kapala are made from the oval upper section of a human cranium and serve as an offering, eating

or libation bowl for many Vajrayana deities.54 In Tantric rituals, they are filled with secret sacrificial substances and are used only in the highest yoga tantra. To indicate the illusionary body, these cups are white on the outside, and painted red inside to represent ‘clear light’. Together, these two colours symbolise enlightenment.55 In the shazam cham the tortoiseshell bowls showed their natural colourings outside, and were painted red inside to represent the transient nature of existence. ZHA NAG PHUR CHAM – THE DANCE OF THE BLACK HAT MAGICIANS WITH RITUAL DAGGERS In the zha nag phur cham the Black Hat Magicians appeared again, wearing their brocade garments, cloud collars, boots (cham lham) and large hats with magical symbols, but this time they held a phurba in their right hands and a tortoiseshell kapala in their left. Both these objects were attached to black or yellow silken cloths with mentsi patterns. The ritual dagger (phurba) – as a symbol of transcendental wisdom – was used during the dance to overthrow demons and to purify and protect the place. At the same time, the dancers presented the offerings in their bowls to peaceful and wrathful deities, to remove all obstacles on the path of liberation. The dancers also wore black aprons over their brocade garments, which displayed a wrathful face, representing one of the emanations of the protective deity Mahakala. This face, called thro zhey which literally means ‘wrathful face’, was surrounded with small images

of diamond sceptres, skulls and heads, all motifs that are also depicted in goenkhang, the temple of the protective deities. The aprons which feature wrathful faces are meant to chase away evil spirits. The dance of the Black Hat Magicians was joined with the Dance of the Lord of Cremation Grounds (durdag) to achieve the ritual removal of all evil and negative forces. This sequence of dances is considered a centrally important part of the festival, because the successful destruction of hostile demons and evil spirits ensures an auspicious year filled with blessings and good harvests. DURDAG – THE DANCE OF THE LORD OF THE CREMATION GROUNDS While the Black Hat Magicians were still lingering in the dance area, the Lords of the Cremation Grounds made their appearance. As on the first day, they were dressed as skeletons crowned with skull masks. The four dancers’ costumes differed from those of the previous day, in that they were wearing silken darna mentsi skirts above their white costumes, on which the bones of a skeleton had been traced in orange. Karma Tshering explains that combining the zha nag phur cham with the durdag cham presents the ritual removal of all evil forces through the subjection of an evil spirit (drao), symbolised by a black cloth with orange appliqué decorations. The four Lords of the Cemeteries each held a corner of

this black cloth to convey it onto the centre of the dance area, and placed it on the ground. On this cloth lay a low, triangular, open box made of wood that served for banishing the spirits and negative energies. According to Karma Tshering, this triangular case works like a net, in which evil spirits can be trapped and then destroyed with a phurba. The evil spirits are attracted by the dance and by the flickering scarves, and are then captured and held in the triangular box. After that the flashing blade of the champon’s phurba kills them. However this ritual is not simply designed to destroy evil spirits, it also liberates them by separating their consciousness principle from their bodies, and by transposing their consciousnesses to a higher sphere. Consequently the main dancer (champon) needs to enter a state of entire compassion. Karma Tshering points out that all triangular places are ‘spirit traps’, which is why one should not live in a three-cornered house or on a triangular plot of land – for instance, at the conjunction of two rivers. There’s far too great a risk that such a place will contain spirits. Triangles are considered the strongest and least destructible shape, which makes them very suitable for setting traps. With reference to these triangular ‘spirit traps’ Karma Tshering provided the following anecdote during his interview, relating to an event that happened long ago during the Punakha tshechu: the champon was dancing around the triangular box, in which an evil spirit had previously been trapped, and when he raised his phurba to deliver the killer

The zha nag phur cham is combined with the durdag cham to ensure the ritual removal of evil spirits.


top left: A triangular open box serves to bannish an evil spirit, or negative energies. lower left and right: In the context of both the Trongsa and the Thimphu tshechu, an imitation hide, belonging to a human or a black demonic being, is used to represent the evil forces that must be destroyed.


blow, he was horrified and stepped back. He had seen his own mother inside the three-cornered container. He stepped up to the box again, and once again saw his mother’s face, and stepped back again, horrified. It was only on the third attempt that he overcame his dismay and directed his phurba against the image of his mother, and slew the evil spirit. When the champon came home, his mother was feeling unwell and soon succumbed to a mysterious illness. The local people, though, could provide a very clear explanation. They were convinced that her spirit has turned against Buddhism, or that she has committed a certain action against Buddhism. Since this episode, Karma Tshering explained, the dancers can be seen stepping back twice before they step up to the box to deliver the death blow with their phurba. There is also a popular believ, whereby it is to ensure nobody falls asleep while this dance is being performed, since an individual’s spirit can be trapped in the box when in an intermediary state between sleeping and wakefulness. Karma Tshering adds that in former times this sacred dance was performed by the Shabdrung himself in such a wrathful way that he even frightened the viewers. After the Lords of the Cremation Grounds had finished their dance around the triangular box and left the dance ground for the forthcoming blessing, the female dancers took bowls and jugs of ara and sing chang, which they must have brought with them from their homes, and placed them on the dance floor. Then they stood in a line, to be blessed with the previously dedicated distilled liquid. This blessing was administered by the atsara gathbo, by dipping his wooden phallus into

the local alcoholic drink and touching the heads of the female dancers and attendant audience with it. After this blessing, the bowls were returned to the middle of the dance floor and then removed. By this time, the Black Hat Dance was underway. The Black Hat Magicians held small chalices – basically, butter lamps – filled with alcohol and rice. Holding the phurba and chalice in one hand, and the tortoiseshell kapala in the other, they continued their dance and presented ara and rice as offerings, by emptying their chalices in the middle of the area. This offering was repeated twice. According to Karma Tshering, in Bhutan this rice and wine offering (serkem) is also presented in the morning at house altars. For this purpose, a little rice is placed in a bowl and ara is poured onto it. The dancers circled the spirit that had been banished to the triangular box, twice. They circled it again, their dances growing faster and wilder, until the champon finally approached the centre and delivered the death stroke with his phurba. After a final dance, in which the Black Hat Magicians whirled skilfully around the dance area, the cloth and wooden box were removed from the dance area, after which the Black Hat Magicians left the performance area. TSHOLING GING CHAM – THE DANCE OF THE TSHOLING AND GING Then came the tsholing ging cham, the dance of the tsholing and ging that Pema Lingpa had initiated. Once again, this dance referred to a scenario in Guru Rinpoche’s paradise (zangdo pelri), the

Copper-Coloured Mountain, in which Pema Lingpa is supposed to have seen Guru Rinpoche, surrounded by wise men and enlightened sages (Pandit) from Tibet and India, the 108 terton as his reincarnations, and his 25 main disciples. Among this group were spiritual heroes, skygoing heroines and deities in peaceful and wrathful manifestations, who made offerings through dancing and singing.56 This dance is supposed to have been performed by Guru Rinpoche himself for the first time during the 8 th century, while the Tibetan Samye monastery was being built. As mentioned earlier, he managed to use his supernatural powers to destroy the local demons that were opposed to the construction of the monastery, and to cleanse the place of harmful influences. The tsholing ging cham is often danced prior to the entrance of Guru Rinpoche and his eight manifestations (guru tshen gye cham); this dance will be described in the following chapter. During the Jampe lhakhang drup, this dance also served to cleanse and bless the ground. The lively scenes of fighting between the tsholing and the ging that featured during this dance were expressions of their magical powers that are directed against demons and are aimed at shattering all opposing and hostile beings. Both the tsholing and the ging embody the protective deities of Buddhism. According to Dasho Sithel Dorji, the tsholing represent the external male and female deities, and their retinue, the eight forms of supporting spirits. For their part, the ging represent the internal positive powers of the spiritual deity heroes and sky-going heroines that belong among Guru Rinpoche’s retinue.57 The dance began when the ten tsholing dancers ap-

peared. They were wearing long brocade garments in blue, gold, red, black and turquoise, with cloud collars, boots and terrifying masks in various colours which had been used previously for the peling dri ging. Their left hands held a tortoiseshell and their right hands a ritual dagger. Both these objects had a silken cloth tied to them. For his part, the champon was distinguished by a scarf of intertwined, multi-coloured silken materials. The tsholing, the protectors of the religion, cleansed the ground of demonic influences. Part of their dance involved offering food (tsog). For this purpose, a table was set up in the middle of the dance area, on which lay a dish containing bits of meat and bone. The tsholing filled their tortoiseshells with it and cast these offerings into air while they danced. Then the eight ging appeared. They surrounded the tsholing, drumming wildly in an attempt to drive them away. These ging dancers were wearing yellow and orange coloured skirts, which hung from their torsos like tiger-andleopard skins, along with criss-crossed sashes; some of them were also wearing cloud collars, along with fearful masks with large tusks – which had already been used for the peling nga ging – and flags on their heads. In their right hands the ging held large drums (nga), and the drumsticks in their left hands. Karma Tshering explains that the tiger-skin leg coverings (tak sham) recall the times when there were no clothes, only animal skins. For Ricard, it symbolises the sublimation of ordinary passions.58 Finally the ging managed, by means of their ceaseless movements, to drive the tsholing off, and to take possession of the site while beating their

left and centre: The atsara gathbo distributing blessing by dipping his wooden phallus into the local alcohol. right: With phurba and chalice in one hand and a tortoiseshell resembling a skull cup in the other, the black hat dancers perform their dance.



drums to proclaim the victory of Buddhism. They ran among the spectators, striking them gently on their heads with their curved drumsticks; this measure was intended to drive out all their uncleanliness and sins. The audience received these interventions as blessings and thrust their heads forwards, whistling, to keep demons and evil spirit beings away. According to Dasho Sithel Dorji, this Dance of the tsholing and ging is particularly auspicious, and is capable of appeasing evil forces and disseminating peace.59 TSHECHU GING CHAM– THE DANCE OF THE GING WITH DRUMS The Dance of the ging and tsholing was followed by the ging in their tak sham costumes, who performed a drum dance with astonishing acrobatic leaps. Depending on the rhythm, they leapt singly or as a group, raising their legs so high that they almost touched their masks. As the volume rose, their movements seemed to increase unstoppably; the dancers were once again proclaiming the victory of Buddhism with their drumbeats. This was also symbolised by the flags on their heads, which were used in former days as a sign of victory in war. DRAMETSE NGA CHAM – THE DRUM DANCE OF DRAMETSE After the tshechu ging cham came the performance of the drametse nga cham, which is perhaps the most famous dance throughout Bhutan. The Drum Dance of drametse is based on a historical

foundation, in which history and legend are entwined. The Drametse Thegchog Ogyen Namdroel Choeling Monastery in Eastern Bhutan was founded in 1511 by Ani Choeten Zangmo, the granddaughter of terton Pema Linpa. Her younger brother, Lam Kunga Gyaltshen, is thought to have introduced the drametse nga cham. It is said that Lam Kunga Gyaltshen – also known by the name of Khedup Kinga Wangpo – was a particularly learned lama who was far advanced in meditation techniques. During one of his meditation sessions he is supposed to have received a vision of Guru Rinpoche’s celestial abode, the Glorious Copper-Coloured Mountain. In his vision, he was sitting in the middle of zangdo pelri watching as the heavenly attendants turned into 108 peaceful and wrathful deities, and performed a dance with drums. Kunga Gyaltshen interpreted this as Guru Rinpoche’s instruction to introduce this dance as a medium for delivering all sentient beings from the eternal cycle of suffering. Upon his return, he endowed Drametse Monastery with this dance, since which time it has remained one of Bhutan’s bestloved dances. In 2005 it was declared an UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. In its original version the drametse nga cham consists of 16 dancers, 10 musicians and 21 sequences and lasts for more than two and a half hours; it is considered one of the country’s most complex and artistic dances. Until the 19th century, performances were limited to the Mongar district but after that, the drametse nga cham spread from Talo via Trongsa to other parts of the country. In Talo, it was danced on the occasion of a visit by Shabdrung Jigme Choegyal (1862 – 1904), who

above: The ging drive away the tsholing and proclaim the victory of Buddhism by drumming. opposite: The tsholing dance with kapala made of tortoiseshells and ritual daggers (phurba) cleansed the ground of evil influences. Part of their dance involved presenting offerings of food (tsog).


above: Tshechu ging cham – The Dance of the ging with Drums proclaims the victory of Buddhism. opposite: Drametse nga cham – the Drum Dance of Drametse is perhaps the most famous dance throughout Bhutan.


himself came from Drametse; in Trongsa, it was introduced on the initiative of the second king Jigme Wangchuck. This widespread dissemination resulted in many local changes to the drametse nga cham, giving rise to different and shorter versions. In some regions, this dance is also known by the name peling nga cham. It was with the aim of preserving this very special dance that Lopen Lungten Gyatso, Director of the Institute of Language and Cultural Studies (ILCS), produced a documentary about the drametse nga cham in DVD and book form. Furthermore, in 2008, a workshop was held for two months, to which twenty champon from all over Bhutan were invited. The aim of this joint workshop was to standardise the drametse nga cham, in terms both of its individual dance movements and its duration.60 During the Jampe lhakhang drup the drametse nga cham was performed by ten men, who beat their drums while dancing. They represented the attendants of Guru Rinpoche and stepped out barefooted, wearing silken darna mentsi skirts, brocade jackets, criss-crossed sashes and animal masks depicting a monkey, a bear, a garuda, a stag, a dog, a lion, a raven, a tiger, a snake, and a pig. The mask of the mythological garuda was worn by the champon, the only dancer to carry a small pair of cymbals instead of drums. He used the cymbals to set the rhythm for the other dancers. During this dance, the scenes ranged from peaceful and meditative, representing the peaceful deities, to rapid, athletic dances that symbolised the wrathful deities. The physical dance itself with the dancers’ synchronised movements requires many years of training. While this lengthy physical preparation is very important for practising the drametse nga cham, the right state of mind is considered even

more important. According to Lopen Lungten Gyatso, the dancers can only achieve this after undergoing a rigorous training. This is why these dancers have spent three years and three months in a meditation retreat (losum chogsum), or have at least completed a preparatory course in preliminary meditation practice (ngondro).61 The Drum Dance of Drametse is supposed to bring peace and happiness to humanity, and also to support the spread of Buddhist teaching. It is believed that the mere sight of this powerful dance will remove all obstacles on the spiritual path of the faithful and lead them directly to Guru Rinpoche’s celestial palace.62 According to Lopen Lungten Gyatso, the drametse nga cham is unlike other dances in that it transcends the physical performance and becomes a way to enlightenment. The dancers establish spiritual contact with their audience and their awakening state of mind is conveyed to all the observers. The dance becomes a meditative art form.63 For this reason, many Bhutanese people are convinced that everyone should see the drametse nga cham at least once in his or her life. Its influence over Bhutanese society is clear; it is very popular throughout the country and plays a preeminent role in many religious and secular ceremonies. For Lopen Lungten Gyatso, this dance, with it’s five hundred years and more of existence, proves that Bhutan’s unique form of cultural expression is alive and flourishing.64 According to Gisela Bonn, with reference to Blanche Olschak, the drametse nga cham is also associated with the following legend: ‘It is the story of the pre-Buddhist mountain deity Daktsän, who fell in love with Panchen Zangmo, one of the most beautiful maidens in Chonggar, in Eastern Bhutan […] Every night, the demon Daktsän turned him-


Drametse nga cham is performed by dancers wearing masks of different animals, real and mythical. The champon (right ) with a garuda mask is the only dancer to carry a small pair of cymbals instead of drums. He used the cymbals to set the rhythm for the other dancers.

self into a young lover, and visited Zangmo. Before dawn broke, her mysterious seducer would hasten away. The maiden never saw his face. “Finally”, Blanche Olschak writes, “she was unable to bear the uncertainty and carefully made a plan. She placed a ball of yarn beside her couch, and the following night she tied one end of the wool to her lover’s foot. When he slipped away, she followed, keeping her distance, while holding the ball of wool in her hand and unwinding the yarn. He led her out of the village all the way to a mountain cave. The maiden peered inside it cautiously, and saw an enormous dragon snake, with the end of her yarn attached to its right foot. The maiden got such a shock that she fainted, and died. In his despair, the demon guarded the beloved maiden’s body and kept everyone away with his fiery breath. The terrified villagers had no idea what to do and finally sent a messenger to Bumthang to ask one of the lamas there for help. The Lama ventured close to the anguished, raging demon and meditated beside the girl’s body. He finally succeeded in pacifying the mountain deity, blessed him and Panchen Zangmo and transformed them both into protective deities of the Buddhist religion.”’ 65 PHOLE MOLE – THE DANCE OF THE PRINCES AND PRINCESSES Phole mole is not actually a dance but a performance with a moral content. It tells the story of two princes and princesses; it is about unfaithfulness, revenge and reconciliation, and is full of thoroughly frivolous features, which may explain why it is so popular with Bhutanese audiences. In Bhutan, the tale is told as follows: once upon a time


there were two princes who went to war and had to leave their wives behind. The princesses were left in the care of an old serving man and an old serving woman. As soon as the princes had gone, the two princesses and the servant woman distributed their favours among other men, represented by the atsara. When the princes came home, they noticed that their wives had been unfaithful and punished them by cutting their noses off. The old serving man cut his wife’s nose off, too. However, the princes immediately regretted their action and called for a doctor to sew their noses on again. The doctor was delighted to sew the two pretty princesses’ noses on again, but when he saw how horribly smelly the old woman was, he vehemently refused to do it. In the end, however, he allowed himself to be persuaded and put the old woman’s nose back on her face, but he used a stick to do this, in order to avoid direct contact with her. It all ended with a great reconciliation between all the participants and a wedding for the princes and princesses. The phole mole lasted a good two hours, and this day of the festival ended at 5 pm. This dramatic presentation contains so many indecent features that it clearly presents a puzzle for some tourists. However, the Bhutanese are very fond of it and they all, little children and grandparents included, follow the frivolous scenes with excitement and lots of laughter. The popularity of this play is possible due to the fact that unfaithfulness and affairs are not unknown in Bhutan and it gives the local people a lot of pleasure to watch members of high society engaging in escapades of this nature. In the phole mole a peculiar feature of the cham mysteries can be observed, which is also found in many other Asian dance forms: crossing gen-

der boundaries. Given that only men are allowed to act in these sacred performances, the women’s roles are assumed by men. This gender aspect has already been noted in the context of the atsara dances, in the person of the ‘Old Woman’ (atsara ganmo); in the phole mole drama, the two princesses and the old serving woman were also acted by men. These phole mole characters appeared in the following costumes: the princesses were dressed in green kira and tego, along with a yellow and a pink wonju. They wore red kabne, coral necklaces and white masks. The two princes were dressed in wild silk gho, Bhutanese boots, yellow scarves made of mentsi cloths, and they wore swords and white masks, with head scarves tied over them. Around their necks hung small protective boxes (gau) containing a miniature of a tutelary deity and holy texts, to keep them safe from dangers during their travels. The dancer presenting atsara ganmo wore a dark-brown mask with lots of wrinkles, an old kira and a tattered blouse to show that he was the old serving woman, and the atsara gathbo played the old serving man with his brown, patterned, atsara garments. A further six atsara were also involved, wearing their usual comic costumes. Alongside this widely-known traditional version, there is another story which the phole mole is supposed to be based on. It has been recorded by Gisela Bonn, among others, and tells of an ancient legend, which the Bhutanese scholar Dasho Nakphel discovered, recorded in a faded script. The story is about virtuous King Norsang, who ruled over a peaceful kingdom and shared his court with 500

queens. Gisela Bonn has reproduced the story in her elaborate language as follows: ‘Through the cunning intervention of a young huntsman at the court, one day the king encounters Yithokma, the daughter of the god Dhisa. The huntsman has secretly conveyed the heavenly daughter to the garden of the king. She is incomparably beautiful. Norsang forgets his 500 queens and his earthly duties, and lives only for Yithokma, who represents the divine in humanity, its transcendental fulfilment, and its dreams. However, Norsang, blinded by passion, has not reckoned with the jealousy of his 500 disappointed queens. The betrayed women call on High Priest Hari who deals in black magic to help them. Hari casts a spell and causes Norsang’s father to dream an evil dream; as usual, he asks Hari to interpret it. Hari tells the old king that his kingdom is about to be attacked by his dangerous enemies in the North. If he fails to send his own armies to forestall the war, he will lose his land. Norsang is ordered by his father to march north and fight. Despite all his pleading, the young king is not allowed to take his lovely Yithokma, his other self, with him. No sooner has he gone, than the 500 queens seek to slay Yithokma with the help of black magic. Yithokma manages to escape. She flees back to her father’s heaven. When Norsang returns home, he applies his supernatural forces to summon Yithokma back. So she floats down to earth for a second time, to Bhutan. What she sees is a mirror image of her fate, a second pair, whose peacefully smiling masks look just like Norsang and Yithokma. Dasho Nakphal, the now deceased great Master of Dance, explained that this second pair was introduced to this dance legend to dramatise

Phole mole – The Dance of the Princes and Princesses.


The third day of the festival was introduced by the women's group who symbolically presented white scarves (khada) during their dances.

the love story. All humans are subject to the same law – they must experience and suffer the same things. The life of one person is reflected in the life of another. The king seeks to bind the heavenly princess to himself with magic jewels. He dances before her, and lays the auspicious white scarf [khada] around her. His double dances towards his partner, using the same steps. With the same gestures, he adorns the replica of Yithokma with the soft woven cloth. This is the veil that all Buddhist inhabitants of the Himalayas greet each other with. It reflects their natural surroundings – the clouds, the sky, the air and the shimmering lights at sunset and dawn. According to an ancient legend, the cosmos is wrapped in the veil of the Maja. A wispy veil is all that separates us from the final things, the lamas tell us, but they also say that we are also bound up with them by wearing it. Animal gods dance before the loving couples, clearing the way to paradise, into the kingdom of the blessed, where the souls of humans are united with the world soul.’ 66 THE THIRD AND LAST DAY On the last day, the 8 th November 2006, the following dances were performed between 9.30 am and 6 pm: chung tsam, the Dance of the Garuda, dorling dri cham, the Dance with the Swords, dorling nga cham, the Dance with the Drums, raksha gocham, the Dance of the raksha, the assistants of the Lord of the Death, and raksha mangcham, the Dance of the Judgement of the Dead.


The third day of the festival was not introduced by atsara dancers, as on the previous days, but by the women’s group whose members were wearing sethra kira (kira with yellow and black checks on an orange and rusty red ground), which were decorated with additional woven patterns in the checks (sethra meto chem), light-coloured tego, red wonju and red kabne. As on the previous days, they performed folk dances to the accompaniment of their own singing between the individual sacred performances. During their dances they symbolically presented white scarves (khada). CHUNG TSAM – THE DANCE OF THE GARUDA The first cham to feature was the chung tsam, the Dance of the Garuda. The four dancers wore masks showing the mythological garuda and they held swords in their right hands that symbolised – like all the weapons – the destruction of attachment to an inherent self, and the wisdom that recognises emptiness. According to Dasho Sithel Dorji, this dance refers to an event that happened in the 8th century, whereby an earth-dwelling spirit and his evil-intentioned retinue had spread fearful illnesses and misery among sentient beings. In order to free the six categories of living beings from their unfortunate plight, Guru Rinpoche manifested himself in the form of the mythological garuda bird, overcame the harmful beings, and re-established peace.67

DORLING DRI CHAM– THE DANCE WITH THE SWORDS AND DORLING NGA CHAM – THE DANCE WITH THE DRUMS Dorling dri cham and dorling nga cham are two dances that go back to Dorje Lingpa, who founded them. The dorling nga cham, the Dance with the Drums, is considered to be the holiest dance of the Jampe lhakhang drup, since it is combined with the blessing (ten wang) in front of the holy statue of terton Dorje Lingpa. For the dorling dri cham eight barefooted dancers appeared in silken darna mentsi skirts, brocade jackets, criss-crossed sashes and headscarves with small black braids hanging from them. They danced without masks, but two of them were wearing noble headdresses above their headscarves, which Karma Tshering

says represent the crowns of the heroes and should actually be worn by all eight dancers. In their right hands, the dancers each held a sword with a yellow silk cloth bound to it. For the following dorling nga cham, the eight dancers exchanged their headscarves or crowns for animal masks, which represented two garuda, a dog, a leopard, a lion, a snake, a pig and a tiger. Instead of swords, they were holding large drums (nga), which they struck with curved drumsticks. The champon could be recognised again by his pair of cymbals, which he used to set the rhythm. While these two dances were being performed, within the innermost part of the temple the blessing (ten wang) of the holy statue of terton Dorje Lingpa was taking place.

clockwise from top left: Chung tsam – the Dance of the Garuda; dorling dri cham – the Dance with the Swords.



RAKSHA GOCHAM – THE DANCE OF THE ATTENDANTS OF THE LORD OF THE DEATH AND RAKSHA MANGCHAM – THE DANCE OF THE JUDGEMENT OF THE DEAD The raksha mangcham is considered one of the great high points of a festival, and is based on the Judgement of the Dead, an important scene in the bardo thoedrol, the ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’, as it is called in the West. Indeed the term ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’ is of western origin, popularized by Walter Evans-Wentz’s translation, and it is inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead; it does not occur in the original texts. Bardo thoedrol can be translated as ‘Liberation through hearing during the intermediate state’ or literally as ‘Intermediate state hearing liberation’. It is a Buddhist text that dates from the 8 th century and is one of the most important terma that were hidden by Guru Rinpoche and rediscovered by terton Karma Lingpa in the 14 th century. These texts contain instructions about the process of dying and re-birth, and describe various experiences that a person, or a person’s stream of consciousness passes through after his or her physical death. If he or she suc-

ceeds in seeing through the successive phenomena and appearances as projections of their ego, they have the possibility of breaking right out of the circle of rebirth. However, most people allow themselves to be blinded by the appearances, which are described as colours, synaesthesia, or deities and demons. They are afraid of these scary forms instead of recognising their true face, and in their ignorance, they strain towards rebirth. Various methods are applied to guide the dying in this situation, to enable them to recognise these visions as illusions. The simplest consists of preparatory readings, or explanations. Thus, the living are read to from the scriptures, so that when they are dying and in the intermediate state they will remember these instructions and are able to achieve spontaneous liberation. In any case, the requirement for this is knowing the symbolism in the bardo thoedrol. The Dance of the Judgement of the Dead (raksha mangcham) brings people closer to this symbolism and gives them a lead as to how they should deal with the phenomena that occur during the intermediate state, in order to achieve liberation from their limited existence, in spite of being so poorly qualified. Older Bhutanese people, especially, follow this dance very closely, because

above: Ox-headed Raksha Lango introduces the opening dance. Trel Gochen with his monkey head passes straight through Raksha Lango's dance. opposite: Distributing the blessing (ten wang) of the holy statue of terton Dorje Lingpa; dorling nga cham – The Dance with the Drums (top right ).


The stag-headed Shawa (left), Lang with the head of a red ox (centre), and Phag Gochen with his black boar mask (right).


it helps them prepare for their own death. It is important to recognise the deities, since they will have to trust themselves to them fearlessly during the intermediate state between death and rebirth. After all, it is not only the peaceful deities but the wrathful deities too that need to be recognised as helpers, who will lead them through the bardo and to higher levels of being, even to liberation. According to Bhutanese tradition, simply watching this dance can enable a person to escape the cycle of rebirth, or at least to avoid being reborn at a lower level. The dance normally continues for over two hours and is composed of two parts: it starts with the raksha gocham, the Dance of the raksha, the attendants of the Lord of the Death, and finishes with the raksha mangcham, the Dance of the Judgement of Death. During the Jampe lhakhang drup, the ox-headed Raksha Lango prefaced the Dance of the Judgement of the Dead with the opening dance raksha gocham. Raksha Lango represented the Minister of Justice, who is strictly tied to the principle of cause and effect, which establishes that every good deed and every bad deed, both physical and spiritual in nature, entails its ineluctable consequences, and thus he is an important assistant for the Lord of the Death. His costume consisted of the mask of a red ox with sweeping horns, which had a triangular silken mentsi cloth bound between them, a silken darna mentsi skirt, a red long-sleeved silk jacket, a criss-crossed black sash decorated with white buttons, and a cloud collar made of a light blue brocade. In his right hand he held a small bell and a yellow ribbon. He was accompanied by the monkey-headed Trel Gochen, known as Trelgo for short, who is frequently shown with weights

or scales in his hands with which he weighs virtues and sins. However, in this Jampe lhakhang drup version he danced in imitation tiger-skin trousers (tak sham) with a chain of bells hanging across his chest and a yellow balloon in one hand. Like the atsara, he passed straight through Raksha Lango’s dance. After this, another ten of the Lord of Death’s assistants appeared, wearing animal masks, silken darna mentsi skirts, longsleeved coloured silk jackets, criss-crossed sashes and cloud collars. Among them was Phag Gochen with a blue-black mask that represented a wild boar; he watches over the reports about all the sinful and meritorious deeds of all living beings. Chung Gochen was shown with the head of a dark red garuda. This figure is occasionally shown with a hammer, and swinging a chopper. The hammer is for smashing the mountain of sins and negative energies, and the chopper is for removing the three spiritual poisons, ignorance, attachment and aversion. Drulgyi Gochen is presented with a green snake head, holding the mirror of fate in his hand in which all deeds, both wicked and virtuous ones, are reflected; Pharwa was shown with his black wild dog mask; Shawa, the stag-headed with silken mentsi cloths in his antlers; Tak, the tigerheaded; Zig, with a leopard’s head; Druk, with a green-flecked dragon mask and white horns; Bjarok, with a dark blue raven head, and Lang, with a red ox mask. During the second part, the central figure made an appearance: Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo, the Lord of the Death – known in Sanskrit also as Yamaraja or Yama for short – whose task is to judge the dead on their journey between death and rebirth. The Lord of the Death, who had already appeared

at the start in the shinjey yab yum, appeared yet again in this dance. However, according to Schicklgruber, many viewers see in him two figures, united in an interesting way: Yama, the Lord of the Death, with Yamantaka, the wrathful manifestation of the Bodhisattva of wisdom, who overthrew the Lord of the Death.68 The character of Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo is sometimes presented by a huge puppet, as during the Thimphu or Paro tshechu for example, or by a man wearing a wrathful mask, as during the Jampe lhakhang drup. Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo wore a brocade garment and a saffron yellow robe, and his head was covered with a red mask that had three eyes and was crowned with five skulls, with two long silken cloths in white and blue tied at either side. In his left hand he held a mirror, with which he could recognise good and evil deeds alike; with his right hand he grasped a sword. He was accompanied by his retinue, the white deity Lha Karpo and the black demon called Due Nagpo or Dey Nakchuag. Both these live among men and are thus witness to their deeds. Lha Karpo wore a long white garment, a white mask with a five-leaf crown, and prayer beads entwined round his left wrist. Due Nagpo appeared dressed in black with saffron yellow tiger-skin trousers (tak sham) and a fearful black mask crowned with skulls and draped with a wild mane of yak-hair. His mask was also one of the oldest masks that were worn at the Jampe lhakhang drup. It is thought to be about 100 years old. On his torso he wore a criss-crossed brocade sash and a chain with large bells, which made a deafening clangour every time he moved. With the help of his two aides and twelve assistants in animal form, the Lord of the Death balanced the people’s

good and evil deeds, pronounced judgement on their deeds, and determined their reincarnation. Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo was accompanied to an adorned wooden throne by a procession that consisted of two monks, who were playing the flute (boedgi jaling) of the court servants (boe garpa), a monk bearing a bundle of glowing incense sticks, and a few officials wearing gho and kabne – and sat down. While Lha Karpo and Due Nagpo were dancing, their assistants in animal form lined up on long red carpets on either side of Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo. When seated, they formed a passage that led up to him. While this was happening, the audience formed a long queue to obtain the blessing of Choeki Gyab, which is how the Bhutanese refer to Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo. Only after that did the actual judgement begin. The sinner Digchen Nyalwabum, together with the virtuous Khimdag Palkyed, appeared before the court of judgement to show how their deeds affected their life after death. First to appear was a dancer wearing a dark brown mask, black yakhair garments and a black yak-hair sack. He represented the recently deceased soul of a sinner and carried a bow, a quiverful of arrows and a bag (phechung) filled with imaginary meat as evidence of his sinful actions, such as killing animals. Digchen Nyalwabum looked horrified and tried many times to flee, but the animal-headed helpers surrounded him and caught him every time. Although the Mirror reflected the sinful man’s life very clearly, Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo gave the man’s life story a hearing and weighed his good and evil deeds. The white deity and the black demon stood on either side of Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo. Lha Karpo, the representative of virtuousness

Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo, the Lord of the Death (left), accompanied by his retinue, the black demon Due Nagpo (centre) and the white deity Lha Karpo (right ).



and the advocate for the good in mankind, tried to save Digchen Nyalwabum and pleaded that his poverty and ignorance had caused his crimes. For his part, the black demon Due Nagpo, the evil representative, tried to emphasise the sinner’s evil deeds and recounted a long list of crimes and sins. To the demon’s delight, Digchen Nyalwabum’s evil deeds tipped the balance and so the sinner was finally dragged off by the wildly yelling demon. Frequently, a path of black cloth is laid down at this point of the dance that is immediately understood by the audience to represent the road to hell. In Buddhism, hell and heaven are understood as being temporary, not permanent places. Each and every person experiences these places according to his or her good or bad karma. Frightening people with hell-fire does not exist in Buddhism although one of the six realms of samsara on the Buddhist Wheel of Life is the ‘hell realm’ (naraka). However, as with many other aspects of Buddhism, many Buddhists tend to give these teachings a symbolical interpretation. Karma Tshering says that even a sinful man can be released from the realm of hell and re-incarnated at a higher level, because the notion of eternal damnation is not part of Buddhism. Given that people generally refuse to take on the role of the sinner, a rule was

introduced at the Jampe lhakhang drup whereby the person representing the sinner was allowed to gather donations, like the atsara. However, while all the monies collected by the atsara were donated to the community, the person playing the sinner was allowed to keep half his takings. After a dance by the assistants of the Lord of the Death, the pious person Khimdag Palkyed, who has lived a blessed life, walked onto the dance area. His virtuous nature was expressed by his white clothing, his white mask and a white prayer flag, which he carried. Khimdag Palkyed prostrated himself three times before Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo to show his respect and presented him with a white silk shawl (khada). The judgement process was repeated; Khimdag Palkyed’s good deeds were itemised, and he was sent off along the white path (frequently represented by a path of white cloth). The frustrated and furious black demon tried to grab Khimdag Palkyed at the very last moment, but he did not succeed. The white deity saved the virtuous man and led him gently along the way to enlightenment. After the judgement was over, Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo and his attendants were led off the dance area. His twelve assistants in their animal masks performed a final dance and then gradually quitted the floor. Finally, only Raksha

above: The sinner Digchen Nyalwabum collecting donations (left), and in front of the Judgement (right ). opposite: Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo's assistants in animal form line up on long red carpets on either side of Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo to accompany the judgement. Bhutanese people invoking Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo's blessing.


At the end of the dance, Raksha Lango is rewarded with white khada and cash donations.


Lango remained; he sat down on the steps and accepted offerings in the form of white khada and donations in cash. Given that this dance’s function is primarily didactic, the characters and symbols of the raksha mangcham are unmistakable. The intention is to make the judgement scene very easy for the audience to understand, so that they can identify with the characters and be aware of the consequences of their own actions. For all that this dance is presented so elaborately, its message is very simple: every individual is the architect of his or her own future. It is the sum of his or her activities, the evil and the good ones, that determine a person’s being. As Richard puts it: ‘Although we cannot escape the consequence of what we have already done, we are nonetheless free to construct the future, which remains unwritten. It is also possible to compensate negative acts by positive ones before their karmic result takes effect in the form of suffering. But if we do nothing we will be the only ones to blame for what we have to go through. […] The Buddha himself would often insist on this point: “I have shown you the way; it is up to you to follow it.”’ 69 The raksha mangcham, the Dance of the Judgement of Death, is replicated in the ‘Wheel of

Life’ (bhavacakra), a symbolic representation of samsara. The Wheel of Life shows Buddhist believers the way to liberation from the eternal cycle of rebirth. The images in the hub of the wheel show a pig, a cock and a snake, biting each other’s tails. The three animals symbolise the three fundamental spiritual poisons, ignorance, attachment and aversion, which keep the circle of existence turning and must be overcome. The pig represents ignorance, the cock attachment or desire, and the snake aversion or hatred. So long as a person is bound by these three spiritual poisons, he or she will be reborn into one of the six realms of existence that can be glimpsed between the spokes of the wheel. Depending on whether their good or evil deeds in their previous life predominate, the person will find him or herself in one or other of these realms. If his or her good deeds tip the balance, he or she will be reincarnated in one of the three higher realms, consisting of the realm of gods, the realm of demi-gods and the realm of humans. However, for all that the realm of the gods, which is represented in the top sector sounds attractive, the divine beings are themselves caught up through their pride in the eternal cycle of rebirth, since they live in the false assumption that

their bliss will endure forever. On the left is the realm of the demi-gods or titans, where battles are constantly being fought because of their jealousy. On the right is the human realm of desire, the only world where it is possible to leave the eternal cycle. The lower half of the circle shows the places where a person can be reborn as a result of his or her bad karma. On the lower left is the realm of the animals, which are bound through their stupidity, and on the right that of the hungry ghosts, whose miserliness and skinny necks make it impossible

for them to swallow food. The lower middle part shows a depiction of the realm of hell, owned by anger, where people are being tortured, burned and cut into pieces. Beneath all this one can find Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo / Yama, Lord and Judge of the Dead, flanked by the white deity Lha Karpo and the black demon Due Nagpo or Dey Nakchuag. The arrangement of this group is reminiscent of the dance scenes in the raksha mangcham. Yama is shown twice, because he is also the central figure that supports the entire Wheel

A wall painting in Rinpungdzong in Paro depicts the Wheel of Life.


above: The lower middle part of the mural shows a depiction of the realm of hell, owned by anger, where people are being tortured, burned and cut into pieces. Beneath all this one can find Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo flanked by the white deity and the black demon. opposite: Details of the mural show Yama supporting the entire Wheel of Life, a woman giving birth symbolising rebirth, and tortures taken place in the hell realm (clockwise from top left ).


of Life. Furthermore, the narrow outer rim of the Wheel of Life has an important part to play because it represents the twelve links in the chain of conditions. The first of the twelve links is avidya (‘ignorance’ or ‘lack of knowledge’); it shows an old blind woman on the lower left who represents the ignorance that binds people to the wheel of rebirth. Moving anti-clockwise, we then find samskara (‘impression’ or ‘constructive volitional activity’) represented by a potter shaping, like karma, the deeds and intentions that determine every person’s rebirth. Then comes vijnana (‘spirit’ or ‘consciousness’), demonstrated by a monkey, aware that after death he will take on a new form of existence. The next section shows namarupa, ‘name and form’, that belong to every existence and symbolises its spiritual and physical components. Like people in a boat, they depend on each other and must stay together until the stream of life has been crossed. Then comes sadayadana, ‘the six senses’ that turn a person into a house with six windows, through which he or she can understand his or her world.

Sparsa, the pair of lovers, symbolises ‘contact’ and ‘perception’ through the senses. Vedanta represents ‘sensitivity’, which can often hurt as much as an arrow in the eye. The next section, trasna, shows how ‘desire’ or ‘thirst’ can force a person to be reborn. It is symbolised by an upheld beaker. Upadana, the ‘grasping’, ‘apprehension’ or ‘realisation’ of the new form of existence, is shown as a monkey picking fruit. Bhava, ‘becoming’, is illustrated by a woman with enticing features. Yati, ‘being reborn’, is shown as a woman giving birth and finally, ‘old age’ and ‘death’ (jaramarana) complete the Wheel of Life, which resumes again with a new re-birth. With this dance, the last day of the Jampe lhakhang drup came to an end. Dawn was already breaking as the dancers and their guests of honour formed a small procession and left the festival area. The monks returned to their monasteries, and the other watchers set off for home; the dance ground gradually emptied and a semblance of calm returned.

Notes 1 This interview took place on 5th May 2007 in Thimphu; I am very grateful to Karma Tshering for his participation. 2 See the Dzongkhag Administration Bumthang’s programme for the Jambay lhakhang drup, Bhutan 2006. 3 Sunny Tobgay, in: Drukpa Magazine, June 2010, p.49. 4 Beer 2003, p.36f. 5 Driglam Namzhag 1999, p.158. 6 Sunny Tobgay, in: Drukpa Magazine, June 2010, p.51. 7 Pommaret 2006, p.83. 8 Schicklgruber 2009, p.104. 9 Ricard 2003, p.96. 10 Ugyen Penjore, in: kuensel online, 22.09.2007: bt/rel/btrel_festival01b1.html, last accessed on 02.04.2013. 11 Lama Govinda, in: Ricard 2003, p.97. 12 Tashi Phuntsho, in: Drukpa Magazine, June 2010, p.71. 13 Ibid., p.71. 14 Dasho Lam Sanga, quoted by Ugyen Penjor, in: kuensel online, 22.09.2007: http://www. html, last accessed on 02.04.2013. 15 Dowman and Paljor 2000, p.30. 16 Pommaret 2006, p.95. 17 Kunzang D. Dorji 2003, p.123.

18 Bonn 1987, p.24. 19 Bonn 1988, p.121. 20 Beer 2003, p.259. 21 Ibid., p.259. 22 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.77. 23 Bartholomew and Johnston 2008, p.377. 24 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.77. 25 Bartholomew and Johnston 2008, p.377. 26 Ibid., p.377. 27 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.78. 28 Khenpo Phuntsok Tashi 2011, p.59. 29 Ibid., p.58. 30 Ricard 2003, p.41. 31 Ibid., p.37f. 32 Pearlman 2002, p.35f. 33 Ricard 2003, p.80. 34 Ibid., p.80. 35 Ibid., p.80. 36 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.78. 37 Khenpo Phuntsok Tashi 2011, p.60. 38 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.78. 39 Khenpo Phuntsok Tashi 2011, p.61. 40 Ricard 2003, p.100. 41 Bonn 1987, p.25. 42 Schicklgruber 2009, p.162. 43 Geshe Thubten Ngawang, in: Tibet und Buddhismus 2002, p.14. 44 See Documentary film by Core of Culture Dance Preservation Cham Lineages of Bhutan 2007.

45 Ricard 2003, p.62. 46 Beer 2003, p.80. 47 Ricard 2003, p.74. 48 Verhufen, in: Thunlam Newsletter 1 / 2009, p.18. 49 Ibid., p.18. 50 Ibid., p.18. 51 Olschak 1987, p.183. 52 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.87. 53 Pearlman 2002, p.21. 54 Beer 2003, p.110f. 55 Geshe Thubten Ngawang, in: Tibet und Buddhismus 2002, p.15. 56 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.71f. 57 Ibid., p.72. 58 Ricard 2003, p.92. 59 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.72. 60 Rinzin Wangchuk, in: kuensel online, 10.01.2008: bt/visin2/bt_dance01d01.html, last accessed on 28.03.2013. 61 Lopen Lungten Gyatso 2005, p.39. 62 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.40. 63 Lopen Lungten Gyatso 2005, p.39. 64 Ibid., p.39. 65 Bonn 1987, p.17. 66 Ibid., p.20f. 67 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.104. 68 Schicklgruber 2009, p.107. 69 Ricard 2003, p.116. 181



opposite: Intricately carved ornaments (rugyen) made of yak bones decorate the dance costume of the Dakini / Khandro.

THE DEVELOPMENT AND CLASSIFICATION OF SACRED DANCE FORMS IN BHUTAN opposite, top left: A puppet from Ogyen Choling Museum in Bumthang display the costume and instrument appropriated for the dranyen cham. opposite, top right: The costumes of the dranyen cham dancers refer back to the ancient monastic militia of the Buddhist Drukpa School. opposite, lower left: The Bhutanese lute (dranyen) is regarded as a secular instrument. opposite, lower right: The lute's pegbox features the head of a sea dragon or water monster (makara).


The sacred dances of Bhutan can be divided into three groups: the religious dances of the monks (gyalong cham), the religious dances that are performed by lay people (boe cham) and the dances of the oracle healer (pawo). Mynak Tulku Rinpoche subdivides the sacred dances of the monks into the two dance forms gar and cham, and describes them as follows: ‘Gar refers to dances performed by monks around mandalas indoors as well as outdoors, without masks, in a calm, peaceful manner, with slow movements of the hands holding bell and vajra or hand drums. Cham are dances with masks or black hats, performed in a forceful or wrathful fashion, executed with an emphasis on vigorous foot and hand movements. Gar and cham both have dual purposes for believers. Those watching the sacred dances receive blessings through their enjoyment of the performances, while those dancing are making offerings to the Buddhas, bodhisattvas and others who are invoked by the dances.’ 1 Dasho Sithel Dorji, former director of the Royal Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA) in Thimphu, also draws a distinction between the gyalong cham of the monks and the boe cham of the lay spiritual dancers, and explains that the term boe cham is derived from boe garpa, the government servants who used to perform these lay dances in earlier times.2 Originally, boe cham were only danced within the context of religious ceremonies inside the monastic fortresses (dzong), local temples (lhakhang), and monasteries (gompa) of Bhutan. Schicklgruber adds that these dances were only performed inside the courtyards of the Trongsa dzong during the lifetimes of Jigme Namgyel and Ugyen Wangchuck, both considered to have been great promoters of monastic dances. Over the 20th century they spread to many other dzong and temples in the country.3 In 1954, during the reign of the third king Jigme Dorje Wangchuck, an Institute for Mask Dances was founded, which was then elevated to the Royal Academy of Performing Arts in 1967; it set up its own royal dance group in 1970. Dasho Sithel Dorji also recalls that the boe cham was originally only performed during the tshechu in Paro, Trongsa, and Dagana, and that the individual sacred dances varied from district to district. After 1954, much of this began to change. Boe cham were gradually introduced in all the districts and, in the meantime, the Bhutanese mask dances were standardised and developed all over the country in a series of workshops run by the Royal Academy of Performing Arts. This standardisation process started with the introduction of two sacred dances in other districts. The dances involved were the Dance with the Lute (dranyen

cham) and a religious dance called chos zhay. These two dances were originally only performed in Thimphu and Paro, exclusively at the unveiling of the great religious scroll painting (thongdroel) on the last day of the festival. According to Rinzin Wangchuk, 26 dance masters (champon) and mask dancers (chamjug) from eleven southern and eastern dzongkhag were trained in the dranyen cham and the chos zhay at the Royal Academy of Performing Arts.4 DRANYEN CHAM – THE DANCE WITH THE LUTE The origins of the dranyen cham, the Dance with the Lute, go back to the 17 th century, the time when the kingdom was unified under Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. According to Dasho Sithel Dorji, the lute dance was introduced in honour of the Shabdrung and the happy state of the country under his wise rule and government.5 The dance also recalls the foundation and dissemination of the Drukpa School and is accompanied by the following melodious words: ‘Offering to the Lama, the Buddha and the Dharma, Offering to the Three Precious Ones, the best refuge for all. Before the Lord of Lhasa, again and again I offer this melody. The peaceful Sage who resides in the deep sandal-wood forest of Druk Yul, His straight and immoveable body is the life-tree of Palden Drukpa. This Buddha who has woken up from the sleep of ignorance, Lives surrounded by five hundred Arhats, Who have conquered the enemy of Delusions. In the centre of this prosperous place, Druk, the peaceful land, Is found Gadhen Choeki Phodrang, the Happy, Religious Palace. Skilfully adorning his head with the Indian Payzha cap, Is one who looks like Lama Rechungpa; O, is it he or not? Please tell the truth; tell the truth. Is one who looks like Lama Rechungpa; O, is it he or not? The thousand, golden petalled lotus blooming in the Great Mountain Lake, Is a prophecy that thousand and two Buddhas will come to serve the sentient beings. The Blue Cuckoo is the happiest among the birds. The reason for its melodies comes from its own mind. Let good luck come, the goddess of good luck. Let good luck come, the goddess of good luck. Let good luck come to the whole country in general; Let good luck come to this place in particular. This happy state is called Happiness; let it come from the right, This peaceful state is called Peace; let it come from the left. The tunes for these three calls be matched in melody.’ 6

The costumes that are used for this dance recall the 17 th-century monastic militia of the Drukpa School. The dancers wear long black or red woollen skirts, black or red woven cloths over their left shoulder, small chased silver breastplates, brocade jackets, and traditional Bhutanese boots, with round cloth headbands made of multi-coloured striped material on their heads. This thick head covering was supposed to protect them from weapon-strokes. One of the dancers also carries the lute (dranyen) that the dance’s name is derived from. The dranyen is a long-necked, doublewaisted and fretless lute with seven strings. It is often richly decorated with paintings, and its peg-

box features a distinctive C shape with a carved finial of the head of a sea dragon or water monster (makara). Generally, the dranyen is regarded as a secular instrument, and it is often used as an accompaniment for storytelling. The dranyen, just like any other stringed instrument, is not part of the monastic music. Therefore, the dranyen cham is a significant exception to the exclusion of stringed instruments inside the dzong and monasteries. The dranyen dance is a dance of subjugation, which proclaims the victory of Buddhism over obstacles and negative powers. The sound of the dranyen is said to attract demons, while the carved makara wards them off. 185

CHOS ZHAY – THE RELIGIOUS DANCE The chos zhay dancers are also dressed as the monastic militia of the Buddhist Drukpa School. On their right thumbs they wear large rings made of ivory, horn or yak bone, which are said to have been served in former times as aids to drawing a bowstring.


The chos zhay dance was introduced during the 12 th century by Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (1161 – 1211), who founded the Drukpa Lineage in Western Tibet. It is supposed to recall the opening of a route to Tsari, a Buddhist pilgrimage site in Southeastern Tibet. This event is described by Dasho Sithel Dorji as follows: According to legend, Tsangpa Gyare was about to walk along the pass to Tsari Mountain when Yum Tsho, the guardian deity of the Turquoise Lake, suddenly appeared before him. Yum Tsho turned himself into a frog that was as big as a yak and blocked Tsangpa Gyare’s passage.7 His three pilgrim friends had no idea what to do, but Tsangpa Gyare mounted the frog’s back in a single leap and said, ‘If anybody wants to challenge us, the lineage sons of Palden Drukpa, let him come.’ 8 As he spoke these words, he began dancing on the huge frog’s back. Thereupon the creature collapsed under his feet like a heap of earth, and was overcome. However, Tsangpa Gyare restored Yum Tsho’s life-force to

him, and appointed him as the protective deity of the site and the holy lake. Tsangpa Gyare was able to reach the place of pilgrimage unhindered, and since then Tsari – along with the Holy Lake and the visible imprint of Tsangpa Gyare’s foot – has been a place of power and an important pilgrimage site for many Buddhists.9 This is the event that the lovely, slow movements of the chos zhay recall. During their lengthy pilgrimage, the dancers sing these words: First Step – Chos zhay With the lineage sons of Palden Drukpa, If anyone would challenge, let him come; From the right turn, Winnings, mental comfort and happiness are achieved. With the disciple monks of the virtuous lamas, If anyone would challenge, let him come; From the right turn, Winnings, mental comfort and happiness are achieved. With the virtuous king and his capitals, If anyone would challenge, let him come;

From the right turn, Winnings, mental comfort and happiness are achieved. Right turns, three and three, Left turns, three and three. One right, one left; One shift, two shift, three shift, And thereafter, form a circle and finish.

Second Step – Receiving Scarf [This song is sung while a white shawl is being handed over] Sing a song of peace, While receiving the scarf, a happy dance is performed. As the diving lama, the essence of all the Buddhas, Is mirrored in the unaltered state of mine own mind; All the appearances have dissolved in the Dharmakaya. As all occurrences embody the mandala of the Lama, Happiness shines forth. Right turns, three and three, Left turns, three and three. One right, one left; One shift, two shift, three shift, And thereafter, form a circle and finish.

Third Step – Coming of the Pious One The pious one has come, The pious one has come. Peacock, the pious one has come From the eastern Indian region, O, has the pious one come? Has arrived and is here, Has arrived and is here; To make its colourful plumage, The ornament of the elixir container, Has arrived and is here, O, has the pious one come and is he here? May fortune prevail, May fortune prevail on the colourful plumes, The ornament of the elixir container. Let fortune prevail, O, has fortune prevailed? Right turns, three and three, Left turns, three and three. One right, one left; One shift, two shift, three shift, And thereafter, form a circle and finish.

Fourth Step – Has come and arrived He has arrived, Has he arrived? Has arrived and is here, Has arrived and is here. The Compassionate One has arrived from the Dharmakaya realm. He has come and is here,

O, has he come and is here? To help the sentient beings, He has arrived. O, has he arrived? Let fortune prevail, Let fortune prevail For all sentient beings who have unwavering faith. Let fortune prevail, Let fortune prevail. Right turns, three and three, Left turns, three and three. One right, one left; One shift, two shift, three shift, And thereafter, form a circle and finish.

Fifth Step – the Rainbow-coloured Flower There is fortune where the rainbow-coloured flowers bloom; The garden is filled with their rays. There is fortune where the rainbow-coloured flowers flourish; Offer them to Zhabdrung, the Precious One. All the rainbow-coloured flowers, Blossoming into a thousand petals. Right turns, three and three, Left turns, three and three. One right, one left; One shift, two shift, three shift, And thereafter, form a circle and finish.

Sixth Step – the Peaceful One The bright moon shines in the peaceful high sky, O, the first one, so bright; The beautiful torch, the sun with its glowing wings of light, O, the second one, so bright. Doesn’t it look beautiful – ask the Goddess of the sky. O, friends of the four Continents, It does look very beautiful. Right turns, three and three, Left turns, three and three. One right, one left; One shift, two shift, three shift, And thereafter, form a circle and finish.

Seventh Step – The Magical Lasso The lasso that is like a magical noose; O, it is laid over the high mountains. Not with the desire to trap the mountain lion, But to have a glimpse of its turquoise mane. Right turns, three and three, Left turns, three and three. One right, one left; One shift, two shift, three shift, And thereafter, form a circle and finish.


Eight Step – the Rainbow-coloured Peacock

Tenth Step – the Chinese Lady (Jaza Amai Samdrup)

About the place where the Rainbow-coloured peacock was born, It was born and has come from the eastern region of India. For the place of its birth let’s do a dance. O, as it was born and come from there, For its birthplace let’s do a dance. About the place where the Rainbow-coloured peacock did arrive, It came and arrived as the ornament on the elixir container, For the place of its arrival, let’s do a dance. O, as it has come and arrived, For the place of its arrival, let’s do a dance. Having fulfilled my desire, The peacock feathers will return to eastern India, And do the story of the rainbow-coloured peacock; O, and do the story of the rainbow-coloured peacock. Right turns, three and three, Left turns, three and three. One right, one left; One shift, two shift, three shift, And thereafter, form a circle and finish.

Jaza Amai Samdrup possesses fine intelligence and wisdom, If the method of weaving the colour patterns of the Chinese silk is not known, Look up in the direction of the high mountains And observe the turquoise mane of the lion on the lake’s island. From this, the Chinese Lady learned to weave the water wave patterns on her silk. The designing of intricate patterns are also learned from this. The weaving of hard and soft garments is also known. The Chinese Lady knew how to design intricate patterns And weave the Chinese silk, Right turns, three and three, Left turns, three and three. One right, one left; One shift, two shift, three shift, And thereafter, form a circle and finish.

Ninth Step – The Outer Boundary Wall The outer boundary wall is Lhasa, the center of religion. The internal Gem is the Toenpa Jowo, (Buddha Shakyamuni); Offering golden drink to Jowo is well known. The white shell-like walls are constructed. The yellow, golden pillars are erected. The blue, turquoise beams are illuminated. Up on the top, the white flags of the gods are hoisted on the right. The castle is filled with these rays And ready for dancing. Arranged to the right are those who know the dance. Grouped separately to the left are those who can turn round and round. Thus grouped are those who know how to dance. For the dance, the song Trashi Dungtsheg is arranged. The backward footfalls of the dance, O, they signify the closure of the pathway to lower realms by our foot. The gestures of the hands in front, O, they symbolize the goading of the subjects to the upper realms. O, the twists and turns of this good dance are so well known. Right turns, three and three, Left turns, three and three. One right, one left; One shift, two shift, three shift, And thereafter, form a circle and finish.


Eleventh Step – Tashi, the good fortune O, with Tashi from the eastern direction comes peace and happiness, Meeting Vajrasatava in person brings peace and happiness. O, meeting face to face and hearing his speech brings peace and happiness. O, with Tashi from the southern direction comes peace and happiness, Meeting Ratna Sambhava in person brings peace and happiness. Meeting face to face and hearing his speech bring peace and happiness. O, with Tashi from the western direction comes peace and happiness, Meeting Amitabha in person brings peace and happiness. Meeting face to face and hearing his speech bring peace and happiness. O, with Tashi from the northern direction comes peace and happiness, Meeting Amoga Sidha in person brings peace and happiness. Meeting face to face and hearing his speech bring peace and happiness.10

top row to bottom row, from left to right: Zha nag, durdag, the tsholing of tsholing ging cham, the ging of the tsholing ging cham, jug ging, dri ging, shazam, and tungam are some of the dances that are intended to cleanse and protect a place. 189

Phole mole (left) and raksha mangcham (right ) are didactic performances with a moral message.

The costumes for the chos zhay are similar to those worn for the dranyen cham; they also recall the ancient monastic militia of the Buddhist Drukpa School. The dancers who performed the chos zhay during the Thimphu tshechu on 4th October 2006 wore long red skirts in combination with their long-sleeved brocade jackets, and large, red or maroon cloths lying in folds over their left shoulders. On their chests they wore small chased silver breastplates, with traditional Bhutanese boots (tshoglham) on their feet and cloth headbands made of striped blue, yellow, and red material on their heads. In their hands they held prayer beads, and their right thumbs sported large rings made of ivory, horn or yak bone, which, according to Aris, served in former times as aids to drawing a bowstring.11 As we have seen in this account of the dances and performances at the Jampe Ihakhang drup, the sacred dance forms of Bhutan can be divided into three categories: dances that cleanse and protect a place from harmful influences; dances with a didactic and moral content; and dances that proclaim the victory of Buddhism and Guru Rinpoche. DANCES THAT PURIFY AND PROTECT PLACES The dances that purify a place and protect it from harmful influences include the Dance of the Black Hat Magicians (zha nag), the Dance of the Master of the Cremation Grounds (durdag), the Dance of the tsholing and ging (tsholing ging cham), the Dance of the ging with Sticks (jug ging), the Dance of the ging with Swords (dri ging), the Dance of the Four Stags (shazam), and the Dance of the Fearsome Deities (tungam).


DANCES WITH DIDACTIC AND MORAL CONTENT Among the didactic performances with moral content belong allegorical enactments such as the Dance of the Princes and Princesses (phole mole) and the Dance of the Judgement of the Dead (raksha mangcham). Similarly important in this respect is the Dance of the Stag and Hounds (shawa shachi), which is performed every year during the Thimphu tshechu: SHAWA SHACHI – THE DANCE OF THE STAG AND HOUNDS The Dance of the Stag and Hounds (shawa shachi) shows how huntsman Gonpo Dorji was converted to Buddhism by the great saint Milarepa (1040 – 1123). This dance resembles a play; it takes a very long time to perform, and is often split over two days. The following description is based on the shawa shachi, which was performed by the dancers of the Royal Academy of Performing Arts during the 2006 Thimphu tshechu in Tashichhodzong. According to Lama Gongdue, the Thimphu tshechu was performed for the first time in the eighth month of the Tibetan-Bhutanese calendar in 1670 in the reign of the fourth Desi Tenzin Rabgye (1638 – 1696). Since that time, the fourday tshechu in honour of Guru Rinpoche has been held every year, in the autumn. Here, the Dance of the Stag and Hounds is also called shawa shachi acho phento. Acho (Master) is how huntsman Gonpo Dorji’s servant Phento addresses him. According to Dasho Sithel Dorji, the following story provides the basis for the shawa shachi: once upon a time in the 11th century, the great saint Milarepa was meditating in a cave in Nyishang

Kurta at the frontier between Tibet and Nepal when he heard dogs baying. In his astonishment, he came out of his cave and climbed onto a cliff. To his amazement, he saw a black stag, bathed in sweat and panting for breath, race up to him, and seek his protection. Milarepa calmed the frightened stag by singing a religious song. The stag was moved to tears and kissed the lama’s robe to show his love and respect; he lay down peacefully beside Milarepa, on his right side. Shortly after that, the two hunting hounds that had been pursuing the stag turned up. They were red with anger and their tongues hung like ‘red silk’ from their jaws. Milarepa calmed them with his religious songs too. They lay down peacefully at Milarepa’s left side, wagging their tails and licking the saint’s robe. The hounds and the stag were all lying harmoniously together, now. At that very moment, huntsman Gonpo Dorji appeared, grasping his bow and arrows. He was sweating so much his body seemed to be bleeding, and he was clearly angry to find his dogs lying peacefully beside the stag at Milarepa’s feet. He blamed the saint for working black magic and ended by shouting these words, ‘Let me see whether your cotton clothes can shield you from my arrow like you have shielded my stag and the two hounds,’ 12 while he shot an arrow at Milarepa. Dasho Sithel Dorji tells

how the huntsman’s arrow slipped off the string. There’s another version, though, which tells how Milarepa used his supernatural forces to seize the huntsman’s bow so that the arrow, instead of hitting him, flew back at the astonished huntsman.13 In any case, Milarepa was not hit so he started singing his hymn again, which reconciled even Gonpo Dorji, and converted him. The huntsman confessed his sins to the lama and gave him his hounds, and the stag, together with his bow and arrow, and promised never to sin again. Later on, Gonpo Dorji became a Buddhist and practised the teaching of dharma, with the result that he was reborn as Khilarepa, a reincarnation of the spirit of Milarepa’s pupil.14 This story was intended to show the spectators of the tshechu that Milarepa’s tolerance and compassion apply to all beings – including animals – and that even a great sinner like Gonpo Dorji can achieve enlightenment, simply by earnestly following the teachings of dharma. The dance began when Phento, Gonpo Dorji’s servant, appeared to perform a comic turn with the atsara. He was wearing a black mask with laughter-lines; its open mouth revealed a row of sparkling white teeth, and he wore a garland of green leaves on his head. His costume comprised a long-sleeved outfit made of blue, red and yellow cloth, an old-fashioned kira, worn on top, traditi-

Huntsman Gonpo Dorji, his servant and seven atsara perform rituals to ensure good hunting during the shawa shachi acho phento.


clockwise from top left: Phento responded and greet his master by exposing his bottom to him; the huntsman Gonpo Dorji pulled a string out of his bag, with large lumps of dried meat hanging from it; he tried to shoot his arrow at Milarepa, however the saint was not hit so he started singing his hymn again, which reconciled even Gonpo Dorji, and converted him; the stag (shawo). 192

onal Bhutanese boots and a large wooden sword which he stuck in his kera. The servant had an unusual way of wearing his kira; it was wrapped all round his body like a pakhi. This item of women’s clothing is actually called montha / möntha, a type of kira that is regarded as a native and archaic form. Myers provides the following account of it: ‘Möntha (“Mön [understood as “Bhutanese”] weaving”) is so closely associated with women that men do not wear it under ordinary circumstances. The contexts in which men do wear it reinforce the notion that the cloth is quintessentially female and that women are somehow peripheral to Bhutan’s Buddhist culture. Möntha, whose name alludes to the “unenlightened ” or “non-Buddhist” (an early connotation of mön), was often worn by men playing

the parts of women in folk dances and at archery contests, where female servants, usually weavers, or men in möntha cloth wrapped like a pakhi, once danced and teased the opposing teams. Here, Bhutanese say that men took the role of a shabby, but loyal servant-joker in traditional dramas (phento). This figure has a complex background and origin. He is somewhat laughable and rather on the margins of mainstream Buddhist culture. The fact that these jokers and women dress in “unenlightened cloth” suggests that the fabric on some level symbolizes limited integration in the current social order.’ 15 This item of women’s clothing will be also discussed in the chapter on Gender-Specific Attributions in Bhutanese Society. After that, huntsman Gonpo Dorji appeared on the dance ground. He

too was wearing a leafy garland, and a large skincoloured mask featuring a moustache and a little pointed beard. His clothes consisted of a blue gho made of Chinese silk, a criss-crossed sash and a pair of black tshoglham. He also held a sword with silver fittings, a bow and a quiverful of arrows. The huntsman called for his servant, but being a lazybones, he did not respond to his master’s (acho) summons. Only after repeated calls did Phento respond and greet his master by exposing his bottom to him. The huntsman showed his annoyance, much to the audience’s delight. Further pranks, frivolous dances and a picnic followed, upon which the huntsman pulled a string out of his bag, with large lumps of dried meat hanging from it. Finally, Gonpo Dorji, along with his servant and the seven atsara performed a variety of clearly non-Buddhist rituals, which were intended to ensure good hunting. While the first scenes featured further jokes and comic games, the subsequent scenes assumed a much more serious and religious character. First of all, the dancers came on, consisting of the stag (shawo) and the two hounds (shachi). They danced in long skirts (darna mentsi), longsleeved brocade jackets, with sashes (gotrab) worn criss-cross over their chests and backs. Wearing the appropriate animal masks, they performed a combination of the following dances; the ‘Walking Dance’ (lamdroe), the ‘Chase and Run Dance’ (dab bjok), the ‘Gathering Dance’ (pungcham) and the ‘Nine Beats Dance’ (gurdung).16 While the lamdroe was still underway, Milarepa made an entrance. He was dressed in a white cloak with a pale flow-

er pattern, a white cloth and red sash, along with tshoglham. He was holding a pilgrim’s staff and a double-sided hand-drum (damaru) and wearing a white mask with peaceful features, painted-on black knotted hair, and two large earrings. After the dance, the stag drew close to Milarepa and settled at his right side, as instructed. Then Milarepa directed his converting song at the two hounds, who settled down near his left side. Milarepa beat a drum roll to show that they had been converted. When the huntsman and his servant turned up, there were the animals, lying peacefully at Milarepa’s feet. The huntsman let fly his arrows in vain, and Milarepa started singing yet another pious hymn. Thereupon, the huntsman laid down his bow and arrows, implored the lama’s forgiveness and presented his animals to him. After a final dance, all the actors left the dance area and the performance was over.

The drametse nga cham (left) and pa cham (right) proclaim the triumph of Buddhism.

DANCES THAT PROCLAIM THE TRIUMPH OF BUDDHISM AND GURU RINPOCHE The dances that proclaim the triumph of Buddhism and Guru Rinpoche include the Drum Dance of Drametse (drametse nga cham) and the Dance of the Heroes (pa cham). However, by far the most important dance in this category is the Dance of the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche (guru tshengye cham), which is performed, for instance, as part of the tshechu in Thimphu or Trongsa. 193

GURU TSHENGYE CHAM – THE DANCE OF THE EIGHT MANIFESTATIONS OF GURU RINPOCHE The Dance of the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche often constitutes the high point of a tshechu, since many Bhutanese people consider that Guru Rinpoche is actually made manifest during these performances and that the viewers acquire the blessings of his body, speech and mind simply by watching them. Guru tshen gye is a historical dance; it relates the story of King Sendarkha, narrated above, in which Guru Rinpoche went to a place to the north of Jakar to meditate on a cliff, and finally transformed himself into his eight manifestations in order to heal the king by dancing in a meadow. However, the Dance of the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche is intended to call to mind not only this straightforward story, but more generally the advent of Buddhism in Bhutan and Guru Rinpoche’s life story, which includes many accounts of his supernatural deeds. Guru Rinpoche, like Buddha Shakyamuni, was raised as a prince and is considered to have been an important scholar, missionary, philosopher, yogi, mystic, magician and Tantric master. Instead of dedicating his life to the pleasures of the royal court, he set off as a wandering monk to study every form of Buddhism. He followed the secret teachings of Tantric Buddhism and developed magical forces. During the 8 th century, he travelled through the lands of the Himalayas to disseminate Buddhism. He established the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism in Tibet and brought its teachings to Bhutan. Countless legends tell how he used his Tantric powers to bring Bon deities and demons under his control, and how he received them into the Tantric Buddhist pantheon, by binding them to Buddhist teachings as protectors of dharma. The sites where Guru Rinpoche was active and where he left impressions of his body are still important holy places today. His eight manifestations represent various aspects of this Tantric magician, and refer to his deeds and specific events in his life. During each of the eight sections of his life he acquired special magical powers and assumed a new appearance and name. For instance, he could appear in the peaceful forms of Buddha, yogi or sage, or as wrathful manifestations, to remove obstacles. Consequently, these eight manifestations can also be interpreted as steps on the way of meditation for practising Buddhists and as aids on their path to enlightenment. When the practising person visualises a spiritual image of each manifestation, he or she internalises the different facets of the teachings of Guru Rinpoche. The sequence of these eight manifestations varies according to its 194

source, presumably because Guru Rinpoche’s manifestations were not linked in chronological order, but were intended to illustrate the different principles guiding the spirit’s innermost nature. Chögyam Trungpa contributes the following argument: ‘Actually, the eight aspects are not really lineal, successive levels of development. What we have is more a single situation with eight aspects – a central principle surrounded by eight types of manifestation. There are eight kinds of situations.’ 17 A possible sequence, among others, has been put forward by Philippe Cornu in Padmasambhava, the Magic of Enlightenment.18 According to Cornu, the first aspect of Pema Gyalpo, ‘the Lotus King’, is followed by Tsokye Dorje, ‘the Diamond born from a Lake’, Shakya Senge, ‘the Lion of the Shakya’, Nyima Özer, ‘the Sunbeam’, Padmasambhava, ‘the Lotus-Born’, Loden Choktse, ‘the Proclaimer of Wisdom’, Senge Dradrok, ‘the One with the Lion’s Voice’, and finally, Dorje Droloe, ‘the Liberated Diamond’. Generally speaking, these eight manifestations can also be tied to episodes in Guru Rinpoche’s life story. This begins with his wondrous birth, which is associated with countless tales and legends. For instance, the terma tradition teaches how Guru Rinpoche is an emanation of Buddha Amitabha and was born inside a multicoloured lotus in the middle of Lake Dhanakosa in the kingdom of Uddiyana. Buddha Amitabha is supposed to have sent a golden dorje from the centre of his heart into the cusp of the lotus flower, where it turned in a wondrous way into a small eight-year-old boy. The boy held a lotus flower and a dorje showing the mark of a Buddha. The first manifestation of Guru Rinpoche is consequently called Tsokye Dorje in some texts, ‘the Diamond or vajra Born from a Lake’. One the one hand, this name is supposed to point to his wondrous birth in Lake Dhanakosa and on the other hand, on his identification with his Vajrayana Buddhist teachings. The diamond sceptre (vajra / dorje) stands for the indestructible nature of the dharma. Subsequently, the boy from the lotus flower was adopted by King Indrabodhi from the kingdom of Uddiyana, who made him heir to the throne of Uddiyana. It was at that time that he received the name Pema Gyalpo, ‘the Lotus King’. The lotus, being a flower that grows out of mud, is a metaphor for the original pure nature of the spirit, which has never been polluted by emotions – represented by the mud. According to Ricard, at this point Guru Rinpoche received the name Tsokye Dorje.19 As the crown prince he grew up surrounded by the luxury of court life, but according to legend, neither the prospect of ruling nor of marrying into a royal house could bind him, because he soon became aware that this sensuous way of life would not liberate him from the cycle of rebirth. However, the young prince was not allowed

to leave the palace, so one day, during a dance, his trident accidentally slipped from his grasp and inflicted a deadly blow on the minister’s son. Consequently, he was finally banished from the palace for this deed. From that time onwards, Guru Rinpoche lived on cremation sites and devoted himself to Tantric practices as a yogi.20 According to Tibetan traditions, he then returned to Lake Dhanakosa and practised the Mantrayana and the symbolic language of the Dakini. Guru Rinpoche studied every form of Buddhism as a wandering monk. When he made a pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya – the place where Buddha Shakyamuni achieved enlightenment, he studied with his master Prabahati and was ordained as a full monk with the ordination name of Shakya Senge, ‘the Lion of the Shakya’, a name derived from the Shakya family lineage that the historical Shakyamuni Buddha was descended from. Nyima Özer, ‘the Sunbeam’, is the manifestation that Guru Rinpoche used to assume at a cremation site in order to instruct the Dakini about Mantrayana and to overcome hostile spirits and demons, and to turn

them into protectors of Buddhist teaching. As a sunbeam he dispelled the darkness of the spirit with his insights into the ‘Great Perfection’ (dzogchen). ‘Stopping the sun means destroying the usual notions of time and daily routines and remaining firmly in the awareness of the present moment.’ 21 As a religious teacher (Pandit) with the name Padmasambhava, ‘the Lotus-Born,’ Guru Rinpoche disseminated the philosophy of Buddhism, since both the practice and the understanding of this teaching are essential for achieving enlightenment. Loden Choktse, ‘the Proclaimer of Wisdom’ or ‘the Supreme Knowledge Holder’ is the aspect in which Guru Rinpoche received the Tantric teachings of Vajrayana from his eight masters in India. Empowered by their transmission, he travelled to the Kingdom of Zahor to spread the teachings of dharma. It was there that he took Mandarava, the king’s daughter, to be his Tantric consort. However, the king made them both prisoner and Guru Rinpoche was condemned to burned alive. He applied his supernatural powers and turned the pyre on which he was about to be

Guru Rinpoche's eight manifestations at the Guru tshen gye in Thimphu.


Monks in richly patterned garments (left ) present music and incense; Dorje Droloe with his wrathful mask during the Thimphu tshechu (centre); during the guru tshen gye at Trongsa, Dorje Droloe appeared with a chain of human skulls slung around his body (right ).


burned into a lake, where he appeared, radiant upon a lotus. After that, Guru Rinpoche and Mandarava went to Uddiyana to spread Buddhist teachings there too. The minister whose son Guru Rinpoche had killed recognised him and gave orders for his immediate death by burning. This time too, the fire was unable to burn him; instead, he appeared seated on a lotus with his consort. Impressed by his powers, the people of Uddiyana offered the kingdom to Guru Rinpoche and converted to Buddhism. According to most Indian sources, Guru Rinpoche then spent 3600 years in India, teaching the dharma.22 After that he went to Tibet, where he also sought out countless places where he taught the dharma. He founded Samye Monastery and caused many teachings to be translated into Tibetan. Together with his Tibetan consort, Princess Yeshe Tshogyal of Kharchen, he concealed countless ‘hidden treasures’ (terma), which were intended to be discovered only many years later by the terton, the ‘treasure revealers’. The last two manifestations show Guru Rinpoche’s wrathful aspect. They are Senge Dradrok, ‘the One with the Lion’s Voice’ and Dorje Droloe, ‘the Liberated Diamond or vajra’. He acquired the name Senge Dradrok after he had subdued 500 non-Buddhist scholars in Nalanda through the power of his words. The latter had been on the point of winning the debate and destroying the teachings of Buddhism, when Guru Rinpoche defeated them in a contest of logic and magic. When they cursed him, he destroyed them with wrathful mantra that he had learned from a demon-defeating Dakini. In the end, it was by roaring like a lion that he spread the true teaching. In Bhutan, Guru Rinpoche’s fi-

nal appearance was under the wrathful aspect of Dorje Droloe in the ‘Tiger’s Nest’ monastery (taktshang) in Paro, and at Singye-dzong in Kurtoe, where he overthrew demons and local deities who were hostile to Buddhism with his Tantric powers, and concealed further terma to benefit future generations. His birth and life were rich in legends, and the end of his earthly existence was no exception. It is said that one day, Guru Rinpoche rose into the air on a mythical horse, and lifted by Dakini, flew towards zangdo pelri, the paradise on the peak of the coppercoloured mountain. ‘The Mountain Paradise “Zangdog Palri” [zangdo pelri] is a land,’ Keith Dowman writes, ‘where the believer wants to be reborn in his prayers, so that his practise of meditation will ripen in the Guru’s presence and become capable of attaining a meditative state.’  23 Consequently, Guru Rinpoche’s Paradise or ‘Pure Land’, as it is also called, does not exist in physical terms, but can be found by Buddhist believers themselves. This means that thereafter, there is no need to return to the cycle of rebirth. However, the sequence of Guru Rinpoche’s manifestations, as presented in the various texts and above, does not match the sequence of the guru tshen gye dance, which may indeed vary from tshechu to tshechu. The following presentation is based on the guru tshen gye that was performed on the fourth day of the Thimphu tshechu on 4th October 2006, and enriched with photographs of the guru tshen gye at Trongsa. The Dance of the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche was led by the chopen, the master of the offerings, and a small procession of three monks. The chopen was dressed in monks’ robes

clockwise from top left: Tsokye Dorje, as presented during the Thimphu tshechu; and the Trongsa tshechu; Loden Choktse at the Thimphu tshechu; with hand-drum and bowl at the Trongsa tshechu. 197

Guru Padmasambhava during the Thimphu tshechu (left); Shakya Senge during the Trongsa tshechu (centre); Pema Gyalpo during the Thimphu tshechu (right ). opposite, clockwise from top left: Nyima Özer during the Trongsa and Thimphu tshechu; Senge Drakrok with his assistants during the Trongsa tshechu; Guru Rinpoche with his retinue in Thimphu and Trongsa.


with an orange patchwork shawl (choego namjar) featuring a special pattern that is called ‘rice paddy pattern’ that will be discussed in greater detail in the chapter on The Production of Textiles, and a white cloth bound over his mouth to show respect for the gods. The three monks were dressed in richly coloured, patterned garments and wore embroidered hats with long black artificial hair. Two of them were playing flutes, and the third swung a censer, from which billowed clouds of white incense smoke. The first of Guru Rinpoche’s manifestations to appear in the dance area was Dorje Droloe, wearing a gold and red coloured brocade garment and a terrifying dark red mask. His mask was highlighted with golden lines and featured a third eye and characteristic ears with extended holes in the lobes; his mouth was slightly open to reveal glittering, sharp canine teeth. His mask was crowned with five skulls and woolly orange hair. He was holding a diamond sceptre (dorje) and a ritual dagger (phurba). Dorje Droloe was accompanied by wrathful deities in similar red masks and brocade garments. During the guru tshen gye at Trongsa, Dorje Droloe appeared with a chain of human skulls slung around his body. After Dorje Droloe came Tsokye Dorje, ‘the Diamond or vajra born from a lake’. He appeared in a blue brocade garment, wearing a peaceful green mask with a third eye, half-open lips, a knot of black hair, a crown of five skulls and extended ear-lobes, with earrings hanging from them. He was holding a diamond sceptre (dorje) and a bell (drilbu). Loden Choktse came on as the next manifestation in red brocade

clothes with criss-crossed sashes and a peaceful white mask, which featured a delicate moustache and beard, a crown, a hair knot covered in yellow fabric, and earrings. He was carrying a small double-sided hand-drum (damaru) and a diamond sceptre (dorje) as his attributes. At the Trongsa tshechu Loden Choktse could be seen in a bright garment holding a double-sided hand-drum in his right hand and a small bowl in his left. He is often shown with these attributes in scroll paintings. Padmasambhava, the Lotus-Born, appeared wearing a red and saffron monk’s robe, with a golden mask and the pointed red Pandit hat of the Nyingma School, whose name Nyingma (‘ancient’) refers to their use of the oldest translations of the tantra texts.24 Shakya Senge entered wearing a red monk’s robe, a peaceful golden Buddha-mask with fine black curly hair and extended earlobes, and carrying a beggar’s bowl in his left hand. According to Gisela Bonn, this is the mask of Buddha Amitabha.25 Pema Gyalpo, ‘the Lotus King’, appeared in a red brocade garment, a skincoloured bearded mask with a crown, and a hairknot wrapped in white material. In his hands he held a double-sided hand-drum (damaru) and a mirror. With the drum in his right hand he arouses living creatures from their blindness. With the mirror, he shows them how the deeds they have committed will affect their next rebirth. Nyima Özer, ‘the Sunbeam’, appeared in a yellow brocade garment, a yellow bearded mask with black hair tied in a knot, a crown of skulls and ear pendants, and carrying a trident (khatvanga) and a skullcup. Senge Dradrok, ‘the One with the Lion’s Voice’, en-


While the dancers spin around tirelessly, their clothes rise upwards, symbolising how their powers extend in all directions, to banish evil and remove all obstacles.


tered in blue brocade, with a terrifying blue mask, crowned with five skulls. He was accompanied by his assistants, who appeared in similar wrathful blue masks. With measured tread full of solemn and dignified the eight manifestations walked around the courtyard, while Guru Rinpoche himself emerged from the temple. He represents his main aspect, and is thus numbered among the eight aspects. He appeared with a golden mask and a royal cloak made of silk brocade, holding a dorje to symbolise the indestructibility of his enlightened spirit and forming a banning mudra (tarjani / karana mudra) with his right hand. According to Kunzang D. Dorji, the tarjani mudra (also karana mudra) is the gesture of exorcising and common to wrathful or semi-wrathful deities to subdue negative forces or evil beings. It is formed by raising the index finger and the little finger, and keeping the other fingers folded under the thumb. ‘Guru Rinpoche is often depicted holding the vajra and gesturing with the Tarjani mudra, and it is said that in this manner he subdued the numerous demonic influences in Tibet and Bhutan.’  26 On his head he wore his characteristic hat, which nowadays can only be worn by the highest dignitaries of the Nyingma School, and which bears the following features: in the middle, the double dorje, surmounted by sun and moon emblems to show that it unifies the female and male principles in itself and abolishes duality. The hat-tip features a stylised peacock feather, rising from a half dorje and some ornamental bows, which represents his close association with Buddha Amitabha, whose companion animal or ‘vehicle’ is a peacock. He was accompanied by his two Tantric consorts – the Indian princess Mandarava of Zahor and the

Tibetan princess Yeshe Tshogyal of Kharchen –, a group of monks, one of them holding a multicoloured silk parasol to keep the sun off Guru Rinpoche, and by Dakini, the celestial beings, who were represented by children in white masks. After processing around the place, the main aspect of Guru Rinpoche sat down on a throne that had been set up in front of the monastery wall, beneath a canopy, in the midst of a crowd of monks. While this was happening, the eight manifestations started dancing. They span around tirelessly, transforming the dance area into a heavenly place. The dancers’ rapid spinning caused their clothes to rise upwards; it also a way of showing how their forces were extending in all directions, to banish evil and remove all obstacles. When their dance came to an end, they went and sat beside Guru Rinpoche, leaving the space free for the next performers, the sixteen ‘sky dancers’ or ‘space voyagers’ (Dakini / Khandro). As mentioned above, these celestial beings are said to have been born in the ‘pure land’. But at the same time both terms ‘sky’ and ‘space’ are used metaphorically to imply emptiness or the ultimate nature of reality. The sixteen celestial beings appeared in splendid costumes. Their long silken garments, which fell down to their yellow and green tshoglham, presented a harmonious combination of different patterns. On their heads were golden crowns (rigna) with a black, stylised hair knot and long black braids of artificial hair. Their head coverings were decorated with little silk banners. The most remarkable part of their costumes was the skilfully carved ornaments (rugyen), made of yak bones, linked to form a mesh of beads and little plaques featuring portraits of Khandro / 

Dakini / Khandro with golden crowns (rigna) and skilfully made bone ornaments (rugyen) are beating their large drums (nga) and glorifying Guru Rinpoche in their dance. Festival-goers line up for Guru Rinpoche's blessing (wang) and to claim one of his multi-coloured blessed ribbons (sunkey). 201

Guru Rinpoche's manifestations transform the dance area into a heavenly place.


Dakini. These ornaments are called khandro rugyen; they were worn as aprons and to decorate the dancers’ backs and arms. According to Bhutanese tradition, they used to be carved from human bones. Nowadays, these ornaments are still made of bones – but these are yak bones. They greeted Guru Rinpoche by beating their large drums (nga); they then performed two dances (rigma chudrug) with songs for him and his eight manifestations. For the second dance, they swapped their large drums for small hand-drums and bells (drilbu). It is thought that the Dance of the Sixteen Celestial Beings spreads true happiness among those who believe in the manifestations of Guru Rinpoche. While the Dakini were glorifying Guru Rinpoche in their dance, the spectators started forming long queues; they waited patiently in line for the blessing (wang) of the ‘Precious Teacher’ and to claim one of his multi-coloured blessed ribbons (sunkey). Some of the festival-goers were convinced that Guru Rinpoche was truly present at that moment. After a finale, consisting of endless whirls and a procession involving Guru Rinpoche, his followers and his eight manifestations, accom-

panied by the celestial beings and a crescendo of drumbeats, the dance ended with a grand exit by all the performers. CHAM LINEAGES OF BHUTAN The following pages provide an overview of the various cham lineages in Bhutan and a glimpse of the comprehensive work that is being done by the Core of Culture Dance Preservation. This is a non-profit organisation, which specialises in the preservation of ancient dance, and was working with the Honolulu Academy of Arts on an ambitious project to document all the cham dances as a significant cultural heritage of Bhutan. It has taken three years for a team, directed by Joseph Houseal, the Executive Director of Core of Culture in Chicago, with help from the Bhutanese filmmaker Karma Tshering, to gather more than 300 hours of high-definition video documentation of cham dances. Gerard Houghton, Core of Culture Director of Technology, has compiled a database which is kept in to the National Library of

the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in the Lincoln Center – the largest archive of dance films and documents in the world. According to Core of Culture Dance Preservation there are several cham lineages in Bhutan, where various teachings and practices – among which the cham dances – have been directly transmitted from teacher to pupil, as is still the case. Among these dance traditions are the cham lineages of the Drukpa Kagyu School, the Karma Kagyu School, the two terton Pema Lingpa and Dorje Lingpa of the Nyingma School, the Lama Namkha Samdrup, the Sherab Members, Karchu Monastery, and the Sakya School. All of these, down to the last two lineages – those of Tibetan refugee Karchu Monastery with its founder Namkhai Nyingpo, and the recently lapsed Sakya School – can claim a continuous line of transmission of more than 400 years for their cham dances in Bhutan.27 THE DRUKPA KAGYU SCHOOL LINEAGE The Drukpa Kagyu School’s cham dances are ritual dances in an Imperial monastic-style that originated in Tibet, as did the school. Although Lama Phajo Drukgom Shigpo (1184 – 1251) had established the Drukpa Kagyu School in Bhutan as early as 1222, the dances in this lineage were only adapted by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1616. While these dances are still performed in Bhutan, they have died out in Tibet.28 The dances of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage include, for instance, the tum ngam cham, a Dance of Submission dedicated to Guru Rinpoche and the state religion. Subduing evil forces and negative energies

is presented by thirteen dancers in long brocade garments and wrathful masks. Holding swords in their hands, they dance around a sacrificial substitute (linga) placed in the centre of the courtyard. They bend over the ritual effigy repeatedly, and then continue their dance with endless whirls and violent head movements. This dance was performed by the monks of the Drukpa Kagyu School on 2 nd October 2006. A further dance of the Drukpa Kagyu School is the Dance of the Black Hat Magicians with Drums (zhanag nga cham), one of the most universal dances which also has Bon roots. As mentioned above, a canon of Black Hat dances exists today; it is descended from a well-established pre-Buddhist cult of sorcerers. The dances were used to pass down magic formulae in secret way. The choreography of the Black Hat Dances are derived from dances that were performed within pre-Buddhist rituals for white and black magic, while other cham choreographies can be traced back to ancient agricultural and martial sources.29 In Thimphu, the zhanag nga cham is performed by the most qualified dancers of the Drukpa School during the Thimphu drubchen. This ritual lasts 14 days and serves to protect and promote the wellbeing of the whole country; it is considered a particularly sacred event. Consequently, taking photographs and films is strictly prohibited.

left: Karma Tshering shows a High Definition Camera to Lam Pemala (Photo by Core of Culture). right: Sangay Tshering, one of Bhutan's best mask dancers, performs the tum ngam cham (Photo by Core of Culture).

THE KARMA KAGYU SCHOOL LINEAGE The Karma Kagyu School’s lineage was established in Bhutan by the fourth Shamarpa Lama. The fourth Shamar Rinpoche, Shamar Chokyi Drakpa Yeshe Pal Zangpo (1453 – 1524) travelled from Tibet to Central Bhutan, where he built 203

Thangbi Monastery is situated in an idyllic location, on a fertile high plateau in Thangbi village in Bumthang. Prayer flags lead the way to the monastery. The iron chain curtain (right ) is supposed to have been welded by Pema Lingpa himself, after taking over the monastery.


Thangbi Monastery in 1470. After a disagreement with Pema Lingpa, he had to leave the monastery. One surviving dance, the goenpo bernak cham, is thought to be based on one of the mystical visions that he was granted in Tibet. The dance is based on a narrative that is supposed to have happened during the 13th century: the second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi Rinpoche (1203 – 1283), was taken prisoner by the King of China and tortured by being suspended by his beard. The Karmapa called on his male protective deity, Goenpo Bernak, a manifestation of Mahakala, for help, but he did not respond to his calls. When Karma Pakshi was on the point of death, Karmapa’s female protective deity (Lham Rangjungmo) appeared and tried to awaken Goenpo Bernak from his deep slumber; this she finally succeeded in doing. Goenpo Bernak awoke and realised that his master Karmapa was already close to death. Quickly, he changed himself into a giant-sized figure and placed one leg in front of the palace of the King of China, while the second was still firmly set on the ground in Tsurphu, in Tibet. Being in such a hurry, he had not had time to roll both his trouser legs up. He had managed to roll one up to the knee, so Goenpo Bernak appeared wearing trouser legs at different lengths. Goenpo Bernak drew his sword and threatened to destroy the king’s palace if he failed to release Karma Pakshi Rinpoche. The King of China was so cowed that not only did he release the Karmapa at once, but he also presented him with valuable objects as a mark of his repentance, and sought his forgiveness for his evil deeds.30 In remembrance of this victory over the King of China, the goenpo bernak cham was performed every year in Tsurphu, in Tibet, and was eventually brought to Bumthang by the fourth Sharmapa.

Since 1470, which was when Shamarpa Lama relocated his monastery to Thangbi, the goenpo bernak cham has been performed every year, exclusively in Thangbi. Indeed, this dance no longer exists in Tibet today. The goenpo bernak cham is performed every year during the four-day Thangbi mani festival; right from the beginning, it had been enacted by the inhabitants of the three villages of Thangbi, Goling and Kharsath.31 However, this tradition is currently under threat because so many villagers are leaving, and social values are shifting. Previously, the whole community, along with a few important donor households, had been able to subsidise the festival. Nowadays, though, the community simply cannot cover the costs of this little festival. Unfortunately, this means that the Thangbi mani is becoming a minor event and its significance is dwindling. A committee has been called into being to counter this negative development; its duties include generating funds to finance the organisation of the festival. Since the death of the last incarnated Lama, around 80 years ago, there have been no ordained monks in Thangbi Monastery. Since the late 1980s it has been used as a place for training lay monks (gomchen). The following account is based on the Thangbi mani that was performed on 6th to 9 th October 2006. In fact, the festival had already started on 5th October, the 13 th day of the eight months, according to the Tibetan-Bhutanese calendar. On that day, members of the community gathered to attend the rehearsals for the dancers in the courtyard. The next day, offerings were presented to the local deities, and the cham dances started officially. The most famous dance of the entire festival, the goenpo bernak cham, was performed

on the 15 th day of the eighth month, 7 th October 2006. It is also called ter cham, ‘Treasure Dance’, a reference to its great sacred significance. Given that Goenpo Bernak represents a form of the protective deity Mahakala, the goenpo bernak cham was performed by eight dancers wearing fearful Mahakala masks inside the temple courtyard. Their grim blue masks featured gaping mouths, three eyes and eyebrows and a beard in the form of little flames; they were surmounted by five small white skulls and woolly hair. Their clothes consisted of long-sleeved brocade jackets, sashes worn criss-cross over their chests and backs, multicoloured silken cloths, and the obligatory trousers with different turn-ups. The batik patterns on their dark-blue and maroon trousers indicated that the fabric came from Tibet. The performers danced barefoot, tracing a circle and shaking their wild masks to and fro, then turning, and leaping to their next position, and shaking their masks again before another brief twirl and a couple of leaps to the next position. While continuing to dance in a circle, they brandished their wooden swords in their right hands, thereby recalling the threats made to the King of China and symbolising the destruction of ignorance. At the end of the dance, they lined up shakily and took a few steps back, only to leap high in the air three times and leave the dance area. In addition to the two lineages of the Kagyu School, the Nyingma lineage has a particularly important role to play, since, as mentioned above, the Nyingma School dates back to Guru Rinpoche, who is considered the founder of the cham dances. His dances were in turn developed by the terton of the Nyingma lineage. It was primarily Dorje Lingpa and Pema Lingpa who founded a separate

tradition within the Nyingma School, which was called after them: Dorje Lingpa’s dances have been named dorling, while Pema Lingpa’s are called peling. TERTON DORJE LINGPA'S LINEAGE (1346 – 1405) Dorje Lingpa was the first Tantric master to establish a canon of cham dances in Bhutan. These dances were about the ‘hidden treasures’ (terma) that had appeared to the terton as mystical visions during his meditation sessions. Among the most important dances in Dorje Lingpa’s lineage is the decham, a dance that represents the removal of all spiritual obstacles. The Core of Culture Dance Preservation team recorded the decham on 27th December 2005. Ten villagers from Nabji danced it barefoot in silken skirts (darna mentsi), longsleeved brocade jackets and criss-crossed sashes. Their heads were covered in white or yellow silk cloths, with the longs ends hanging down their backs. Numerous thin pleats of artificial hair could be glimpsed beneath these cloths. The ten dancers performed a round dance with acrobatic leaps and skilful whirls, brandishing their swords all the while to represent the destruction of all obstacles on the path to enlightenment.

The trouser legs of the dancers are at different lengths, recalling the protective deity Goenpo Bernak, who has been in such a hurry to help his master Karmapa that he had no time to roll both his trouser legs up.

TERTON PEMA LINGPA'S LINEAGE (1450 – 1521) The famous Nyingma saint, Pema Lingpa, has been referred to above as one of the greatest renewers of the cham dances. As a reincarnation of 205


Guru Rinpoche and Nyingma philosopher Longchen Rabjampa (1308 – 1363) he was born in Bumthang in 1450 and died there in 1521. Pema Lingpa founded a few important monasteries in Bhutan and was known well beyond the Bhutanese borders as the discoverer of numerous terma, which included the cham dances. Many of the choreographies that are used today date back to him; in addition to the Dakini dances mentioned above, the most well-known are the three ging dances (ging sum) and the Dance of the tsholing and the ging. LAMA NAMKHA SAMDRUP'S LINEAGE (15 th century) Lama Namkha Samdrup was a Tibetan Lama, who came to Bhutan in the 15 th century and built two temples in Bumthang: Ngang lhakhang in the Choekhor Valley and Namkhoe lhakhang in Tang Valley. Ngang lhakhang is a private temple which is still guarded by the successors of Lama Namkha Samdrup. It is said that the Tibetan lama, following a revelation, travelled south until he reached the Bhutanese border. On arriving in Bumthang, he selected a remote place and dedicated himself to the contemplative life, filled with meditation and prayers. Once the news of the high-ranking lama’s arrival had spread, people came from all around to pay their respects to the lama and to ask for his blessing. Impressed by their piety and deep devotion, he decided to build a temple to meet the spiritual needs of the people living there. A Bhutanese legend tells of a lovely swan that appeared to him, traced a circle high in the air, and then landed on an idyllic height in the upper Choekhor Valley, called Choekhortoe. The lama saw this as a good omen and selected this site for building his temple. This event also gave the building its name, ‘Swan Temple’. Once a year, generally at the year’s end, a festival called Ngang lhakhang rabney is held in Ngang lhakhang. The precise date is determined by a particular constellation of the karma mindu (known in the west as the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters), whereby the stars are aligned with the moon in the night sky. This particular way of selecting the date suggests that the origins of this festival lie in ancient agricultural rituals.32 The three-day Ngang lhakhang rabney is organised by two families: the members of the Ngang lhakhang Chhoejey family, as the successors of Lama Namkha Samdrup, and the members of the Samdangdung as the successors of Gyelpo Thrisung Deutsen. Consequently, it is obligatory for a high-ranking member of both families to be present throughout the entire festival. The Ngang lhakhang rabney is famous for featuring one of the rarest and oldest sacred dan-

ces, a canon of noblemen dances called zhey. These dances from the ancient Bhutanese militia are only performed within the context of the Ngang lhakhang rabney. Although the zhey dances were not created by Lama Namkha Samdrup, they have been preserved by this single festival, the Ngang lhakhang rabney, right down to our day. The zhey dances are supposed to have been introduced in the 17th century at the time of the unification of the kingdom, and were conceived as dances of welcome in honour of the Shabdrung. Traditionally, they were performed by eight men from noble families in the eight villages of the Chhoekor Valley, and were accompanied by singing. The historical instructions for the zhey dances were unfortunately lost in a fire; however, a young man had learnt all the dances perfectly, and wrote them down again from memory. Today, this man is 47 years old and one of the leading dancers. One of these zhey dances, the jui lam dam (‘the Bird’s Nest’ or ‘the Iron Chain’) is particularly interesting because the eight dancers hold hands continuously during this long, involved dance. This means that the dancers are literally woven together, and interlinked. They only loosen their grip at the end, when they engage in solo displays of agile, dynamic whirls. During the 2006 Ngang lhakhang rabney which ran from 4th to 6 th December, the zhey dances were performed on all three days of the festival. The eight dancers were dressed in white tego and blue or green gho, with long dark-blue skirts over them. Two of the dancers wore skirts with applied red, green and yellow stripes. All eight dancers wore trousers beneath their gho, tucked into their tshoglham boots, so they could only be seen when they were twirling particularly fast. They wore scarves over their chests and backs, and a thick cloth headband on their heads. These criss-crossed scarves were made of variously-coloured silk fabric and a khamar kabne woven with red-white-red stripes, such as are occasionally worn by lay monks (gomchen). At their hips hung a small fabric bag with tassels, probably to hold cartridges or a bag with tinder and flint.

opposite: Ngang lhakhang and members of the Ngang lhakhang Chhoejey family in Choekhor Valley. The zhey dances of the Ngang lhakhang rabney are one of the rarest and oldest sacred dances in Bhutan.

THE LINEAGE OF THE SHERAB MEMBERS The lineage of the Sherab members has preserved a dance tradition that dates back to the 15 th century. The dances in this lineage were formerly revealed as terma and were guarded by Tibetan monks. In 1959 these monks fled to Bhutan. They brought their dances into exile, but only started dancing them again in 1985. Since then they have been performed every three to four years, but only in Thangsibi village. At present, the dances of the Sherab lineage have not yet been recorded. 207


THE KARCHU MONASTERY LINEAGE Karchu Monastery in Tibet was founded in 1672 by the first Namkhai Nyingpo Tulku – an incarnate lama who was identified by the fifth Dalai Lama. In 1962 the sixth Namkhai Nyingpo Tulku arrived in Bhutan with the monks from Karchu. After that, the seventh Namkhai Nyingpo Tulku was selected in 1967 in Bhutan. The re-introduction of the cham dances of Karchu Monastery is attributed to him; nowadays, they are performed every three to four years. THE SAKYA SCHOOL LINEAGE The Sakya School was established during the 17 th century under the Tibetan Sakya Lama Gyalwa Rabyang Lodey, he who had also brought this cham lineage to Bhutan. Seven dances of the Sakya School are still in existence today. Nowadays, though, only one of the local elders still knows them, and they are danced by four remaining lay monks (gomchen). Fortunately, these dances have been recorded faithfully by a dancer from the Drukpa Kagyu School and thus saved for posterity. DANCE COSTUMES The dance costumes (cham go) that are worn by monks in Bhutan are strongly influenced by Tibetan dance traditions and resemble the costumes

that are used in many Buddhist countries in the Himalayas where cham dances are performed. Any variations are determined by the climate. When it is particularly cold, Mynak Tulku explains, as in Tibet or Mongolia, the costumes are worn over clothes.33 In Bhutan, this is not the case. The monks only wear the costume that is prescribed by the dance. The same applies to their footwear; when it is required, they will dance barefoot – even in the winter. The costumes for the cham dances are laid down just as strictly in the ritual dance books (Tib. cham yig) as is the sequence of the dance and its individual movements. The style and colours of the costumes are defined, as are the masks and accessories that are required. Their meaning is deeply entwined with the philosophical concepts of Tantric Buddhism. Ricard writes about this as follows: ‘All crafts linked to the fashioning of the accessories for dancers and rituals have a sacred quality, since each object is charged with symbolism. The costumes, masks, and headdresses are not simple articles of clothing; their function is to render inner qualities visible outside.’ 34 The traditions are also strongly marked by the visionary experiences and spiritual revelations of the terton, since these visions conveyed precise instructions for new dance forms, as well as directions with regard to their costumes, colours and style. As mentioned earlier, in his vision of the ‘Dance of the Dakini’, Pema Lingpa was granted a precise vision of the colour, style and patterns of the dancers’ silk and brocade costumes and recorded this in his instructions.

above: Zanag dancers in brocade costumes. Elaborate Chinese silk brocades used to be sourced in Tibet and are nowadays generally imported from Hong Kong. opposite: The costumes of the cham dancers often consist of heavy Chinese silk brocades; here worn by the tsholing dancers.


Sashes made of silk brocades or cotton can also be decorated with cowrie shells and buttons.


The costumes of the cham dancers consist mainly of Chinese silk brocades, which used to be sourced in Tibet and are nowadays generally imported from Hong Kong. Cheaper brocade is also available from India. For instance, brocade robes are worn by the tsholing dancers and all the zhanag dancers. Their clothes are styled like ankle-length tunics, arranged in tight pleats at the side which are kept in place by a small piece of wood at the hips. A typical feature is their long, spreading sleeves, which refer, among other things, to the story of the murder of Langdarma by the monk Lhalungpa Pelgyi Dorje. The brocade costumes’ patterns, such as flowers, dragons, clouds and various auspicious symbols date back to the Qin dynasty of 18 th-century China; they are still part of the present-day Chinese textile pattern repertoire. A range of colours and patterns can be combined in single items of clothing, because strips of different colours are inserted in the lower part and both the sleeves. These brocade robes are lined; in most cases the monks also wear an undergarment and a vest. The cloud-collars (dorjigong) are also made of brocade and are combined with different dance costumes. They are mainly sewn from patterned silk brocade, and feature symmetrical cloud-like shapes. Of the sashes (gotrab) that are worn criss-cross over the chest and back, some are made of brocade. Others are made of cotton, and are skilfully decorated with cowrie shells or buttons. Although cotton cloth does not feature widely in cham costumes, it is found in those costumes that imitate the skins of wild animals. Tigerskin trousers (tak sham) are made of cotton and are generally painted by hand. These items of clothing consist of two-sided yellow or orange-coloured aprons, which are bound with a belt and painted

with tigerskin patterns. Trousers with leopard patterns (zig-dor) are worn underneath. These sorts of costumes are mainly worn by ging dancers. The stylised skeleton costume that is worn specifically by the Lords of the Cremation Grounds is basically made of cotton, too. This white durdag costume is unmistakable and consists of a longsleeved upper part, long narrow trousers, and gloves with extended fingers. Sometimes, this costume is decorated with skeleton-like paintings or appliqué work. According to Karma Tshering explanations, the costumes for the mask dances were originally made of animal skins and brocade garments. The silken mentsi fabrics that are so widespread today were only introduced at a later date. The cloth that is used in the whole Himalayan region is a yellow silk, printed with red and green floral patterns. This silken material is also used as protective hangings in front of religious scroll paintings and walls inside the temple. Aris points to a Chinese origin and traces this mentsi fabric back to the Chinese word mianzi, which just means ‘covering’.35 These mentsi cloths finally reached Bhutan via Tibet. During the 18 th century, small squares of this cloth were used as minor units of currency in Tibet and Bhutan.36 Nowadays, the material is mostly imported from India where they can be made more cheaply. The name mentsi (or mense) occurs in the Bhutanese term mense mathra, which refers to a woven fabric with yellow supplementary-warp-pattern bands on a red ground. Mentsi cloths are primarily used for making darna mentsi skirts. These skirts consist of four pieces of silk, each a different colour (white, red, blue and green), along with the prominent yellow silk fabric with red-green patterns. The skirts are not stitched but made of five loose scar-

ves which only become a skirt by being fastened with a handwoven or leather belt. This soft silken material flows with every dynamic movement that the dancers make. Smaller pieces of silk are used to decorate the dancers’ heads, their attributes and props. Cham costumes are primarily produced by monks, who have been trained in tailoring dance costumes. However, new costumes are only made when the old ones have become frayed and need to be replaced, and after a patron has come forward to fund them. Tailoring the sacred cham costumes is considered to be a meritorious act, just as sponsoring them. During rehearsals the dancers just wear monks’ robes; they are barefoot and occasionally use the requisite prop. The costumes are kept all year in large wooden chests and are stored inside the temples; they are only taken

out for the actual festival. Some of these costumes are very old and valuable and have achieved an almost sacrosanct status. According to Karma Tshering, Bhutan’s oldest dance costume is thought to be between 700 and 1000 years old. According to Bhutanese tradition, it was brought from China by a Buddhist princess who owned a particularly precious costume that was considered very sacred, but which she did not require. Knowing that religious dances (cham) are performed in every Buddhist country, she packed the costume up in a wooden chest (one that was normally used for transporting tea). She prayed that this costume would arrive in a Buddhist country, where it would be of use and importance to the people, and sent it off. Even before this chest arrived in Bhutan, the legend tells us, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel had a dream, in which he was told that a valuable present was on

Tigerskin trousers (tak sham) made of cotton are mainly worn by the ging dancers.


clockwise from top left: Durdag costumes made of cotton are decorated with skeleton-like paintings or appliquĂŠ work; silken mentsi fabrics are mainly used for making darna mentsi skirts; smaller pieces of silk are used to decorate the dancers' heads, their attributes and props. 212

its way to Bhutan. The very next day, a Chinese tea-chest turned up in Paro. The Shabdrung was quite certain that this was the valuable gift he had dreamed about in his dream and he summoned all the people. To start with, the people viewed the tea-chest with some scepticism and dismay, but when it was opened they saw a gorgeous costume made of precious embroidered silk brocade. Until recently, the Chinese princess’s dance costume was worn once a year by the champon called Wangchu for the laygoen am, the Dance of the protective deity Laygoen, during the Punakha dromchoe, along with a wrathful mask. However, over the years, this costume has suffered from exposure to rain and sun, and is now no longer used for the mask dances; it is carefully preserved inside the Punakha dzong. This costume serves to remind us of how closely history and legend are entwined in Bhutan. On the one hand, it is doubtful whether a 700 – 1000 year-old costume could have been used and preserved until today. On the other hand, there’s a mismatch between the date provided for the costume and the reference to Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, who lived 400 years ago. Punakha dzong contains a few more particularly valuable costumes. For instance, there are costumes that Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel himself wore for the mask dances during the Punakha dromchoe. According to Bhutanese tradition, these costumes are 400 years old. They are comparatively short, which allows one to deduce that the Shabdrung was relatively short as well. In any case, they were the Shabdrung’s own special costumes

that nobody else were allowed to wear. Nowadays, they are stored inside a shrine in Punakha dzong and very seldom put on public display. There is also an ancient snake costume, locked away inside a shrine, which is considered particularly sacred and precious. According to Bhutanese legend, this costume was derived from a deity. The snake mask that belongs to it is also stored inside a shrine and is not on public display. In addition to cham costumes, Bhutan also has costumes that are worn by lay dancers. These costumes differ from those in other Himalayan countries, and they also vary from locality to locality inside Bhutan. Among these dance costumes are some archaic tunics, which are a rarity, and, as mentioned earlier, were worn by Bhutanese women prior to the advent of the kira. Nowadays, this archaic form of clothing has almost entirely disappeared, and is only worn in a few parts of Eastern and Central Bhutan, at special ceremonies and festivals. According to Myers, these textiles are mainly connected to Kurtoe in the northern Lhuentse district and the districts of Trashiyangtse and Bumthang.37 Bhutanese people have various names for these old-fashioned clothes: delemé shingkha (‘long ago petticoats’) and ganmo atsa (‘old women’s dresses’).38 This latter description is applied to tunics made of cotton and nettle. The material of these tunics is thick and rough, and it was formerly woven from nettle fibre yarn, local cotton and wool. The material and type of production determine whether it is a kushung or a shingkha. It is thought that kushung tunics were the ordinary clothes that were worn

This garment made of pure silk is said to be the oldest dance costume of Bhutan.


top: The dance costumes of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. bottom: This snake costume is considered sacred and is kept in a shrine inside Punakha dzong. 214

by women in Lhuentse and Trashiyangtse. Kushung tunics were made of nettle fibres or local unbleached cotton, and consisted of two lengths of woven material, sewn together in the warp direction and folded over at the shoulders. A neckhole was left in the middle of the central seam for the head to pass through. The edges of this neckhole were sometimes turned back and hemmed, and decorated with appliquĂŠ work and embroidery. The outer selvedges were then sewn up, leaving two armholes. Kushung were made with supplementary-weft patterns in red and blue. These patterns were arranged symmetrically; the weavers used fine warp

stripes to orientate their work by. The elaborate, rich supplementary-weft patterns were produced using the sapma and thrima techniques that can still be found in kushuthara fabrics. This patterning technique will be described in greater detail in the next chapter, The Production of Textiles. According to Bhutanese tradition, the kushu patterns of the kushuthara are derived from these elaborate patterns. Myers also points to the similarity between the patterns and the names of both these textiles.39 Alongside motifs such as swastikas, diamond sceptres and floral patterns, which are still used in the kushuthara of today, older kushung also feature animal

left: kushung made of handspun cotton with supplementary-weft patterns in wild silk (Weltmuseum Wien Collection, Photo by Erich Lessing). top right: An atsara wears an archaic tunic (kushung) during the Ngang lhakhang rabney. lower right: Details of the kushung on the left; the patterns consist of a row of diamond-shaped motifs, which comprise crossed diamond sceptres (dorje), a row of stylised Bhutanese bamboo boxes (bangchung), a row of amulets (gau), and a row of dough figures (torma) (from the bottom up). 215

left: Shingkha made of wool with appliqué work, embroidery, and silk ribbons (Ethnographic Museum Zurich, Photo by Erich Lessing). top right: A heavy woollen yathra tunic is worn by Gadan Gathpo during the Ura yakchoe. lower right: Detail of the tunic on the left.


and human figures, stylised representations of torma (‘ritual dough figures’) and amulets (gau), and temple-like forms representing zangdo pelri, Guru Rinpoche’s heavenly palace. The shoulder region is often decorated with auspicious swastikawithin-swastika designs. Some kushung show horizontal pattern bands at their hem with continuous supplementary-weft patterns that can extend up to 45 cm. This border includes some very unusual raised pattern bands (takshing thrima /  khodang) made by adding supplementary wefts of dyed wool or natural nettle fibres. These supplementary yarns are thicker than the ground weft and therefore produce a raised effect. According to Viti and Haudek, this technique is termed as a directly reinforced fabric that is similar to embroidery due to supplementary pattern wefts in a given shed.40 Indeed, up to eight additional wefts can be inserted at intervals, both below and above the warp yarns, to produce raised float spans that do not occur in any other Bhutanese textiles, according to Myers.41 Each kushung is finished with 15 to 25 cm-long fringes, which were traditionally intended to protect the women from swarms of

flies when working in the fields.42 Kushung are occasionally worn by atsara, as for instance during the Ngang lhakhang rabney. It was during the gapo ganmo, the Dance of the Old Man and the Old Woman, that the old woman (ganmo) appeared in an old-fashioned kushung and a black wooden mask. Furthermore, Myers has established that yet another kushung is worn during the Bulli mani, also by an atsara.43 Less is known about the origins of the second type of tunic, which is called shingkha, but it does have some similarities with tunics from Southeastern Tibet. The term shingkha is also applied to the red and white tunics that are worn by Brokpa women in Merak Sakteng and in Arunachal Pradesh, in India. According to Myers, tunics of this kind are called kandomé atsa in Bumthang. This term points to the fact that these days they are mostly used in rituals and very seldom worn for everyday purposes. Myers translates kandomé atsa as ‘angel’s dress’, although in this context, it could mean dress of the Khandro or Dakini.44 These equally archaic tunics are made of red or blue woollen material, and the neck holes and side

seams are decorated with appliqué work and silk ribbons. The woollen twill was either locally made or sourced in Tibet. Occasionally, woollen broadcloth imported from British India was used. The appliqué pieces are made from scraps of Chinese silk, English broadcloth and local fabrics. Red shingkha are called leushingkha, while the blue or black ones are called ngaushingkha.45 According to Myers, these kinds of tunics are worn extremely seldom for special occasions in Kurtoe, for instance during a three-day ritual in Tangmachu, when men and women from designated families perform dances in honour of the local mountain deity. For these dances, which are intended to maintain the good relationship between the village community and the deity, the women wear red and blue shingkha, held together at the waist with a kera. On their heads they wear a silver headband (rumnang). Owning one of these shingkha enables a young woman to take part in these dances; they are only passed from mother to daughter.46 According to Myers, this process goes back more than five generations; consequently, these tunics are thought to be between 100 and 150 years old.

Given that the Tangmachu shingkha are kept only by noble families, and that people of lower status are not allowed to touch them, they represent important status symbols within the community. The inhabitants of the village of Tangmachu say that while new tunics may indeed be made, the permission of the mountain deity must be sought first. This involves gaining the consent of the man who embodies the mountain deity during the three-day ritual. Wearing yak-hair trousers and a red and white shirt that he has woven and sewn with his own hands, he enters a trance-like state and makes contact with the local deity; he throws a basket (bangchung) out of the window to indicate the deity’s reply; if it lands right side up, the new item of clothing may be made. However, to date, no new tunic has been made.47 In Bumthang, it is also said that red and blue shingkha used to be worn on the first day of a festival in earlier times, because it was assumed that their colours – an intense red and dark blue – would appease the local mountain deities.48 Both sorts of tunic, kushung and shingkha, are currently worn very occasionally for dancing and

top left: Black yak-hair garments are used to signify the sinner Digchen Nyalwabum during the raksha mangcham. lower left: Shingkhar's yak cham with several men inside the body of the yak – the costume is made of a huge yak-hair blanket ˇ okl). (Photo by Ulrike C right: This atsara costume, worn during the Ngang lhakhang rabney in Bumthang, is a tunic made of Tibetan fabric decorated with tie-dyed patterns.


left: In Bhutan, folk dances form integral parts of the religious festivals. Groups of men and women dance and sing between the sacred mask dances. Their costumes generally feature the national dress of the Drukpa. right: The atsara at the Thimphu tshechu are dressed in colourful, patched costumes made of imported and handwoven Bhutanese textiles.


are mainly stored in temples. They are used, on the one hand, to dress the female figure in the ancestral pair of figures inside the local temple, to which offerings are made during the annual festival. On the other hand, Bhutanese families tend to have one or more old piece of clothing in their valuables chest, which is called ‘box of prosperity and happiness potential’ (yanggam) – yang can be translated as ‘happiness or happiness potential’ –, or inside private temple rooms. These family items are only taken out for the annual ritual (rimdro) when they are blessed by the lama, along with the family jewels and symbolic food, to pray for happiness, prosperity and long life for the family and the whole household. They are not worn on these occasions. The Textile Museum in Thimphu and the Ogyen Choling Museum in Bumthang also have a few lovely and well-preserved examples; over time, though, most of these tunics have ended up in private collections and museums in other countries, or have simply disappeared due to poor storage conditions and lack of conservation. The atsara, the clown-like entertainers can be easily distinguished from the other entertainers due to their costumes. If not wearing an archaic tunic, they are dressed in colourful, patched costumes and wearing masks with large conspicuous noses or a stuffed phallus hanging from their mask. Furthermore they are holding a large wooden phallus and entertaining the public with their occasionally crude improvisations. Their costumes vary from locality to locality and are made of various types of imported cloth as for instance Tibetan fabrics decorated with tie-dyed patterns – as for instance during the Ngang lhakhang rabney in Bumthang –, or pieces of hand-woven Bhutanese fabrics – as for instance during the Thimphu tshechu. Latter are mostly striped and checked fabrics made of

cotton. During the Ura yakchoe in Bumthang, the atsara wear costumes made of woollen cloth with supplementary-weft-patterning (yathra); a heavy woollen yathra tunic is worn by the Gadan Gathpo. Yak hair is mainly used to signify the sinner Digchen Nyalwabum during the raksha mangcham, who perform in black yak-hair garments. Furthermore yak hair plays an important part during the yak cham of Shingkhar village in Central Bhutan. In this dance the protective deity Choekyong appears as gigantic yak-headed deity with several men playing the wild yak in a costume that is made of a huge yak-hair blanket. The symbolically loaded dance costumes that are worn by monks, and the archaic costumes of a few lay dancers contrast with the costumes of the women and men who perform folkdances between the cham dances. Their costumes generally feature the national dress of the Drukpa, or the various regional costumes of Bhutan. Thus, there are dances and songs that are ascribed to the Layap people in the high north, or to the Brokpa in the east, or to the inhabitants of the southern regions. In this case, the dancers wear their specific local dress. Closer examination of these profane costumes will reveal that they also have spiritual references, since even the fabrics of their kira and gho feature representations of ritual objects and Buddhist symbols. DANCE MASKS On closer examination of the dances it emerges that the same costumes are often used for several dances. Thus, the figures, whether they represent animals, different deities, historical personalities, or manifestations of Guru Rinpoche, are primarily

revealed through their masks and properties. According to Ricard, their function is to render inner qualities visible outside.49 Wrathful deities are represented by masks with a terrifying expression. Generally, these are the masks of Mahakala, ‘the Great Black One’, who is the most important protective deity in the Drukpa Kagyu School, the royal Wangchuck Dynasty and the kingdom of Bhutan, since many wrathful masks bear the same features as those on Mahakala’s face: two popping eyes, the third eye of wisdom on his forehead, eyebrows in the form of little flames, a bulbous nose, long extended ear lobes, the suggestion of a beard and a gaping mouth showing sharp incisors and a protuberant tongue. From the top of the mask hangs a mane made of thick twisted wool or cotton threads which moves wrathfully when the dancer twirls round the dance ground or shakes his head. The movement of his mane is not only representing his wrathful manner, but also symbolising the deity’s wisdom spreading in all directions. An additional important attribute is represented by the crown, which consists of five skulls; it symbolises the five spiritual poisons of ignorance, attachment, aversion, pride and envy, which it seeks to transform into the five wisdoms.

For all that Mahakala looks like a demon, he is not a demon but a dharmapala, a ‘Defender of Buddhist Teaching’. A dharmapala is an emanation of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva, and his chief function is to remove the inner and external obstacles that prevent practising Buddhists from achieving spiritual insights, and to provide all the necessary conditions for strengthening their practice. Mahakala appears in the form of a wrathful deity to frighten and combat demons. The legends relate that Avalokiteshvara (Tib. Chenrezig), the Bodhisattva of Compassion is supposed to have created himself as the wrathful emanation of Mahakala in order to combat spiritual obscuration. Uttering the syllable ‘hum’, he is transformed into this powerful and dusky protector, who Buddhists consider capable of taming the spirit, endowing it with wisdom, ensuring good conditions for it, and destroying all obstacles. His angry manner and methods, which can be rough and ready, are evidence of Mahakala’s authoritarian and dominant personality, his inability to compromise, his speed, and readiness for personal sacrifice. That said, his anger has nothing to do with fury or hate; it is interpreted as pure energy and power which are required to overcome the deep-seated veils that overlay the mind. Evil

Wrathful deities are represented by terrifying masks.


The Lord of the Death (left ) and the black demon (right) with Mahakala masks.


does not exist externally; it comes from within the mind and is created by emotional poisons, such as egoism and ignorance. These emotional poisons, are given hostile personifications, which are then defeated by Mahakala, and many other wrathful deities. Thus they may appear wrathful outwardly; but inwardly they are filled with love and compassion for all sentient beings. Wrathful Mahakala masks are worn by the dancers at the peling dri ging, the tsholing of the tsholing ging cham, and by Guru Rinpoche’s wrathful manifestations in the guru tshengye cham, among other occasions. For instance, Due Nagpo appears in a black Mahakala mask, draped with a mane of wild yak-hair, at the raksha mangcham; however, this mask is fitted with even larger tusks. Similarly, Shinjey Choekyi Gyelpo appears in an over-sized red Mahakala mask, whose five skulls are decorated with five leaves, forming a golden crown (rigna). The masks of the ging, the heavenly heroes or guardians and emanations from Guru Rinpoche, are also masks of fearsome deities. They are chiefly identified by their long fangs. As with the Mahakala masks, they are crowned with five skulls and display the third eye of wisdom. However, their eye-sockets have no eyes; they are empty. Furthermore, the ging masks

seem to be more delicate and smaller. During the Thimphu tshechu and the Trongsa tshechu, the masks of the heavenly guardians are fitted with semi-circular fans made of rainbow-coloured cloth to show that they are surrounded by the light of a rainbow.50 They share this decorative feature with the masks of the durdag dancers. Durdag dancers are easily recognised by their characteristic white skull masks. They are mostly shown with fearful grins, revealed teeth and empty eye-sockets, along with five-pointed crowns that symbolise their superiority over natural forces. Animal masks have an important role to play; they represent real and mythical animals as well as individual deities and companions of deities. For instance, Shinjey, the Lord of the Death, is shown with a bull mask in the shinjey yab yum. As for the raksha go cham, the Dance of the raksha, the animal figures represent the Lord of the Death’s assistants. The atsara masks constitute a separate type. Although they have human traits, they are so exaggerated that they often look grotesque and clownish. The atsara masks are often made of wood, display a crooked hawkish nose and a permanent grin. Each set of atsara masks includes the masks of the ‘Old Woman’ (atsara ganmo) and

the ‘Old Man’ (atsara gathbo). Historical figures are also shown with masks that represent human features. Holy individuals are mostly shown with white faces, since white is considered the ‘mother of colours’ and is equated with purity and goodness. Thus, the saint Milarepa and Lha Karpo, the representative of virtuousness, always appear in a peaceful, white mask. While wrathful masks symbolise the transformation of mental poisons, peaceful masks are regarded as symbols of wisdom. If white masks are used for human beings, they mostly represent individuals of the nobility. While these masks are bright and youthful, the masks of the lower society or even sinners are dark, wrinkled and often look grotesque. In Bhutan, dance masks are worn exclusively by monks or lay monks. A number of masks allow the dancers to peer through their open mouths rather than the eyeholes. Consequently, these masks are set high above their heads. They need to be lined with cushions and are tied on with lots of tapes so that they don’t shift during the dancers’ extravagant movements. Dancers often protect themselves from injury by binding their heads in strips of cloth which also support the mask. Putting on the masks requires lots of help from assistants. As

for those masks that do not have gaping mouths to look through, they have two little holes at the corners of the mouth for that purpose. Smaller masks generally do have eyeholes for the dancers to see through. Given that these masks are very heavy and the dancers’ line of vision is often very restricted, their ability to perform synchronised, precise dances with complex and acrobatic elements is all the more impressive. The masks are produced according to old designs by Bhutanese craftsmen. Sometimes they are made of a mixture of cloths and clay, as in Tibet, but in Bhutan where there is plenty of wood, they are generally carved in wood and have only recently been made of papier mâché. Tibetan-style cloth masks are made by pasting layers of cloth onto a carved clay mold. Once they have dried, the clay model is broken and removed. Finally, the features of the face are shaped using a red-hot metal spatula, after which the mask is painted.51 Carving the wooden masks is an artistic skill that belongs to the wood-carving sector (parzo), which is one of the 13 traditional crafts (zorig chusum) and is taught in the two Zorig Chusum Institutes in Thimphu and Trashiyangtse. A true master of this craft is Tshewang Namgyel

clockwise from left: The ging masks are also terrifying masks of wrathful deities; durdag dancers with their characteristic white skull masks; animal masks represent real and mythical animals as well as individual deities and companions of deities.


left: This mask is worn during the Ngang lhakhang rabney. top right: atsara wearing masks with large conspicuous noses or a stuffed phallus hanging from their mask. lower right: Lha Karpo always wears a peaceful and youthful white mask.


from Drametse; he is also nicknamed Bak Sharang Meme (mask head old man) by the locals. At the age of 24 he started carving wooden masks for the drametse nga cham, since when – for over 40 years now – he has been in charge of the masks at the Drametse monastery and occasionally replaces the old masks in this monastery with new ones. For Tshewang Namgyel, the production of dance masks is seasonal work, and he reserves the winter months from November to January for it. During the rest of the year, he retires to the mountains to meditate. Tshewang Namgyel uses a special wood for his masks, called row shing; it comes from the forest of Rolong in the neighbouring district of Trashigang. In the forest, the wood is cut into blocks on the spot, and carried to Drametse on horseback. Tshewang Namgyel needs about 30 tools to produce a mask. He uses the old mask that is being replaced as his model. He starts by sketch-

ing the mask onto the wooden block, and then he begins to carve the features very carefully using fine tools. It’s only when the mask has slowly taken shape that he starts using coarser tools to hollow it out from inside. Working both sides at once requires great care since the slightest error can cause a piece to fall out, or the whole mask can break. That would mean starting all over again. Finally, Tshewang Namgyel concentrates on the fine details, and uses small tools to carve them. The whole process requires eight days’ work, after which the mask will be painted very skilfully, and decorated with hair, strips of cloth and such-like, and padded – to make it wearable.52 Paper masks are made of local daphne plants (dhenap), belonging to the family Thymelaeaceae. Five species of these evergreen shrubs – Daphne involucrate, Daphne bholua, Daphne sureil, Daphne retusa, and Daphne ludlowii – are used for

the manufacture of traditional paper (desho) in Bhutan, and are found throughout the country. 53 After stripping the bark off, the bark pieces are soaked in water for 24 hours and then dried in the sun. The outer bark is peeled off with a knife; the inner softer bark fibres are soaked again in water and boiled for many hours by adding wood ash in order to speed the boiling process and to make the fibre softer. Today wood ash is sometimes replaced by caustic soda to speed the whole process up. Then the boiled fibres are pounded to a pulp. Water is added until the mixture reaches the required consistency. The paper is then made by using a mould (a screen made of a fine cotton mesh or thin strips of bamboo). Depending on which mould is used, the paper will be called tsasho (‘bamboo paper’) or resho (‘cotton paper’); they are used for different purposes. Tsasho paper is made by dipping the mould into the pulp, spreading the pulp

over the surface of the screen, and then lifting it out carefully. Tsasho paper is removed from the mould while still damp and placed on a growing pile of freshly made sheets. Finally, the pile is pressed to remove surplus moisture, after which the individual sheets are separated and stuck on a wall to dry. They are simply slapped onto the wall and fall off when they are dry. The bamboo mesh leaves a fine bamboo imprint on the paper. Resho paper is made by pouring the pulp over the cotton screen and spreading the pulp over the surface of the screen while it is floating in the water. Resho paper is air-dried on its mould, after which it is carefully removed from its frame. The production of the paper masks follows the same lines as the production of cloth masks. Small pieces of paper are dunked in glue made from plants or yak-hide, and laid over a clay form. At least three layers of paper are required to produce a firm mask. When

clockwise from top left: A number of masks allow the dancers to peer through their open mouths rather than the eyeholes; tying on the masks involves one or more assistants; masks in the raw state; dance masks are worn exclusively by monks or lay monks.


Paper masks are made of daphne plants, which are used for papermaking.


the mask is dry, the clay model is smashed, and the paper mask is painted and decorated. The great advantage of paper masks is that they are very light. For this reason, papier mâché is used for large masks that are sometimes three times the size of a dancer’s head. Independently of the materials that are used, the production of dance masks provides very little opportunity for artistic freedom. The craftsmen must adhere precisely to regulations that were laid down hundreds of years ago in the cham yig. The colours and shapes of each mask that represents the deities have been strictly laid down, since it is believed that in addition to symbolising the various external manifestations of each deity, these masks are also manifestations of the actual deity, once they have been invited into the masks. Once they are ready, the masks are dedicated by a lama; mantra are recited and the masks are blessed by

having rice and flowers thrown at them. Only then can they be used for religious dances. These purification and dedication ceremonies are repeated before and after every festival. According to Bonn, prior to use, each mask must be dedicated to the service of that particular deity with the following words: ‘I name you by your name, that you may live,’ or ‘I call you, that you may be.’ 54 After being used, the masks undergo another ritual purification and are placed in the innermost part of the temple, where they are retained until the next festival – almost an entire year. As we have seen with regard to some exemplary masks that were used at the Jampe lhakhang drup, some of these Bhutanese masks are said to be very old. Some are thought to be a few hundred years old and to have been carved by famous masters. Often, these old masks retain a whiff of magic, associated with the many legends that cling to them. Although it is not pos-

sible to confirm their actual age and magical powers, almost all Bhutanese people – from the rural population to the clergy and intellectuals – reckon that they are especially precious relics that confer blessings and must be venerated. ATTRIBUTES Alongside the masks, the dancers’ attributes convey a great deal of information about the figures that they represent, and about the content of the dance. The commonest adjuncts are large drums, sticks and swords, along with the ritual objects of Tantric Buddhism, such as ritual daggers, diamond sceptres, bells, hand-drums, skullcups, et cetera. Destructive objects such as knives, swords and daggers do not represent weapons as such, but are regarded as tools that assist spiritual awakening, in that they destroy obstacles and the inner enemy. The large double-sided drums (nga) represent, according to Beer, the ‘sound of impermanence’.55 During the dance they proclaim the victory of Buddhism – as in the Dance of the Black Hat Magicians with Drums (zhanag nga cham), the Drum Dance of Drametse (drametse nga cham), and the Dance of the Heroes (pa cham) –, invoke blessings from deities – as in the Dance of the Sixteen Celestial Beings (rigma chudrug) –, and symbolise the overthrowing of negative forces through compassion – as in the Dance of the tsholing and ging (tsholing ging cham). The sound from the drums also symbolises the awakening of sentient beings from ignorance. These upright drums consist of a wooden body, decorated with ornaments and flower motifs, two membranes, which are sometimes dyed or painted green, and a wooden handle. The drum is beaten with a curved drumstick. In former times large drums were beaten

from the rooftops of royal palaces to summon people in the kingdom, to send an army to war, to proclaim royal commands, or to celebrate victory. The sword (dri), for its part, is also a symbol of wisdom and a powerful object that can slice away the veil of ignorance and obscuration. The flaming wisdom sword is the main emblem of the Bodhisattva of Wisdom (Tib. Jampelyang, Skt. Manjushri), representing the realization of transcendent wisdom. The wisdom sword is also a weapon that many wrathful deities use to vanquish evil forces and demons. Within the context of the dances, the sword also serves to destroy negative forces and often consists of a wooden grip and a simple blade. The drumsticks (jug) are carved and painted wooden sticks, which perform a purifying task. The drumstick represents wisdom, and its stroke compassion. That is because compassion is the motive that emanates from the stroke. As mentioned above, the sticks are painted with three different combinations of red, blue and white stripes, which are intended to symbolise the three poisons (doksum) of ignorance, attachment and aversion. The ritual dagger (Tib. phurba, Skt. kila) is a ritual instrument that dates back to the Vedic period and is generally made of metal or wood. The ritual dagger is not actually a weapon. It embodies the deity Dorje Phurba or Vajrakila / Vajrakilaya and was already being used in Tantric rituals during the 7th and 8th centuries in India, for overcoming various obstacles on the spiritual path of believers. With its sharp tip this mighty tool shatters the wall of ignorance and the false images of delusion. Ritual daggers are three-sided, to destroy the three poisons of ignorance, attachment and aversion. Their grip is formed from the three faces of the deity Phurba (a wrathful, a peaceful and a joyful face) or a horse’s head, representing the deity Hayagriva. According to Beer, the top of the

After being used, the masks are purified and blessed, and placed in the innermost part of the temple until the next festival.


The sound from the large double-sided drums (nga) symbolises victory over the enemy and the awakening of sentient beings from ignorance.


phurba is crowned with the heads of three wrathful deities, who are invoked to dwell within the phurba: ‘The white right face is usually identified as the deity Yamantaka (or Trailokyavijaya), who represents the aspect of body and the destruction of hatred. The blue central face is that of Amrita Kundalin, who represents the aspect of mind and the destruction of delusion. The red left face is that of Hayagriva, who represents the aspect of speech and the destruction of greed. As aspects of body, speech, and mind, these three deities also represent the three kayas [aspects of enlightened being].’ 56 In the hands of protective deities, this object is directed at the enemies of Buddhism. For instance, the dancers use their ritual daggers to liberate the dance area from demons and negative influences. From this point of view, it is a tool of exorcism. On another level, it serves to ward off delusional thought structures in order to remove emotional obscuration and to direct the mind along the right path. With the ritual dagger, the dancers can abolish evil spirits by separating their awareness from their physical body. Another ritual object is found in the diamond sceptre or diamond thunderbolt (Tib. / Dzk. dorje,

Skt. vajra), the most characteristic symbol of the ‘Diamond Vehicle’ or Vajrayana Buddhism. It represents both, the indestructibility of a diamond and the irresistible force of a thunderbolt, and thus symbolises the purity, indestructibility, and irresistibility of Tantric Buddhism. The dorje cannot be destroyed but it breaks everything else and so Guru Rinpoche used it to overcome the hostile demons and spirit beings that represent obstacles on the path to enlightenment. On another level, it is supposed to help practising Buddhists to transform their unwanted fears and negative feelings into positive forces. The dorje is supposed to remind them that this quality of indestructible purity is also present in us, in our pure nature of the mind. Consequently, the faithful identify this ritual object with ultimate reality and enlightenment. Buddhist iconography tends to distinguish between the dorje as a symbolic sceptre and as a powerful instrument or weapon. When held in the right hand by peaceful deities (mostly five-pointed with closed prongs), it symbolises the perfection of their methods and when held in the right hand of wrathful deities (with open prongs) it represents the indestructible

power of their anger, which is capable of destroying all negative and illusory things.57 Whereas the dorje represents the male principle and thus embodies method or skilful means, bells (Tib. drilbu, Skt. ghanta) symbolise the female principle of wisdom or emptiness, which is represented by the bells’ hollow casing. It is said that the sound of a bell proclaims the natural sound of emptiness and signifies the wisdom or the empty nature of all phenomena. In religious ceremonies, the dorje and drilbu are combined, to symbolise the perfect union of the male and female principles, and of method and wisdom which are necessary to achieve enlightenment. When both these ritual objects are used together, the diamond sceptre is held in the right hand and the bell in the left. When held cross-wise, these two ritual objects represent the indivisible unity of wisdom and compassion. The small double-sided hand-drum (Tib. / Skt. damaru) serves as an attribute for several deities; this ritual object is held in the right (traditionally male) hand. These small double-sided hourglassshaped drums are made of wood, bronze and human skulls, and are stroked by two small round strikers that hang from short straps which are attached to the drum. According to Beer, they symbolise the ‘sound of great bliss’, and their function is to invoke all of the Buddhas, Bodhisattva, and above all the Dakini, inspiring them with supreme joy.58 As male demarcated hand-drums, they are used in combination with bells, which are defined as female. The ‘sound of great bliss’ is joined with the ‘sound of emptiness’. Likewise, the dancers mean to use the drums (damaru) that they hold to summon the Dakini during their cham dances. Among the attributes of the Dakini are curved knives, blood-filled skullcups, and tridents.

The curved knife (Skt. kartri, katari), whose grip is topped with a half-dorje is associated with the ‘Knife of the Dakini’. Like every other weapon, it is used for ‘trimming’ passions away, and is understood as a hazard symbol for the conceptual clinging to the body. According to Geshe Thubten Ngawang, the enemy – the act of grasping an inherent self – is to be killed, though the word ‘killed’ is meant in the sense of putting an end to this mistaken apprehension of an inherent existence. Wisdom, which recognises the emptiness of all appearance (shunyata), including that of the actual I, becomes its antidote, symbolised, as Geshe Thubten Ngawang explains, by the different ‘weapons’.59 Tibetan iconography tends to distinguish between the curved knife of the Dakini and the vajra-cleaver of particularly wrathful deities. The cleaver is used primarily by the various emanations of Mahakala for cleaving through the lifeveins of the enemies. In their left hands they grip a skullcup, which is filled with the warm blood of their hostile enemies and demons. Dakini are also frequently shown holding bloodfilled skullcups in their left hands, at heart level. The skullcup (Skt. kapala) is made from the upper oval section of a human cranium and is used as an offering-bowl, which is filled with a great variety of secret sacrificial substances. According to Beer, these could consist of divine nectar (amrita), semen, blood, alcohol, ritual dough figures (torma), and even the intestines and organs of demons.60 Skullcups are a reminder of the body’s transience and that negative feelings can be removed by transforming them into wisdom. According to Geshe Thubten Ngawang, the kapala was originally a ritual bowl made of clay. As mentioned above, this bowl was frequently white on the outside and red on the inside, with white representing the illusory

left: The sword (dri) is a symbol of wisdom and a powerful object that can slice away the veil of ignorance and obscuration. right: The drumstick (jug) represents wisdom, and its stroke compassion.


clockwise from top left: With the ritual dagger (phurba) the dancers abolish evil spirits by separating their awareness from their physical body; Guru Rinpoche with his diamond sceptre or diamond thunderbolt (dorje) that symbolises the purity, indestructibility, and irresistibility of Tantric Buddhism.


body and red the ‘clear light’; together, the two colours figure as symbols of enlightenment.61 Skullcups were used for ritual purposes. During cham dances the monks enter clasping skullcups with which they offer sacrifices to the deities. However, what the dancers are holding nowadays in their left hands is only a representation of a skull. These substitutes are small tortoiseshell bowls showing their natural colourings outside, and are painted red inside to represent the transient nature of existence. Beer goes on to say that the curved knife, the skullcup (kapala) and the Tantric staff (khatvanga) are the three most important attributes of a female Tantric Yogini or Dakini. Male Yogin or Siddha bear three objects, damaru, kapala and khatvanga as emblems of the early Indian Shaivite yogin, known as kapalika or ‘skull-bearers’.62 The Tantric staff is generally decorated with three decapitated heads at its upper end – a freshly served head, a decaying head, and a dry skull – along with a dorje or trident. These three skulls exhibit various degrees of decay and represent the overthrow of the three spiritual poisons, ignorance, attachment and aversion, which keep people trapped inside the painful cycle of rebirth. In the Buddhist context, the trident (Skt. / Tib. trishula) symbolises the Triple Gem (Buddha, the

ideal of Enlightenment; dharma, his teaching; and sangha, the community of his followers) and the three baskets of the Buddha’s teaching, which basically convey ethics, meditation, and wisdom. In the Vajrayana iconography, the Shaivite or kapalika trident has been adopted as a symbolic Buddhist weapon and instrument of those deities who are linked to Shiva: Chakrasamvara, Yamantaka / Vajrabhairava and Mahakala. According to the character of the deity, the Buddhist trident is viewed as an ensign, a spear, or a staff (khatvanga).63 Furthermore, wrathful deities are shown wearing necklaces of human skulls (Skt. mundamala /  kapalamala). Like many other attributes of wrathful deities, these garlands of skulls and severed heads refer to the transience of the body and the impermanence of life, and are intended to spur practising Buddhists to develop feelings of compassion and the desire to be liberated from birth, ageing, illness and death.64 At the same time, they also represent the power of these deities to overcome ignorance and delusion. According to Beer, the garland of severed heads is primarily assigned to male deities, the garland of dry skulls to female deities. Certain deities wear both.65

top: Pa cham dancers with bells (drilbu) in their left hands and hand-drums (damaru) in their right hands. bottom: With a representation of a skullcups (kapala) in their left hands, the dancers offer sacrifices to the deities. 229


left and opposite: Wrathful deities are shown wearing garlands of bells and severed heads (made of wood). Notes 1 Mynak Tulku, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.146. 2 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.if. 3 Schicklgruber 2009, p.101. 4 Rinzin Wangchuk, in: kuensel online, 29.08.2002: standardisation-of-mask-dances-underway/ #.UT9PJTeEWt8; last accessed on 12.03.2013. 5 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.12. 6 Ibid., p.12f. 7 In Ricard’s account, Yum Tsho appeared as a tortoise (Ricard 2003, p.18.) 8 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.1. 9 Ibid., p.1f. 10 Ibid., p.2 – 10. 11 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.41. 12 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.43. 13 Pommaret 2006, p.89f; Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.61. 14 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.44. 15 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.175f. 16 Dasho Sithel Dorji 2001, p.56. 17 Trungpa Chögyam, in: Ricard 2003, p.104. 18 Cornu Philippe: Padmasambhava – La magie de l’eveil, Points Sagesse, Seuil 1997 19 Ricard 2003, p.106. 20 Ibid., p.106. 21 Ibid., p.106. 22

briefe/2006/2006Rundbrief_de.pdf; last accessed on 12.03.2013. 23 Dowman, in: zang.htm#(1); last accessed on 12.03.2013. 24 Pommaret 2006, p.93. 25 Bonn 1987, p.28. 26 Kunzang D. Dorji 2003, p.62. 27 Bartholomew and Johnston 2008, p.377. 28 Ibid., p.377. 29 See too Documentary film by Core of Culture Dance Preservation: Cham Lineages of Bhutan 2007. 30 Brief Narration on Thangbi Mani 2006 31 Ibid. 32 See the programme published by the Dzongkhag Administration Bumthang for the Ngang lhakhang rabney, Bhutan 2006. 33 Bonn 1988, p.117. 34 Ricard 2003, p.57. 35 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.40. 36 Ibid., p.40. 37 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.106. 38 Ibid., p.106. 39 Ibid., p.108f. 40 Viti and Haudek 1981, p.61. 41 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.108. 42 Ibid., p.108. 43 Ibid., p.116. 44 Ibid., p.112.

45 Ibid., p.112f. 46 Ibid., p.115. 47 Ibid., p.115f. 48 Ibid., p.116. 49 Ricard 2003, p.57. 50 Ibid., p.92. 51 Ibid., p.60. 52 Samten Wangchuk, in: kuensel online, 04.12.2004: bt/visin2/bt_mask01a.html; last accessed on 10.04.2013. 53 Non-wood forest products of Bhutan 1996, p.44. 54 Bonn 1987, p.15. 55 Beer 2003, p.108. 56 Ibid., p.101. 57 Ibid., p.88. 58 Ibid., p.108. 59 Geshe Thubten Ngawang, in: Tibet und Buddhismus 2002, p.16. 60 Beer 2003, p.111. 61 Geshe Thubten Ngawang, in: Tibet und Buddhismus 2002, p.15. 62 Beer 2003, p.114. 63 Ibid., p.132. 64 Geshe Thubten Ngawang, in: Tibet und Buddhismus 2002, p.16. 65 Beer 2003, p.162.




opposite: Silk threads naturally dyed with madder at the National Handloom Development Centre (NHDC) in Khaling.

Today, many weavers opt for ready-made and pre-coloured yarns which are much cheaper and easier to use compared to indigenous materials.

In Bhutan, a number of traditional arts have arisen due the country’s historical and geographical circumstances, and the way of life of its inhabitants. They are collectively known as zorig chusum (‘thirteen traditional crafts’). This term is composed of zo (‘the ability to produce something’), rig (‘art’ or ‘craft’) and chusum (‘thirteen’). These thirteen crafts consist of woodwork (shingzo), stone arts (dozo), carving (parzo), woodturning (shagzo), painting (lhazo), clay arts (jimzo), casting (lugzo), blacksmithery (garzo), gold and silversmithery (trozo), bamboo and cane processing (tsharzo), papermaking (shogzo), weaving (thagzo) and textile processing (tshemzo); as mentioned above, they date back to Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. They were presumably defined and split up during the rule of the fourth Desi Tenzin Rabgye (1680 – 94). As this list of the thirteen crafts shows, Bhutan’s textile art is divided into two spheres: weaving (thagzo), which is firmly managed by women, and the processing of textiles, (tshemzo), which is primarily done by men. THAGZO – WOMEN AND THE ART OF WEAVING In Bhutan, weaving (thagzo) is the preserve of women; it involves many different stages, from obtaining the fibres, to producing and dyeing the yarn, right up to the finished woven textiles. The entire weaving process can require any length of


time, from a week to a whole year, depending on the materials and the dyeing methods that are employed, and the type of textile that is being woven. THE MATERIALS Bhutanese textiles are woven from nettle fibres, cotton, silk, sheep’s wool, yak hair and yak wool. Nettle and other bast fibres have a long tradition. Long before the local cotton and wild silk fabrics which constitute the woven cloth that Bhutan is famous for today, Bhutanese weavers were gathering nettles in order to spin their yarn to make textiles. These days, nettle weaving has a minor role to play, although there have been a few attempts at reviving it. Indeed, the supply of imported materials has increased the choice that is available to Bhutanese weavers. They enjoy having a rich selection of machine and hand-spun materials, both natural and synthetic, local and imported, to choose from; they like to pick and choose and keep in with the fashion, depending on what is available. NETTLE FIBRES / BAST FIBRES For a long time, nettle fibres and other bast fibres, simply called ‘nettle thing’ (zocha), were a very important material that was used by local weavers to make their textiles. Bast fibres are called bjazu,

zangru, ki, kui, kurel or zocha, depending on the region; these terms refer both to the fibres and to the material that is made from them. The former importance of bast fibres for the country people is reflected in the term yüra, which literally means ‘country cloth’.1 At the same time, this term betrays its humble character because, as local cotton and wild silk became increasingly used along with imported machine-spun thread from India, fabrics made from bast fibres were gradually abandoned, and only the poor continued to wear them. Myers cites a Bhutanese folk song that illustrates this trend. It refers to an old woman from Punakha and a wealthy woman from Thimphu and ends as follows: ‘I may be wearing a dress made of nettle cloth, and have no silver brooches, But I have two husbands! You have a dress made of adha mathra [colourfully striped cloth], and jewelry – But you have no husband!’ 2 Allowing for some regional variation, nettle clothing has hardly been woven since the 1940s, and in the South, not since the 1960s. However, bast fibres are hardwearing, and feature a high tensile strength, so they are still used to make ropes, sacks, bags and carrying cloths. They are also used to make the strings for the traditional bamboo bows that are used in archery contests. Bast fibres are plant fibres collected from the phloem (the inner bark or skin) or bast surrounding the stem of different plants such as nettles (Girardinia palmata), and hemp plants (Cannabis sativa), which grow all over Bhutan and are called kenam in the national language, Dzongkha. Myers claims that they are also obtained from the bark of a tree, but she does not go into detail about this.3 In the phloem, the bast

fibres occur in bundles that are held together by pectin and calcium ions. Consequently, the stems and strips of the bark are soaked for a long time and partly boiled, to loosen the fibres so that they can be processed. Although nettle weaving is not much practised, people still engage in this labour intensive process in a few parts of Bhutan. These places are mainly in Eastern and Southern Central Bhutan; they are the sub-districts of Jaray in Lhuentse district and Khaling in Trashigang district, the region of Kheng in Shemgang district, and the Monpa community in the southern part of Trongsa district. In Western Bhutan, the Lhop Doya people in Samtse and the inhabitants of the villages of Kabesa and Shengana in Punakha produce woven nettle cloth. A few villages continue to engage in nettle weaving because the local people are more or less obliged to do so. For instance, this is the case in Yumche village, in the Jaray gewog, since the village is located in a rocky landscape and has little or no agricultural land.4 The great advantage of nettles is that they can be harvested and processed throughout the year. The weavers of Yumche engage in nettle processing all year round, but in most of the villages in Jaray, this task is saved for the winter months. According to Ison, nettle processing starts in the ninth and tenth months of the Bhutanese calendar, these being around November and December, since many villagers practise mixed farming and grow cereals, vegetable and fruit. Nettle weaving is relegated to the cold months of January and February, when nothing grows.5 The process of extracting and spinning the nettle fibres is very painstaking and

Cloth made from nettle fibres (left and centre); bast fibres are also collected from hemp plants (Cannabis sativa), which grow all over Bhutan (right ).


left: The Bhutanese obtain cotton-like fibres from a tree that is commonly referred to as a 'cotton tree'. centre: Machine spun and chemically dyed cotton yarns. right: Old fabric used for a bag (phechung) made of local handspun cotton.


time-consuming work. The nettles are generally gathered at the end of summer, and the onset of autumn. Even in November a few nettle plants can still be found but by that time the stems have generally become too tough to process, and so cannot be gathered. First of all, the leaves have to be removed, leaving only the bare and mostly prickle-free stems. The rind is then peeled off each stem by hand and laid out to dry. The inner part of the stem is discarded. Once dry, the rinds can be stored, unless they are going to be used immediately. The next step involves soaking the rinds again to loosen the plant components, and beating them until the residue matter is removed, and the fibres are separated from the residue and have been softened. This cleansing process is quite different from how it was done in the old days, when the process generally involved soaking the bundles of yarn for at least 15 days – depending on the climate and the ambient temperature – in a lye made of water mixed with wood ash from the nakshing, or nak tree, to soften it.6 If a large quantity of nettle fibres was produced, they would dig a pit, spread firewood inside it and lay stones on top. The wood would be lit, and when the stones were hot enough, they would be packed together, and the nettle yarns that had been previously soaked in lye were then laid on top. Finally, a further layer of hot stones was laid on top, and the whole pile was covered with soil. The nettles were left between the hot stones for 24 hours. The yarns were beaten until they became soft and clean. Nowadays, nettle yarn is generally boiled in water that con-

tains wood ash and is beaten against a stone slab. After this refining process, the fibres are spun using a hand spindle that is held between the toes. The spinner grasps some fibres at one end and rolls them between her or his hands to form a thread. After the thread has been washed and dried, it can be used for weaving. Nettle fibre cloth is woven on backstrap looms (pangthag). The warp and weft are made of the same yarn, and the finished natural-coloured nettle cloth looks like a strong, coarse jute fabric. Given that this material is mainly used for hardwearing sacks, it is called kyethag (‘fabric for carrying things’). The width of these lengths of cloth is determined by the most commonly used type of sack, the phechung, but it can be as much as 65 cm (this being the maximum width of a viable backstrap loom).7 Previously, people used to make garments out of nettle cloths; back then, they were also dyed red and decorated with simple patterns in addition to their natural tones. Over the last few years, the range of items produced in nettle cloth has been extended to include table sets, table runners, tablecloths, and hand towels. These products are woven for tourists as well as for the Bhutanese population, and are sold by Bhutanese organisations. The National Handloom Development Centre (NHDC) in Khaling in Trashigang district, for instance, supports weavers from Lemi village, at a distance of five to six hours on foot from Khaling, and the Tarayana Foundation promotes nettle weaving among the Baling community in the Langthel gewog in Trongsa. Between

2006 and 2007, this NGO supported a project that concentrated on the production of small nettle cloth bags by the weavers of Baling, which were commissioned by the National Institute of Traditional Medicine in Thimphu. In October 2006, the Baling community harvested more than 1,500 kg of the raw material. The cloth was woven in Baling and then sewn into little bags by pupils at the Draktsho School for the Disabled.8 Since that time, more than half the 36 households in Baling have become involved in the Nettle Self Help Group. COTTON Until the mid-twentieth century, local cotton (Dzk. kabe) was cultivated in the southern regions of Bhutan that enjoy a milder climate; especially in Shemgang, Mongar, Pemagatshel and Samdrup Jongkhar.9 However, the prevalence of cheap, imported, machine-spun yarns from India has resulted in a massive drop in cotton production over the last 40 to 45 years. For most families it became uneconomical to grow their own cotton. Nowadays, here are only a few places, such as the villages of Thongsa and Mikuri in Pemagatshel district, where the local people still cultivate cotton. According to Myers, the men sow the cotton in March – April and pluck it in August – September. The women in their turn, dry, seed, card and spin the cotton fibre.10 After the cotton bolls have been harvested, the fibres are cleaned by hand, and spun

into yarn on simple spinning wheels. The weaving is done on backstrap looms. The cotton textiles that are produced in Pemagatshel come mainly in natural colours with no patterns; they are primarily intended for household use. However, there are some attempts at extending this range to include ponchos, shirts, tablecloths and wall hangings. The Bhutanese obtain similar fibres from a tree that is commonly referred to as a ‘cotton tree’ (Dzk. pema gaysar shing / pem gesar). This Asian tree (Bombax ceiba) has red flowers, and is also known as the red cotton tree. It produces a capsule which, when ripe, is about 13 cm long, and contains cotton-like white fibres on the seeds that are used for producing yarns and fabrics. However, this is far too time-consuming a way of making cotton for most Bhutanese people. Imported cottons (Gossypium) from India are very widespread, and have advanced to become an important material in Bhutanese everyday life. Everyday kira and gho are mostly made entirely of cotton and, since silk is much more expensive, even kira for festive occasions display silk patterns on a cotton ground.

Natural-coloured wild silk (left) and chemically dyed silk yarn from India (right ).

SILK The production of silk employs a natural process: the metamorphosis from silkworm to pupae, and then to moth. The strands that the silkworms spin to form cocoons for the pupating process are especially fine and valuable. Silk (bura) is especially valued in Bhutan. Pure silk kira and gho 237

left: Hand spun and machine spun sheep's wool. right: Sheep's wool and yak wool needs to be cleaned and carded.


are very expensive and beyond the reach of many people. Even those who can afford these garments reserve them for festive occasions. Thus, in many cases, silk is only used for the pattern threads. Indeed, although some Bhutanese will describe any kind of silk as bura, which means ‘insect cloth’,11 at least two kinds of silk cloth can be distinguished: wild silk (bura) and cultivated, reeled mulberry silk (seshu). Silk threads have been imported from India and China since the earliest times, but nowadays India, Japan and Hong Kong are the most important suppliers of silk. These imported wares are mostly refined silk yarns (seshu), produced by mulberry silk moths (Bombyx mori). The National Handloom Development Centre (NHDC) in Khaling procures various silks from Assam which are generally not as fine as reeled silks, and are traded in Bhutan as Khaling silk. According to Myers, parachute silk (namdru küp) was also imported from India during World War II. This silk was traded in the form of heavy ropes, and was thicker and cheaper than the usual silk.12 Furthermore, right up to these days, various silk fabrics have been imported from China, and have also been used for making dance costumes, women’s tego, and wonju. However, wild silk (bura) has a longer tradition within Bhutan. This silk is derived from free wild moths; they are Samia ricini from the Saturniidae family, commonly known as saturniids, and live on the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis) (Dzk.

chamaling shing).13 The strands that they spin are thicker and more yellowy than the fine white fibres of the mulberry tree moth. The Bhutanese also know about the wild silk that is made by the Tussah moth (Antheraea mylitta) and the Muga silk moth (Antheraea assamensis). Right up until the 1970s, local wild silk was the favourite material, but it has gradually been replaced by shinier silk yarns from abroad, which are easier to obtain. Nowadays, only a few villages in Eastern and Southern Bhutan continue to breed wild silkworms. Myers describes the method for obtaining the silk threads with reference to Goshing village in Shemgang district: the moths are kept in a special room inside the house where they can fly, and are fed, and can lay their eggs. The eggs are wrapped in cloth for about five days and as soon as the tiny silkworms have emerged they are placed in a cloth-covered basket and fed a rich diet involving castor oil tree leaves. Finally, twigs from a tree called shakoi shing are set up in the room; the silkworms feed on it, and eventually begin to spin their cocoons. The Bhutanese only have to tap the branches to make the moths slide out. The male moths are released, and the female moths, together with a few intact cocoons, are retained for the next breeding cycle. The empty cocoons are steeped in hot water. The Bhutanese add fermented rice to the water to soften and de-gum the cocoon. Then the silk threads are unravelled from each cocoon

by hand, joined to each other by applying a slight pressure to the ends, and wound onto a spindle. These slightly raised joints are then smoothed between forefinger and thumb.14 Given that Buddhists are on principle forbidden to kill animals, it is important to emphasise at this point that this wild silk is obtained after the moths have left their cocoons. The cocoons are either cultivated in the way that Myers has recorded, or they are gathered in the forest, after the moths have left them. In either case, the cocoon has been destroyed and its long silk thread has been broken. Spinning wild silk threads is a laborious task, and they are thicker and coarser with rather uneven surfaces, and are not as shiny as cultivated mulberry silk. That is because, unlike wild silk, mulberry silk is harvested from cocoons that still contain the pupae, which are steeped in hot water to produce a perfect, undestroyed cocoon that can be reeled as a single thread. The immersion in hot water also kills the silkworm pupae. During the reeling process, between 6 and 20 individual silk filaments are combined; the silk gum causes them to adhere and form a single thread of silk. Mulberry silk is derived from India, where the task of killing the pupae is relegated to the non-Buddhist population. However, wild silk cocoons and yarns can also be obtained from India via Samdrup Jongkhar; most of these come from Assam. While the yak herders from Merak and Sakteng and other Eastern Bhutanese inhabitants along the Indian border cultivate cocoons, most Bhutanese people prefer to buy finished silk yarn from India, both dyed and undyed.15 Assam, for instance, exports a silk that is called endi or eri, and is derived from a silk moth called Samia cynthia ricini. The name comes

from the Assam word era, which stands for the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis), and supplies the main food for this type of silk moth. Eri silk is also known as ahimsa silk, which gets its name from the Indian word ahimsa; the literal meaning is ‘not to injure’, based on Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence. This refers to an alternative form of silkworm breeding, which involves spooling the cocoon threads after the moth has escaped. This gentle alternative method was developed by an Indian engineer called Kusuma Rajaiah, who devoted many years to searching for an ethical and economically viable method of harvesting silk without killing the pupae.

left and centre: Yak hair is used for making tents, rain covers, bags and ropes. right: Shawl made of soft baby yak wool.

SHEEP'S WOOL Especially in the higher, cooler regions of the country, sheep’s wool (be) is an important material for weaving. In the northern part of Western Bhutan, and in Merak and Sakteng, cloths for garments and other textiles such as blankets are woven and processed from sheep’s wool. However, the sheep breeding region of Bumthang in Central Bhutan is most closely associated with wool weaving, and is renowned throughout Bhutan for its patterned woollen cloth (yathra). This fabric was primarily produced from local sheep’s wool, though broadcloth used to be imported from British India, and finished woollen fabrics continued to arrive in Bhutan from Tibet until the late 1950s. During the 1970s and 1980s merino wool was also imported from Kashmir and later from Australia, and was distributed by the National Women’s Association of Bhutan. Since merino wool is both 239

Rayon, acrylic, polyester, along with gold and silver threads are very popular.

softer and more costly than local wools, for some time local sheep have been crossed with Australian sheep to achieve a softer and finer wool. The National Sheep Breeding Centre in Bumthang has been mandated to rear this type of improved sheep flock. The sheep are sheered twice a year, in autumn and in spring. After shearing, the wool is cleaned and carded. In Bumthang, this wool can be obtained in fleece form or as lengths of combed top. The difference being that the fibres on the fleeces have not been sorted, unlike the combed top, in which all the fibres are parallel. The carding process makes it easier to spin the wool and produce a uniform thread. However, Bhutan’s sheep population is generally decreasing in most sheep rearing areas. This is mainly attributed to labour shortages among the herders, falling incomes from sheeprearing and the higher mortality of sheep in the villages. Over the years, the demand for rams has also gradually reduced. Nevertheless, in some villages of the alpine and sub-alpine areas, sheeprearing is still an important proposition for farmers and a source of income. YAK HAIR AND YAK WOOL Yak wool (yak khu) is mainly used in Laya in the northern part of Central Bhutan, and in the valleys of Merak and Sakteng in Eastern Bhutan. Yak is a main source of livelihood for the high altitude residents of Bhutan. The outer yak hairs are water-repellent, so they are used for making tents, rain covers, bags and ropes, and for the Merakpa


and Saktengpa headgears (shamu). The soft wool from the yak’s stomach area is used for weaving blankets and garments. In the Chume valley in Bumthang, for instance, they make especially soft, wide shawls out of baby yak wool, although yak wool is getting more and more difficult to obtain in Central Bhutan. SYNTHETIC FIBRES Since the mid-20th century, synthetic fibres have been used to make Bhutanese textiles. They are either mixed with cotton or used as a cheap alternative for silk. They are valued on account of their easy-care properties, although they have less desirable features, such as low moisture absorption, and are highly inflammable. Rayon, acrylic, and polyester are in common use since the 1960s; these are imported goods. Other non-textile materials such as gold and silver threads are also used in weaving, and are mainly procured from Japan. Today, many weavers opt for ready made and pre-coloured yarns which are much cheaper and easier to use compared to indigenous materials. FROM THE FIBRE TO THE FINISHED CLOTH – THE PROCESSES STEP-BY-STEP The path from fibre to finished cloth comprises six different processes; obtaining the fibres, spinning the yarns, winding balls and skeins, dyeing, warping and dressing the loom, and weaving.

OBTAINING THE FIBRES Each raw material requires a different process for obtaining its fibres. Harvested cotton needs to be ginned (separation of seeds from fibres) and cleaned. Sheep’s wool and yak wool needs to be cleaned and carded. Silk cocoons have to be unravelled, and nettles need to be broken down into fibres. SPINNING YARNS Before they can be processed, the fibres that have been obtained need to be spun. In Bhutan, the fibres are generally spun with a drop spindle (phang). These are little hand-operated spindles that consist of a small round stick, weighted at one end with a spindle whorl. The whorl functions like a centrifugal weight and sets the spindle moving in a circular motion. Bhutanese weavers spin by drawing some fibres out of the material that needs to be spun while simultaneously spinning the spindle by hand, letting it fall and then pulling it up to the thread with a jerk. The spinning action of the spindle twists the fibres into a thread. When the thread has reached a specific length, it is wound onto the spindle. Then the weaver draws another strand from the spinning material and repeats the process, over and over again. The spindles in Bhutan generally have a top whorl, which means that the whorl is set in the upper part of the staff. This type of hand-operated spindle can be turned by hand and over the thigh as well, allowing a grea-

ter number of spins. These wooden spindles are, furthermore, small, light and easily transported, so the women (men too sometimes; the Layap men and the herders from Merak and Sakteng, for instance) take them everywhere and can keep on spinning while carrying out many other everyday tasks, even while walking. Full-time spinners, such as used to be employed in noble households in former times, used spinning wheels (khorlo) or worked with spindles that were set into little bowls on the ground, in which they rotated. According to Myers, spinning wheels were also used to spin local cotton. Sometimes the cotton fibres were spun into threads with a spinning wheel, followed by a second twisting process using a drop spindle, to achieve a firmer yarn.16

Bhutanese weavers spin fibres and ply yarn on drop spindles (phang).

WINDING BALLS AND SKEINS After the spinning process, the finished yarn is transferred from the spindle to a yarn winder (shubda), a rotating winding wheel, and wound off into balls. The Bhutanese use a screw of paper as the core to facilitate the winding process. If there is no yarn winder, the spinner sits cross-legged on the ground while unwinding the yarn which she lays around her splayed knees, and winds into balls. The wound-up material is usually kept in a special basket (bekhu). If it needs to be dyed, it will be lifted off, as a skein. Dyed skeins of yarn are transferred back to the same winding wheel to be wound into balls or onto a bobbin for weaving. 241


DYEING WITH NATURAL DYES Given that dyeing is subordinated to the weaving sphere, it is also the preserve of women. The recipes for the dyes are mostly passed from mother to daughter, as precious secrets. According to Myers, right up until the mid-20th century, most of the noble households employed women exclusively for dyeing, and they were highly esteemed as specialist dyers.17 Nowadays, most yarns are imported ready-dyed from India, with the result that knowledge of recipes for dyes is slowly dying out. A few organisations, such as the Handloom Development Centre (NHDC) in Khaling, are trying to counter this trend and offer workshops in which weavers are taught about using natural dyes for dyeing. Senior Dyer Wangchuk, who happens to be a man, is the director of the dyeing department in NHDC Khaling. He can look back over 15 years of experience with dyeing and, for the last few years, he has been collecting recipes for dyes, both in and outside Bhutan. Furthermore, the research department of the Bhutanese Department of Forestry provides information about native plants that are used for dyeing in Bhutan. 18 Indeed, Barbara Bigler’s work should be cited at this point, as she has collected a number of Bhutanese recipes for dyes and improved them with her own experiments in dyeing.19 The following pages feature the most important and commonly-used natural dyes in Bhutan: RED The oldest textiles in Bhutan include yarns that have been dyed red, and even today, red is a particularly popular colour, both for pattern threads and for the ground. The oldest traditional red

dye is sticklac (jatsho), obtained from lac insects (Laccifer lacca) both of which occur in the wild and are cultivated in the mild climate of the valleys of Eastern Bhutan. The larvae suck the sap of the Ziziphus tree (khangaling shing) and secrete the resinous substances of this sap, the resinous pigment. Usually, thousands of lac insects colonise the branches of the host trees and cover the twigs with their sticky substance in several layers. Once it has hardened, this substance can be scraped off the twigs and put through a very elaborate process to obtain lac dye. With Tsheringmo, a gifted weaver and dyer from Pang, in the eastern part of Trashiyangtse district, I was able to take part in this intensive dyeing process which uses the lac encrustations. Tsheringmo used two kilograms of sticklac to dye half a kilogram of wild silk (bura); she started by washing the secretions thoroughly and leaving them to dry in the sun, on top of the corrugated iron roof above their house. Late that afternoon, her husband Nima came home from harvesting rice and helped her grind the dried secretions in a stone mortar. Meanwhile, Tsheringmo was tending the fire in their smoky little kitchen and bringing six litres of water to the boil. According to Bigler, some weavers add dried sour fruit from a kind of quince tree (Choenomeles lagenaria) (Dzk. churpo /  khomachurpo) to this water to ensure a more efficient extraction of dye. In this case, about three handfuls of this sour fruit are added to 15 litres of water.20 The pulverised secretions were then placed inside a metal vat and boiling water was poured on top of them. The mixture was stirred constantly to extract the dye, and then poured out, using a bamboo sieve and a ladle, and finally filtered through a cotton cloth. This process was repeated a few times, until no further dye was released. The secretions became increasingly sticky and it gra-

above: The red lac dye, called jatsho, is obtained from lac insects (Laccifer lacca). opposite: After the yarn is spun, it is transferred to a rotating winding wheel, and then lifted off, as a skein, for dyeing. Dyed skeins of yarn are transferred back to the same winding wheel to be wound into balls or onto a bobbin for weaving. If there is no yarn winder, the spinner sits crosslegged on the ground with the yarn running around her splayed knees.



dually became difficult to stir them with the wooden stick. Finally, all that was left was a sticky mass, which was shaped into a thick slab. This byproduct is called shellac; it is hard in the cool state and, according to Nima, is used as sealing wax for sealing letters or for attaching little metal tips to the bamboo arrows that are used in archery. The rest of the mixture in the vat was fed to the cow. According to Nima, it is considered very nutritious. In the meantime, Tsheringmo had poured the filtered dye bath into the pot, steeped the wild silk, and brought the dye bath back to the boil; she then allowed it to simmer for half an hour. After that, she laid more wood on the fire and replaced the dye bath on the stove for another half hour. The yarns remained in the bath overnight and were taken out on the following morning. The wild silk was now a lovely red colour with a slightly bluish cast. Tsheringmo disentangled the yarns and sorted them by drawing the strands over two wooden poles. Finally, she left them in the sun to dry. Then, as is usually the case with many Bhutanese weavers, much as it may not seem necessary to outsiders, Tsheringmo placed these elaborately dyed wild silk threads in a second, chemical dye bath. She used a chemical red dye from India for

this, which she dissolved in hot water, adding a shot of local wine (ara). She then poured this mixture into a large pot of water, which she brought to the boil, and added some synthetic vinegar containing acetic acid. Then she plunged the wild silk into the dye bath, where it simmered for two hours, and was left to soak overnight. The next morning, the yarn was rinsed, dried and wound into balls. The result was a similar red, but with less of a blue tinge. Because the red jatsho dye is very long lasting, the remaining dye bath can be used for dyeing further undyed yarns or for subsequent dyeing. According to Wangchuk, this red dye bath is used four times in NHDC Khaling, to achieve a dark red, a red, a pink and a light pink. According to Rinzin Wangmo and her mother Leki Wangmo from Bumthang, even better results can be achieved by using un-pulverised lac secretions, and by putting the pieces straight into the boiling water. It is more difficult to stir this mixture, but it produces a more intense red. In earlier times, this popular dyestuff was extensively traded, but it lost out to the synthetic dyes that came onto the Indian market; production levels and trading fell by more than 90 per cent between 1883 and 1885, and were sub-

above: The chemical dye was used to obtain a red with less of a blue tinge. opposite, top row to bottom row, from left to right: The lac secretions are washed, dried, ground, and then extracted and filtered; the silk yarn is steeped into the filtered dye bath; the by-product is a sticky mass that is used as sealing wax; the remnant is fed to the cow.


clockwise from top left: In the NHDC Khaling various different shades are obtained using red jatsho dyes; lac 2nd stage results in a pink shade; lac 3rd stage results in a pale pink shade; madder (Rubia manjith or Rubia wallichiana) called tsho in Dzongkha; to obtain this beautiful orange shade, the following dyeing recipe is applied: mordanting: 20 g alum potash / hank; 3.5 l water / hank; keep the yarn in the mordant and heat the water at 50° C – 60° C for 1 hour; dyeing: 2 kg madder powder; 3.5 l solution / hank; 10 hank mordant yarn; add 3 g chrome in the dye solution; temperature 60° C – 70° C for 2 hours; wash and rinse.


sequently insignificant.21 Nowadays, the secretions of the lac insects can be purchased in Mongar, among other places; one kilo costs about 150 Ngultrum (around 2.5 Euro). Many Bhutanese people, though, think that using lac for dyeing is sinful, because the secretions are produced by flightless females, who are enveloped in the lacquer and die, although their larvae escape. Harvesting the material inevitably involves killing a few larvae. A far more harmless and cheaper alternative, which is also local, involves using Indian dyer’s madder (Rubia manjith and Rubia wallichiana), a red dye that is called tsho in Dzongkha. The red tones that are obtained are not as intense or as permanent, but the method for obtaining the dye is not as time-consuming as is the case with lac dyes. Madder grows wild in the forested areas of Bhutan at elevations of between 1,200 and 2,700 metres. Madder is harvested during the summer in Western Bhutan, and in the autumn in the eastern part of the country. Nowadays, madder is still used for dyeing silk,

cotton and wool. Almost every part of the plant is used: the young shoots, the flowers, the leaves, the stems and the roots. The ripe, black, seeds are the only part that is not used because they affect the colour.22 The inhabitants of Laya also know another way of obtaining red; this is the kebitsang, or Asian berberis (Berberis asiatica). It is mainly the berries that are used, but the leaves and twigs are also useful for making a red dye.23 When applied with madder, it produces the orangey-red colour that can be seen on the stripes on the Layap women’s skirts. Sonam Tshering also mentions the kamala tree (Mallotus philippinensis), which is called sinduri in Nepal, as another red dye.24 This dye is obtained from the capsules, which produce kamala red in alcohol or a watery alkaline solution. Kamala has always been used in India for dyeing silk; it produces an orangey–brown kind of red. Sonam Tshering has contributed yet another red dye with good dyeing properties, obtained from Berberis aristata, also known as Indian Barberry or Tree Turmeric.25

BLUE A look at older Bhutanese textiles reveals that blue is also one of the oldest textile dyes. In Bhutan, blue dye is obtained from indigo plants (Dzk. ram, Tsh. yangshaba). However, this dye is not identical with the indigo dye that is obtained from Indian indigo (Indigofera tinctoria); it is derived from the large-leafed Strobilanthes flaccidifolius, or Strobilanthes cusia plants. Indigo is one of the vat dyes: it is an organic pigment that is insoluble in water. As with all the indigo plants, the leaves do not contain the actual indigo but its precursor indican, which reacts to steam and changes into yellow indoxyl. It has to be put through this process and only turns into blue indigo after a final oxidisation process. This process is just as complicated in our part of the world as it is in Bhutan, and in every other country.26 The Bhutanese indigo plants are often cultivated by weavers in their own back yards. For instance, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck has lively memories of this during her childhood in Nobgang: ‘Just outside the west door of our courtyard was a paan leaf grove, and near it grew indigo and rubia plants, which were used to dye blue and red the yarn that every household wove into cloth.’ 27 The leaves are either picked and used immediately while still fresh, or are preserved by putting them through a fermentation process. Light blue tones are obtained from the fresh sprouts and leaves, which are plucked, pounded and softened in hot water for two to three hours. After a while, a violet shimmer may be observed on the surface of the water, which indicates that the dye bath is ready. The yarns can now be laid in the dye bath. They are left for up to three full days in this dye bath; during this time, they are regularly stirred; the vat is placed on a hearth, to make sure that the solution does not cool down. Once the desired tone has been achieved, the yarn is removed, rinsed and dried. Since fresh

leaves produce only light tones of blue, obtaining a deeper blue requires a more concentrated dye. This is achieved by a second fermentation process. Bigler describes this indigo dye process with reference to the indigo-coloured wool from Trongsa as follows: first, the fresh green leaves and sprouts are plucked and dried in the sun. As soon as they have wilted, they are rubbed between the women’s palms until they grow damp. Then they are smoothed and stretched out again, and within minutes they will turn black. Only after that are they fully dried.28 These dried leaves are now soaked in water, to which ash from buckwheat straw or willow rods has been added, after which they are mixed and kneaded. The pH of this solution is between 9 and 10; it is tested by tasting.29 Finally, this paste is covered with cow dung to ensure a constant warm temperature; insects are also kept away. After one to two weeks, the paste has turned almost black and become very dense; a typical and rather unpleasant smell that comes off it shows that fermentation has taken place. Sufficient paste for a dyeing process is now removed, and the rest is covered up carefully and kept damp; it can be preserved for up to three months this way. To use this paste for dyeing, more ashwater is required, with a dash of ara, and this mixture is then combined with the black paste. The dye bath needs to rest for a whole week until the characteristic metallic purple shine appears on the surface to show that the vat is ready. Now the wool is immersed and left there to soak overnight. The next morning, it is taken out of the dye bath and rinsed well with clear water, and dried. To obtain a dark blue colour, this process is repeated up to four times.30 Another common method involves making the paste into balls that can be dried and kept for considerably longer than the fresh paste. This way of preserving the dye is also favoured by the dye department in NHDC Khaling. These dried balls are pounded to make a dye powder that can be used immediately. The powdered dye simp-

Dried indigo leaves (left); dried balls are pounded to make a dye powder that can be used immediately (centre); raw silk yarn dyed with indigo (right ).


Yellow dyes are made from rhododendron (left) or maminpo (right) leaves, for instance; turmeric was used to dye the textile at the centre.

ly has to be combined with ashwater (containing hardwood ashes). The dye bath is set up close to a hearth until the characteristic shimmer appears on the surface. The less heat, the longer the fermentation process takes. The yarn is generally left in the dye bath for two to three days. The longer it stays there, the darker and more intense the blue will be. Finally, the dyed material is thoroughly rinsed, and dried. Furthermore, a violet-tinged, bright blue is obtained from the shoots of Abies densa (Dzk. dungshing), a conifer species that belongs to the pine family (Pinaceae), and is found in the mountainous regions of Haa, Paro, Gasa, Bumthang and Lhuentse, including Pelela. YELLOW To obtain yellow dyes, the leaves from trees of the Symplocos species are used. In Bhutan, various types of these trees are found, including Symplocos ramosissima, Symplocos glomerata and Symplocos paniculata,31 but the weavers refer to all the leaves from these trees collectively as zim. They are gathered in the autumn and can be processed in the fresh and the dry state. In addition to the yellow pigment that is used to make dye, they contain aluminium salts which act as a mordant. In Eastern Bhutan, Curcuma longa, or turmeric (Dzk. yongka), is used for dyeing. However, the yellow dye that is obtained is not particularly permanent, and is seldom used on its own. Instead, it is added to other dyes to make them more intense and brighter. In Bhutan, the tradition is to dye the yarn first with zim and then dip it in yongka. The yellow


dye that is obtained from Tagetes flowers is also impermanent, and although Wangchuk claims it is wash-proof, it is not light-resistant. In NHDC Khaling, a yellow dye is also obtained from rhododendron leaves (etho metho), peach tree leaves (khambu dama), and from lhaskhang and maminpo leaves. A bright, rather greenish yellow is obtained from walnut tree leaves (Dzk. tashing) and an orange is achieved by mixing equal parts of walnut leaves and madder. Furthermore, a brownish yellow can be obtained in Bhutan from the wood of the jackfruit tree (Artocarpus heterophyllus) (Dzk. dranaashing).32 GREEN / VIOLET / BROWN / BLACK Many colours are obtained by mixing or overlaying different dyes. Green, for instance, is achieved by overlaying yellow dye with indigo, and violet is created by dipping yarn that has been dyed with lac in indigo. Brown and grey tones as well as black are derived from walnut shells (Juglans regia) (Dzk. tashing) and the leaves of the Amla tree, the Indian Gooseberry tree (Phyllanthus emblica) (Dzk. churoo / chorgongsey). Tshering adds a type of acacia (Acacia catechu) (Dzk. taeja) to this list.33 Iron sulphate is actually a mordant, but it can be used to obtain a brownish black colour, too. Black is also obtained by mixing mud with a poisonous root called chuckchumé in Bumthang.34 According to Bigler, the iron that is contained in the mud produces shades of colour ranging from grey, dark brown to black.35

MORDANTS AND ADDITIVES Mordants and additives are also made from plants. They establish a connection between the fibres and the dyes and allow the fibres to absorb the dyes. The dyes are able to penetrate the fibres more easily and thus become more wash-proof. In Bhutan, zim leaves from various species of Symplocos trees are used for this preparatory process, because, as mentioned above, the leaves and the bark of these trees contain aluminium salts. Dried sour fruits from a sort of quince (Choenomeles lagenaria) (Dzk. khomang / khomachurpo) that grows in Eastern and Central Bhutan, as well as other kinds of sour fruits that are commonly known as churpo, act as additives for the extraction of colours. In Western Bhutan pomegranate skins are also used as mordants. Ashwater can also achieve a similar effect. According to Bigler, it is used, along with a natural salt with a sour taste (sour stone) (Dzk. dochur).36 According to Myers, this mineral substance is a mixture of magnesium aluminium sulphate hydrate and potassium aluminium hydrate sulphate.37 Myers also mentions minerals called ‘stone indigo’ (doram).38 In Khaling, alum is primarily used as a mordant. This material is actually potassium alum / aluminium potassium sulphate; it can be purchased in Assam for 190 Ngultrum (around 3 Euro) per kilo. Three hand-

fuls of flour are added to a ¾ litre hot water. In NHDC Khaling, they have been conducting experiments with natural dyes for a long time; however, they only dye silk. According to Senior Dyer Wangchuk, there is little profit to be made from dyeing cotton, because the results have hitherto been too pale and unsatisfactory. That’s why they purchase ready-dyed cotton yarns from India. These yarns are first washed and then soaked in starch to give them a better grip and make them easier to weave. Nevertheless, the NHDC Khaling collection of recipes for dyeing silk is a pleasure to view. To reproduce all these recipes here would go beyond the scope of this publication. But, with the exception of the recipes for lac and indigo, which require special processes, we might summarise most of them as follows: for the preparatory mordant, a kilogram of silk is placed in a pot that is filled with water that has been heated to 40o C and has been mixed with 400 g alum; the silk is soaked in it for one hour. For the dye bath, six kilograms of leaves are added to 30 litres water that has been heated to 70 – 80o C; the leaves should simmer for 4 hours. After that, the solution is filtered through a sieve. The silk is removed from the mordant solution and wrung out, and then placed in the dye bath overnight, or for at least 2 hours. Finally, it is rinsed in clear water and dried. All these measurements apply to the dyeing process for 1 kg silk.

clockwise from top left: Walnut shells (Juglans regia) produce brown and black tones; to obtain a grey tone from walnut leaves, the following dyeing recipe is applied: mordanting: 20 g alum potash / hank; 3.5 l water / hank; temperature 50° C – 60° C for 1 hour; dyeing: 6 kg walnut leaves; 3.5 l solution / hank; 10 hank mordant yarn; temperature 70° C – 80° C for 2 hours; wash and rinse.


top row: Dried sour fruits (churpo) and zim leaves from various species of Symplocos are used as mordants. middle row: The dyeing workshop in NHDC Khaling; Senior Dyer Wangchuk (left) has been conducting experiments with natural dyes for a long time. bottom row: Synthetic dyes from India are widely used; cotton yarns are first washed and then soaked in starch to give them a better grip and make them easier to weave. 250

Preparing the warp for the backstrap loom. The heddles are formed by looping a strong thread back and forth between the warp threads and around the large central rod as the warp is being wound around the outer posts. Extra shed rods may also be used if multiple heddles are being prepared for pattern warps, such as for aikapur.


SYNTHETIC DYES In the case of horizontal frame looms, the warp yarns run over a wooden pole, which will be replaced later by the warp beam, at one end, and are tied or inserted through the heddles at the other.

Synthetic dyes have been circulating in Bhutan since the start of the 20 th century. These synthetic powder dyes are called tshosar (‘new dyes’). They became very popular in the 1920s on account of their brilliant hues, and were mostly used in the noble households. Then, during the late 1940s, ordinary people also started to acquire them.39 Chemical dyes mean a considerably reduced workload, involve less time and are far cheaper, so their popularity grew very quickly. At the same time, increasing quantities of ready-dyed yarn were being imported from India, and local weavers were increasingly unwilling to do their own dyeing. However, the art of dyeing did not disappear completely; both in the noble households and in regions where local dyes could be obtained without too great an outlay of money and time, people continued to use natural ingredients for dyeing. Today, fabrics that have been dyed with plant-based dyes are once again highly valued, both by local people and by tourists, a trend that the Bhutanese weavers have acknowledged and responded to quickly. Thus, many weavers currently use both chemical and natural dyes. Both types are often combined to achieve ‘optimal’ results, as demonstrated by the example of a lac dyeing process described above. Similarly, synthetic and naturally-dyed yarns are combined in a single piece of woven cloth. WARPING AND DRESSING THE LOOM Once all the yarns have been dyed, the warp (ju, thag) needs to be prepared. Warping the loom involves measuring the warp, and looping a desired number of warp threads, forming a cross that


helps to keep the warp yarns in order during weaving. These prepared warp threads are then placed on the loom. Bhutanese weavers prepare the warp for their backstrap looms by looping the warp around two vertical posts. They are usually wooden L-shaped posts that are each weighted with a large stone and placed about 150 cm apart. When the warp is moved to the loom, these two posts are replaced by the two warp beams. Additionally, a horizontal bamboo or wooden rod is placed between them. Depending on the pattern, several other bamboo or wooden rods are attached to the joining rod. A larger one is usually placed in the centre to hold the heddle threads. This rod, around which the ground warp yarns are loomed, becomes the cross. The heddles are formed by looping a strong thread (made of nylon or any other tear proof material) back and forth between the warp threads and around the large central rod as the warp is being wound around the outer posts. Another rod serves as shed rod for the ground weave, and extra shed rods may also be used if multiple heddles are being prepared for pattern warps, such as for aikapur. The warp is usually created in a continuous circular loop with different-coloured warp yarns, using two or more balls of thread at the same time. In this case, when the ready-woven fabric is removed from the loom, it is tubular and must be cut across a section of unwoven warps. Sometimes a third fixed post is used. In this case, the winding direction is reversed around it every time, and when the warp is transferred to the loom, it will become the closing rod. After finishing the weave, the closing rod can be pulled out, releasing the warp-end loops, and the fabric doesn’t have to be cut. According to Myers, this third post is called sogshing, which literally means ‘life wood’. Given that this term is

also used for the pole of prayer flags and for the wooden moulds for making butter offerings, it is clear that it performs a critical function. In the case of horizontal frame looms, there is no need for a continuous, circular warp. The warp yarns are wound around narrow rods laid parallel to the ground. They run over a wooden pole, which will be replaced later by the warp beam, at one end, and are tied or inserted through the heddles at the other. For the horizontal frame loom, two persons are required to arrange the warp. Once the loom has been set up and the bobbins and shuttles that carry the weft threads (pün) have been inserted, the weaving process can start. WEAVING Weaving basically involves interlacing warp and weft threads with each other at right angles to create a woven textile. The longitudinal threads, called warp, or ‘an end’, are fixed onto the loom. The weft threads, also called ‘a pick’, are passed horizontally through the warp threads in such a way that the weft threads cross the warp threads and hold them firmly once the weaving process is complete. In order to enable the weft insertion (to insert the weft into the warp), the warp threads are separated by raising and lowering them (shedding). This creates a gap, called the shed, whereby all the alternating warp threads are raised together, and the weft can pass in a straight motion. Generally, the shed is formed by lifting heddles, to which each individual warp thread has been tied. The heddles

can be made of cord or wire. Each heddle has an eye in the centre where the warp yarns are threaded through. Elaborate patterns require several heddles; each with the warp threads for a particular pattern threaded to it. Finally, the weft yarns are pushed with a beater securely into place. LOOMS In Bhutan, three kinds of looms (thagshing) are used; backstrap looms (pangthag), card looms (shogu thagshing) and horizontal frame looms (thrithag). Myers claims that looms were first introduced to Tibet, and Bhutan, by Princess Wen Cheng, the Chinese consort of King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet, back in the 7 th century.40 These looms subsequently made their way from Tibet and reached Bhutan.

In principle, a backstrap loom (left) and a card loom (right ) are very similar. However, backstrap looms have heddles while card looms are equipped with weaving tablets or cards to open the shed for the weft threads.

BACKSTRAP LOOM The backstrap loom (pangthag) is the most common loom in Bhutan. It basically consists of the frame beam (two vertical wooden posts), a ground frame beam, one foot brace, two warp beams, one breast beam, and various rods such as the closing rod, the shed rod, and the heddle rods, and a backstrap. The two warp beams are fixed between two vertical wooden posts, which are set up against a wall. The weaver leans backwards into her belt which is made of leather, solid cloth or woven bamboo with wooden dowels at each end, and re253

A backstrap loom in Laya only features a single warp beam; the warp runs parallel to the ground.

gulates the warp tension with her body weight. On a backstrap loom, the warp runs from the weaver’s breast to the upper warp beam, then under the lower warp beam, and back to the weaver and her breast beam. In Northern Bhutan, the Layap people have a variant of the backstrap loom, which has only a single warp beam so the warp runs parallel to the ground in front of the weaver. The great advantage of backstrap looms is that they can be transported, which makes them particularly suited to a nomadic or semi-nomadic way of life. The maximum width of a fabric woven on a backstrap loom is about 65 cm. Generally, the warp threads are set so close together that the wefts cannot be distinguished. Although all Bhutanese textiles used to be made on backstrap looms, nowadays this sort of loom is primarily used for weaving silks and cottons; usually kira, gho and rachu. CARD LOOM Another loom that is used in Bhutan is the card loom, which is mainly used for weaving men’s and women’s belts (kera) and other kinds of belts, ribbons, and narrow textiles, such as ribbons that are attached to traditional Bhutanese boots. In principle, this loom is very similar to a backstrap loom, apart from having no heddle; instead, weaving tablets or cards are used to open the shed for the weft threads. In Dzongkha, it is called shogu thagshing, which can be translated as ‘paper loom’ because the cards were formerly made of strong, handmade local paper made of Daphne (desho). Leather, such as goat’s hide, was also used for this purpose. Nowadays, the materials that are primarily used are just as serviceable but far cheaper, such as bits of cardboard or old x-ray films, which are cut into card shapes. Today, a modern woman’s kera will require up to 60 weaving cards. Each of


the four holes in the corners of these small square weaving cards is threaded with a warp thread; when the card is rotated by quarter turns, the relevant shed is opened, so the weft can be inserted. Similar to the backstrap loom, the warp threads are so close together that the weft threads cannot be distinguished. In the case of women’s belts, the pattern is also woven by adding supplementary weft threads. According to Myers, card looms have flourished in Burma, India, and Tibet, and may have been introduced to Bhutan from Tibet.41 HORIZONTAL FRAME LOOM During the first half of the 20th century, yet another type of loom came into use, the horizontal frame loom (thrithag), which also arrived in Bhutan via Tibet.42 Due to its size and construction, is not suitable for transportation. Nowadays, these looms are mainly used in the capital Thimphu, in Central Bhutan, and in Merak and Sakteng. With horizontal frame looms, the warp is attached to the warp beam and the cloth beam, and rolled up, which means that there is no need for a continuous warp, as is the case with the other kinds of looms. Opening the sheds is also done differently, since the heddles are not raised by hand. Instead, the sheds are formed with the help of foot treadles, which raise the shafts with attached heddles; the shafts are suspended by the pulley cords from the pulley frame. The horizontal frame looms that are used in Bhutan generally have four shafts. For ease of use, and depending on the patterning technique, fabrics in widths of 20 to 65 cm are produced on this loom. In Bumthang, it is primarily used for yathra, a twill-weave woollen material with simple patterns that used to be made on backstrap looms with three heddles, and mathra, a finer woollen plaid cloth.

Unlike in Tibet, the art of carpet knotting plays a minor role in Bhutan. Although they have adopted the Tibetan knotting technique, this is a fairly new phenomenon which has started up in a few places, including the small Norsang Carpet Factory in Phobjika valley. Together with four other women, the owner, Dorji Wangmo, makes carpets on a vertical loom in the Tibetan manner. These carpets are made on cotton warps by completing rows of knots to create piles. Knots are generally tied to pairs of warps. The Tibetan knotting technique involves the Tibetan knot, which creates a very dense pile, with between seven and ten knots per cm2. This technique has a special

feature, whereby rows of knots are tied around a temporary metal rod along the width of the carpet, which is placed in front of the warp. When the row is complete, the knots are sliced with a blade. Each row of knots is secured with one or two rows of foundation weft, which make the carpet thicker and firmer. Both the knots and the rows of weft are made of wool. When the carpet is finished, the pile is sheared by hand to achieve a cut-pile effect. The patterns have also been borrowed from Tibetan models, and feature various flower motifs, the eight auspicious symbols, animals, such as crane and snow lions, and mythological creatures such as dragons and phoenixes.

A horizontal frame loom (thrithag). Usually four shafts with attached heddles raise the sheds as required.



PATTERNING TECHNIQUES There are three main types of pattern that are used in Bhutanese textiles: plaids and stripes, warp patterns, and weft patterns; it‘s the latter that have contributed most to Bhutan’s fame as a textile producing country. PLAID AND STRIPED PATTERNS Plaid patterns are created by weaving strips of alternating colours in the warp and weft, which cross over and thus form plaids. These plaids feature in both men’s and women’s clothing. Fabrics with variously coloured plaids on a red ground (mathra) originated in Bumthang and therefore are called bumthang mathra. Traditionally, mathra were made of wool, but nowadays they are also woven in raw silk and cotton. Mathra feature different sizes of plaids; big plaids are called thra bom, small plaids are known as thra charuru. Another woollen plaid textile can also be found in the Bumthang region; it is called sethra which literally means ‘golden pattern’ and consists of yellow and black plaids on an orange or rustcoloured ground. This combination of colours is actually derived from Eastern Bhutan, where it is woven in wild silk. When black is used, it is called sethra dokhana and when no black is used, dalapgi sethra.43 In Eastern Bhutan there is yet another combination of colours, which involves red, blue and black plaids on a white ground. According to

Myers, there were at least four versions of this type in former times: one of which, called decheling kamtham, came from Decheling in Samdrup Jongkhar; it was known all over Bhutan and was widely imitated.44 Similar plaid patterns can be observed on a textile called pangtsi, which was adopted from Assam some time ago. Plaid patterns on a white ground are mainly used for gho textiles. In the 1950s, weavers began combining supplementary weft patterns with the plaids on their kira materials. Although these patterns can be found on various plaid fabrics, such as sethra with flowers (metho) in the checks of yellow (sethra metho chem), they are generally referred to as pesar (‘new design’). Striped fabrics are available in many variants and are mostly warp-faced. The oldest examples include striped cloth made of local cotton, which originally came from Eastern Bhutan. Another cotton cloth in natural colours, with red and blue, sometimes black stripes is called mondre in Tshangla, the language of Eastern Bhutan, and is regarded as indigenous. Mondre chuba (Mon dress) is the term for a gho with this striped pattern, which was once worn by East Bhutanese men for special occasions. The yarn for the stripes was dyed with lac and local indigo. The sequence of alternating colours determines whether the cloth is called kosampa (‘three doors’) or kongapa (‘five doors’). A kosampa sequence involves a blackred-white-red-black-white-black-red-white-redblack-white etc. run, and a kongapa sequence runs as follows: black-red-black-red-white-red-blackred-black-white-black-red-black-red-white-

opposite and above left: Plaids and stripes can be seen on the everyday garments that Bhutanese people wear. centre and right: Variously coloured plaids on a red ground (mathra) are a trademark of Bumthang.


left and top right: Plaid fabrics with yellow and black plaids on a reddish ground are called 'golden pattern' (sethra). centre and lower right: A fabric with red and black plaids on a white ground is known as pangtsi.


red-black-red-black-white et cetera.45 Aum Sena claims that mondre chuba used to feature very fine lines, consisting of only one or two threads. A possible colour sequence was along these lines: blackwhite-red-white-black-white-red-white etc.46 Nowadays, these red-black-white patterns for stripes are considered old fashioned and are scarcely ever worn. In this context, Myers cites yet another similarly striped material with narrow red-and-blue stripes on a white field, which was called samkhongma.47 A popular striped pattern for women’s clothing involved red, black and yellow stripes on a natural white cotton ground. These kira were called thara; the yarn that was used for the yellow stripes was dyed with turmeric. A colourful striped material made of wild silk or cotton which was simply called yütham (‘country cloth’) used to be equally popular. Some of these striped fabrics are called after their place of origin, such as the colourful striped adha mathra, consisting of yellow, orange, red, blue, and green stripes, whose name refers to the village of Adhang in Wangdue Phodrang.48 Shabthrawo (‘multi-coloured cloth from the East’) describes a mainly red striped wild silk fabric, and the red and white striped wild silks, which are used to make women’s garments for the women of Merak and Sakteng.49 Woollen fabrics also feature various types of striped pattern. For instance, a fabric called tarichem (‘striped like a tiger’) used to be a very common striped woollen cloth from Bumthang; it has broad red and blue stripes on a natural black woollen ground, which was used to sew women’s garments.50 Another

two striped woollen cloths were very popular at the beginning of the 20 th century: one with narrow weft stripes in various colours, called hothra (‘Mongolian pattern’), and one with alternating weft stripes and horizontal rows of tie-dyed cross motifs on a plain ground, which is described as hothra jalo; Mongolian weaving (hothra) with rainbows (ja). Both these fabrics originated in Tibet and were subsequently adapted by Bhutanese weavers.51 Striped fabrics for women’s dresses are often combined with rows of supplementary-warp patterns. A popular kira, for instance, used to feature rainbow stripes on a white ground combined with supplementary-warp-pattern bands in red and blue. This type of kira was widely known as montha (‘Bhutanese weaving’); in the East of the country, it was also called rigpa thara. According to Myers, striped kira fabrics have been decorated with supplementary-weft designs since the 1940s, and are described as tongpang rigpa (‘designs in a blank space’) or simply pesar (‘new design’).52 WARP PATTERNS Warp patterns are achieved by alternating and supplementary warp threads; the weft threads, for their part, are not changed in this kind of pattern technique. Supplementary-warp patterns are double-sided, which means that the pattern is reproduced as a mirror image on the other side. Fabrics with supplementary-warp pattern bands (hor) are called aikapur. They originated from

clockwise from top left: Some striped fabrics are called after their place of origin, such as the colourful striped adha mathra; a fabric with red and black stripes, called mondre; a formerly popular horizontal striped pattern for women's clothing (thara); a women's cloth with colourful warp stripes and supplementary-warp-pattern bands (montha); a similar cloth with small supplementary-weft designs is called tongpang rigpa; Mongolian weaving (hothra); Mongolian weaving with rainbows (hothra jalo); a Brokpa woman's wild silk fabric. 259

clockwise from top left: The supplementary-warp pattern bands are distinguished by the number of 'legs' (kang / be); these fabrics display 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 'legs'; different aikapur with supplementary weft patterns; a popular motif is the tree of life (shinglo). 260

Eastern Bhutan, but are now made all over Bhutan in cotton, wild silk and silk. Warp patterns feature in men’s and women’s clothing, with the distinction that the supplementary-warp bands run vertically on a gho, and horizontally in the case of a kira. These bands of supplementarywarp patterns are distinguished by the number of ‘legs’ (kang / be) which are counted in the crosshatched bars that run at right angles between the individual patterns. The legs always occur as odd numbers, three (besampa), five (bengapa), seven (bezumpa), nine (begupa), eleven (besongthurpa) etc.,53 – which are considered auspicious in the Buddhist context. The more legs a supplementarywarp pattern band presents, the more valuable it is considered to be. Myers claims that supplementary-warp patterns with nine or more legs were

once reserved for nobles and kings, but nowadays, there are some that have eleven or even thirteen legs.54 Wider patterns are more complicated to weave; therefore a pattern with thirteen legs is more prestigious than a pattern with nine or eleven legs. Aikapur can comprise a variety of colour combinations: yellow warp pattern bands on a red ground are called mense mathra (this name is presumably derived from yellow mentsi silk fabrics with red and green patterns), red and green warp pattern bands on a yellow ground are called lungserma, white and yellow warp pattern bands on a red ground with alternating rainbow stripes are called jadrima, while red, green, white and yellow warp pattern bands on a red ground are called dromchu chema. Yet another variant is found in the montha fabric cited above. It is also

top: Weft patterns are made by adding pattern wefts to the ground wefts. lower left: The thrima technique creates an embroidery-like chain stitch or cross-stitch effect. lower right: The sapma technique resembles embroidered satin stitches.


left: A kira with rich and elaborate patterns is called kushuthara. centre and right: Supplementary-weft patterns are also woven into woollen fabrics (yathra).

the only aikapur that is worn only by women. What all these fabrics have in common is that they alternate plain weave bands (pang) with supplementary-warp pattern bands (hor). If the strips between the supplementary-warp pattern bands feature multi-coloured stripes, then the fabric is generally called jadrima (‘fabric adorned with rainbows’). Ja means ‘rainbow’ and drima can be translated as ‘adorned with’. Furthermore, some fabrics feature supplementary-weft patterns alongside the supplementary-warp pattern bands. A popular motif is the tree of life (shinglo), which is used primarily in fabrics for gho. WEFT PATTERNS Woven weft patterns look very much like embroidery but, as their name suggests, they are made by adding supplementary-weft threads. Inserting these threads is a very complicated, timeconsuming process and such fabrics are reckoned – especially if they are made of pure silk – to be the most expensive in Bhutan. As mentioned above, the weavers of Lhuentse in the Northeastern part of the country were among the first to specialise in this elaborate and labour-intensive weaving process. The weft patterns are made by adding pattern wefts to the ground wefts. Two techniques can be distinguished: the simpler one is called sapma, and looks similar to embroidered satin stitches. It involves laying the supplementary pattern wefts in with the ground wefts with the help of a pick up stick so that they appear to lie flat on top of the ground weave, and create block-like and linear


motifs. The pattern wefts are worked in pairs, on every pattern row, and are crossed behind the pattern warps that are raised with a pattern pick. The second technique, thrima, is more complicated and far more elaborate. This method involves inserting pairs of supplementary pattern wefts that are interworked with each other and coiled around the warp threads, to create an embroidery-like cross-stitch or chain stitch effect. To resemble a vertical cross-stitch, supplementary pattern wefts crisscross one other, and are inserted up and behind the warp yarns. For a chain stich effect, supplementary pattern wefts are twined and wrapped around warp threads; the weft threads are rolled between the thumb and the forefinger, and around the warp threads which are raised by a pattern pick in the other hand. Twining two supplementary weft threads around the next warp threads to the left or the right creates horizontal chain-stitchlike lines. Diagonal lines can be formed by coiling each pattern weft thread independently around warp threads. Supplementary weft patterning can be woven continuously over the entire width of the fabric, or discontinuously as separate sections within the pattern area. While the first technique appears back to front on the other side of the material, discontinuous weft patterns are woven in such a way that they are not visible on the reverse side. Given that Bhutanese fabrics are warp-faced, experienced weavers are able to weave sapma and thrima patterns so that they cannot be seen on the reverse side of the fabric. Continuous weft patterns are used for women’s belts or the end borders on a kira. Discontinuous weft patterns are mainly used to decorate the inner field of a kira. The most fa-

mous style of discontinuous supplementary-weft patterning features elaborate patterns on a white ground, and is called kushu (‘brocade’). Fabrics patterned with red and blue kushu patterns on a white ground are actually one of Bhutan’s earliest textiles, which are called kushuthara and are used for sewing women’s garments. It is thought that the loveliest and most elaborate kushuthara came from Kurtoe in the Northeastern District of Lhuentse, which is home to the royal family. When Ugyen Wangchuck was crowned in 1907, the royal family’s style of dress became known throughout the country. Since the women of the royal family mostly wore kushuthara, these garments were held in particular esteem and were adapted by many Bhutanese women. Supplementary-weft patterns are also woven into woollen fabrics, especially the yathra fabrics from Bumthang in which plain weft stripes alternate with rows of supplementary-weft patterns, or supplementaryweft patterns decorate a plain twill weave in natural white, brown or black wool. According to Myers, yathra with a dark brown ground are traditionally ascribed to the Chumey Valley while yathra with predominantly white and rust grounds are reputed to come from the Ura Valley farther to the east. However, nowadays both these types are woven in the Choekhor Valley and, to a lesser extent, in the Tang Valley.55 The pattern wefts are applied in pairs, which makes them look relatively thick. They are attached to the relevant warp threads, laid into the shed of the ground weft, and interworked diagonally, so that they float on the surface of the woven twill and are raised like embroidery.56

FINISHING WORK Before the woven textiles can be sewn up by Bhutanese men to make into garments, or bags, or other items, the women have to carry out some finishing work. This includes cutting the woven piece of material out of the loom, tying and trimming the ends of the supplementary pattern wefts on the reverse of the textile, and finally, finishing the ends by hand spinning and producing the fringes on the textiles; this is an intensive, timeconsuming task that should not be underestimated.

Front (left) and reverse (centre) of a kira; the ends of the supplementary pattern wefts can be seen on the reverse of the textile; plying the fringes on a kira (right ). below: Twisting in the S or Z direction.

PLYING / FINISHING THE ENDS BY HAND SPINNING Whether it be a kira, a kabne, a rachu, a kera or any other kind of textile, a piece of woven material is basically unfinished until it has been provided with fringes, which are usually plied from the warp threads. In the case of a kira, the fringes are usually plied, and shortened to between 1.5 and 3 cm. In fact, these fringes are frequently left uncut to enable the kira to be sold on ‘as new’ in spite of having been worn once or several times. Shoulder cloths and shawls (kabne and rachu) have long twisted fringes at either end, as do the Bhutanese belts (kera) for men and women, whose long fringes are used for fixing the belt in place. Other textiles, such as pangkheb, are also finished with long twisted fringes. Generally speaking, plying is understood as twisting two or more strands of yarn and / or already twisted yarns in a Z or an S direction, sometimes involving several processes. 263

left: Tailoring (lhemdru) is still mainly done by men. top right: A pattern for a gho; 1: sleeves; 2: inner front part; 3: outer front part; 4: back part; 5: insets; 6: collar; 7: narrow strips (jogthag / drothag); lower right: a pattern for a woman's wonju or tego; 1: sleeves; 2: front parts; 3: back part; 4: collar; 5: insets.


When plying, a distinction is made between twisting to the left or counter-clockwise, which is indicated by the letter S, and to the right or clockwise, which is indicated by a Z. Bhutanese women create plied yarns for fringes by taking several single strands of yarn and twisting them together with their hands, a process that is repeated several times. For instance, they will start by taking a folded yarn with two or more singles, and end by twisting two or three of these folded yarns in the opposite direction, to form a cabled yarn, a final balanced, plied yarn, which is a yarn with no tendency to twist back upon itself. The final plied yarns are twisted in alternating directions, to prevent them from getting tangled. For instance, four singles may be twisted to the right in pairs to form folded yarns, and then these two folded yarns will be twisted to the left to form a cabled yarn. The next four singles will be twisted to the left in pairs to form two folded yarns, and these are then twisted to the right to form another cabled yarn. The next four singles will be twisted into two folded yarns to the right again, and finally to the left to form the final cabled yarn, and so on. With regard to the fringes on a kira, the twisting can occasionally be all in the same direction. The most important thing to remember, though, is that the final twist must turn in the opposite direction – or the twist will not be even. Because the threads need some tension when they are twisted, the cloth is weighted with a stone, or by clamping it between the weaver’s legs. Furthermore, some weavers claim that a bit of spit on their hands at the start makes the process easier. The plying process is the same for all textiles, but the thickness of the final

plied yarns varies according to the material and its purpose. In the case of a kira, only two singles are twisted to a folded yarn, and two folded yarns are then twisted together to form a final cabled yarn that consists of only four singles, which consequently looks very fine. The fringes on a rachu mostly consist of eight to nine singles, and those on a kera usually consist of 12 individual singles. The fringes on wild silk pangkheb appear relatively thick, but this is primarily to do with the material, because they too consist of 8 to 12 individual singles. men and the art of FABRIC PROCESSING (TSHEMZO) Fabric processing (tshemzo) is primarily done by men, and is divided into cutting and sewing garments (lhemdru), making traditional boots (tshoglham), and elaborate embroidery and appliqué work (tshemdru). TAILORING (LHEMDRU) Tailoring (lhemdru) in Bhutan appears to have been a very simple craft, with the exception of the new developments that are explored in the final chapter, Prospects: Textile Art as a Cultural Heritage for Young People in Bhutan? Basically, the traditional tailoring processes are limited to sewing individual panels of cloth together to make, for instance, blankets, seat covers, saddle covers, rain covers, bags, sacks and women’s garments (kira).

The process of tailoring women’s blouses (wonju), different styles of jackets (tego) and men’s garments (gho) is slightly more demanding, though in this case too, the work involved is relatively simple. The introduction of sewing machines in 1980s has made the whole process easier but has had little effect on the shape and style of the end products. A kira consist of three panels of cloth (bjang) sewn together lengthwise; kira that are made of woollen cloth require at least six lengths. A gho is usually made from a set of three matching panels of cloth, called mabjang, though sometimes a fourth, narrower length (zurtsi) is added.57 The pattern for a gho involves a back panel, two front panels, two sleeves and a collar which is composed of three to four sections, along with six insets, which produce the slightly flared cut of this men’s garment, and two narrow strips (jogthag / drothag) to secure the gho. Tego and wonju are produced from one and the same pattern; it consists of a back, two front parts, two long sleeves with additional insets, and a collar that is sewn from a single pattern piece. The pattern for jackets was slightly modified about five years ago, since when it has been possible to purchase fitted tego. Rain cloaks, blankets, seat covers and saddle covers are, in their turn, simply made by sewing lengths of cloth together. Rain covers (charkab) are made of thick waterproof yathra material; they used to be worn over the shoulders, and were held together at the front with ties or large pins. They are hardly used at all these days, having been replaced by umbrellas and new textiles, such as waterproof outerwear made of plastic. These new products are preferred because they are so light – a plastic raincoat weighs considerably less than a rain-soaked woollen coat. Charkab are made of three to five panels of cloth which are stitched together to make a blanket-like

raincoat. Usually woven as a one loom length, this single piece is cut into three to five equal parts which are sewn together lengthwise. Finally it is finished by hemming the edges with a strip of cotton. However, these woollen rain covers have one great advantage, compared with PVC raincoats. That is because plastic raincoats do not allow moisture to escape, leading to transpiration and moisture under the clothes. Wool, though, naturally draws moisture away from the body and can absorb up to 33 per cent of its weight in moisture without becoming clammy from perspiration, allowing the wearer to feel dry. Furthermore, wool fibres are able to bind sweat and neutralise it for a long time. What’s more, wool has natural thermo-regulatory properties. Wool provides comfortable warmth; its air retaining fibres and cushiony insulation keeps the body’s heat in and the cold out. People who live in high, cold regions are aware of these advantages and still make their garments and covers out of woollen cloth. A particularly water-repellent material is provided by yak hair, which is why this material is selected above all others by the yak herders of Bhutan for making covers, hardwearing bags and sacks, and their tents. Charaki charkab are textiles made of yak hair that are used for keeping the rain off. Furthermore, these cloths are used for laying corn cobs on to dry, and for covering the packs on pack animals. These rough, water-repellent textiles are generally decorated with thin red and white lines, with red and white tassels at the corners. The black tents (gur) of the Layap people are primarily used as their homes in the summer, when the herders migrate to the higher pastures with their yaks. These tents are not just waterproof; they are exceptionarly tough and last for decades. John Claude White’s photographs from 1907 also show that yak hair tents of this kind were used in ear-

left: Rain covers (charkab) made of thick, waterproof yathra cloth. right: This photograph by John Claude White was taken in 1907 and shows yak hair tents being used during journeys undertaken by high-ranking officials. Members of their retinue were put up in the black tents, and the white tents were reserved for the officials. Note the kushu pattern on the upper part of the white tent. Decorated tents of this kind are no longer to be found (Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California).



lier times when high-ranking officials or nobles were travelling, to house their entourage. Rectangular textiles that originate in Central Bhutan (Bumthang) and are used throughout Bhutan as mattress covers or seat covers are called denkheb. During the daytime, these large, firm textiles function as covers for cushions, picnic rugs and travelling rugs, and at night-time as bedding. In living rooms, they are draped over low box-frame couches, thereby providing comfortable places to take one’s rest. Likewise, they are laid on the ground to serve as carpets for sitting or sleeping on. When taken on journeys, they perform the same functions. Denkheb are generally made by sewing two lengths of yathra cloth together; this cloth is woven as a single piece on a horizontal frame loom, then cut in two along the weft and stitched together in the warp direction. The edges are trimmed with strips of cotton or ribbons. The patterns range from horizontal rows with flowers, to stars and swastikas, and all kinds of geometrical motifs. During the reign of Bhutan’s second king Jigme Wangchuck (1926 – 52), however, a new style of yathra cloth became fashionable that mimicked the designs used in Tibetan pile rugs with small, geometric designs that cover the whole surface of the fabric as lattice pattern, and a meander border.58 Denkheb can also be made of wild silk, or cotton. The central part often consists of former, recycled, items of clothing.59 Old, worn denkheb will also be cut up and used to make saddle paddings. Plain seat covers (khaden) are made of red, blue, yellow or green broadcloth or local woollen cloth. According to Myers and Pommaret, they furnished the homes of the elite and the royal fa-

mily, and were offered to visitors. Square seat covers with auspicious symbols are still used by elite families during marriage ceremonies, when the bride is seated on a square textile decorated with a swastika, to symbolise eternity and longevity. The bridegroom’s textile is decorated with a diamond sceptre – the symbol of power and wisdom.60 Depending on whether these rectangular and square textiles are intended to be used in a sacred or a profane context, they are sewn together by monks or laymen, and are referred to in different ways. Textiles that serve as seat covers and are laid over on cushions for high lamas in temples, or for other high-ranking individuals in audience chambers or living areas, are not referred to as khaden, but generally as throne covers (thrikheb). Myers and Pommaret assert that thrikheb also used to be carried about by royal servants in the old days, so they could spread them out when the king prostrated himself in a temple.61 Similar textiles which were formerly used as saddle cloths for kings, nobles and high-ranking lamas, were called gayok. Most of these textiles consisted of embroidered and appliqué broadcloth or other woollen cloths featuring motifs such as diamond sceptres, swastikas, phoenixes, snow lions and fiery jewels, along with long multicoloured silk fringes.62 The throne cover (thrikheb) shown above left was used to exalt the person who sat on it. This type of throne cover is mainly intended for members of the royal family and high-ranking religious personages. Nowadays, they are very seldom used, although they still present a fundamental part of the textile furniture in most temples. The embroidered throne cover shown

left: Throne cover (thrikheb), napped wool, cotton, silk embroidery, 130 x 130 cm (Ethnographic Museum Zurich, Photo by Erich Lessing). right: On this portrait of the Paro Penlop and his entourage, two rectangular appliqué textiles can be seen. The Penlop himself is sitting on a throne cover (thrikheb); a second rectangular appliqué textile is lying on the grass in front of the group (Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California). opposite: The last Druk Desi of Bhutan, Choley Yeshe Ngudup, is seen here in his room furnished with different kinds of textiles. In the foreground is a fringed, appliqué seat cover, the wall in the background is decorated with an embroidered thangka, his table is covered with a silk cloth, and small silken banderols with little tassels are attached to his ritual drum. His hat and his shoulder cloth are signs of his office (Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California). 267

top row from left to right: AppliquĂŠ or embroidered saddlecloths were used by lay and religious elite only (Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California); pile saddle carpets were imported from Tibet. middle row from left to right: Tying up a packed bundle of dance costumes; these kinds of wrapping clothes (bundri) are decorated with auspicious swastika motifs and diamond-shaped kushu patterns; square bag (phechung) with a swastika at the bottom of the bag. bottom row: In rural everyday life woven bags are still in use. 268

above features a phoenix in the centre, to express the wish that the person sitting on it should enjoy longevity. The central circlet of lotus petals serves to elevate the person sitting on it. Similar rings of lotus petals are used in Buddhist images to form the pedestal for a Buddhist deity. Beyond the circlet are four garuda, mythical half-human and half-eagle creatures, clutching cymbals, and four dragons surrounded by rows of lotus flowers. Each corner additionally presents the head of a demonically horned mythical creature referred to as kirtimukha, ‘the glorious face’, or ‘the face of majesty’. Finally, the piece is finished with a meander border made of swastika symbols. Rectangular appliquéd textiles with fringes at the two narrow ends and featuring Buddhist symbols are called bokheb / kheb. In the old days, this type of textile used to be laid over a mattress in ordinary homes, and it was used as a seat cover for officials. Furthermore, they were used for rolling up the bedclothes of the highest government officials inside, when engaged on their travels.63 It can be seen from old photographs that Bhutan was also importing carpets and saddle cloths from Tibet; however, only a few noble families could have afforded such items. Generally speaking, there were few horses and riding was the preserve of the elite classes.64 In addition to the textile products that are made by men, there are many kinds of bag, whose form reveals their function. Many of these bags are no longer in use, since modern purses, handbags, rucksacks, and plastic carriers have replaced the old textiles. However, in rural everyday life woven bags (phechung) are still in use; these are small

square bags made of handwoven cotton or nettle fabrics, which are fitted with a long handle and generally decorated with small kushu patterns. They are mainly used in Eastern Bhutan, and are made from a single long panel, woven on a backstrap loom, which is then cut along the weft into two equal-sized pieces and sewn into a bag. The design is very simple; a panel of cloth is folded along the length to provide the handle, and a second panel is folded over the width to form a pouch and sewn together with the ends of the handle. Older examples of the phechung were also made from one loom length, cut into two panels with an auspicious swastika motif in the centre, which later appears at the bottom of the bag. In their case, the handle is only a slim strap made of cotton, wool, or leather, sewn to the sides of the bag. A traditional combination of colours consists of red and blue or black patterns on a white ground, but nowadays all possible combinations of colours are woven. Old examples often display a swastika on the pouch, surrounded by various linear and geometric patterns. Phechung used to be carried by women, men and children alike. They have room for all kinds of useful things: belongings for a long hike or a journey, packed lunches, purchases from the market or schoolbooks, exercise books and snacks. In Bumthang, similar bags are woven in wool. Yak herders in the higher regions use bags made of black yak hair, which have white stripes running lengthwise, and little tassels of white and red yak hair at the lower corners. All sorts of useful things are kept in these bags, such as rice, dried yak meat and dried yak cheese (chugo). Another textile that serves as a bag and which is also still in

These types of bags – seen here in the Ogyen Choling Museum, are hardly ever used these days.


73-year-old Sherab Tenzin is deaf and dumb, and an expert in traditional bootmaking. He lives alone in a hut in Thimphu; traditional footwear hangs from the ceiling of his hut. Sherab Tenzin has been in this business since he was 25 years old and making traditional boots is his sole means of gaining a livelihood. With a pair of tshoglham he can earn 2,500 Ngultrum. Sherab Tenzin also travels to Kalimpong by himself to obtain leather, fabrics, and threads for making boots. Since he is a regular customer, the shopkeepers understand his gestures.


use is called bundri. This item is not exactly a bag, but a square cloth, with a thick cord sewn to each corner. These cords are made for tying up the cloth to form a bundle, which can then be carried over the shoulder. Monks use them for storing religious objects, instruments, and books in, and ordinary citizens use them for keeping their garments or grain in. A bundri consists of three panels of woven cloth, woven as a single piece on a backstrap loom and decorated with supplementary-weft patterns. It is then cut along the weft to make three equal-sized pieces which are then sewn together along the warp to form a square textile. Finally, the ends are hemmed, and cloth cords are attached to the four corners. These large bags are usually made of cotton and, similarly to phechung, feature a central decorative motif in the form of a swastika surrounded by diamond-shaped patterns. Myers and Pommaret also offer a glimpse of traditional bags that are no longer in use: among these rare examples are, for instance, the small, soft, round bags (kechung) that were formerly used to keep coins, cowrie shells, betel nuts and dried chillies in. These bags are about 20 cm in diameter and are made of remnants of wild silk, cotton and woollen fabrics, perhaps scraps from garments. Another type of bag that Myers and Pommaret mention consists of a long cylindrical shape, up to 60 cm long, with a diameter of over 20 cm, which is closed with a drawstring neck. The central part of this bag features a piece of hand-woven Bhutanese cloth, either made from the remnants of patterned kira and gho fabrics or woven specifically for this purpose. This bag is called a thrikhu and it was used by lamas and monks to transport their ritual objects in. A similar cylindrical drawstring bag is called

tsamkhu; it was used for transporting or keeping grain and flour, and can still be seen today. Another type of bag is called chabshub (‘water cover’). It would have been carried by the personal attendant (chashumi) of earlier kings and nobles, and would have contained at least one drinking flask, silver boxes with the ingredients for chewing betel (chaka / timi) and other small items that needed to be to hand. This type of bag is still used by monks for storing incense.65 As mentioned above, sewing the cham costumes was also a male preserve. These costumes are far more elaborate than the textiles that were discussed earlier, and were primarily made by monks who were trained in the art of sewing costumes for dance. THE CRAFT OF MAKING BOOTS (TSHOGLHAM) Due to the fact that the craft of bootmaking involves needlework, it is linked with the art of fabric processing (tshemzo). Nevertheless the bootmaker’s activity is considered to be a separate profession, one that involves leather processing, sewing and embroidery. A bootmaker will use textiles and leather to make boots for everyday and ceremonial purposes. Embroidered and appliquéd boots (tshoglham) are a special product made of leather, silk damask and silk brocade; the colours are determined by the rank of each particular wearer. In his account of the Thirteen Traditional Crafts (1997), Ison also mentioned that the craft of bootmaking was in danger of disappearing;66 he could not have known that this threatened craft was soon to experience a revival. Thus, Ison wrote about one of the

last bootmakers of Bhutan, the Royal Bootmaker Shabgye Tshoglam Wangdi who lived in Paro and was at that time the only person to bear that title, and who was consequently held in high regard by other bootmakers. At the age of 15, Wangdi had been apprenticed to Master Yeshe, who had learnt the bootmaker‘s craft in Tibet, and within 15 years he had risen to become a master. On his return to Bhutan, Yeshe specialised in the production of ceremonial boots and passed his knowledge on to his apprentice, Wangdi, who soon developed into an esteemed master in his own right.67 Ison goes on to describe how the bootmaker’s craft continued to decline as most Bhutanese people preferred more practical and comfortable styles of footwear. Shabgye Tshoglam Wangdi was unable to find any apprentices to pass his skills onto.68 The fact that the craft of traditional bootmaking seemed to be dying out was finally brought to the attention of the Bhutanese government. In 1999, Shabgye Tshoglam Wangdi, called Ap Wangdi for short, was invited by the National Technical Training Authority (NTTA) to the Zorig Chusum Institute to teach the art of bootmaking. 2002 saw the advent of five more masters and a class of 12 apprentices in the Zorig Chusum Institute in Thimphu, and a class of four apprentices in the Zorig Chusum Institute in Trashiyangtse. The aim of the NTTA was not simply to preserve the art of bootmaking, but also to maximise the quality and functionality of the product. The revival of this craft was assisted by the government; in 2002, the Royal Civil Service

Commission (RCSC) called for a code of etiquette for individuals who were employed by the government. Shortly afterwards, hundreds of boots were suddenly required and two months after the new clothing requirements were issued, the young bootmakers had their hands full. Five young men, all former pupils of Ap Wangdi, were employed at the Institute to take charge of boot production in the capital Thimphu. By that time the Zorig Chusum Institute had already received 300 orders for tshoglham. Most of these orders came from Thimphu and a few from other districts. While the Zorig Chusum Institute had been producing about 30 pairs of boots per month, by 2002 the workshop was turning out 10 pairs of boots per day. This placed great demands on the five bootmakers, while also providing an opportunity to earn good money with this craft. During the training period, a few of them had still been sceptical about this possibility, as an apprentice called Sonam Tobgay put it: ‘After the training I did wonder whether what we learnt will actually have any practical use at all but now we are working without a moment’s rest.’ 69 However, many of them were also aware that this sudden hike in demand was simply temporary. Indeed, it is well known that the market for this kind of boot is very small in Bhutan, being limited to dancers, high-ranking monks, and officials, who do not need to buy more than one or two pairs in a lifetime. Tourists also appreciate these decorated boots and sometimes buy a pair, but only sporadically. Another source of anxiety is that the

Tshering Tobgay, a young bootmaker from Thimphu (Photo by Manan Vatsyayana / Getty Images).


The coronation boots worn by the fifth king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (Photo by Pedro Ugarte / Getty Images).


cobblers in Jaigaon in West Bengal will, sooner or later, start producing tshoglham; production there would be cheaper and possibly even better quality. In Kalimpong in West Bengal, this is already happening. According to some Bhutanese, you can buy a pair of tshoglham there for 700 Ngultrum (11 Euro), which would cost 2,000 Ngultrum (32 Euro) back in Bhutan. As it is, the workshop in the Zorig Chusum Institute in Thimphu already sources its materials, such as leather, rubber, and various fabrics, in Kalimpong.The boot production workshop is a joint-venture enterprise involving the Zorig Chusum Institute and its bootmaking instructor. According to Tshering Gyeltshen, this happened because, though there was a great demand for the boots, no cobblers could be found in the private sector.70 Therefore the instructor invested the capital in the company, while the Institute provided the workforce, the general technical support, the quality control and the marketing. In the meantime, the production of boots has been privatised, resulting in a very healthy, competitive climate. At the same time, the new dress code for public servants has become the object of sharp criticism, since many officials – especially those in middle-ranking posts – cannot afford the enormous expense of buying a pair of tshoglham. As Thinley Dorji, the father of four schoolchildren, explained, the 2,000 Ngultrum (around 32 Euro) required present a significant expenditure, given a monthly income of 6,000 Ngultrum (around 96 Euro). During the following year, the demand for tshoglham fell, as anticipated, and sales dropped

to about 200 pairs of boots per annum. It was only when the coronation of the fifth king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was held on 6th November 2008 with great ceremony, that sales suddenly peaked. Thousands of Bhutanese, including officials, dancers and numerous others who were involved in the festivities, ordered traditional boots for this special occasion. Even members of the general public ordered some. The bootmakers of Thimphu were hard put to meet the demand; some of them received up to 2,000 orders and were working round the clock. A plain pair of tshoglham with no embroidery was selling for 2,000 Ngultrum (32 Euro), while richly embroidered boots cost 5,000 Ngultrum (80 Euro) and women’ boots around 3,000 Ngultrum (48 Euro).71 Traditional bootmaking involves very timeconsuming and difficult work, on account of the extensive sewing that is required. Ever since sewing machines were introduced, the task of finishing the upper part of the boot has been easier, but 90 per cent of the lower part still has to be done by hand. Nevertheless, a good bootmaker only requires four hours to produce a pair of Bhutanese boots. A glimpse of the individual steps in this process has been provided by Ison, based on the example of Shabgye Tshoglam Wangdi’s method for making a pair of tshoglham.72 Ap Wangdi begins by tracing an outline of the foot and comparing it with his existing patterns to determine the right shoe size. He cuts the corresponding sole (thi) out of thin cardboard and then covers it with light cotton cloth, and sews it on. After that,

he cuts out a piece of leather in the same size and glues it to the cotton-covered cardboard sole. He punches holes in the leather, for joining the boot upper to the sole at a later stage. Finally, he concentrates on the upper part, which is comprised of three sections, and consists mostly of brocade. The boot is lined with cotton fabric, and the three parts are sewn individually, and only joined up afterwards. The lower part (kachu) is generally white and quilted. The typically upturned toes are reinforced and embellished with appliqué leather decorations. The colour of the middle part of the boot (tshoglham kor / pö) designates the wearer‘s rank. As mentioned earlier, yellow is reserved for the King and the Je Khenpo, orange for ministers, red for high-ranking officials, such as a Dasho and blue for members of the Parliament or National Council. Orange and red are colours that monks and lamas use for their boots. All other citizens wear green. This middle part is made of brocade, sometimes with elaborate embroidery in the shape of phoenixes, flowers, or jewels. Customers’ own designs can also be added, apart from dragons – this motif being reserved exclusively for members of the royal family. The long upper part (yupa) is made of silk brocade or woollen material, and can vary according to the customer’s taste, since no restrictions apply to the colour or choice of the material. Furthermore, the shaft is lined with a contrasting fabric and decorated with a handwoven strip of material that closes up the boot. There’s also a decorative strip (tshogyug) along the shank of the boot that is often embroi-

dered with jewels (norbu). Yet another decorative strip is added to the back seam, where more jewels, various flower motifs, or feathers (combined with a phoenix) can be seen. Formerly, left and right boots were identical – to avoid uneven wear – and could consequently be worn on either foot.73 Nowadays, a distinction is made between left and right feet, and more attention is paid to comfort. Requirements have changed; although tshoglham were previously worn every day and needed to be weatherproof and robust to withstand harsh conditions such as rocky paths, crossing rivers and snow, nowadays a high wearing comfort is the decisive aspect. As mentioned above, the thin leather soles have been replaced with thick rubber soles, with low heels. Innovations of this kind were introduced by a German cobbler, who was invited to Bhutan by the NTTA to share his expertise in making comfortable and hard-wearing shoes with Bhutanese bootmakers, by using better materials. For a while now, half-shoes, which are similar to tshoglham but have no shaft, have been sold. Since the business was privatised, the new cobblers have demonstrated a thoroughly creative approach that is inspired by western influences. Meanwhile, thought has been given to developing new designs for women’s boots. This design needs to be distinguished by its comfort and its higher heel, because a few Bhutanese women have pointed out, when asked, that they find wearing flat boots truly embarrassing because it shows how tall they really are.

The boot's lower part (kachu) is generally white and quilted. The colour of the middle part of the boot (tshoglham kor / pö) is made of brocade, sometimes with elaborate embroidery in the shape of phoenixes, flowers, or jewels, and designates the wearer's rank. The long upper part (yupa) is made of silk brocade or woollen material, and can vary according to the customer's taste. The decorative strip is called tshogyug.



EMBROIDERY AND APPLIQUÉ WORK (TSHEMDRU) Textiles with elaborate embroidery and appliqués are mainly used in sacred contexts, and are consequently made by trained monks and lay monks, who follow precisely the models established by traditional Buddhist iconography. Large textiles are generally worked on by several individuals at the same time, under the supervision of a master. The technique of embroidery came from China via Tibet to Bhutan, and was used for ceremonial textiles. The materials that the monks use are mainly silk fabrics, silk brocade and silk yarns. Silk is the preferred material

on account of its beauty and high cost, which make it appropriate for sacred purposes. In former times, in addition to Indian silk, patterned silk fabric was imported from China, as this was considered especially precious. The Chinese fabrics found their way to Bhutan via Tibet; consequently, when the Tibetan border was closed in 1959, it became difficult to procure top-quality silk. Nowadays, air freight has made it far easier to obtain silk fabrics; and silk brocade from Hong Kong is the favourite choice.74 The term ‘brocade’ goes back to the Latin word broccare (‘to embroider’) or broccato meaning ‘embossed cloth’, and it designates valuable jacquard weaves in various materials, primarily

above and opposite: These two thangka are masterpieces of appliqué and embroidery; they were made by assembling small pieces of silk and silk brocade and needle work. The opposite thangka presents Thinley Gyaltshen (1839 – 1898), the 42nd Je Khenpo of Bhutan (Photo by Erich Lessing); early 20 th century. The thangka above portrays the revered lama Jamgön Ngawang Gyaltshen (1647 – 1732); 18 th century. 275


those woven with gold and silver threads. Brocade textiles are woven in atlas weave, one of three basic weaves used in the production of textiles. It is a supplementary-weft technique, and involves running the weft under one warp, and then over more than two warps. Brocade fabrics are two-sided, meaning that the upper and lower side of the product are different. On the reverse side of the brocade, the warps dominate, while on the upper side, it is the weft threads. The wefts that run parallel on the upper side of the brocade produce the change of colours that characterise this fabric. The most valuable brocade fabrics are made of pure silk, with gold and silver threads woven through it. Originally, these heavy and dense silk brocades were richly decorated with silver and gold flower motifs, but nowadays, their extremely varied stylised patterns are often made with threads such as lurex, which do not oxidise. Likewise, increasing quantities of synthetic fibres, such as yarns made of rayon and viscose filaments, are appearing on the market. Even in Bhutan, precious silk brocade fabrics are being combined with synthetic brocades. They are more affordable, and their brilliant colours still bestow an aura of luxury on sacred textiles. Furthermore, silk is being increasingly replaced by silk-like acrylic, rayon and polyester fabrics that have been imported from China and India. THANGKA – RELIGIoUS SCROLL PAINTINGs The most elaborate textiles are certainly found among the religious scroll paintings (thangka), which feature deities in their diverse emanations, as well as saints and spiritual masters. They are used throughout the Buddhist Himalayas, and are mostly painted, and sewn onto a brocade frame. Scrolls that are embroidered and appliquéd present a special case; these precious thangka are the products of a long tradition, particularly in Bhutan. They require great skill, because in their case too, the precise dimensions and requirements of Buddhist iconography have to be adhered to. This intensive work generally takes a few months to complete, because these thangka are composed of small pieces of monochrome silk and patterned silk brocade, which are inserted and embroidered by hand. The work is often done in the late afternoon, after the monks have completed a day’s work. To make one of these scrolls, they begin by sketching or stencilling the design onto a cotton or silk ground. The image is divided into several sections; there are paper patterns to indicate how the individual pieces of fabric are cut out, sewn together and embroidered in order to create specific elements

of the design and the images of the deities. Once the individual parts are ready, they are joined as embroidered appliqués; they are appliquéd one after the other to the ground fabric, and then embroidered. This technique involves using flat stitches to fix each appliqué shape to the ground fabric. These flat stitches are also used in the embroidered sections. Flat stitch embroidery and satin stitch embroidery constitute one of the free embroidery techniques. In free embroidery, designs are applied without regard to the weave of the underlying fabric; in opposition to countedthread embroidery. A series of flat stitches are used to completely cover a section of the background fabric. The stitches are applied close together; the pattern lies flat on the weave, and is marked out clearly and neatly from it. Within flat stitch embroidery, three main versions can be distinguished; unshaded flat stitch embroidery, shaded flat stitch embroidery and free shaded flat stitch embroidery, or needle painting. In the case of unshaded flat stitch embroidery, the surface area is covered with closely applied stitches, in sets of short straight or oblique lines. Shaded flat stitch embroidery features stitches that merge together with irregular stitch lengths, but regular stitch directions. The long and short stitches are worked in rows. When different colours merge, a shaded effect is produced. Each new row of long and short stitches splits the stitches of the preceding row. The needle is inserted into the next row by holding the needle at an angle; the direction of the stitches follows the shape of the design. In this process, the individual stitches should blend the punctures in order to produce a flat, even surface. This technique is used for filling in larger areas. When this technique is applied using very fine material, it is called needle painting. This technique allows realistic pictures to be created using needle and thread. Therefore free shaded flat stitch embroidery or needle painting requires a sophisticated feeling for colour and skill in drawing and painting. Furthermore, Bhutanese textiles contain references to Chinese silk embroidery, in that the colours are not shaded by blending, but by forming rows. The shape is divided into zones, and individual colours are applied, overlapping by just a millimetre. In addition to flat stitch embroidery, chain stitches are also used. This involves inserting the needle a short distance away from the exit point and forming a loop, which is then taken up by the next stitch. Repeating these looped stitches creates a chain-like pattern running along a curved or straight line. Gold embroidery is also applied using a special technique called couching or laid work. It involves laying a metallic thread across the surface of the ground fabric and fastening it in place with small stitches of a different, mostly silken yarn. The couching threads may be either the same colour as the laid

opposite: Flat stitch embroidery, chain stitches and gold embroidery are mainly used in Bhutanese textiles; turquoise and coral are sewn onto the thangka, adding to the grand visual effect.



threads or a contrasting colour. The gold thread can be applied singly or double, and the stitches cover the whole width of the gold, at right angles to it. If one area is worked in the technique of laid work, the individual rows are laid close together, with no gaps or holes. Many embroidered sections also feature pearls and other shapes that are sewn on to achieve a more three-dimensional effect. The completed image is given a frame of brocade panels and stretched between two poles. The upper pole that the thangka hangs from is often made of bamboo, but the lower one needs to be weighted and is generally thicker, being made of pine with metal knobs at either end. In former times, the brocade frame used to be made of recycled older fabrics; for the last few years, though, there has been a growing tendency to use new fabrics which are given an old-fashioned look. Every thangka has to have a wide brocade frame, which is generally blue or green and is divided into an upper part, known as ‘heaven’, and a lower part, known as ‘earth’. The actual portrait, which is called a ‘mirror’, is also framed with two narrow strips of brocade, one yellow and one red. These strips are called ‘rainbows’, and they refer to the sudden appearance of deities, who are often surrounded by a rainbow. Furthermore, a contrasting brocade fabric is found below this image. This square insert is described as a ‘door’ and points to the thangka’s role within the practice of Buddhism: meditation and contemplation of the image, which equates to a spiritual entrance into the thangka.75 Normally, a thangka is backed by adding various plain fabrics. Another fabric is attached to the top edge, along with two long silk ribbons, to serve as a curtain (zheykheb). This is a yellow silk with green and red patterns (mentsi), whose function is to protect the image when it is not being used and has been rolled up for travelling, or storing. In the old days,

it was usual for lamas to travel through the land with their thangka, so that they could use these images along with their stories to give the preBuddhist inhabitants of the Himalayas an understanding of Buddhism. Since thangka are not decorative objects, but aids to instruction and meditation, they should only be uncovered for these purposes. Furthermore, many representations of deities – especially the wrathful tutelary deities in a goenkhang – are not intended for all to see, and so need to be kept hidden from the uninitiated. For example women are not allowed inside a goenkhang, a temple or templeroom that has been dedicated to a local protective deity. Thangka are hung in temples and in the altar rooms in private dwellings. Bhutanese believers do not consider a thangka that depicts, for instance, a Buddhist deity, to be a work of art representing this deity, but the very deity that they are praying to. Even when images of Buddhist deities are used as aids to concentration and visualisation while meditating, and – according to Jackson – are intended to direct attention to their faith, and to remind Buddhists of their commitment to follow the path of pure teaching, these images are generally viewed as devotional objects and offerings.76 Making or commissioning a thangka is considered a meritorious action that brings blessings. Thus, Myers and Pommaret state that: ‘Commissioning a thangka is a virtuous action that earns merit, removes all sorts of obstacles from one’s life, or brings a better rebirth to a deceased relative.’ 77 A thangka is often commissioned after the death of a relative or a close person. According to Jackson, this image will be created as a designated birth sign in the name of the deceased person, to establish the necessary conditions for a favourable rebirth. He goes on to stress that the image should be made within seven weeks after the deceased person’s death,

above left: Thangka are hung in temples and in the altar rooms in private dwellings; but they are also used to designate sacred spaces where rituals are held. above right: The Trongsa thongdroel. opposite: This large appliqué thangka showing the 21st Je Khenpo Jampyel Drakpa (1766 – 1834) is framed with red and yellow silk 'rainbows' and a black and golden Chinese silk brocade presenting dragons and floral patterns. The 'window' consists of a red Chinese brocade cloth, displaying four butterflies, four bats, and wish-granting symbols surrounding a Chinese symbol for happiness.


top row: Three different temple hangings are suspended from the ceiling. bottom row: Throne canopies (ladri) are positioned over the place where a lama or Rinpoche sits and performs rituals.

before the person re-enters life by being conceived and born. To determine which deity should be displayed, the lamas generally consult prophetic texts.78 The development of tourism has led to the production of thangka on a commercial basis; non-Buddhists often appreciate thangka because of their decorative qualities. However, some of the Bhutanese faithful criticise this development, which includes using images of Buddhist deities to decorate calendars and other profane objects. THONGDROEL – 'LIBERATION THROUGH SEEING' Some of the most important religious scroll paintings are more than 20 x 30 m in size and are only unrolled once a year, on the occasion of a sacred festival, when they are presented to the public by being shown on the wall of the monastery or temple. These oversized thangka are called thongdroel, which can be translated as ‘liberation through seeing’. As this name reveals, the Bhutanese believe that simply looking at a thongdroel


can bring about liberation in the religious sense, and a cleansing from all sins. These scroll images are produced in appliqué techniques by trained monks or lay monks in accordance with the rules of Buddhist iconography. Although not as fine as their smaller counterparts, their very size means that making them requires a particularly intense effort. At the centre of each thongdroel is an image of Guru Rinpoche, surrounded by his eight manifestations and his two consorts, or of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, escorted by the spiritual leaders of Bhutan. A detailed description of a thongdroel is provided in the next chapter. TEXTILE FURNISHINGS OF TEMPLES In addition to the religious scroll paintings, numerous other textiles are used to designate sacred spaces and to decorate the altar rooms in the temples, monasteries and dzong. Like the dance costumes, described above, and the thangka, they are very similar throughout the entire Himalayan Buddhist area. These textile furnishings include

three kinds of hangings (phen, gyeltshen, and chubur / chephur), throne canopies (ladri), throne covers (thrikheb), patchwork wall hangings (chenzi), various altar covers (tenkheb / choekheb) and torma covers (torkheb). They are created by using patchwork techniques, with embroidery and appliqués, and are preferably made of silk and silk brocade. His Holiness Lhalung Thuksey Tulku (1951 – 2010), referred to as Thuksey Rinpoche, explains the meaning of the rich textile fittings in a temple as a sacrifice to the deities. He goes on to claim that ‘it is personally beneficial to present something beautiful to the deities,’ and he is convinced that ‘a person who may be living in poverty and yet still gives the deity a lovely thing, this person will be prosperous in his or her next life.’ 79 Thuksey Rinpoche describes the three different types of temple hanging (phen, gyeltshen, chubur / chephur) that are suspended from the ceiling, and whose size depends on the height of each particular room, as follows: the first hanging, called phen, consists of four long, narrow strips of overlapping, vertical panels of brocade. The top of this hanging features a cloud-shape. The second decorative type of hanging is called gyeltshen and consists of a cylindrical shape that is made up of a plain central panel and horizontal strips of brocade, with a valance of silk mentsi cloth at the top and bottom

ends. The third hanging is called chubur / chephur; it is also cylindrical in shape, the upper part being made of horizontal strips of brocade, and the bottom part featuring several vertical, overlapping strips of brocade. All three types of hanging come in pairs, and they are always hung in groups; a set consists of six hangings. A set of these three different hangings is called chephur gyeltshen. The ceilings are often decorated with a rectangular throne canopy (ladri) made of patterned silk and finished with a valance. This canopy is positioned opposite the altar, so that it canopies the place where a lama or Rinpoche sits and performs rituals. His seat often resembles a wooden throne, and is covered with a throne cover (thrikheb). Walls, galleries and doorways are also decorated with patchwork wall hangings in silk brocade called chenzi. Thuksey Rinpoche had described this term as ‘eyes’ (chen) ‘of agate’ (zi); chenzi therefore indicates something ‘very beautiful, attractive, that is presented to the deities’. These ‘offerings to the deities’ are made of a patchwork of countless colourful, overlapping, narrow strips of brocade. Furthermore, there are wall hangings made of silken mentsi cloth on the walls, which protect the wall paintings from the light and unauthorized eyes. The entrances and doorways are also decorated with door hangings made of mentsi cloths.

top row: Patchwork wall hangings in silk brocade (chenzi) are described by Thuksey Rinpoche as something 'very beautiful, attractive, that is presented to the deities'. bottom row: Yellow silk fabrics with red and green floral patterns (mentsi) are used in great quantities to decorate festive and sacred spaces (bottom row, centre: Photo by Christine Leuthner).


Altar covers (tenkheb / choekheb) are also considered as offerings, and are presented to the deities by being placed on the altar or one of the tables where highranking clerics perform their rituals.


There are also a multitude of coverings for an altar, collectively known as choekheb. Bhutanese altars are constructed of timber, with elaborate carvings and paintings. They often have several levels, with numerous niches for Buddhist statues and relics. Myers and Pommaret claim that every altar level that displays offerings on it must be covered with a cloth. They describe the textile ornaments on a three-level altar as follows: ‘The first and lowest altar of the shrine (tshogthri, ‘multitude throne’), for food offerings, is supposed to be draped with a tiger or leopard skin; in practice this is more often a textile with patterns of tiger stripes or leopard spots and a fringe at its lower edge (tshogkheb, ‘multitude covering’). The middle altar (chöthri, ‘shrine throne’), where water offerings, butter lamps, and incense are placed, is covered with a multi-coloured patchwork textile that hangs over the altar’s front edge (tenkheb, ‘offering cover’ or chökheb). The top altar (torthri, ‘torma [butter offering] throne’), where ritual sculptures made of colored butter are arranged, is covered with a similar cloth, here called a torkheb (‘torma cover’). All these textiles can be draped over any raised place where ritual or other objects are kept.’ 80 According to Thuksey Rinpoche, tenkheb / choekheb are also considered as offerings, and are presented to the deities by being placed on the altar or one of the tables where senior clerics perform their rituals. The patchwork designs consist of numerous squares that are in their turn made up of colourful triangles, whose colours correspond with those of the various deities involved. A deeper meaning is ascribed to this chessboard-type pattern by Thuksey Rinpoche, since it represents a cosmogram in its entirety, in which the different colours in the individual squares correspond to different

levels of spiritual and psychological consciousness. Similar chessboard type patterns can be seen as wall paintings in the temples and monasteries, or on wooden altars, and the same meaning is attributed to them. According to Myers and Pommaret, these cosmograms are also described as ‘Wheels of Excellent Existence’ (kunzang khorlo).81 Bhutanese tradition also associates these patchwork designs with longevity. The textiles that are used to furnish a goenkhang, a temple or a temple room that is dedicated to a protective deity, are referred to by Thuksey Rinpoche as gyentshok. These textiles feature skulls to emphasise the impermanence of human existence, body parts to symbolise adherence to sensual desires, and other symbols that represent offerings to those particular deities. Furthermore, textiles are used to separate special spaces from the profane world, such as sacred places and ritual areas, and to identify them. If the rituals and ceremonies take place in the open air, they are often conducted inside tents, which are made by monks and lay monks, as well as lay men. These tents are among the few textiles for which men are allowed to choose the motifs and colours, to some extent. However, it must be admitted that these tents are not exclusively reserved for religious purposes; they may also be used for profane purposes and social gatherings. They are generally made of white Indian cotton, to which various auspicious Buddhist symbols are applied. Among the most common motifs are the endless knot and the Wheel of Law (dharmachakra), along with dragons, paired deer and flaming jewels. These types of ceremonial tent were previously commissioned by the Penlop of a particular province for distribution to the dzong, and were then made by the community of monks in the dzong,

as Myers and Pommaret have pointed out. Similar tents are still being erected for prosperous families, for weddings and promotions, and for archery contests.82 Monks also produce various kinds of parasols, standards and banners for using during processions. Umbrellas and parasols (Skt. chatra, Tib. dhug) are among the eight auspicious symbols and, according to Beer, are the traditional Indian emblems for royalty, secular prosperity and protection. Just as the parasol provides protection from overbearing heat with its shade, so too this chatra serves to show how the Buddhist dharma can protect human consciousness from harmful influences.83 Among the banners, the victory banner (Skt. dhvaja, Tib. rgyal mtshan) has a vital role to play because it represents the victory of Buddhism over the four demonic forces (mara). Small ornamental banderols with little tassels are also attached to ritual implements such as ritual

drums. They consist of small, long, narrow strips of overlapping, vertical panels of brocade; similar to a phen, the first architectural temple hanging to have been described. According to Myers and Pommaret, sacred textiles have scarcely changed for hundreds of years, apart from the fact that synthetic materials have been introduced. Older textiles have simply been replaced by new ones, when they are already in shreds and have found donors to fund the new textiles. Thanks to the royal family’s favour, numerous ritual textiles have been commissioned for temples and monasteries all over the land. Often, this involves combining old fabrics that are in good repair with new ones, with the result that centuries-old silk is frequently combined with new brocade in a single piece.84 As the presence of numerous sacred textiles shows, textiles play an important role throughout the entire religious sphere. They are not only an important element in the furnishing of temples

clockwise from top left: Textiles are also considered as offerings (Photo by Christine Leuthner); tents identify sacred places and ritual areas; banners, standards and parasols are used during processions, and on other festive occasions.


left and centre: Monks' robes are not just plain red but vary in many shades of red, ranging from maroon to a vibrant crimson, including yellow and orange. right: This patchwork shawl (choego namjar) has a special pattern that is called 'rice paddy pattern'.


and altar rooms, and for conducting rituals and ceremonies; they are also used in the form of clothing. In addition to the dance costumes that were described above, it is primarily the dress of the Buddhist monks and nuns that contributes to the distinctive image of Bhutan’s sacred world. ROBES OF MONKS AND NUNS The garments that are worn by Bhutanese monks of the Drukpa Kagyu School are basically the same robes that are worn throughout the Buddhist Himalayan region, with some discreet differences. The dress code for Drukpa Kagyu monks in Bhutan was laid down by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, who had introduced a few modifications to distinguish the Bhutanese Drukpa Kagyu School from its Tibetan counterpart.85 In this context, Myers and Pommaret point to the symbolic meaning of the monks’ robes: ‘In the culture of Buddhism, monks’ cloths have symbolic meaning: inner garments represent the secret teachings and their realization, and outer garments, the discipline of monkhood and religious practice. In each of the Mahayana Buddhist schools, monk’s apparel features slightly different ways of folding the essential garments and includes other particular elements as well. Bhutanese Drukpa Kagyü monks wear seven garments, three of which correspond to the essential garments of classical texts, the chögo namsum (“three types of religious garments”). These three sacred textiles are worn folded or draped and always should be with a monk at night.’ 86 These three tex-

tiles include an orange patchwork shawl (choego namjar) for ceremonial occasions and teachings, a maroon patchwork shawl or shoulder cloth (zen) for everyday wear, and a tubular, maroon lower garment (shamtha) which is worn folded into a long skirt, and is also made of patched cloth. The patchwork technique that is used in the monks’ clothing is part of a tradition going back to the time of the historical Buddha. It is said that the first wandering Buddhist monks used to sew their robes by hand, using patches from rags, as a testimony to their oath of poverty, as did many mendicant holy men in India at the time. Today, it’s still a symbol of their non-status and evidence that they no longer participate in the material aspects of society. However, the cloth for their robes is usually donated or purchased. The patchwork shawl (choego namjar) features a special pattern that is called ‘rice paddy pattern’. According to the vinaya pitaka, the ‘Basket of Discipline’, Buddha Shakyamuni was asked to create a distinctive robe for his disciples. Because he was walking alongside a rice field when he thought about it, he asked his cousin and chief attendant Ananda to stitch a robe in the pattern of a rice field. Ananda sewed a rectangular shawl made of panels of cloth representing rice fields into a pattern separated by narrower strips to represent paths between the fields. Since then, the pattern, consisting of several vertical sections, always in an odd number, has been repeated on monks’ robes in most Buddhist Schools. The shoulder cloth (zen) is also connected to Siddhartha Gautama, who wore a similar cloth as he sat under a Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya and at-

tained enlightenment (Skt. bodhi). In fact, the colour of the shoulder cloth is not just plain red but varies in many shades of red, ranging from maroon to a vibrant crimson. Red and maroon shawls are worn by ordinary, ordained monks; orange is reserved for the senior monks in the Drukpa Kagyu hierarchy, the four masters (lopen), and yellow for the Je Khenpo. It is a large rectangular cloth that can be wrapped to cover both shoulders, but most often it is wrapped to cover the left shoulder and leave the right shoulder and arm bare. The right bare arm symbolises non-grasping after material things and is a sign of willingness to give a helping hand whenever it is needed. Depending on their rank, the Drukpa Kagyu monks wear different kinds of maroon vests with cap sleeves. The neck opening is fitted with a little upright collar, and they have a thin red stiff cloth piping around the edge of the armholes. In the past, these shoulder trims were blue but in 1988 the former Je Khenpo stipulated that a red colour was to be used instead. The former blue piping is associated with a story that is closely connected to King Langdarma, to whom is attributed opposition to Buddhism and the assassination of his younger brother Ralpachen, the king who had helped to disseminate Buddhism in Tibet. In Tibet, it is told that, in the 9th century, after King Langdarma almost annihilated Buddhism, three monks were able to escape to Amdo near the Chinese border, where they wished to maintain the practice of Buddhist ordination. However, to be fully ordained, they had to be five monks, and therefore they invited two Chinese monks to help them revive the Buddhist practice.

At that time, the Chinese monk’s garments also included blue. The Tibetan monks adopted the blue colour in the piping of their vests in order to remind them of the Chinese monks’ help. Sometimes these vests also feature silk brocade inserts at the shoulder and the front part. Furthermore, the monks’ vests have an interesting detail that Myers and Pommaret describe as follows: ‘Under the arms, a piece of felt or wool cut in a sawtoothed shape (chabsham, “something that waves or dances”) may be attached. […] The piping is said by some Bhutanese to represent a monk’s vows, and the five saw-teeth, the volumes of major teachings that a monk must master.’ 87 The materials that are used to make the monks’ clothing are traditionally cotton and woollen fabrics; high-ranking monks used to wear silk as well. Red had become the traditional colour for monkish robes, mainly because it was the most common dye. Although Bhutanese weavers used to weave dark red fabrics for the monks, the clergy seem to prefer woollen fabrics from Tibet (shema, therma) and wild silk (bura) from Assam.88 It is still the custom today, when a young novice enters a monastery, for his parents to fit him out with two sets of clothes, and to replace them over time.89 The monks’ contemporary footwear consists mostly of sandals, sneakers and other western shoes; according to climate, availability and comfort. Only the higher spiritual masters wear tshoglham made of leather and silk damask for special occasions, which then have to be orange or red. For everyday purposes, they too prefer modern, comfortable footwear. Within the temples, shoes are not worn on principle. Western

left: The simplicity of the monks' robes also symbolises the vow to lead a simple life that the wearer has taken. right: This monk's vest features thin blue piping around the armholes, and chabsam ('something that waves or dances') under the arms (National Museum Paro, Photo by Erich Lessing).


left: A gomchen (on the left ) and a young novice (on the right ) are attending an annual festival. right, clockwise from top: A hat from the Nyingma School and from the Drukpa Kagyu School; the blue cloth hat is worn by the Je Khenpo on certain ceremonial occasions such as processions (Photos by Erich Lessing).


influences are not only visible in their footwear, but also in their upper garments. Young monks in particular can often be seen wearing western clothes, such as pullovers, t-shirts, hoodies and down jackets (all in red) in combination with their monks’ robes. Most noticeable are the new accessories that the younger generation of monks nearly all seem to possess; watches and mobiles. Even in the most remote regions, where mobile networks have not yet been set up. On special ceremonial occasions the monks of the Drukpa Kagyu and the Nyingma School wear their distinctive hats. The red ceremonial hat of the Drukpa Kagyu clergy is called a gampopa or gomsha hat. The design is believed to go back to the great Kagyu Master Gampopa, the most important disciple of Milarepa, who fashioned this hat in the shape of a rock-face in the hills in the Dakpo region of Southeastern Tibet. Therefore it is also referred to as a Dakpo hat. The shape of the present day red Drukpa Kagyu hat, though, has slight variations such as pointed peak or cone in the centre. A soft blue cap outlined with a red border was worn by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the past; today it’s still worn by the Je Khenpo

on certain auspicious occasions such as processions. This blue cap is known as trendrel yuzha, or ‘auspicious hat’. The pointed red hat of the Nyingma School is modelled on Guru Rinpoche’s lotus cap. This lotus-style hat is basically similar to the pandit hat but without the latter’s lappets. The sides, which are turned up, are decorated with multi-coloured brocades. The clothing of lay monks is not distinguished from the dress of other lay people in the community, apart from their red shoulder cloths, which are worn for ceremonial occasions. Notwithstanding this, they are still expected to dress modestly and to behave according to Buddhist principles. Nuns also have their own garments, which consist of a maroon or deep-purple dress in the Tibetan style (bhokku, boego), a rectangular maroon cloth (jabte), a red blouse (wonju) or a sweater or pullover, worn beneath the dress, with a maroon jacket (tego) on top. The fabrics are mostly cottons and woollens, but for the last few years, polyester garments have been included. Although nuns used to go around barefoot, nowadays they mostly wear sandals or flat western shoes.90

Notes 1 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.28. 2 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.187. 3 Ibid., p.187. 4 Ison, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.130. 5 Ibid., p.130. 6 Ibid., p.130. 7 Ibid., p.130. 8 Tarayana Foundation Annual Progress Report 2006 – 2007, p.12. 9 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.190. 10 Ibid., p.213. 11 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.28; Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.188. 12 Ibid., p.190. 13 Ibid., p.188. 14 Ibid., p.188f. 15 Ibid., p.189. 16 Ibid., p.192. 17 Ibid., p.193. 18 Sonam Tshering: Some information on vegetables dyes in Bhutan, in Tsenden – A general publication on forestry in Bhutan 2, Department of Forestry, Royal Government of Bhutan, no. 1 (Jan.), 1990, p.11 – 20; Sonam Tshering: Natural vegetable dyes; food, fruit species and mushrooms; Gums and waxes; and incense, in Non-wood forest products of Bhutan, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, RAP Publication, Bangkok 1996, p.95 – 114. 19 Bigler, Barbara: Traditional Dyeing Methods of Bhutan, Helvetas, Switzerland 2002. 20 Bigler 2002, p.33. 21 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 2004, p.193. 22 Ibid., p.68. 23 Ibid., p.24. 24 Sonam Tshering 1996, p.99. 25 Ibid., p.101. 26 In Europe, an indigo blue dye is obtained from Isatis tinctoria, woad. 27 Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck 2006, p.28. 28 Bigler 2002, p.56. 29 Ibid., p.57. 30 Ibid., p.30. 31 Sonam Tshering 1996, p.100. 32 Ibid., p.101. 33 Ibid., p.100. 34 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 2004, p.196. 35 Bigler 2002, p.53. 36 Ibid., p.51. 37 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 2004, p.214. 38 Ibid., p.196. 39 Ibid., p.197. 40 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 2004, p.56. 41 Ibid., p.56. 42 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 2004, p.199. 43 Ibid., p.171. 44 Ibid., p.171. 45 Aum Sena from Radi, 15th April 2007, interview. 46 Ibid.

47 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.172. 48 Ibid., p.128. 49 Ibid., p.171. 50 Ibid., p.180. 51 Ibid., p.183. 52 Ibid., p.172. 53 Aum Sena from Radi, 15th April 2007, interview. 54 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.175. 55 Ibid., p.184. 56 Ibid., p.184. 57 Ibid., p.118f. 58 Ibid., p.137. 59 Ibid., p.137. 60 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.161. 61 Ibid., p.161. 62 Ibid., p.161. 63 Ibid., p.161f. 64 Bhutan obtained horses from Tibet for many years, but this trade ceased abruptly following the occupation of Tibet. It was only after informal relations were established between Austria and Bhutan that horses started arriving in Bhutan again, namely 14 tough Haflingers from the Schweissgut stud in Tirol; they were suited to the mountain terrain and were crossed with the local stock. 65 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.164. 66 Ison, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.127. 67 Ibid., p.124. 68 Ibid., p.127. 69 Tshering Gyeltshen, in: kuensel online, 15.03.2002: http://www.; last accessed on 19.05.2013. 70 Ibid. 71 Tashi Dema, in: Kuensel, Bhutans National Newspaper, 27.10.2008. 72 Ison, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.124ff. 73 Ibid., p.125. 74 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.144. 75 Ibid., p.154. 76 Jackson, in: Ricard and Föllmi 2002, p.238. 77 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.155. 78 Jackson, in: Ricard and Föllmi 2002, p.238. 79 This interview with His Holiness Lhalung Thuksey Tulku, generally known as Thuksey Rinpoche, took place on 28th April 2007 inside his house in Bumthang; I recall His Holiness’s warm-hearted conversation and heartfelt hospitality with gratitude. 80 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.159. 81 Ibid., p.159. 82 Ibid., p.165f. 83 Beer 2003, p.3. 84 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.159. 85 Ibid., p.147. 86 Ibid., p.147f. 87 Ibid., p.148f. 88 Ibid., p.149. 89 Ibid., p.149. 90 Ibid., p.149. 287



opposite: Weavers of Bhutan enjoy freedom of artistic expression and a well-regarded position in society.

While men are honoured for their precision in adhering strictly to Buddhist iconography (left ), the women in the weaving sphere are admired for their individual creativity (right ).


As explained in the previous chapter, Bhutan’s textile art is divided along gender lines into weaving, which is done by women, and processing textiles, which is primarily done by men. At the same time, it was noted that men – in so far as they produce textiles for the sacred sphere – adhere strictly to Buddhist iconography, and are honoured for their exact observance of the rules and for their precision, whereas women are praised above all for individual creativity in the art of weaving. The weavers of Bhutan enjoy this freedom of artistic expression and a well-regarded position in society, since weaving has been established as an elevated art form in Bhutan, while also making an important contribution to the culture and economy of the country. Women all over Bhutan compete to produce the finest fabrics and develop new patterns and colour combinations. While there are still many traditional patterns that are being produced as before, at the same time there is no limit to their creativity; the old patterns can vary, while new ones are being created, inspired, among other things, by foreign designs, so the number of patterns is constantly growing. Talented weavers have a large repertoire of traditional motifs, designs and colour combinations. However, what singles them out as the best and most appreciated weavers is their creativity in designing new patterns and combinations of colours, and in setting new trends. Women who have a special feeling for design and colour often concentrate on this aspect and do very little weaving themselves. For instance, 53 year-old Karma is a Bhutanese woman from the weaving village of

Khoma in Lhuentse, who is considered an especially gifted weaver. However, Karma’s vision is fading and weaving strains her eyes, in spite of her glasses. So for the last few years she has concentrated mainly on designing patterns for the other women in the village to work on. Karma dresses the loom, weaves a small sample, and gives it to the other women in Khoma, who then weave the kira. This means that Karma only weaves enough to enable the other weavers to get going on their own. Remarkably, this design is not written down on a bit of paper, but created and kept inside her head. Karma also experiments a lot and, like many other pattern-makers and weavers, she is capable of designing extraordinarily complex sequences of patterns from memory. Talented pattern-makers enjoy a high standing among the weavers and when they have designed a particularly lovely pattern, it is often immediately reproduced by other weavers. Very often, a woman who is wearing an elegant kira will be asked by other weavers to lend it to them, so that they can copy the design. Previously, individual patterns were ascribed to particular regions, but nowadays the country has become more integrated, thanks to improvements to the road network and the ensuing mobility, which has led to a greater mingling of regional characteristics. Weavers in the most remote regions can now sell their wares in the towns, and get a look at the current fashions and trends when attending the annual sacred festivals. Patterns and colour combinations are copied, altered, and used as an inexhaustible source of inspiration for new creations.

This diversity of patterns among Bhutanese weavers is reflected in local stories, as in this tale, which comes from Trashigang in Eastern Bhutan: ‘Long ago, a woman named Böm Karma came to Bhutan as a bride. Her home was the village of Tsena in Tibet. She was married to the king of Tashigang, who lived in the fortress that used to be here long before the present one was built [in the late 1600s]. First she taught the women to weave simple designs in wool. Then she taught them how to make yarn from a “cotton tree” that grows around here. The people planted seeds from this tree and cotton crops resulted. Because the yarn made from cotton was finer than wool yarn, every year the people made different patterns. These became complicated, and spread from one village to another, and that is why there are now different designs in every village.’ 1 The patterns that are woven by Bhutanese women reflect the diversity of Bhutan’s landscape, by presenting its mountains, valleys, and rivers, and its rich flora in a simplified style. At the same time, they are also characterised by the country’s Buddhist and pre-Buddhist traditions, and refer to religious objects and symbols, which are reproduced in stylised form. These include the diamond sceptre (dorje), which has many variations,

particularly in its cross form (dorje jadam / vishvavajra), ritual dough figures and offerings (torma), the Wheel of Law (khorlo), the lotus flower (pema), the tree of life (shinglo) and the swastika (yurung). The latter appears on Bhutanese textiles as an auspicious symbol, regardless of which way it is turning. A left-turning or counter clockwise swastika is a striking Bon symbol, while the right-turning or clockwise-rotating swastika is more typical of Buddhist and Hindu symbols. According to Beer, the swastika in Vajrayana Buddhism symbolises the element of earth and the indestructible stability that is associated with it.2 Nowadays, though, Bhutanese weavers are not aware of a deeper, religious significance for the left or right-turning swastika, and simply use it as directed by a particular pattern. Another favourite pattern is the endless or eternal knot (peyab), which represents one of the eight auspicious symbols, and the idea that one’s deeds are interlinked with the universe. It is also regarded as an important family symbol. According to Rinzin Wangmo, although the knot represents eternity in general terms, for many women it is primarily a symbol for close family ties.3 Other motifs that can be identified, especially on the wild silk jackets that are worn by

clockwise from left: A favourite pattern is the endless or eternal knot (peyab), which represents one of the eight auspicious symbols; the three central patterns show crossed diamond sceptres (dorje jadam); the three central patterns are called phenphenma and resemble butterflies; the swastika (yurung) appears on Bhutanese textiles as an auspicious symbol, regardless of which way it is turning.



the Brokpa women of Merak and Sakteng, include animals such as elephants, horses, birds and butterflies, along with a few human figures in combination with animals (such as a rider on a horse). Otherwise, animal and human figures can be seen only on older tunics (kushung). Although many women know the names of traditional and established patterns, the names of the new patterns can vary considerably, depending on the region that the weaver belongs to and what she personally sees in that particular motif. Myers claims that three motifs are particularly significant: the swastika (yurung), the eternal knot (peyab / drame) and a patchwork-like pattern (tenkheb / phub), which is said to bestow longevity. She describes the latter as follows: ‘The center panel of a raincloak traditionally features an auspicious diamond. The diamond is made up of colored triangles or squares, a pattern known as tenkheb (“cover for religious offerings”) or thrikheb (“throne cover”), which is also seen on silk patchwork textiles for ritual use and painted on the fronts of altars in monasteries. Rendered in fabric or in the border patterning of kushüthara (where it is called phup), this patchwork is believed to bring long life to the wearer or user of the textile. Weavers from Kurtö say that a woman desiring safe delivery of a healthy child often invokes this blessing by stitching a patchwork of old scraps, thus giving them new life, or by incorporating the design into a fabric she is weaving.’ 4 A few senior Bhutanese women have asserted that the swastika (yurung), the eternal knot (peyab / drame) and the patchwork-like pattern (tenkheb / phub), were the three commonest motifs for women’s garments in earlier times.5 In fact, there are so many patterns for Bhutanese textiles that they simply cannot all be itemised in this work. However, David Keith Barker’s book Designs of Bhutan (1985) provides a detailed overview of Bhutanese designs and is warmly recommended for further research.6 For their part, Bhutanese men are generally excluded from the work of weaving – right down to spinning yarns, which is undertaken by men in Laya, for instance –, but not from working with textiles. As described in the foregoing chapter, they work with many different kinds of textiles. On the one hand, they sew garments for the secular sphere, and on the other they sew, embroider and appliqué costumes for cham dances, and textiles for furnishing rooms inside fortress-monasteries, monasteries and temples, and for the living quarters of elite members of the clergy and laity. Similarly, boot-making is also a male preserve. Whereas, with the exception of the cham costumes, tailoring is regarded as a very simple art form, embroidery and appliqué work in the sacred sphere are regarded as considerably higher art forms. Embroidered and appliquéd textiles are primarily fabricated in places that are under the

control of men (Bhutan currently has as few as 28 convents and around 1,000 nuns); their use is reserved for the high-ranking clergy, the King, and male members of the nobility. While secular garments are tailored by secular men, sacred textiles are produced by monks and lay monks. This means that the monasteries are not simply places for contemplation and study; they are also places where art is produced. Normally, the young monks are allowed to choose the type of craft they want to be taught. Consequently, they are free to decide whether to take the path of a cham dancer, to learn how to paint, or how to produce textiles. Should a young novice opt for textile processing, he is assigned to the Master of tailoring (tshempön) as an assistant, and will learn tailoring, embroidery and appliqué work from him. It is worth observing that the textiles the monks work with have always been pre-made, and are also predominantly imported wares. The textiles of the monks are not produced ad lib, but, as with Bhutan’s sacred fine arts – they follow firmly established rules. The norms that apply to sacred textiles in Bhutan are basically the same as those that apply in Tibet and all the other Buddhist countries, since ties with Tibet have traditionally been very close; Bhutan was strongly influenced by the transfer of Tibetan cultural content until the 17 th century, which was conveyed to Bhutan by the activities of Tibetan clergy, among others. Consequently, similar types of sacred textiles can be found in Tibet and Bhutan. However, there are some natural differences, arising from the fact that Bhutan promoted its own religion and cultural independence from the 17th century onwards. With the advent of the Shabdrung, who arrived in Bhutan as a refugee, the relationship between Bhutan and Tibet altered because the Shabdrung – as the self-proclaimed legitimate incarnation – had appropriated the most sacred statue of Ralung monastery, an action that clearly angered the Tibetan clergy and led to several military interventions. After the Bhutanese had victoriously repelled all these attempts at invasion, the incidence of cultural exchanges with Tibet was reduced. From that time on, a process began within Bhutan that led to the development of its own artistic and cultural forms, which influenced all those engaged in the arts. However, regardless of whether they were in Tibet or Bhutan, the identity and characteristics of the artists who were involved in creating sacred textiles seem always to have been assigned a subordinate place. The precise reproduction of the deities that are represented on an appliquéd thangka, along with their gestures, attributes, colours, shapes and proportions, are considered much more important than the expression of individual creativity. In this sense, the textile art of the Bhutanese monks and lay monks has to be subordinated to the tradition-

opposite, clockwise from top left: On the white ground, this kira features a row of tree of life motifs (shinglo). The panel below shows diamond shaped motifs with different edgings. The edgings on the left triangle motifs are known as sunrays, the one on the right resemble flies' wings (top left); The border patterning of this kira features a design of multi-coloured triangles (called tenkheb or phub) which resemble patchwork designs that cover Bhutanese altars, and a meander border made of swastika symbols (top right ); the central vertical row of this kira displays different shinglo motifs resembling a tree with little variations such as in the number of branches, or the arrangement of leaves and blossoms. It symbolises long life. This pattern is very difficult to design and is mostly to be found on elaborate men's garments (lower right ); this kira presents a diamond shaped motif in the centre that resembles the image of numerous pigeon eyes and is therefore called birds' eyes (jagi mikto) or pigeons' eyes (phutu mik). It is presented with a row of crossed thunderbolts (dorje jadam) above and a row of different kinds of flowers (metho) below (lower left).


above: Animals along with a few human figures, such as a rider on a horse (left ), can be seen on the wild silk jackets that are worn by the Brokpa women of Merak and Sakteng (right ). opposite: Bhutan was strongly influenced by the transfer of Tibetan cultural content. Consequently, similar types of sacred textiles can be found in Tibet and Bhutan. However, with the advent of the Shabdrung, Bhutan promoted its own religion and cultural independence from the 17 th century onwards (Photo by Erich Lessing).


al production of Buddhist sacred art. Unlike western art, this art is not produced for its own sake, but for didactic purposes. Buddhist art is primarily made for religious purposes, by providing a visual representation of the highest ideals and revelations of Buddhist teachings. Essentially, it is regarded as an important tool on the spiritual path, and consequently its main function is to aid visualisation and meditation. Great demands with regard to motivation and a virtuous life are made on the artists. During the creative process, they are not acting as individuals, but in the service of Buddhism. Their art is produced, not from egotistical motives, but from their boundless sense of compassion, and their inner desire to guide all beings on the path of enlightenment and to achieve perfect enlightenment, so that all living creatures may benefit. Ricard goes on to explain that: ‘IN THE WEST, we usually understand creativity to be the expression of the impulses that arise from personal subjective experience. For the contemplative this approach is not necessarily creative in its fullest sense because that subjective experience itself is limited by basic ignorance. […] From a spiritual point of view, true creativity means breaking out of the sheath of egocentricity and becoming a new person, or, more precisely, casting off the veils of ignorance to discover the ultimate nature of mind and phenomena. […] In fact, sacred art is an element of the spiritual path. It takes courage to practice it, because its goal is to destroy the attachment to the ego.’ 7 Before a monk can begin a sacred work of art, Ricard goes on to say, he starts by seeking refuge in the precious Triple Gem (Buddha, the ideal of enlightenment; dharma, his teaching; and sangha, the community of his followers), and devotes a period in the early morning to meditation

and prayer. The artist must practise ‘pure vision’, which means visualising himself in the painted, or in this case, embroidered and appliquéd form of the deity. That is because the deities represented there are an expression of the transcendental wisdom, the compassion and altruistic dealings, in other words, the different qualities of the Buddhanature. By becoming one with the deity, the artist is able to transcend his perception of his own identity. In his workshop, he should visualise ‘the pure country of this deity’ and he should regard his tools as the attributes that the deity is holding in his hands. All the time he is working, the artist is reciting the mantra of the deity in question, and at the end of each session, he dedicates the merits that he has acquired to the good of all sentient beings. In this way, his art becomes an integral component of his spiritual practice.8 Khenpo Phuntsok Tashi adds that: ‘In the Buddhist arts, there is a common thread that runs through each discipline: compassionate aspiration for the enlightenment of all sentient beings. […] The art both represents and embodies Buddha nature. This embodiment offers all beings a chance to recognize their own inner Buddha.’ 9 When it is completed, each sacred work of art must be consecrated. According to Mynak Tulku, it can even bring misfortune to leave a completed work unblessed for a long time.10 At the same time, only those works of art will be blessed that meet the requirements of religious texts. If the artist has committed a formal error, his work will not be consecrated; it is just a painted piece of cloth. For their part, consecrated Buddhist works of art are handled with great respect and are regarded as objects of veneration. However, it is not the object itself that is venerated, but the spiritual essence that invests it; the essence that is latent in


every living being. Given that the content, composition, proportions and colours are strictly regulated by the texts, and must be meticulously observed, it might be supposed that the monks’ sacred art is chained immutably to the past, without changes or developments. However, Ricard claims that this is not the case, and that in his opinion, the spiritual teachers enrich these strict rules by introducing new elements, which arise from their meditations and their visions, and which are passed on to their pupils.11 Bhutanese people hope to acquire great spiritual merit by commissioning a sacred work of art, and thereby ensure future prosperity and happiness. In order to overcome physical and spiritual illnesses and establish the conditions for a long life, adherents of Buddhism frequently dedicate a religious work of art. Generally, the represented deity is directly implicated in the desired results. In addition to the consecration ceremony, a de-consecration or transformation ceremony is held, when an object needs to be restored. This involves transferring the wisdom beings that previously invested the object to a mirror that is then wrapped in a red cloth, and ritually sealed. After the work of restoration, they are transferred back from the mirror to the repaired and blessed object.12 As set out above, Bhutanese people nourish and cherish close relationships with the countless local deities of the ancient Bon tradition and the deities of Buddhism, and worship at the same time unnumbered historical and holy figures. The Pantheon of Vajrayana Buddhism, which the artists of sacred art works refer to, is so huge and complex that any attempt at providing a detailed exposition would lie well beyond the scope of this book. However, we can get a glimpse of the monks’ work with textiles, the associated iconographical instructions that they have to adhere to, and the immense significance of these types of textiles for their spiritual practice, by taking a closer look at a thongdroel: As mentioned in the previous chapter, these large thongdroel, which are more than 20 x 30 m in size, are unrolled only once a year, on the occasion of a sacred festival, and are presented solemnly by being hung on the wall of the monastery or temple. It is said that believers who view it with devotion are freed of all their sins, and liberated from all future reincarnations. Large scroll paintings of this kind are not seen at every sacred festivity, but the most important dzong and many of the larger monasteries and temples own thongdroel, which are usually displayed on the last day of the festival. According to Dasho Lam Sanga, the first large thongdroel in Bhutan – which is nowadays kept in the Tashichhodzong in Thimphu – was made more than 300 years ago. The following legend is associated with it: ‘An important lama, the reincarnation of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel’s 296

son, had a dream one night in which Pelden Lhamo urged him to make a thangka of this kind. The next morning, he began cutting silk into pieces, but he was confused because he had no pattern for such a large image. That night he had a second dream that a bee would help him. The following morning, the bee appeared and buzzed over the silk cloth, showing him the shape of the pieces to cut, and this is how thongdröl came to be made in Bhutan.’ 13 One of these masterpieces of sacred Buddhist art is the thongdroel of Trongsa. It is dedicated to Guru Rinpoche and is an exact replica of the established iconographical models, as expected. Accordingly, it shows the large seated figure of Guru Rinpoche in the centre, represented with a moustache and a small chin beard, and his characteristic penetrating gaze and ‘grim smile’, a combination of a smiling mouth and frowning eyebrows. This makes him look rather wild, and is intended to convey his resolve in the battle against the enemies of Buddhism. According to Schicklgruber, his benevolent smile and the furrow between his eyebrows combine the two aspects of benevolence and wrath, which are among the methods used in tantric Buddhism to convert all living beings to the Buddhist doctrine.14 Guru Rinpoche’s wideopen eyes which are directed at the empty space in front of him proclaim, according to Ricard, that he is unceasingly aware of the absolute nature.15 On his head Guru Rinpoche wears a lotus hat with upturned lappets. These five petals symbolise the five Buddha families: Buddha, Vajra, Ratna, Padma and Karma.16 This special hat is known as ugyen pesha; it is decorated with sun and moon emblems, which are tantric symbols of polarity and represent the perfect union of female and male principles, or wisdom and skilful means. The hat is surmounted by a half diamond sceptre (dorje) and a feather that stands for far-reaching insight, the highest view of the great perfection, or dzogchen, and the lofty heights attained by his spirit.17 Depending on the academic source, different kinds of feathers are mentioned, from a peacock’s feather to a vulture’s, to an eagle’s. Beneath the hat, his long dark locks fall to below his shoulders. In his right hand he holds a five-pointed diamond sceptre (dorje), which serves as an instrument against inner and outer obstacles on the path to enlightenment and symbolises the transmutation of the five poisons into five wisdoms.18 In his left hand rests a skull bowl (kapala), which can be viewed as a symbol of cleansing from egocentricity and egoism, and as an expression of his tantric powers. Ricard claims that it is filled with nectar and topped by a vase of immortality; this is to illustrate the way his insight and wisdom extend beyond birth and death.19 Furthermore, Guru Rinpoche is holding a trident or tantric staff (khatvanga) in the angle of his left arm, decorated at its

upper end with three decapitated heads in various states of advanced decomposition: a freshly served head, a decaying head, and a dry skull. These three skulls represent the overthrow of the three spiritual poisons, ignorance, attachment and aversion, which keep people entrapped in the painful cycle of rebirth. According to Schicklgruber, these three heads also refer to Guru Rinpoche’s dominion over the three eras and his manifestations on three levels of existence.20 The tip of the khatvanga symbolises the empty nature of all things. Guru Rinpoche’s clothes refer to his royal origins and consist of a patterned robe with a red, patterned, cloak. He also wears a four-sided cloud-collar (dorjigong), which is an important feature of many dance costumes. His large earrings are very prominent, and his ear lobes have been extended by their weight. Extended earlobes can be seen in every depiction of Buddha; they are also a reference to royal or noble origins. Guru Rinpoche is also surrounded by a rainbow coloured halo; this may refer to his lack of a physical body of flesh, bones and blood. Instead, his body is fashioned from light, as clear and translucent as a rainbow,

and free from all materiality like the reflection of the moon in water.21 Guru Rinpoche is flanked by his two tantric consorts, the Indian princess Mandarava of Zahor on his left and the Tibetan princess Yeshe Tshogyal of Kharchen on his right. Both of them are dressed in noble garments, consisting of a skirt, a long shawl that hangs from their shoulders, forming decorative folds, and rich gold ornaments. Mandarava carries the vase of immortality as her attribute and Yeshe Tshogyal bears a skull bowl. On the upper row are seated four figures: Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, Buddha Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara and an unidentified cleric of the Drukpa-Kagyu School, who might be the 4th Druk Desi Tenzin Rabgye. Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, one of the most important historical personages in the history of Bhutan, is shown on the upper left. Most Bhutanese scroll paintings are obliged to include his portrait; his long beard makes him relatively easy to identify. He also wears the distinctive ceremonial hat of the Drukpa-Kagyu School (gomsha) and a red cloak. One prominent feature is that he is not wearing any other clothes beneath his robe,

The thongdroel of Trongsa is a delicate artwork that is dedicated to Guru Rinpoche, who is depicted in his eight manifestations along with his two consorts and some other figures.


above left: Guru Rinpoche is shown seated in the centre, represented with a moustache and a small chin beard, and his characteristic penetrating gaze and 'grim smile'. above right: Guru Rinpoche in his wrathful manifestation Dorje Droloe is riding upon a tigress to taktshang monastery in Paro in order to bring the local deities under his control. opposite: Every year on the final day of the Trongsa tshechu, the thongdroel of Trongsa is unfurled and displayed in the main courtyard of the dzong.


apart from the red meditating belt of the Kagyu School (gomthag), which is draped over his right shoulder. He is seated in the lotus position (padmasana) with his right hand in the earth witness mudra (bhumisparsa) while his left hand rests on his lap, holding the vase of longevity (tshebum). On his right is an image of Buddha Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light. As his name indicates, his rays are supposed to be so strong that they penetrate into every sphere. As one of the five Dhyani Buddhas, he belongs to the Lotus family and is assigned to the west and the colour red. Hence Amitabha is depicted with a shining red body. His Buddha representation is easy to identify thanks to a few typical features. The auspicious mark on his forehead, a stylised curl of hair (Skt., urnakesha) is a sign of his enlightenment. Similarly, the crown-protrusion on top of his head (Skt., ushnisha), stands for his attainment of the highest truth. His long, extended ear lobes point to his royal or noble origins, since even Buddha wore heavy earrings when he was a prince. He is dressed in a simple wrap, made of two lengths of cloth. One length is wound around his hips, and the other covers his shoulders. Buddha Amitabha’s hands are holding a begging bowl. Furthermore, his body and lowered eyes re-

veal his deep contemplation. Seated in the lotus position, he is meditating on a lotus flower. Since this plant is rooted in muddy water but its leaves and flowers are raised high above the water, the lotus flower has become a symbol of purity and deliverance. Likewise, it stands as a reminder that, just as the lotus buds rise out of the mud and unfurl their petals in the light, so too, as Buddhist tradition tells us, the spirit that is born within the human body reveals its true properties after it has raised itself above the mud of ignorance and passion. On the other side of Guru Rinpoche, an important Bodhisattva stands in the front row: Avalokiteshvara (Skt.) or Chenrezig (Tib.), the Bodhisattva of Compassion. As mentioned above, a Bodhisattva (Skt. ‘enlightened being’) is a being that has attained the highest knowledge and is striving towards Buddhahood, but who has renounced entry into nirvana out of compassion for all other sentient beings, and to benefit them until they have all attained enlightenment. Accordingly, a Bodhisattva represents the spiritual Ideal of Mahayana-Buddhism. Avalokiteshvara is depicted as a four-armed, anthropomorphic, and graceful white figure wearing noble garments that are reminiscent of Indian princes’ clothes. They consist of an elaborately decorated wrap-around skirt,


a long shawl that falls decoratively from his shoulders, and various golden jewelled ornaments. Avalokiteshvara, who also personifies the holy mantra ‘Om mani padme hum’, is shown with several attributes on his four arms. In his upper pair of hands he is holding a lotus flower as a symbol of purity, and prayer beads as a symbol of deliverance. His two lower hands are clasped around the wish-fulfilling jewel (cintamani / yeedzin norbu) to represent striving for enlightenment. On the Bodhisattva’s head, above a five-leaf crown, is a small red head of Buddha Amitabha, to indicate that Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is a member of his family. Guru Rinpoche is also surrounded by his eight manifestations: in the second row, from left to right, are Loden Choktse with his two attributes, a double-sided drum, whose beat represents the dissemination of Buddhist teachings, and a jewelled bowl as a symbol of his compassion for all sentient beings; Tsokye Dorje with his blue skin and in union with his tantric consort; goldcoloured Shakya Senge, with a begging bowl and his earth witness gesture, and Padmasambhava with the pointed red hat that marks out the Indian pandit, holding a bowl in his right hand. The next row features yellow Nyima Özer wearing a tigerskin apron and holding a khatvanga staff with spiked skulls. The little sun beside him also points to his ability to halt the sun in its course. On the other side, the Lotus king Pema Gyalpo is depicted with a double-sided drum in his raised right hand and a mirror in his left, to signify emptiness and pure consciousness. In the bottom row, the two wrathful manifestations of Guru Rinpoche can be discerned; Senge Dradrok on the left is shown in the warrior pose (pratyalidhasana), and with a dorje in his right hand, and Dorje Droloe is riding upon a tigress on the right. Senge Dradrok appears blue-skinned, powerful, and corpulent; he is dressed simply in a tigerskin, surrounded by flames. Dorje Droloe is equally well built, and surrounded by aureoles of flames. He is shown with a dorje in his right hand and a phurba in his left. There is another interesting detail here, in that Dorje Droloe is depicted wearing Bhutanese boots, or tshoglham. This may possibly indicate that he came to Paro in Western Bhutan in this manifestation, to liberate the people living there from the tyranny of the hostile local deity Sengye Samdrub. The Tiger’s nest monastery (taktshang) was built on the site of his actions. The tigress on which he is riding represents his consort, who, according to Bhutanese legend, assumed the form of a tiger to enable Guru Rinpoche to fly on her back to that place. Beneath the central figure of Guru Rinpoche another figure emerges with three heads. It is the winged Heruka, with his blue body, three faces and six arms, embracing his consort Vajravarahi, who is represented as green-skinned. 300

Their divine embrace symbolises the unification of great bliss and emptiness, which are in their essence one and the same. Beneath the feet of the wrathful deity lie the trampled enemies of Buddhism. Gregor Verhufen has also described the clouds, which are light pink in colour, as a typical feature of Bhutanese art, emphasizing that this is not the usual way they are depicted in Tibet, for instance. The floral patterns are, in his opinion, based on the rhododendron (etho metho), which flourishes in Bhutan.22 Finally, a smaller image of a cleric is visible on the lower right side of the banner; this figure might be the Je Khenpo or Desi who sponsored the thongdroel. The thongdroel of Trongsa is uncovered and displayed every year on the third and last day of the Trongsa tshechu to mark the high point of this sacred festival. Thus, on 1st January 2007, as dawn was breaking, the monks carried the scroll painting into the inner courtyard of the Trongsa dzong in order to put it on public display at around 7.30 am, against the three storey high monastery wall. Around twenty monks and government officials from Trongsa dzong clustered on the stone slabs in the courtyard, in a tightly packed row in front of the rolled up thongdroel, and gradually unrolled it, all at the same time, while other monks took up positions along the gallery on the third floor and pulled it up on ropes, and tied it to the balustrade. Gradually, the silken scroll painting of Rinpoche in all his glory was revealed. After it had been carefully hung, the monks set up an altar in front of Guru Rinpoche, featuring an altar covering, ritual dough figures (torma) and various sacrificial bowls and offerings. To this was added a low altar table with one hundred and ninety butter lamps, which were lit by the monks, the dzong office workers, high-ranking officials and guests of honour. Then the Lam Neten entered the inner courtyard with his retinue of monks and began the great shugdel ceremony, with its offerings, and its purification and dedication rites. Together with the monks and office bearers, he prostrated himself in front of the thongdroel, and then he sat down on a throne that had been installed opposite the portrait of Guru Rinpoche. In front of his elevated seat stood low tables, laid with the required ritual objects, with five thangka and a yellow silk mentsi wall hanging behind, to demarcate the ritual space. Dignitaries presented a white khada to Guru Rinpoche and sat down beside the Lam Neten. Lamas, monks and dancers sat in long rows on red carpets, which had been spread out over the stone slabs in the courtyard. Accompanied by a dull roll from the great drums (nga) and the sounds of the other sacred musical instruments, the Lam Neten and his retinue of monks recited the prayers. Toward the end of this morning ceremony, the thongdroel was

symbolically cleaned and blessed. This involved a monk holding a mirror in front of the portrait of Guru Rinpoche, so as to obtain a reflection. The mirror was then sprinkled with holy water, and the scroll painting thus symbolically cleansed. Believers were praying in front of the thongdroel, since, as mentioned above, it is considered especially meritorious to see, and even touch the scroll

painting. When it was finally let down and rolled up again, older people could be heard praying that they would be granted another view of the thongdroel in the following year. Finally, a group of monks carried it back into the inner part of the dzong, where it would remain for another year, until the next tshechu.

Notes 1 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.83. 2 Beer 2003, p.98. 3 Rinzin Wangmo from Jakar, 26th April 2007, interview. 4 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.139. 5 Ibid., p.178. 6 Barker, David K.: Designs of Bhutan, White Lotus Co., Bangkok 1985. 7 Ricard 2003, p.32. 8 Ricard, in: Ricard and Föllmi 2002, p.242. 9 Khenpo Phuntsok Tashi, in: Bartholomew and Johnston 2008, p.41. 10 Mynak Tulku, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.146. 11 Ricard, in: Ricard and Föllmi 2002, p.242.

During the Shugdel ceremony the thongdroel is symbolically cleaned and blessed.

12 Mynak Tulku, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.146. 13 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.155f. 14 Schicklgruber 2009, p.145. 15 Ricard 2003, p.42. 16 Ibid., p.42f. 17 Ricard 2003, p.44.; Schicklgruber 2009, p.145. 18 Ricard 2003, p.42. 19 Ibid., p.42. 20 Schicklgruber 2009, p.145. 21 Ricard 2003, p.44. 22 Verhufen, in: Thunlam Newsletter 1 / 2010, p.8. 301



opposite: There are numerous mystical beliefs that relate to dyeing yarns which, to some extent, still influence the dyeing process.

left: To ensure a successful result, the entire dyeing process should generally occur in a separate and quiet place; right: The weaver's workplace is 'honoured in admonitions not to step over a backstrap loom,' or the wooden implement used to beat down the weft. If this happens, the offender will incur various consequences.


Some individual textiles and working processes within the production of textiles are also connected to a number of notions and customs, which are derived from mysticism. For instance, during the production of textiles – especially the dyeing and weaving – specific precautions have to be taken to avoid drawing negative energies down on the individual and his or her fellow beings, and to make sure that their work is successful. A few textiles, particularly those for men, are also strongly associated with mystical notions. MYSTICAL BELIEFS RELATING TO THE DYEING PROCESS There are numerous mystical beliefs that relate to dyeing yarns, which have been passed down until the present day, and which to some extent still influence the dyeing process. For instance, dyeing should take place, whenever possible, in a quiet, undisturbed place. The entire dyeing process should generally occur in a separate place, because strangers might ‘steal’ the dye. Aum Leki Wangmo and her daughter Rinzin Wangmo are two talented weavers from Bumthang; they are aware of these traditional ideas and add that when an unknown visitor witnesses the dyeing process and maybe says something about how much she or he likes the colour, there’s a great danger that the dyeing process will not proceed in the best way, and the fabric may not take up the dye in a regular manner. For this reason, some of the dyers maintain the old custom of burning chilli and Indian or Sichuan pepper during the dyeing proc-

ess, to keep unsolicited visitors away with the acrid smoke.1 According to Aum Sena and her mother Pema Yuden, a pregnant woman should avoid dyeing yarns by herself or even being present during any dyeing process. This is because the child in the mother’s womb might ‘steal’ the dye and the yarn would not take the dye properly as a result. The baby, for its part, would turn blue.2 A similar taboo used to apply to menstruating women, as well. This type of concept and warning is based on the notion that the woman’s reproductive powers are manifested in the production of textiles. Pregnant and menstruating woman are consequently lacking in the ‘inner strength’ that is required for dyeing, nor should they overexert themselves at other productive activities. Myers goes on to say: ‘Taboos associated with dyeing and weaving reinforce the importance of women’s role in “giving birth” to colours and cloth.’ 3 However, it is not only pregnant and menstruating women whose presence is not desired during the dyeing process. Rinzin Rinzin, a Bhutanese man from the weaving village of Gonpakap has been familiar with this type of mystical attitude since his childhood, and adds that the number of men – especially monks – should be limited to the smallest number required for a successful dyeing process.4 PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES AND CUSTOMS CONNECTED TO WEAVING The weaving process is also partly based on mystical ideas. On the one hand, they are associated with precautionary measures to protect the woman

who is involved, and on the other hand, they are supposed to forestall interruptions to her work at the loom. The former includes the prohibition against allowing pregnant women from using the backstrap loom, as the belt might give their baby a narrow face.5 Pema Yuden claims that in her day, it was quite common for women in the last stages of pregnancy to force themselves into a backstrap loom. Furthermore, she recalls that women rested for just three days after giving birth to a child, and started weaving straightaway after that.6 With regard to the second factor, it is assumed that every disturbance to the work of weaving can have an unfortunate effect on the life and longevity of the weaver and her children. This has given rise to the custom whereby no piece of weaving is cut off after sundown. Rinzin Rinzin mentions that this is based on the belief that it might shorten the weaver’s life.7 Leki Wangmo asserts that women used to observe this rule very strictly, and cut their woven work off before sunset, sometimes even before 4 pm. If there was not enough time for this, the piece of weaving would be cut off the loom on the following morning. Her daughter Rinzin Wangmo commented, however, that the young women of today do not keep to this custom because their time is much too precious. If a weaver finishes her piece after sunset, it will be cut off straightaway, with no regard for the ancient customs, so that the rest of the evening can be devoted to the final procedures.8 Rinzin Rinzin is aware of another custom, whereby no new kira is started on a Friday, since it would otherwise take much more time than necessary.9 Leki Wangmo and Rinzin Wangmo further explain that when a

woman starts to weave a kira for herself, an auspicious date needs to be selected. This is done with the help of astrological calculations, according to the Tibetan and Bhutanese lunar calendar. As mentioned earlier in the chapter on Colours, Threads and Cloths in Ritual Contexts, there are auspicious days (la-za or so-za) and inauspicious days (shey-za) for starting something new. Determining whether a day is auspicious or not depends on the individual’s birth year, and the animal sign that a person was born under. Leki Wangmo was born in the year of the monkey, which means that the days of the monkey, the tiger and the rat are favourable for new beginnings. Rinzin Wangmo, for her part, was born in the year of the dragon, which means that the days of the dragon, the monkey and the rat are more suitable for her.10 These measures only apply to fabrics that are being woven for personal use. Commercial wares can be started on any day, regardless.11 There are some other notions that are linked to the weaving process; thus, Dechen Lhamo and her mother Karma from Khoma mention that when a weaver pulls the wooden beater, which is used to beat down the weft, out of the shed and strokes or touches a young girl with it, it means that the girl will marry an old man. Exactly the same applies the other way round: if a young man is struck by the wooden beater, he will marry an old woman.12 What’s more, the Bhutanese tell how a woman that steps over the warp threads on a loom will bear a dumb child. Rinzin Rinzin adds this variant: if a person steps over the warp threads, the weaver will take longer than usual to complete her piece, because she will have so many other tasks to do, and no time for weaving.13

Many Bhutanese 'acknowledge that they were taught not to walk on or step across a loom warp.'


A man's kera is held to have tutelary and occult properties.

Myers has also collected a number of popular notions: ‘The weaver’s workplace is honoured in admonitions not to step over a backstrap loom, its warp or the wooden implement used to beat down the weft. If one does, it is said that one will not marry, or will not have children, or will have a dumb child, or suffer other consequences to one’s own fertility.’ 14 ‘Many Bhutanese – especially men and women native to eastern and central Bhutan, but also people living in Thimphu – acknowledge that they were taught not to walk on or step across a loom warp. Some say this taboo relates to the universal habits of not stepping over or permitting the soles of one’s shoes to face another person, which would dishonor the “divine” within that person (or the gods that older Bhutanese believe live on every hair of the body). Other says that parts of the loom were made from special, high-altitude bamboo that was hard to get, so the wood itself was considered sacred.’ 15 She adds the following pair of aphorisms: ‘ “Never be impatient about finishing your weaving or other work, but do it in the time it takes”; and “Don’t let others do your work for you, or something bad may happen to you.” Both aphorisms reflect the message that weaving, like pregnancy and giving birth, is a delicate process, taking its own time, and must not be rushed. Women and cloth, weaving and giving birth, are inextricably connected.’ 16 This basic concept that the woman’s reproductive powers are manifested in her textiles is linked to the belief that when textiles are given away or sold, the owner’s luck will pass into that particular textile and leave the owner. This idea is well estab  


lished throughout the entire Asian area, and is not restricted to textiles. In Tibet, for instance, when a horse is sold, a few hairs will be snipped off its mane, and retained. For this reason, the custom of cutting a thread or even a tiny piece out of the fabric and retaining it is still practised today. Myers and Pommaret report that: ‘In the past, even when well-to-do families gave presents of their own clothing to their servants, the woman of the house always saved a snippet from the fringe or inside of the garment’.17 TEXTILES AS AN EXPRESSION OF A MYSTICAL AND RELIGIOUS WORLD VIEW Garments for men are also bound up with numerous mystical aspects, which are basically derived from the way masculinity is closely associated with the world of religion. The connection between kabne for men and the monks’ shawl (zen) has already been mentioned in the section Kabne – Ceremonial Shawls for Men. The textile that is most strongly associated with religious concepts is the men’s belt, which is considered to be a textile object that enjoys the personal blessing of Guru Rinpoche.18 A men’s kera appears to possess an extremely effective protective capacity and is sometimes considered to have almost magical powers. Its tutelary and occult properties are derived from the way a man’s belt can be compared with a sunkey, the blessed ribbons that are handed out by the lamas. According to Bhutanese legend, these bless-

ed ribbons have the power to deflect negative influences and grant a long life. Similar powers are attributed to a man’s belt; to make sure that these powers do not get lost, a men’s kera is never washed, at least not during its wearer’s lifetime, and is certainly not sold. Furthermore, an owner should take good care of his belt and never place it on the ground – as is the case with all sacred objects. According to Rinzin Rinzin, boys are already instructed at a young age to treat their kera with care. For instance, when they get undressed, they are not to drop it on the ground or chuck it into a corner, but must put it down, carefully folded, or hang it up so that it cannot form knots. If a kera should be allowed to fall down by mistake, and a knot is found in it the next day, three days must pass before the knot is removed. The owner has to wear his kera for three days with the knot, to avoid losing its protective powers. Given that this can be very uncomfortable, this rule has been relaxed somewhat; nowadays it is often said that the knotted belt must be worn for one day, at least.19 Moreover, a man’s belt is supposed to protect him from bad dreams and ensure a peaceful night’s sleep. According to Rinzin Rinzin, if a person is not sleeping well at night or is afraid of spirits and bad dreams, he needs to fold his kera three times and place it under his pillow or beside his head at night-time. This will protect him and ensure a peaceful, deep sleep. Indeed, the belt can be laid across his upper body or along his entire length on top of the bedclothes to achieve the same effect. Additionally, a kera can be effective against sleepwalking. If a person has a tendency to sleepwalk, he should lay a kera over his body at night-time;

this will prevent him from wandering about at night.20 Dechen Lhamo and her mother Karma also report that women are not allowed to step over a kera, should it be lying on the ground, or over a sleeping man who is wearing one.21 Rinzin Rinzin traces the power that invests men’s belts back to the fact that women play a minor part in the religious life of Bhutan. A few highranking spiritual dignitaries claim that a woman must be reborn nine times as a woman before she can be reborn as a man. Some of them insist on rules that serve their own interests. For instance, it is said that a woman can escape the eternal cycle of rebirth by engaging in sexual intercourse with a lama.22 Furthermore, there is a rule that a man must not walk beneath a woman’s underclothes, when hung out to dry, for instance. This would defile him. This rule does not apply the other way round. He also claims that textiles that have been woven by men are particularly auspicious, and can be used as protective talismans; they are supposed to possess more tutelary powers than if they had been woven by a woman.23 Myers goes on to comment: ‘Beliefs about cloth also reflect the folk view that women are not as spiritually advanced as men. […] In Bhutan, one way that the notion of women as lesser beings is practically expressed, is in the feeling that cloth woven by a man is more valuable than cloth made by a woman – in spite of the fact that very few men weave.’ 24 All these aspects of the Bhutanese world view show how it is constantly linked to the medium of textiles; these aspects serve to emphasize the strong gender polarity between men and women, which is exemplified in textile art and the life of society.

Notes 1 Aum Leki Wangmo and Rinzin Wangmo from Jakar, 26th April 2007, interview. 2 Aum Sena and Pema Yuden from Radi, 15th April 2007, interview. 3 Myers, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.192. 4 Rinzin Rinzin, born in the weaver village of Gonpakap, 2nd May 2007, interview. 5 Pema Yuden from Radi, 15th April 2007, interview. 6 Ibid. 7 Rinzin Rinzin, 2nd May 2007, interview. 8 Aum Leki Wangmo and Rinzin Wangmo from Jakar, 26th April 2007, interview. 9 Rinzin Rinzin, 2nd May 2007, interview. 10 According to Drungtsho Tandin Phurpa the following days are considered auspicious / inauspicious: Rat: Tuesday and Monday / Friday; Ox: Friday and Tuesday / Wednesday; Tiger: Wednesday and Friday /  Thursday; Rabbit: Wednesday and Friday / Thursday; Dragon: Saturday and Tuesday / Wednesday; Snake: Monday and Thursday / Tuesday; Horse: Monday and Thursday / Tuesday; Sheep: Thursday and Sunday /  Wednesday; Monkey: Thursday and Wednesday / Monday; Bird: Thursday and Wednesday / Monday; Dog: Sunday and Tuesday / 

Wednesday; Pig: Tuesday and Monday / Friday. (This information comes from Drungtsho Tandin Phurpa’s lecture at ICTAM VII, 2009.) 11 Aum Leki Wangmo and Rinzin Wangmo from Jakar, 26th April 2007, interview. 12 Dechen Lhamo and her mother Aum Karma from Khoma, 19th April 2007, interview. 13 Rinzin Rinzin, 2nd May 2007, interview. 14 Myers, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.192. 15 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.208. 16 Ibid., p.86. 17 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.71. 18 Dechen Lhamo and her mother Aum Karma from Khoma, 19th April 2007, interview. 19 Ibid. 20 Ibid. 21 Ibid. 22 Rinzin Rinzin, 2nd May 2007, interview. 23 Ibid. 24 Myers, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.192.




opposite: Life inside the monasteries is strongly male dominated.

Although all the work stages that belong to the sphere of weaving are predominantly women's activities, weaver Karma from Khoma gets a little help from her brother.


The identification of women with weaving is so dominant in Bhutan that there have hardly ever been any male weavers. Although dyeing is also traditionally attributed to the women’s sphere of work, a few men such as Senior Dyer Wangchuk in the National Handloom Development Center (NHDC) in Khaling have been able to establish themselves in this special craft. However, weaving is still predominantly a women’s activity and young men who take an interest in it are often teased and despised. Myers states that: ‘Today, however, there is strong social pressure against men weaving’, and goes on to say ‘Male weavers are sometimes even referred to by feminine pronouns, reinforcing the notion that cloth production is fundamentally female work.’ 1 One of the few men to be involved in handweaving was Sonam Dondhrup; together with Ashi Wangmo, the daughter of the first king, he was responsible for introducing horizontal frame looms (thrithag) in Bhutan. Myers has recorded the following story, which is still told about him in northern Central Bhutan: Around 1920, a young man called Sonam Dondhrup left his village of Kurtoe Yomining in the northern part of Lhuentse district and set out for Trongsa, which was then the residence of the royal family, to seek his fortune in the King’s service. Since the royal family was originally from Dungkhar in the North of Lhuentse, a great many people from Lhuentse were working at the royal court at that time. On arriving in Trongsa Sonam Dondhrup discovered a passion for weaving. All his free time was spent learning how to

weave on a backstrap loom with the help of the local weavers, and he soon became an excellent weaver. Ashi Wangmo, the young daughter of the first king also lived in Trongsa; she became aware of Sonam Dondhrup’s interest and skill in weaving, and invited him to enter her service as a weaver. Although a hundred weavers were already working for her, not one of them was a man. Ashi Wangmo was familiar with traditional weaving in Tibet and knew that they use a different kind of loom, so she asked Sonam Dondhrup to travel to Tibet to learn how they weave, so that he could teach these new techniques to the Bhutanese weavers. Sonam Dondhrup spent nine months in Tibet but nobody wanted to teach him how to weave. It was only after Ashi Wangmo had arranged to send him two sets of gift cloth (zong) to present to the Tibetans that he was allowed to learn these techniques. Back in Bhutan, Sonam Dondhrup built a horizontal frame loom, having learnt how to do this in Tibet, and taught the King’s daughter how to weave on it. Together they passed on their new knowledge to the Bhutanese weavers in the court, and when Ashi Wangmo subsequently returned to Lhuentse, she taught this new technique to the weavers there.2 Aris has details about another man, who was actually a monk; his life story is associated with the tradition of weaving. This man was Pema Lingpa. As a member of the Nyingma School and an important ‘treasure revealer’ (terton) Pema Lingpa had an important role to play in the history of

Bhutan. In addition to working with metal, wood and stone, Pema Lingpa is said to have also devoted his youth to the art of weaving. To engage in this work, which was already explicitly practised by women, was extremely unusual for a man, particularly a cleric. However, Aris claims that Pema Lingpa never showed signs of being a conformist: ‘Apart from directly pursuing whatever fancies came to mind, I did not listen to what my parents said … I left undone whatever anyone entrusted me to do … The people in general called me Döndrupgyel, the False Joker. Everyone, whether close or distant, kept me out of their affections.’ 3 Apart from this, there are hardly any details about the art of weaving in a religious context. An exception may possibly be found in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, since among the 84 mahasiddha there was one male weaver. This was the mahasiddha Tantipa, ‘The Senile Weaver’. However, Tantipa was in fact from Sandhonagara in India, where men do follow the profession of weaving.4 According to Bhutanese legends, weaving is supposed to have been introduced in the 7 th century by the Chinese princess Wen Cheng, the consort of the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo; however, the first textual reference to this tradition of weaving in Bhutan comes in the biography of Lama Phajo Drukgom Shigpo (1184­ – 1251), the founder of the first Drukpa-Kagyu monastery in Bhutan.5 A brief extract has been translated in English and published by Michael Aris in Textiles, Text, and Context – The Cloth and Clothing of Bhutan in Historical Perspective: ‘ You girls who stay there on the hillside across the river Stop your distracting chatter and listen to this song. The beggar who has come from the country of Kham Has arrived at the place foretold by the father, the lama. Do you know in what place there resides The single mother whose karma and aspirations match my own? The time has come to disclose our karmic connections. The girl in the center of the group cast the back strap [of her loom] behind her and her sword [to beat the weft] to the right of her. As soon as she got up, a drum of acacia wood fell from the sky. She picked it up and sang this song: You ascetic beggar on your way up there Listen to the girl’s song for a moment. You are either the prophesied son of a lama Or else a magic-working demon, But you seem to resemble an emanation of the Compassionate One. I beg you to lead me to the holy site of Bodh Gaya Prophesied by the Buddhas of former ages.’ 6

In this text, weaving is presented as a clear metaphor for the local culture, which is then given up in favour of a higher and nobler purpose. The girl who lays her loom aside and directs her song at Phajo Drukgom Shigpo stands for the untamed physical world, which is overcome by the power of religion, symbolised here by the saint, Phajo. In this context, a textual source from Tibet that was published in 1984 in the national language of Dzongkha is also relevant: Ashi nangsai namthar – The Biography of Nangsa Obum.7 This book is about Ashi Nangsa, who was a contemporary of Rechungpa (1083 – 1161) and one of Milarepa’s chief disciples. In one of Ashi Nangsa’s songs, there is a definite reference to weaving: the backstrap loom and its function are even cited with technical precision. However, in this text, weaving is primarily a metaphor for Buddhist teachings; the loom represents the complexity and richness of Buddhism, which penetrates all aspects of life. In her song, Ashi Nangsa is instructing a group of young girls, and showing them how fundamental spiritual concepts can be evoked throughout the entire weaving process. Michael Aris has provided an English translation of the Dzongkha text: ‘Obeisance to the host of lamas, meditational deities and dakinis. Please look down with compassion on girls who lack religion. Listen here, girls of Nanyam. Hear me Nangsa Back-from-Dead.8 Using the parts of this loom as similes, I the girl Shall sing a song to turn your minds to religion. This square frame beam dragging on the ground Causes delight when conceived as a meditation hut for single occupancy. This square weaving mat laid out below Causes joy when conceived as a little cushion for meditation. I the girl Nangsa Öbum Back-from-Dead Am joyful when conceived as someone intent on spiritual realization. You the maidservant Jompa Kyipa Are delighted when conceived as the assistant who carries provisions to the meditator. The frame beams implanted to the left and right at the front of the loom Cause delight when conceived as victory banners of the Buddhist teachings. This warp beam which holds the head of the cloth Causes joy when conceived as the lama’s spiritual counsels.


Just as weaving is firmly in hands of women, tailoring, embroidery and appliqué are typical male professions.

This thick backstrap cast behind Causes delight when conceived as the casting of samsara behind one. This breast beam made with its [two halves], mother and son, joined flat together Causes joy when conceived as the coalescing of bliss and emptiness.

This shed stick which distinguishes the warp Causes delight when conceived as the distingui shing of cause and effect. This rapid movement of the weft which makes the warp shout Causes joy when conceived as the mind of enlighten ment [generated by] “giving and taking”.

This warp inserted between them [the two halves of the breast beam] Causes delight when conceived as the abiding nature of the universal basis.9 This cord which fastens [the backstrap to] the breast beam left and right Causes joy when conceived as the moral discipline  of the Ten Virtues.10

This shuttle which offers incense to the warp Causes delight when conceived as the purification of the Two Obscurations. This bobbin which completely winds the weft Causes joy when conceived as the completion of the Two Provisions.

This closing rod which holds the life-force of the warp Causes delight when conceived as the female consort who holds the life-force. This white warp, soft and long, Causes joy when conceived as the white path to liberation. This well-made heddle rod which pulls upwards Causes delight when conceived as the upper realms that pull upwards. This well-made heddle rod which injures down wards Causes joy when conceived as the kick that injures the evil destinies. 312

This temple which stretches the width of the woolen cloth Causes delight when conceived as the common flavor of the Eight Worldly Concerns.11 This sound of weaving, the clear noise of tak-tak,12 Causes joy when conceived as a pure discourse in religious language. This casting out and taking back of the weft Causes delight when conceived as the equal exchange of self for other. These 84,000 wefts layered upon the warps 13 Cause joy when conceived as the holy dharma of the sutras and tantras. This white woolen cloth, soft and long, Causes delight when conceived as this girl’s superior aspiration.14

Thus, just as weaving is firmly in hands of women, tailoring, embroidery and appliqué are typical male professions. Until about twenty years ago, these professions were exclusively practised by men. Nowadays, they are still in the majority, but increasing numbers of women, especially in the towns, are now working as dressmakers. And today girls are taught embroidery and appliqué at the Zorig Chusum Institute in Thimphu. However, they do not do any work on religious textiles. Generally speaking, women and lay men sew everyday garments such as gho, kira and tego, while sacred textiles are exclusively worked by monks and lay monks. Sometimes, textiles that have been worked on by laymen and women are used by monks or families in their altar rooms and living rooms, but these are not sacred textiles. Even when the same textiles and techniques are used: ‘Because these textiles are not produced by monks for the exclusive use of monks’, Myers explains, ‘they are, strictly speaking, not religious.’ She goes on to mention that these items are often produced by monks who have left the monastery and set themselves up as tailors.15 According to Myers, certain textiles also have specific gender associations. Whereas a kira can be made from every kind of Bhutanese cloth that is also used for making a gho, this is not the case the other way round. Myers mentions two kinds of fabrics that are used only by women, and so cannot be worn by men, unless they are deliberately assuming the role of a woman, as in the enactments and pantomimes that take place during the annual festival. These fabrics are called kushuthara and montha, which are associated with the preBuddhist past and are consequently considered

inadequate for Bhutanese men, who are indissolubly bound up with the present Buddhist world. At the same time, any Bhutanese woman who wears these textiles is placing herself outside the Buddhist culture.16 As mentioned above, kushuthara are associated with the kushung, an archaic garment for women. Furthermore, kushuthara are adorned with such rich and decorative patterns that they are not considered suitable for men. The fabric that is called montha features a type of pattern that is considered old-fashioned and indigenous. Its non-Buddhist connotations are derived from the name montha, which contains the syllable mon and refers to the non-Buddhist indigenous inhabitants of Bhutan. This kind of kira has already been described with reference to the shawa shachi acho phento, the Dance of the Stag and Hounds during the Thimphu tshechu, when it features as the clothing worn by the servant called Phento. This item of clothing is also worn by the old woman in the phole-mole performance during the Thimphu tshechu; the female role is acted by a man. Consequently, Myers goes on to wonder: ‘Could the fact that only the phento and women dress in mönthag [montha] identify this cloth not just with the secular world but with a status of somewhat limited integration in the current social order? What we do know is that mönthag [montha] and kushü [kushu] are both so strongly linked to women and through them to a non-Buddhist past that they cannot be worn by men under normal circumstances.’ 17 Clearly, Bhutanese textile art expresses the complementary and yet separate spheres that men and women inhabit, while simultaneously reflecting the concept of gender in Bhutanese society.

left: Kushuthara kira are adorned with such rich and decorative patterns that they are not considered suitable for men. right: During the Dance of the Stag and Hounds (shawa shachi acho phento) during the Thimphu tshechu the servant Phento wears a montha, which is associated with the pre-Buddhist past and is consequently considered inadequate for Bhutanese men, too.



THE STRONG POSITION OF WOMEN IN SECULAR SOCIETY While Bhutanese men claim the world of religion and government for themselves, Bhutanese women enjoy a relative high status within the secular and social life of Bhutan. The concept of equal rights appears to have been accepted in many aspects of life, and are safeguarded by many provisions of different legal acts, including the Constitution of Bhutan. The power of Bhutanese women is primarily bound up with the ownership of land.18 ‘As in all traditional agrarian societies, Bhutanese women’s significant economic roles as viable producers must be recognized. While the men entered the monasteries for religious education and practice, or served the ruling lords of the region – later the kings, and feuded and fought for power, the women continued to work the crop fields, weave fabrics, keep family hearths ablaze, and feed and nourish the children.’ 19 In Bhutan, the women are very self-confident and, unlike many other Asian countries, have plenty to say. The birth of a daughter is not only desired, but in some cases also necessary for enabling her mother’s property to be passed on in the traditional way. This matrilineal system of inheritance is particularly prevalent in Bumthang; according to it, the house and land are passed on through the female line, which means that women have a powerful position in the home.

‘They decide about the budget and the buying and selling of goods, they divide the work-load among family members, they are active and highly vocal in any important decisions made at the local level, and they concern themselves with the staging of religious ceremonies,’ is how Schicklgruber describes it.20 Brauen also confirms that women in Bumthang ‘are powerful, that they are usually in charge in everyday matters, that they own land and farm and often know more about agriculture, money and local politics than the men.’ 21 Their financial rootedness is one of the most important reasons why women enjoy this social and intellectual freedom. In this context, weaving also plays an important part, especially for women in rural regions whose weaving allows them to contribute an additional income to the household. A great number of women, mainly in Eastern and Central Bhutan, weave at home. Although many weavers used to be employed in noble households as specialists and fulltime weavers, nowadays this work is primarily done by women in the villages, who use the time left over from working in the fields and their household duties to weave. Women who are able to generate a high income from weaving are generally let off the other tasks in the home and the fields, but this only affects a few women. Most Bhutanese women weave to provide for their families. They weave in the wintertime, after the harvest has been brought in, and in the evenings,

above and opposite: Women are usually in charge in everyday matters and therefore have a powerful position in the home.


The power and independence of Bhutanese women is primarily bound up with the ownership of land.


if electricity is available. Often, they form little communities, where the women come together to weave. They use the time to exchange information and news, to gossip, and have fun. Myers writes that: ‘Weavers sang songs to pass the time, and the mood is characterized even now as always happy.’ 22 ‘Older women delight in supervising younger weavers, and all take pleasure in the female companionship that goes along with weaving. Whenever several weavers work side by side, they entertain and amuse one another, and the girls helping them, by telling stories and singing songs. […] Song lyrics and stories related to weaving are what a young girl hears if she grows up sitting beside her mother or an elder sister at the loom. By the time a girl is seven or eight, she will have a tiny play loom, warped with scrap yarns, set up nearby. On this, she will begin to learn the art of weaving by practicing what the eastern Bhutanese call “designs to throw away” (khoptang rigpa), “like the peels of an onion skin.” In time, her weaving will generate both admiration and income.’ 23 Weaving frequently allows women to earn more than their husbands, who may have important jobs in the civil service. These business opportunities have several consequences, and are also impacting on traditional marriage arrangements. According to Schicklgruber, marriages are less often arranged by the parents, and are no longer strictly between individuals of the same social stratum.24 Kunzang Choden points out that al-

though Bhutanese society is not divided into classes or castes, every individual’s origin (rig) and lineage (jüba) are important criteria in determining matrimony.25 According to Tshering C. Dorji and Rinchen Dorji, arranged marriages were primarily practised by elite families, and that otherwise there was already a trend towards love matches, of the kind that that are nowadays widely accepted. However, they go on to say: ‘If the marriage begins with love affairs, family approval was, and still is, sought in most cases. This is because the family concept in Bhutan is still strong.’ 26 A few regions, for instance among the Lhop people in the South, even retain the custom of cross-cousin marriages. As Brauen reports, these marriages are between matrilineal cross-cousins, whereby a man may marry his mother’s brother’s daughter but not his mother’s sister’s daughter.27 Tshering C. Dorji and Rinchen Dorji are aware of similar arrangements in communities in Eastern Bhutan: ‘In the east, a boy marrying his girl cousin from his paternal aunty or the daughter of his maternal uncle is a socially accepted custom. Such marriageable first cousins are either called serga khotkin or serga mathang, referring to the boy and the girl respectively. Serga khotkin means golden brother-in-law and the serga mathang means golden sister-in-law. It is believed that such practices were done to avoid the wealth of the family from going out and also to avoid the people from other communities coming in

as relatives. The era of the serga khotkin and serga mathang is also fading away with the times changing and the literacy rates going up the graph. […] People are more conscious of the medical hazards related to marrying the cousins.’ 28 Brauen reports that the government has now prohibited this type of marriage, and concludes that it will soon die out.29 Likewise there are still polyandrous marriages in Bhutan, such as the kind practised by the Brokpa people in Merak and Sakteng. Traditionally, Brokpa women had up to four husbands, but nowadays, it is mostly two or three, with the oldest acting as head of the family, and the youngest as the yak herder. This marriage strategy is based on practical economic considerations and is linked to their land inheritance patterns; if several brothers share the land and a single wife, who moves into the brothers’ household, the property does not have to be subdivided. This form of marriage contract has been maintained for generations by Merakpa and Saktenpa; presumably, it originated in Tibet. Another form of polygamy, in which a man takes several sisters as wives, is still legal today. Mostly found in Eastern and Central Bhutan, it was restricted in the mid-twentieth century; however, in the 1990s a man was still allowed as many as three wives, as long as he had the first wife’s permission. While the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck married four sisters in 1979, the present king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

married only one woman, the commoner Jetsun Pema, on 13th October 2011 – in a distinct departure from traditional Bhutanese social practice. The King appears to exemplify a generation in which relationships that are based on practical considerations have given way to marriages that are based on mutual affection. These changing notions about relationships and romantic love have also been derived from TV soap operas, which are very popular. Another form of marriage that was present in Bhutan until the 1980s and can still be found in remote parts in the East, is known as a ‘night hunting’ relationship. This relationship starts when the man engages in ‘night hunting’ (yamlang) – also known as ‘bundling’ – and sometimes ends with the man being accepted into the woman’s household. ‘Night hunting’ is a special form of courtship, a playful custom whereby the man has to overcome obstacles of a more or less dangerous nature to gain access to a particular girl’s bed. During the day, the man will ask the girl if he may pay her a visit at night-time. They will then meet at the appointed place, or he will start a night hunt without prior warning. In both cases, the woman decides whether to leave the door or the window open for the man. In the early stages of this relationship, the man will leave the house before dawn. However, if he stays for breakfast the next morning, their relationship is considered binding. Bhutanese women have a saying about

left: The birth of a daughter is not only desired, but in some cases also necessary to enable her mother's property to be passed on in the traditional way. right: In Eastern Bhutan some girls are still brought up with an intimate knowledge of their mothers' and aunts' activities through observation and role-playing.


above and opposite: Generally women bring in the harvest, do the threshing, and the winnowing, or bring in the straw while men do certain types of work, such as ploughing.


this that runs: ‘Come as a guest in the night but remain as a host in the morning.’ 30 In matrilineal marriage communities, it was also the custom for a man to marry into his bride’s family and live with his wife’s community, a practice that is known as matrilocality. After their marriage, he would move into his wife’s home and his labour would contribute to supporting her house and farm. This practice has not changed much in the villages, but in some cases the decision about which household the married couple moves into is determined by which family needs the supplementary labour. ‘It is usually determined by melap. Melap, crudely translated, means the number of hands available for work.’ 31 If both families have a sufficient supply of labour, then the young couple could set up their own household. Whereas women are responsible for all the tasks that relate to handweaving, the work of sewing and repairing textiles often falls on the men. According to Brauen, men are also responsible for ploughing, harrowing, driving the draught animals, and chopping wood; when machines are introduced, the men generally operate them.32 Other kinds of work are not gender-specific; some kinds of housework, such as cooking and looking after

the children are mainly done by women, but are not exclusively women’s work. In the fields, men and women usually share the workload. However, Brauen points out that it is generally women who bring in the harvest, do the threshing, the winnowing, bring in the straw, fetch wood from the forest, and do the milking, while the men occasionally leave the village to find a job.33 The woman to whom the house, farm, fields and household income belong is called mailiama or chim gi ama (‘Mother of the house’) according to Kunzang Choden.34 It is clear she generally does more work than her husband; at the same time, she is in charge of the household, makes the decisions, and holds a powerful position. If the household is headed by a man, he is called, chim gi apa (‘Father of the house’). Myers adds: ‘Men and women also are thought to have fundamentally different characters, which influences the division of labor. Household and agricultural tasks may be shared by all the family members available to carry them out, but women, more than men, are constantly at work.’ 35 Among the duties that fall on the female head of the household is the payment of taxes. This includes a form of civic contribution, derived from the former feudal dues and services (gungda ula)

that used to be exacted to build public roads, bridges, temple and dzong. ‘The labour tax, known as woola [ula],’ Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck explains, ‘meant that for every building project in the country, be it the construction, repair or renovation of a monastery, dzong, road or mule track, people were obliged to contribute a certain amount of their labour.’ 36 According to Brauen, the head of the household decides ‘who can be assigned to performing these national service type duties and for how long.’ 37 Nowadays too, all households are obliged to provide labour to support social projects. According to Brauen, this work is generally paid, and women as well as men are now eligible. Furthermore, they have received the same pay as the men since the royal proclamation of 1993.38 Women who do not own land are, as Brauen explains, in danger of remaining single and ‘if they are young, [they] also risk having illegitimate children, without the fathers being held to account.’ 39 However, children born out of wedlock are not uncommon in Bhutan and there is no shame attached to their condition. Generally speaking, it is noticeable how relationships, infidelity and divorce are viewed in a very relaxed way in Bhutan. The incidence of divorce is relatively high, and sequential mar-

riages are very common. In this context Imaeda cites a Bhutanese woman, who pointed out that: ‘It would be so much better to separate from a man whom you don’t like than to go on living under the same roof every day. Then you can find another man you find attractive and stay with him.’ 40 For women, divorce generally does not present a financial loss. In matrilineal structures, men can get into trouble if they have an affair, as they are basically economically dependent on their wives; a husband can find himself banished from her home and farm for his infidelity. ‘If the wife asks for a divorce,’ Brauen explains, ‘her husband would be left destitute since he owns no property himself; he might marry his lover or earn sufficient from occasional labour. On the other hand, the head of the household knows full well that without a man in the house, she will have great problems, because certain types of work – especially ploughing – can only be performed by men. For married women who are also household heads infidelities are easier to accommodate, for they cannot be expelled from the farm they themselves own.’ 41 In the 1990s, an official system of marriage registration was introduced in Bhutan, whereby marriages could be officially registered after a couple had lived together

lower right: Women also provide community labour, for instance, by expanding and improving rural roads.


Gender gaps, among others, are evident in educational outcomes.


for more than six months.42 This did not affect the ancient matrilineal structure very much. Indeed, it has been shown that this structure continues to be practised, not only in the rural regions, but also in the urban context by the families that move there. Imaeda states that a woman who has migrated with her family from Eastern Bhutan to the capital Thimphu, for instance, will in most cases continue as head of the household. As before, she will be responsible for their livelihood, will dispose of their property and hold the power. The income earned by the husband, Imaeda writes, ‘who is a civil servant, only amounts to an allowance or money to spend on tobacco and drinks.’ 43 Given that officials are not allowed by their terms of service to engage in business, it is in fact their wives who take part in property and real estate transactions and benefit from new business opportunities, by weaving at home and selling their woven cloth and other handmade products in small shops.44 These independent women are aware of their privileged status; most of them drive around in their own Toyota Land Cruisers, are actively involved in society and are generally very selfconfident. However, there are also many women who always have been financially dependent on men. And even the strong position of women in secular society is not without its disadvantages. As Kunzang Choden writes: ‘This [the historic heritage] may have had a lasting effect on Bhutanese society, leading to the tradition of female inheri-

tance of property prevalent in some parts of the country. It may also explain why the number of women in the civil service is comparatively lower than that of men, and why women are underrepresented at the higher levels of government.’ 45 Because of the significant presence of female participants in some surviving Bon rituals, Kunzang Choden suggests that Bhutanese women held prominent positions during the pre-Buddhist period and that they were only banned from public and religious life by monastic Buddhism. The men were in charge in the dzong – traditional seats of religion and government – and the women in the farmhouse. In her view, the close ties between religion and politics have unsurprisingly brought about the virtual non-presence of women in the political life.46 Indeed, up to the present day, women have least access to higher posts in the government, and they are often allotted junior posts such as telephone operators, typists, or clerks. By 1989 about 10 per cent of government employees were women, and male members of the Bhutanese aristocracy dominated the government. In 1997, Kunzang Choden points out, the proportion of women in the administration stood at 17 per cent, with the majority holding typical office jobs.47 Also during the Local Government Elections in 2011, women candidates were still extremely under-represented. The Election Commission released detailed election results indicating that out of the 2,185 candidates who contested in the Local Government

Elections, only 165 were women, of whom 76 (out of 1,102 candidates) were elected.48 The National Plan of Action for Gender (2008 – 2013) revealed gender gaps in various areas such as workloads, literacy rates, educational levels, and employment opportunities. Women participate more in the agriculture sector, where earnings remain low, and less in the labour market, and they are more likely to be unemployed or to work informally or on a part-time basis. Furthermore, women’s traditional ties to the land, reinforced through matrilineal inheritance patterns, have increased their responsibility to care for their relatives, hence limiting their social and economic choices.49 At the same time, western family structures are being adopted in the urban centres. Accordingly, very few families comprise several generations under one roof, and while the husband is generally the family earner, his wife is in charge of the housekeeping and the children. In this context, Bisht calls attention to a significant fact: ‘During their government careers, women civil servants were allowed three months maternity leave with full pay for three deliveries and leave without pay for any additional deliveries.’ 50 For women working in the private sector, maternity leave varies from only one month to a maximum of two months. Extended maternity leave is still a matter for debate in Bhutanese society. Women who migrate to urban centres often find employment as domestic helpers for the urban elite, particularly in childcare. Hence, younger

girls engaged in this kind of work frequently do not attend school, further limiting their employment opportunities. Generally speaking, the lives of men and women are often intertwined, since the rights and duties of women even include religious functions in the private sphere – in their role as heads of households, at least –, although some of these, Brauen claims, are closer to popular Buddhism than to doctrinal Buddhism.51 In this respect, Brauen records that women are allowed to perform certain rites, for instance during the ceremonies that take place after the sowing and the harvest. Furthermore, every month they take part on three occasions in the recital of mantra. On these auspicious days, the women sit around the large prayer wheel in the village monastery, turn it and repeat the mantra ‘Om mani padme hum’ from morning to afternoon, to accumulate merit for themselves and the village community. At least one woman from every household is supposed to be present. Among the religious duties that also fall on women is that of offering incense to local deities and of representing their households at ceremonies inside the monastery – for the wellbeing of the village.52 At births and deaths, they also decide if anyone from their household should take part in the associated festivities, and how much money should be contributed to the event.53 Also, albeit relatively seldom, women can also assume the role of oracle healer.54

The religious role and position of men is still considerably more respected and elevated, especially in the monasteries (Photo by Christine Leuthner).


RELIGION – A MALE DOMAIN Religion is clearly a male domain; all forms of knowledge that are associated with Buddhism are reserved for men.


The strong position of women, which has been discussed above, is wholly restricted to the village level and contrasts strikingly with the strong religious position that is held by men, because religion is clearly a male domain. This was not always the case, since the original version of Buddhism states that all people regardless of their social standing and gender can achieve liberation from the eternal cycle of life. Basically, the Buddha-nature is immanent in every person. Martin Brauen writes that the foundations of the dharma, like the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and the Law of Dependent Origination, refer to the whole of existence and that Buddhist teachings do not contain any gender distinctions.55 He refers to a Buddhist text, in which it is written: ‘Be it a woman, be it a man who is awaiting the vehicle [of the Buddhist doctrine] – with this vehicle they will attain Nirvana.’ 56 Consequently, Buddhism should not distinguish between male and female believers; nevertheless, it seems to have developed in a way that allowed conservative monks to gain the upper hand, and thus give men a more dominant status. Martin Brauen recalls in this respect that the texts about the teachings of Buddha were only written down 200 years or more after his death, at a time when men held the power and who – as Buddha had predicted – were not inclined to renounce their privileges.57 Accordingly, it is not surprising that negative connotations were associated with women, and that they were consigned to a lower level of development. Even today, the concept that

a woman has to be reborn nine times as a woman before she can hope to be reborn as a man is current in Buddhism; a concept that Bhutanese people are well aware of. In a society where ideas of life after death have imminent significance, Bhutanese men have an important advantage in that they are able to achieve a good rebirth more easily and are closer to enlightenment than women. As Martin Brauen puts it: ‘More than once was I told that women are born as women because they had not accumulated enough merit in their previous life, and in the Himalayan region I often heard pious women admonish others to lead a morally correct life so that they might be reborn as men.’ 58 This attitude is all the stranger because in contrast to the earlier Mahayana-Buddhism, Vajrayana-Buddhism, which is the State religion in Bhutan, attributes a very important role to the female principle. On the path to enlightenment, the female attribute, which represents all-embracing wisdom, is not dismissed; on the contrary, it is even cultivated. Thus, the Pantheon of the Vajrayana actually contains not only a great many female deities and Dakini, but also numerous yab yum representations, in which male and female deities are combined in order to achieve the state of enlightenment. Guru Rinpoche, who was not an advocate of celibacy and had two consorts, made astonishingly pro-feminist comments about women and Buddhism, as when he announced: ‘The human body is the basis of the accomplishment of wisdom, And the gross bodies of men and women are equally suited, But if a woman has strong aspiration, She has higher potential.’ 59 For all this, Buddhism in

Bhutan has never fully abjured its sceptical attitude to women.60 The religious role and position of men is still considerably more respected and elevated, especially in the monasteries. Accordingly, men were the only people to be involved in founding monasteries, and it was only men who lived in these monasteries as monks; even today, only male lay monks (gomchen) can be trained in these monasteries, which girls are still strictly excluded from. Furthermore, the sacred cham dances at the annual festivals are never performed by women, but always by men, as both monks and laymen.61 All forms of knowledge that are associated with Buddhism, such as art, medicine, and astrology, are reserved for men, and life in the monasteries is strongly male dominated, as the figures show: there are 12,000 monks compared with 1,000 nuns (anim). Secular women are only allowed to practise Buddhism in the private, personal sphere, one that is also open to men.62 ‘The low esteem that women are held in, in their religious education is hardly challenged at all by their secular education,’ Brauen explains.63 The fact that men are generally better educated than women is linked, in his opinion, to the fact that girls are generally expected to take over the farm. A lengthy school education would only hinder this, and thus threaten the social structure in the village.64 Furthermore, schools are generally remote and expensive, and even when there are no school fees, money has to be found for the uniforms, text books and board. For these reasons, patrilineal structures also discourage investing in education for girls, because sooner or later they will get married and move

away. As Bisht recalls, ‘Reflecting the dominance of males in society, girls were outnumbered by three to two in primary and secondary-level schools.’ 65 In addition women’s workloads are heavier than those of men, because family and community responsibilities are added to their economic activities. ‘Men were thought of as superior by the women’, Brauen adds ‘because their lives were nicer – a consequence of their better moral conduct in their previous life. Men do not have to work as hard as women, they don’t feel as responsible as them for looking after children, ill people and old people; they do not have to endure the painful process of bringing children into the world which often lead to the woman’s death, and they can come and go as they please, because they have so few responsibilities.’ 66 Myers goes on to say: ‘Generally, the more privileged one’s rank in the hierarchy of reincarnation, the less work one does.’ 67

Many families send at least one of their children to undertake the traditional monastic training in a monastery.

LIFE IN THE MONASTIC COMMUNITY The monasteries and dzong constitute the religious centres of Bhutan. For a long time, they were the only places of education in the country, and despite the growing number of state schools, they still have an important part to play as educational institutions. Many families send at least one of their children to undertake the traditional monastic training in a monastery, since this is not just a matter of prestige for the family, it is also associated with the acquisition of religious merit. Furthermore, it is a great advantage for every fa323

above: Many of the ordained monks (gelong) enter monastic life as children, and from the age of six they will already be learning how to read and write Tibetan scripts. opposite: Monks can also choose to live a contemplative life in a hermitage in the mountains.


mily to have a member who is able to conduct the expensive annual rituals. Ordained monks (gelong) live in one of the numerous monasteries or inside the dzong. Many of them enter monastic life as children, and from the age of six they will already be learning how to read and write Tibetan scripts. Ricard writes that the young novices have a full curriculum, and are subjected to a rigorous programme. The day starts at half past five with group prayers, followed by breakfast, then the lessons start straightaway and continue, with a break for lunch and a few other breaks, until evening prayers at five o’ clock. This rhythm determines the young novices' lives and it is only interrupted for special teachings and ceremonies. By the age of fifteen, after studying for a specific number of years, the monks are finally allowed to choose a specific direction, depending on their abilities and interests, within a monastic way of life. For instance, they can opt to become dancers, artists or musicians, or to undertake higher studies and become teachers (khenpo) in their turn, or they can join the group of ordinary monks and take part in the daily rituals and ceremonies. However, they can also choose to live a contemplative life in a hermitage in the mountains, or to leave the monastery and join the community of lay monks (gomchen). Monastic vows are taken at the age of twenty, and the young monks have until then to choose their future orientation.68 In Bhutan, monks from the official DrukpaKagyu School constitute the members of the central monastic body (dratshang). According to Pommaret, the clergy used to own a great part of the country, and used it to support itself. Since the land reform of 1968, this has been replaced by subventions.69 The monastic community is ruled

by the Je Khenpo, the head abbot and spiritual leader of Bhutan, who is elected from among the highest-ranking monks in the hierarchy. The Je Khenpo is assisted by five highly placed teachers (lopen), who are masters in specialised religious disciplines: Dorje Lopen, the Vajra Master of the Secret Mantra Rituals, Yonton Lopen, the Master of Knowledge, Tsulak Lopen, the Master of Monastic Education, Leytsog Lopen, the Master of Development Activities, and Tshogki Lopen, Master of Religious Service. The Dorje Lopen is the representative of and assistant to Je Khenpo, and responsible for religious instructions. He is the head of all mediation centres under the dratshang and would head the secret mantra rituals in absence of the Je Khenpo. The Yonton Lopen is in charge of the art of cham, mandala, chanting, and tantric ritual practices. The Tsulak Lopen supervises the monastic education, ranging from primary monastic school to monastic university. The Leytsog Lopen presides over activities that are related to developing the monastic community, and he initiates projects that help disseminate Buddhist teaching. And the Tshogki Lopen takes care of all ritual services for both the living and the dead. The district monastic bodies are established in the local dzong and headed by the Lam Neten, an abbot who is appointed by the central monastic body. The Commission for Monastic Affairs (dratshang lhentshog), according to Pommaret, looks after the interests of the 6,000 Drukpa and Nyingma monks in Bhutan who are supported by the state, and draws up religious guidelines.70 According to Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, a further 3,000 monks are supported by private donors.71 The total number of monks in Bhutan during the late 1980s was set at 12,000.72


left: Lay monks (gomchen) do not live within the monastic community; they have a significant role as a spiritual support to the lay community. centre: Gomchen are allowed to conduct specific rituals; they also ensure that lay communities receive Buddhist teachings and instructions. right: Contrary to the large number of monks, nuns (anim) are clearly under-represented in Bhutan.


Lay monks (gomchen) hold a very special position within Bhutanese society. According to Pommaret, there are about 15,000 gomchen, most of whom follow the Nyingma School.73 They do not live within the monastic community; they follow a lay profession and are often married. Once married, they are no longer able to return to the monastic life or to accept a higher rank among the religious teachers. However, their religious training entitles them to conduct specific rituals, and it is the gomchen who ensure that lay communities receive Buddhist teachings and instruction. For this reason, they have a significant role to play as a spiritual support to villagers living in remote parts that do not fall within the monastery’s catchment area. There, they promote and maintain the spiritual well-being of their lay communities. Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck emphasises that: ‘They play a particularly important role in eastern Bhutan, travelling from village to village where their services are needed.’ 74 Gomchen do not wear monks’ robes, but they drape a large dark red ceremonial shawl, which is very similar to the monks’ shawls, over their gho. Higher spiritual teachers are often addressed as lama, tulku or Rinpoche. Lama (‘religious teacher’ or ‘master’) is used as an honorific and is assigned to a man on account of his wisdom and knowledge of religious matters. For his part, a lama can be an ordained monk (gelong) and a religious layman (gomchen), or even a tulku. Tulku and Rinpoche are acknowledged reincarnations of great masters. Tulku (literally ‘emanation body’) may be married or ordained, unmarried monks

since the status of a tulku is inherent and unalienable. Tulku assume a very high position in the society and religious hierarchy of Bhutan. According to Imaeda, they are shown more respect than even the Triple Gem of Buddhism (Buddha, dharma and sangha), hence the term Lamaism, which is in general synonymous with Tibetan Buddhism.75 This is because the Tulku has, like a Bodhisattva and contrary to ordinary people, already achieved enlightenment, and has deliberately opted for rebirth out of his loving and compassionate desire to show people the path out of the eternal cycle of rebirth. They are always addressed as Rinpoche (‘Precious One’). The honorific title Rinpoche is also used to address high-ranking teachers, even when they do not belong to the Tulku lineage. Contrary to the large number of monks, nuns (anim) are clearly under-represented in Bhutan; there are only 28 convents, and about 1,000 nuns, concentrated mainly in the districts of Trashigang, Pemagatshel and Zhemgang. The nuns’ situation is not as good as that of the monks in Bhutan. Unlike their male counterparts, who are beneficiaries of state or private support, nunneries in Bhutan receive hardly any government funding. Only five convents receive a government grant; most of them are located in remote, impoverished villages, and private donations are rare. More than 90 per cent of nuns come from poor families and are not supported by their parents. Furthermore, their housing is often inadequate, with poor hygiene and sanitary arrangements. Most of these convents are in a lamentable state, and some of the buildings even present a safety hazard. How-

ever, these very basic living conditions are not the nuns’ only source of complaint; they are concerned about their inadequate personal development, the result of their low level of education. Accordingly, some nuns find it difficult to read the religious texts.76 ‘Many of them are lacking in: rooms for studying and meditating; books and materials, a standardised curriculum, qualified and committed teachers (primarily women) – both for their spiritual development and for their general

Notes 1 Myers, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.195; Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.86. 2 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.199f. 3 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.33. 4 Dowman 1985, p.100ff; Abhayadatta, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.203. 5 Phajo Drukgom Shigpo’s dates vary, depending on the source: Michael Aris has opted for 1208 – 76. 6 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.31. 7 Ashi nangsai namthar – The Biography of Nangsa Obum, Department of Education, Thimphu 1984. 8 In Bhutan, the legendary figure Ashi Nangsa is known as a delog, a person that has returned from the dead in order to tell the common people about her experiences and the path to salvation. 9 The abiding nature of the universal basis refers to the primordial emptiness of reality. (Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.204.) 10 The ten virtues (dasa paramiyo) of Theravada Buddhism are: generosity (dana parami), virtue (sila parami), renunciation (nekkhamma parami), transcendental wisdom (panna parami), diligence (viriya parami), patience and forebearance (khanti parami), truthfulness (sacca parami), determination (adhitthana parami), loving-kindness (metta parami) and equanimity (upekkha parami). 11 The Eight Worldly Concerns (loka dharma) are those of pleasure and pain, fame and defamation, praise and blame, profit and loss. 12 Tak-tak represents the sound made by the wooden beater or sword (Dzk. thagm), that is used to beat down the weft. (Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.204.) 13 This figure is an allusion to the 84,000 dharma teachings that Buddha imparted in order to counter the 84,000 mental afflictions. 14 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.43ff. 15 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.144.

education and instruction in secular knowledge and skills (viz. to earn their living). Ninety-five per cent of their teachers are men (monks or laymen), who themselves often have few qualifications. The instruction mainly consists of reciting prayers.’ 77 In 2009, a NGO called the Bhutan Nun’s Foundation (BNF), was set up with the aim of improving the nuns’ situation, particularly with regard to their education.78

16 Myers, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.197. 17 Ibid., p.198. 18 Brauen, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.90. 19 Kunzang Choden, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.254. 20 Schicklgruber, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.20. 21 Brauen, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.97. 22 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.181. 23 Ibid., p.89. 24 Schicklgruber, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.26. 25 Kunzang Choden, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, S.259. 26 Tshering C. Dorji and Rinchen Dorji 2000, p.19. 27 Brauen 1994, p.39. 28 Tshering C. Dorji and Rinchen Dorji 2000, p.20. 29 Brauen 1994, p.39. 30 Tshering C. Dorji and Rinchen Dorji 2000, p.22. 31 Ibid., p.19. 32 Brauen 1994, p.18. 33 Ibid., p.18. 34 Kunzang Choden, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.254. 35 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.86. 36 Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck 2006, p.27. 37 Brauen 1994, p.62. 38 Ibid., p.17f. 39 Brauen, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.96. 40 Imaeda 2008, p.107. 41 Brauen, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.96. 42 Bisht 2008, p.125. 43 Imaeda 2008, p.106. 44 Kunzang Choden, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.261. 45 Ibid., p.254. 46 Ibid., p.253.

47 Ibid., p.256. 48 Election Commission of Bhutan, Press Release, 8th July 2011, p.1. 49 National Plan of Action for Gender, 2008 – 2013, Government of Bhutan, Thimphu. 50 Bisht 2008, p.114f. 51 Brauen 1994, p.101. 52 Ibid., p.101. 53 Ibid., p.61. 54 Ibid., p.101. 55 Ibid., p.81. 56 Samyutta Nikaya, Teil 1, I / 5§6, quoted by Martin Brauen. In Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.97. 57 Brauen 1994, p.80. 58 Brauen, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.98. 59 Gross 1989, p.17, quoted by Kunzang Choden. In Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.253. 60 Brauen 1994, p.85. 61 Brauen, in: Schicklgruber and Pommaret 1997, p.97f. 62 Brauen 1994, p.85. 63 Ibid., p.85. 64 Ibid., p.85. 65 Bisht 2008, p.114f. 66 Brauen 1994, p.75. 67 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.208. 68 Ricard 2003, p.48f. 69 Pommaret 2006, p.40f. 70 Ibid., p.41. 71 Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck 2006, p.20. 72 Bisht 2008, p.126. 73 Pommaret 2006, p.43. 74 Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck 2006, p.20. 75 Imaeda 2008, p.93f. 76 This data comes from the first Nuns’ Conference, which was held in Thimphu in 2009. (Thunlam Newsletter 2 / 2009, p.16.) 77 Thunlam Newsletter 1 / 2013, p.34. 78




opposite: Textiles are present in all aspects of Bhutanese life and have always functioned as an indicator of prosperity.

In former days, woven cloth was used for payment of family and community taxes to the dzong, for gifts to neighbouring states, and for state distributions to officials and monasteries.

Textiles are present in all aspects of Bhutanese life and have always functioned as an indicator of prosperity. Consequently, they are present on an everyday basis in the form of garments, bags, and covers; although they no longer function as taxes and currency, they still play an important part in the local economy as commercial wares, gifts and prestige items. Myers and Pommaret refer to this as follows: ‘In the days when cloth was a major form of wealth, circulating throughout society like currency, woven cloth was used for payment of family and community taxes to the dzongs, for gifts to neighboring states, and for state distributions to officials and monasteries.’ 1 TAXES, CURRENCY AND COMMERCIAL WARES Until the mid-20th century, Bhutan’s geographical features and low population density meant that there were no urban centres. The dzong in each particular district, together with a few monasteries constituted the only larger settlements; the village communities lived from agriculture, and barter trade was very extensive. Wares were exchanged for other wares or services, and since textiles were omnipresent and highly valued, they were used as important items of trade, or currency. Furthermore, the taxes levied by some dzong were


not simply in grain and other natural produce, but also in textiles. In this context, Aris explains that: ‘In organisational terms, there was some stratification. At the top of the pyramid there was a handful of aristocratic families who often had religious eminence as well. Then there were eminent but tax-paying families distinguished by claims to common clan ancestry. Below them were a mass of tax-paying ordinary households. […] Taxes in kind were not the same for everybody; they were based on production in the area. So if a place wove woollen textiles, the tax was collected in woollen textiles.’ 2 Detailed tax records still survive from the period of the thirteenth Druk Desi Sherab Wangchuk (1697 – 1765) who ruled from 1744 – 1763; they provide an interesting insight into the normal distribution and utilisation of textiles at that time.3 For instance, in some communities, the government exacted locally-woven fabrics as taxes and then gave them as gifts to the growing population of government servitors. According to Aris, these fabrics were described as ‘dyed cloth woven [by command of the chief local] official’. He goes on to itemise the terms: ‘common cloth, dyed cloth, woven cloth and eastern cloth’.4 The latter suggests that these textile taxes were mainly raised in Eastern Bhutan. Myers points out that, ‘For centuries, cloth was central to the internal economy of eastern Bhutan. Tax in some areas was paid in the form of lengths of plain and patterned cotton and

wild silk cloth until the 1950s.’ 5 According to Myers and Pommaret, each dzong set the quantities of fabric that each household had to supply.6 The task of collecting the fabrics fell on the village elder, who then delivered them to the dzong, where they were stored and administered. ‘In Pemagatshel District of southeastern Bhutan, for example, households were assessed one panel of cloth per 3 langdo (officially equivalent to 1 acre) of land. From the seventeenth century, cloth belonged to the category of “fresh tax” (lönkhé), which also included meat, butter, salt, wood, and cereals, as opposed to “dry tax” (kamkhé), which was levied in cash.’ 7 Raw materials were also levied. In Southeastern Bhutan, for instance, raw cotton was collected, and bartered for salt. This same cotton was then distributed to weavers in villages, to make into fabrics for the dzong, which were called khé zong (‘tax cloth’). These fabrics were intended for everyday use and were generally rather coarse and sparsely patterned.8 Karma Ura describes them as follows: ‘The textile taxes were known as kapey tsatrey in Khengrig Namsum. It was a cotton textile tax which was compensated nominally by salt. Every year, two attendants led a train of porters, carrying twenty back loads of salt, to Khengrig Namsum. Each back load contained a hundred sangs of salt. For every ten sangs of cotton delivered to be spun as tax, sang of salt was given as compensation. Then the cotton yarn was issued back to the people to be woven into

thara, pangkhep or ngosham. […] The return from twenty back-loads of salt was about eighteen backloads of textiles.’ 9 Different kinds of cotton fabrics of varying quality were sourced in Southern Bhutan, and referred to under the umbrella term of kamtham. Specific terminology, such as pönchu, pöndab and pöntshe referred to the value that was ascribed to each particular cloth, with regard to its quality: pönchu (‘little piece for the official’) was a thinner, finer, whiter cotton fabric that was worth five of the smallest coins; pöndab had thin pairs of green stripes on a white ground and was worth ten coins. For its part, a pöntshe (‘official’s measure’) was twice as large and so worth twice as much. Three lengths of cloth in this group – some of which had red stripes – were also distributed to the humblest labourers at the dzong and were used to make garments.10 Myers and Pommaret explain this as follows: ‘Many of their names include the element pön, literally “chief ”, an allusion to the local official to whom the fabrics were tendered.’ 11 The fabrics that were levied as taxes also comprised striped cotton panels, known as thare (‘woven cotton’), cotton panels with supplementary-warppatterns called montha (‘Mon weaving’), which were used for sewing garments, and multipurpose cloths, known as pangkheb (‘lap cover’), whose social significance will be examined more closely below. Eastern Bhutan also supplied monochrome raw silk fabrics for men’s kabne, along with supple-

Until the mid-20 th century, the dzong in each particular district constituted the only larger settlements; Drukyel dzong built by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel in 1649 (Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California).


opposite, top: Distributions to monastic institutions included almost twenty types of cloth; among them were Indian silks that was used for making monastic dance costumes (Interior, Trongsa dzong with dancing lamas, Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California). opposite, bottom: When John Claude White attended the 1907 enthronement ceremony in Punakha, he described how the Trongsa Penlop received huge bales of silk, fine cloth from Bumthang and sacks of wool and cotton as gifts (At the Durbar during the sealing of the document, Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California).


mentary-warp-patterned wild silk panels (aikapur) for the higher officials to wear.12 Central Bhutan supplied woollen fabrics, which were used to make covers, seats and rugs. ‘The four valleys of central Bhutan […] paid tax in cloth from local looms. Households in Ura, for example, tendered the following three items: one plain white woolen cloth (nambu karthi, a thin cloth for making prayer flags and tearing into thin strips used as butter lamp wicks); one woolen cloth patterned with traditional designs (yathra, “pattern from the upper regions”); and one length of red plaid woolen cloth (mathra).’ 13 According to Myers, the yarn for these textiles was dyed as cheaply as possible; madder was used to obtain red, instead of lac, and blue was obtained by using pine cones instead of indigo.14 The village of Khoma in Kurtoe supplied, alongside butter, rice, pork and beef, three kinds of multipurpose cloths (pangkheb), a kind of woman’s dress called chikpa thare and bags (phechung). Households that held more than five acres of land had to pay an annual tax of three pangkheb.15 Karma Ura recounts that: ‘There were skilled weavers in Dechencholing, at the border of Dungsam and Monggar. No taxes of any kind were levied by the local authorities on inhabitants of these areas. Instead, a form of textile tax known as trolthak was levied. The people had to pay about twenty-seven porter-loads of pangtshe, pendap and kamtham and other textiles a year, directly to the King. It was also a tradition to distribute yarn and spools of wool to the weavers of Trashigang who were obligated to weave aikapur and lungserma (raw silk textile).’ 16 As mentioned above, labour dues were also levied regularly in Bhutan. If a household could not meet its labour obligations, its members were obliged to send three lengths of zongshe (‘absence cloth’) to the dzong. 17 Myers and Pommaret add that: ‘Eighteenth-century distributions to monastic institutions, and to the highest incarnate lamas in the land, included almost twenty types of cloth. Among them were Assamese silk, Indian cotton, Tibetan woolens, and ceremonial cloth of Bhutanese origin. Texts mention Indian silk that was used for making monastic dance costumes (adholishi), thin Indian cotton for lining monastery and shrine walls prior to painting them (bharati), patterned cottons from India (kashika ré), and more than a dozen other textiles […]’. 18 Textiles were also commonly used as currency, for a long time. For instance, when their new house was being built in 1938, Karma Ura recalls that his family paid the carpenter and bricklayer in clothes, ‘which consisted of a lagho (gho to replace the one worn during work), a drupgho (gho given when the work was completed), and a replacement set of their tools.’ 19 At the same time, the exchange of fabrics was an integral part of Bhutan’s diplomatic relations with India and Tibet. As Pommaret recounts: ‘Bhutan used to send gifts of fabrics to the

states with which it maintained friendly relations. In 1986 in the audience hall of the Dalai Lamas in the Potala, I remember noticing that the pillars were covered with Bhutanese ceremonial cloths called cha[g]si pangkheb. These fabrics were most probably brought to Tibet by the goodwill missions (lochak) which were sent from Bhutan to Lhasa annually from 1730 onward.’ 20 Textiles were also very important commercial wares. In Bhutan and Its Neighbors, Myers and Pommaret describe the lively trade in textiles between Bhutan, Tibet and India, thereby showing that Bhutan was certainly not isolated and cut off: ‘Bhutanese frequented market centers to the south, north, east, and west of their frontiers. To the south, all along the Brahmaputra River in Assam, local traders and entrepreneurs from other parts of India bartered with hill people, who in turn traded with communities deeper in the northeastern hills. Local stick lac, madder, wild silk, raw cotton, and textiles were major trade items […] To the north, Tibetan routes were plied by caravans destined for far-off markets. […] On Bhutan’s eastern frontier in the seventeenth century, the major trade mart was at Tsona Dzong in Tibet. A caravan traveled yearly from Lhasa to Beijing, halting at Tsona, and provided the occasion for an annual fair, which attracted Bhutanese, Mönpas and Assamese. Rice, wild silk cloth (tussar), lac, pearls, and corals from the south were exchanged for Tibetan woolens, gold dust, horses, and Chinese silks. […] In western Bhutan, well-traveled paths through the Ha and Paro valleys led northward into Tibet’s Chumbi Valley.’ 21 ‘The road to Phari was full of caravan traffic. From Phari, the merchants brought back salt, woolen clothes (thruk, nambu, jalok), carpets, lard, yak meat, mutton, dry fish, tea, baking powder, and shoes. These items were again traded in a lively market by the bridge near Paro dzong.’ 22 ‘The flow of textiles between Bhutan and Tibet […] continued unabated until the 1950s. After the Chinese occupation of Tibet, very modest intercommunity barter continued, but only in the 1980s did some Chinese and Tibetan goods again appear in the market.’ 23 TEXTILES AS GIFTS When John Claude White, the British Political Officer in Sikkim, was invited, along with his wife, to attend the 1907 enthronement ceremony in Punakha, he described how the Trongsa Penlop received huge bales of silk, fine cloth from Bumthang and sacks of wool and cotton as gifts.24 Two years prior to that, when Ugyen Wangchuck was awarded the rank of Knight Commander of the British Empire, White was amazed by the gifts: ‘heaps of tea, bags of rice and Indian corn, rolls of fabrics – silk, woolen, and cotton – of all colors and values, with little bags of gold dust and rupees ap-


left: Pecuniary gifts are presented along with a khada. right: In Bhutan just like in the entire Buddhist Himalayan region khada are offered to local and Buddhist deities.


pearing on the top.’ 25 In fact, there is a long tradition of giving textiles as gifts in Bhutan. Important rites of passage, such as weddings, promotions and deaths are customarily marked by presenting between three and nine new pieces of cloth – the number must always be odd, and it is determined by the status of the giver and the receiver – along with a white silk scarf (khada). In the past, fabrics (zong) were considered very valuable and highlyregarded gifts. Nowadays, it is more common to present money inside an envelope, but the khada is still an obligatory part of the gift. Before the border with Tibet was closed, these narrow white silk shawls found their way from China, via Tibet, to Bhutan. Nowadays, they are increasingly imported from India, as cheap synthetic items. Khada are used for draping holy statues in the Buddhist temples and altar rooms, and for presenting to real people as gifts, in which case the material, quality and length of the shawl is determined by the rank of the person who is receiving it. Important, highranking individuals, for instance, are due a long, high quality silk scarf (ashi khada) with auspicious Buddhist symbols woven into the fabric. Generally, white khada are presented, since white is as-

sociated with purity and compassion. Bhutanese say that they are symbolising the pure heart of the donor. However, khada can come in a range of colours, from a tender light yellow to a strong red, or a deep blue. Written records from the collection of Sir Charles Bell (1870 – 1945), who travelled as a diplomat to Bhutan at the start of the 20th century, reveal that he was presented with three scarves of different colours: a white, and a red khada, and a yellow silk shawl with red and green floral patterns (mentsi).26 A mentsi shawl was normally reserved for the King, so this gift shows that Bell was held in high esteem. Karma Ura has contributed the following information about the way woollen fabrics (yathra) were used as gifts: ‘Another onus on us as a lamaist family was that my father had to call on the monarch within three days of the latter’s arrival from his winter capital. The court migrated to Kingda Rabden Palace in Trongsa in winter and back to Wangdecholing Palace, Jakar, in spring. It was customary at the time of calling for each lamaist family to pay a fixed levy of one yathra, the famed woollen textile of Bumthang, with a pitcher full of araa to greet his return from the winter palace. Yathras […] were use-

ful as gifts from the elites of Bhutan to the nobles of Tibet. Through a suitable means of communication, the royal family disclosed the choice of size and patterns of yathras they preferred, so that the nobles and lamas could bring more agreeable tributes. Quite often, the King inspected the quality of yathras. Good ones were sent as gifts to high ranking Tibetans. The tribute of one yathra and a pitcher full of araa was reciprocated by the King with three balls of tea and five metres of broad cloth. This exchange of gifts within three days of the court’s arrival was bound by tradition.’ 27 He also recalls how: ‘I had to assist senior attendants in the preparation of offerings to be sent to Punakha on the occasion of Punakha Domchoe. […] The highest officials of Thimphu, Wangdue, Paro, Daga and Wang sent customary offerings to the Shabdrung. However, if the three penlops of Bhutan – Trongsa, Paro and Dagana – could not make personal appearances, they dispatched their representatives with presents. The offering from Trongsa Penlop consisted of clothes, paper, butter, pots and pans, a milk churner, a wooden bucket, incense, yarns of various colours for ritual decoration, yathra (woolen textile), pangkhep (cotton textile) etc. There were about a hundred porter loads delivered by the representative of Trongsa Penlop alone.’ 28 Even today, Bhutanese people, especially government officials, still subscribe to some extent to the custom of presenting their colleagues or foreign visitors with gifts of cloth, as an expression of friendship or esteem. Previously, such cloth gifts generally consisted of large items. However, the development of tourism, together with the opening of the official Handicraft Emporium in

Thimphu and many private souvenir shops in the towns, and the arrival of new textiles in the 1980s, has greatly extended the range of textiles that can be presented. Many shops offer small textile gifts such as purses, handbags, table sets, table runners, spectacle cases and bookmarks made of handwoven Bhutanese fabrics. These accessories and small items are now popular gifts, at least for informal occasions. Official occasions, though, have not been affected, as Myers and Pommaret note: ‘Bhutanese cloth, even in non-traditional forms, is still the preferred choice for government gifts because it is a source of national pride and a unique identity symbol.’ 29 Moreover, many cloth gifts will change owners for diplomatic reasons. Myers and Pommaret explain this as follows: ‘Textiles also flow upward in society, from inferior to superior, in return for a favor or to accompany a request. The recipient accepts the cloth as an element of a polite petition that does not necessarily guarantee the donor a favorable answer or outcome. The fabrics offered are usually modest – belts or lengths for bags – and not too ostentatious for fear of antagonizing the recipient or creating the impression of a bribe. The official receiving the fabric knows what is expected of him by the size and quality of the gift. A poignant instance of such an “intercession with cloth” occurred in the mid-1960s. When the first eastern Bhutanese children were selected to go away to school, parents, worried at seeing precious labor taken from them, pleaded with the recruiting officials by offering them textiles.’ 30 Similar accounts are recorded with regard to the monasteries: ‘Today, when a son is admitted into a monastery, parents offer textiles to the

left: White scarves (khada) are still the most common gifts in Bhutan; they are presented not only to real people but symbolically during rituals as well. right: Presenting a khada to His Holiness, the Je Khenpo.


left: During career promotions khada and other textile gifts are given in huge quantities. right: These five textiles could be a presentation set. The plainest, a striped cotton fabric and a checked fabric (mathra), are placed at the bottom. On top is a silk aikapur with eleven 'legs' (be songthurpa) for making a gho, and two rolls of woollen cloth (yathra). Additionally, there is a yellow silk with red and green patterns (mentsi), and the whole arrangement is presented with a white silk shawl with auspicious Buddhist symbols (ashi khada).


head monk and the senior monk who will look after the boy during his studies. Cash offerings have become common supplements, but fabrics are still required.’ 31 However, cloth gifts are not only passed between persons of equal rank, or from lower to higherranking persons, they also pass in the opposite direction, from high-ranking individuals to their subordinates. As Bartholomew writes: ‘The scarcity of older textiles is illustrated by a custom of the early royalty of Bhutan. Special ceremonial textiles would traditionally be presented to workers or servants for faithful service. Many of these treasure pieces would then be completely worn out through daily use.’ 32 ARRANGING AND PRESENTING GIFTS OF CLOTHS Arrangements of fabrics that are intended as gifts can be divided into handwoven Bhutanese fabrics (marzong / chazong) and machine-made Indian fabrics (jazong). Three separate pieces of Bhutanese handwoven material constitute a presentation set (zongbub). This is the quantity needed to make one kira or one gho. Machine-made

fabrics need to be between four and five metres in length to enable a Bhutanese costume to be made from them. Both types of cloth can be arranged in different sets. Arrangements of three to ten fabrics are called zong tshen, and those that include ten to twenty lengths of fabric are called leytshen. When the set comprises more than twenty pieces, it is called tshendrang.33 Textile gifts must always be given in an auspiciously odd-numbered set; the specific number depends on the status of the recipient. Cottons and silks are generally folded, while woollen fabrics are rolled. Arranging cloth gifts requires a precise knowledge of etiquette, particularly with regard to gifts for presenting to high-ranking and important persons, even members of the royal family. Detailed guidance in this respect can be found in the Code of Etiquette (driglam namzhag): ‘Stack the different male and female garments in a pile on top of a good quality kira. If this present is to be offered to Lamas or higher officials, a cloth measuring five meters, folded into three, has to be placed on top as the zong cover. Do not use black cloth. If the present is only male garments, it should consist of a complete set: gho, kera and kabney. If the present is only female garments, it should consist of a complete set: kira, kera and rachu. A tego of any material accompanies

this present.’ 34 According to Myers and Pommaret, there are rules, even for presenting gifts within the family circle. For instance: ‘The choice of a cloth gift is particularly difficult when it is destined for relatives, because it must take into account respective rank as well as family ties. In this case, one must be careful not to antagonize by offering fabrics that the recipient would consider below his or her rank but, at the same time, not to give fabrics of such good quality that he or she would feel patronized. The distinctions are very subtle and, because of their diversity, textiles are perfect vectors of these social differences.’ 35 Accordingly, it is advisable to take great care in the selection of such gifts. For instance, if the fabrics include an aikapur, attention should be focussed on the patterns, because the quality of the material depends on the number of its ‘legs’ (be / kang), as mentioned above. These are a row of crosshatches or small parallel strips that run horizontally between the individual patterns in each warp-pattern band. The more ‘legs’ a warp-pattern band contains, the wider it has to be, and the more valuable it is. Consequently, an aikapur with a greater number of ‘legs’ will be presented to a person of rank. Nine ‘legs’ (kang gupa), for instance, is a number that Myers and Pommaret claim should be reserved for the King,

but actually this rule is seldom observed.36 Nowadays, in fact, aikapur are also being made with eleven or thirteen legs. Even more exquisite are the aikapur that have supplementary-weft patterns. A favourite motif among these supplementary-weft patterns is the tree of life (shinglo), which Myers explains as follows: ‘Bhutanese examine the delicate branches and leaves of these trees when assessing the quality of a fabric. Shinglo that are crisply executed and have innovative or especially delicate details are associated with garments made for the nobility and well-to-do.’ 37 Consequently, this type of fabric is called aikapur shinglo. The shops and market stalls often offer lengths of cloth that have simply been cut off the loom, without any further finishing work, without hems or twisted fringes, for sale. These raw materials are supposed to show purchasers that the textiles are new and unused, and suitable for presenting as gifts. At the same time, the weavers are spared the time-consuming work of finishing the fabrics. In order to make sure that the presentation set has been properly arranged, and that no faux pas has been committed, people often resort to the big fabric shops, which provide ready-arranged fabrics for presenting as gifts. As Myers and Pommaret explain: ‘In Thimphu, as soon as a promotion or

Je Khenpo receives gifts of fabric during a ceremony in Khaling; the gift set consists of three handwoven Bhutanese fabrics: a striped cloth called adha mathra, a plaid mathra, and a red-and-black plaid on a white ground, known as pangtsi. Silken brocade and an obligatory white khada are laid on the top.


left: An aikapur with a greater number of 'legs' will be presented to a person of rank. The aikapur that has been selected here features nine 'legs' (be / kang gupa). right: This pure raw silk gho (bura lungserma) belonged to the first king Ugyen Wangchuck in 1907. Later it was presented to Nyrchen Sha-Yapchi, the District head of Wangdue Phodrang dzong in appreciation for the remarkable services rendered by him. Although this gho is now more than 100 years old, it still remains in good condition. It is also striking to see that the king's aikapur features fifteen 'legs'.


marriage is announced, the most famous Bhutanese cloth merchant sets about preparing gift sets in different numbers and patterns for his prospective customers. These fabrics are often used again as gifts on another occasion or sold back to the merchant to be reintroduced into the market.’ 38 Although many Bhutanese people consider it inauspicious to give fabrics that have been received as gifts to someone else, this does not apply to commercial wares, which have been purchased in a shop.39 The exception to this is the khada, which may be purchased in a shop, but must never be passed on, with the result that Bhutanese people will amass a great number of these in course of a lifetime.40 When it’s a question of presenting a gift of fabric to someone, there are a few ground rules to observe with regard to the social position of the receiver: ‘The donor presents himself or herself by bowing, holding the fabrics with the left hand at knee level. The fabrics are then passed swiftly to the right hand and spread with an elegant gesture, while the left hand slips under the cloths and keeps them level to enhance this display. At last, the fabrics are laid with both hands on the floor in front of the recipient. All these movements must be smooth and perfectly coordinated, and executed if necessary while holding one’s ceremonial shoulder cloth with the right hand and sometimes prostrating oneself at the same time. If the number of fabrics or their weight renders the exercise physically impossible, an attendant will take them from the donor’s left hand and present them flat on the floor while the donor prostrates.’ 41 If khada are being exchanged between two persons of equal rank, each person places the scarf around the other’s neck. The recipient should receive the khada with the hands kept low as a gesture of respect. However, if a person of higher rank is bestowing a khada, the scarf is held folded, and then offered to the receiving person

with a smooth and elegant gesture. If a lama is being presented with a khada, the presenting person must bow down, with the khada lying on his or her outstretched hands, palms upwards. The lama blesses the scarf by touching it, picking it up from the donor, and laying it over the donor’s neck. TEXTILES AS THE EXPRESSION AND SYMBOL OF WEALTH While rural weavers often start to produce the textiles for their daughters’ dowry when they are still children, prosperous women start purchasing a number of kira for their daughters, once they become teenagers, which they will give them later on, when they get married. However, the weavers themselves will buy – when they can afford a particularly pleasing fabric – a length or two to serve as a dowry for their daughter.42 Bhutanese women distinguish between the textiles that the weavers make for themselves and their loved ones, which are called hingtham (‘heart weaving’), and the commercial textiles that are called tshongtham (‘commercial weaving’). Heart weaving is distinguished by its very fine, quality and careful work with elaborate patterns and harmonious combinations of colours. The production of a heart weaving kira involves a great deal of work and time, and can take up to a year to complete. Even nowadays, a woman’s social status can be deduced in part from her kira, by the number and complexity of its patterns, its range of colours, and the material. Although it was a common practice, in former times, to wear several items of clothing one on top of the other, as a sign of the wearer’s status and wealth, nowadays, better-placed Bhutanese women will keep a number of garments and other textiles in their ‘box of prosperity and happiness

clockwise from top left: Rural weavers often start to produce the textiles for their daughters' dowry when they are still children; the aikapur shinglo that has been selected here features eleven 'legs' (be songthurpa) and a favourite motif among the supplementary-weft patterns that is called tree of life (shinglo); multipurpose textiles (pankheb) were once much-used textiles, which served many functions: as gifts, as tax payments, as rough towels, or as slings for babies; valuable garments and textiles are often kept in the 'box of prosperity and happiness potential' (yanggam); even nowadays, a woman's social status can be deduced in part from her kira, by the number and complexity of its patterns, its range of colours, and the material. 339


potential’ (yanggam). ‘Along with silver and gold jewelry and grains from the crops of family harvests, these textiles represent the resources of the home. Cloth kept in the yanggam usually includes one or two old articles, perhaps passed down from a grandparent, such as a ceremonial textile (chagsi pankheb) or archaic tunic (kushung); a man’s robe (go); a woman’s dress (kira); and a woman’s belt (kera). The textiles, jewelry, and food grains are the three essential symbols of the family’s abundance that must be blessed during annual rituals to ensure continuing household prosperity (lochö).’ 43 A textile that should be mentioned, specifically in this context, is the multipurpose cloth, known as pangkheb (‘lap cover’); in its ritual function, it is also known as chagsi pangkheb. It is a long, rectangular cloth with long fringes, which is woven on a backstrap loom in cotton or wild silk. Supplementary-weft and / or supplementarywarp patterns are inserted in red and blue, or in red and black. Myers lists three different qualities: ordinary pangkheb, better grade pangkheb matram chungma (‘cloth worth ten coins’) and superior chagsi pangkheb.44 The plainest version consists of two 30 to 80 cm wide panels of fabric, made of slightly decorated, unbleached white cotton (long ago, this would have been locallygrown). The two panels are generally identicallywoven, with diamond-shaped and other geometrical patterns; they are sewn together lengthwise, so that both sides are arranged symmetrically

along the central seam.45 However, most pangkheb are made of three panels of fabric, though only two lengths of equal size, albeit with different patterns, are actually woven. One length will be used for the central part, with a diamond-shaped motif in the centre of the textile, around which the other geometrical motifs will be set in a symmetrical arrangement. The second length of cloth features supplementary-warp patterns. This panel is cut into two equal parts along the warp, to provide the two narrower side panels. All three panels are sewn together along the selvage side, and both ends are fitted with long fringes. The colours of this three-part pangkheb generally consist of red and blue, or red and black patterns on an unbleached white ground. However, there are also some multicoloured versions, like the pangkheb that have a yellow, orange or maroon ground, and are predominantly for use by Buddhist clergy. The most elaborate versions, the ceremonial chagsi pangkheb, have a central part that is decorated with horizontal rows of supplementary-weft pattern bands and a large diamond design made of geometric pattern bands, which serves as the symmetry axis of the whole textile. Chagsi pangkheb mainly come in two colours; usually with red and blue or red and black patterns on an unbleached white ground, but examples are occasionally found that have multi-coloured patterns on a red, maroon, green, or blue ground.

above left: Plain pangkheb ('lap cover'), are long, rectangular clothes with supplementary-weft and /  or supplementary-warp patterns in red and blue, or in red and black on an unbleached white ground. (Karin Altmann Private Collection). above right: This panel is cut into two equal parts along the warp, to provide the two narrower side panels (Karin Altmann Private Collection). opposite: Most pangkheb are made of three panels, but are woven as two loom lengths. One length will be used for the central part, with a diamondshaped motif in the centre (Karin Altmann Private Collection).


In Punakha dzong, the tigerskin trousers (tak sham) (left ) and the covers for drums (right ) are stitched from pangkheb panels dating back to the days of cloth tax payments.


Plain pangkheb – generally translated as ‘lap covers’ 46 – were once much-used textiles, which served many functions: as tax payments, as rough towels, as aprons to protect women’s dresses, or as slings for babies. ‘Bhutanese say that sparsely patterned loom lengths for making into pangkheb are common gifts at cremation ceremonies’, Myers adds.47 More valuable pangkheb are still sometimes used as hangings for doorways and walls, as decorations for the house altar or private temple in elite households, and for protecting rolled up thangka and other textiles not in current use from dust and damp. Furthermore, individual lengths of pangkheb with unplied fringes, and thus unfinished, were often given as gifts, tax payments, or in payment for services, to the monasteries, lamas, and other individuals.48 According to Myers, every household used to keep a supply of these cloths, along with a few lengths for their own use or to give as presents to close friends and monks.49 Finally, they were used by monks ‘as mattress or bed covers, as wraps and towels when bathing, and as lap covers at meals.’ 50 Myers goes on to state: ‘In the past, when the servants of well-to-do families in central Bhutan went off to see a festival, the lady of the house piled several folded pangkheb on their shoulders as evidence of the family’s prosperity.’ 51 Chagsi pangkheb, in particular, are associated with prestige, in spite of the fact that term for these cloths can be translated as ‘hand wash lap cover’, pointing to its function as a hand towel. Myers elaborates on this point: ‘The name relates to their function as a napkin, carried by an attendant who would offer his master this cloth to dry his hands or

cover his lap during a meal.’ 52 Indeed, these valuable textiles were reserved for Bhutan’s clergy and nobility. According to Aum Sena and her mother Pema Yuden, chagsi pangkheb were exchanged by nobles, much as the silk scarves (khada) are exchanged as presents.53 This type of cloth was seldom used by ordinary people, but almost every household did in fact own one in case an important person should visit, or a high lama should enter their house to perform the annual rituals. In both cases, the chagsi pangkheb would be placed over the back of the guest’s seat, or hung behind it as a wall covering. Similarly, it served to cover the guest’s lap and knees when seated. High lamas also use them to cover their beds, and, as Myers relates, ‘when they go to bathe, an attendant will hold this cloth around the lama’s lower body like a towel.’ 54 Early photographs show how kings and nobles enjoyed being photographed in front of a row of decorative chagsi pangkheb. Nowadays, these textiles tend to be used solely for religious purposes. For the annual rituals that are performed to ensure the family’s wealth, chagsi pangkheb and other valuable objects are draped over the altar. Sometimes, they are also hung on the walls or laid over the tables, to create a suitable setting. ‘Pangkheb are also required for rituals conducted by a female diviner (jum) to forecast a family’s future. The diviner draws a swastika on the ground with rice or flour and places the folded textile on top of this emblem. She then sits on the cloth and goes into a trance. At the end of the ceremony, the cloth is lifted to see whether the swastika has remained intact, in which case all will be well. If it has

left: Densely patterned from end to end, this elaborate exemplar typifies the superior grade of pangkheb, called chagsi pangkheb; hand-spun silk, 306 x 94 cm (Ethnographic Museum Zurich; Photo by Erich Lessing). right: Chagsi pangkheb, literally 'hand wash lap cover', were seldom used as a towel, except in rituals by the high clergy; silk, cotton, 272 x 79 cm (Anthony Aris Private Collection, London, Great Britain; Photo by Erich Lessing). 343

Already gathered in Punakha for the coronation, the dignitaries assembled to receive the annual subsidy from the Indian government, which was delivered by John Claude White. The chairs of Sir Ugyen Wangchuck (seated in front row centre) and John Claude White (seated on the king's left ) are covered with chagsi pangkheb (Punakha 1907, Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California).


turned or been smudged, rituals should be performed to avert possible adversities.’ 55 When a house is being built, the best carpenter will occasionally be presented with a chagsi pangkheb, or it will be hung over the door.56 Similarly, these types of textiles are integral components of processions (chibdrel). ‘Traditionally, they were among the accoutrements carried by attendants of senior officials and the king in formal processions and while on tour. The first personal attendant preceding the king had a folded chagsi pangkheb over his left shoulder and carried a silver water vessel or teapot, either resting on top of the cloth or held in his right hand. […] When an entourage halted for a meal, the cloth could cover the lap of the official, who sat cross-legged on a low cushion. It could also drape the back of a chair or hang on a wall to enhance the sumptuousness of the surroundings or decorate a room for a ceremony.’ 57 Nowadays, chagsi pangkheb are mostly carried in processions that take place during coronation ceremonies or on the national day of celebration, for instance. An occasion of this magnitude requires a splendid procession, consisting of a white stallion decorated with a khada, followed by more than sixty participants bearing numerous flags, chagsi pangkheb and many other textiles, musical instruments and various auspicious symbols.58 Other occasions, such as promotion to Minister or Dasho, are marked with a procession, in which many different textiles, including a chagsi pangkheb – and objects symbolising wealth – are carried. Accord-

ing to Rinzin Rinzin, a chagsi pangkheb will only occasionally be loaned for this purpose, and it will be returned once the ceremony is over.59 Very occasionally, valuable pangkheb are still presented as gifts on special occasions, such as the promotion of high-ranking individuals, weddings, or special family gatherings. Generally speaking, though, pangkheb are only presented if the donor and the receiving person either enjoy a very good relationship, or if the donor hopes to improve his or her prospects thereby.60 The reason for this restricted use is simply that pangkheb are expensive textiles. A pangkheb with raw silk patterns on a cotton ground is the cheapest version, and costs about 5,000 Ngultrum (about 80 Euro). A pure raw silk version costs between 7,500 and 10,000 Ngultrum, while pangkheb made of pure silk cost between 13,000 and 18,000 Ngultrum. These are the ‘farm gate’ prices; in Thimphu pure silk pangkheb are being sold for up to 30,000 Ngultrum (about 480 Euro). Elaborate and expensive items of this kind are seldom in stock; they generally have to be ordered. According to Aum Sena, even raw silk pangkheb are commissioned relatively seldom; she will weave a textile of this kind once or twice a year, at most.61 Generally speaking, handwoven Bhutanese textiles tend to be very expensive. In 2007 in Paro or Thimphu, a simple striped cotton kira costs between 1,200 and 1,500 Ngultrum (19 and 24 Euro), a kira with silk patterns on a cotton base costs

between 48,000 and 52,000 Ngultrum (770 and 840 Euro), a richly patterned pure silk kira costs between 65,000 and 84,000 Ngultrum (1,050 and 1,350 Euro), while a silk gho with patterns costs around 25,000 Ngultrum (400 Euro). To compare, in Eastern Bhutan, a kira with elaborate silk patterns on cotton might cost between 10,000 and 12,000 Ngultrum (160 to 190 Euro) and a richly patterned pure silk kira costs between 16,000 and 20,000 Ngultrum (260 to 320 Euro). Around fifty years ago, garments could be exchanged for board and lodging or other goods,62 but nowadays, they are mainly purchased with cash. When one considers that the average annual income per capita in Bhutan is about 1,300 USD (2007) – the average income per person per day in Bhutan is 40 Ngultrum, and the average income in rural areas is even lower at 33 Ngultrum per day –,63 and that 23.2 per cent of the population has been classed as poor, with no more than 1,096 Ngultrum (around 17 Euro) per month to live off,64 it is clear that these types of fabrics are well beyond the reach of many Bhutanese people. One effect of their value and high prices is that textiles are generally viewed as investments. The value of a Bhutanese handwoven cloth depends on many factors: the selection and quality of the materials, the type and quality of the dyes; the quality of the weaving – which requires that the ground and patterns are even and tightly woven –; the complexity and number of patterns, and the creativity of the

pattern and colour combinations. Pommaret describes this as follows: ‘In a culture where the shape of the dress is fixed, the quality of the weaving and of the details become all the more important and the focus of attention.’ 65 At the same time, textiles are also re-sold, for instance when cash is needed for unexpected outgoings. Pommaret compares this type of investment with speculative ventures on the stock market in the West, because fabrics are also subject to unforeseen variations, which can affect their resale value. The most important parameters are linked to changes in the fashion.66 Thus, individual patterns can fall in or out fashion in a day, or experience an unexpected comeback after years of neglect. Others can be in demand for years, and then suddenly fall out of favour. For instance, the advent of bright acrylic and gold threads and large geometrical patterns in the early 1980s made traditional patterns seem very out of date, but then they experienced a revival during the late 1980s and early 1990s.67

This photo by F. M. Bailey dates from 1928 and shows the second king Jigme Wangchuck (in the front row, wearing the raven crown) with members of the royal family and his bodyguard, in front of a wall that has been decorated with chagsi pangkheb hangings for the occasion. Their seats have been covered with the same textiles (Photo by Frederick Marshman Bailey, The British Library).

AN IMPORTANT SOURCE OF INCOME For many Bhutanese people, especially in Eastern and Central Bhutan, weaving has always provided an important source of income. In these regions, weaving is still a highly respected profession and almost every woman will know how to weave, to greater or lesser degree. According 345

to Myers, the best weavers in the country used to constitute a class of their own called thagthami or tham for short –, and they wove for the local nobility.68 Myers writes: ‘These weavers were mostly of low status, being from families with service obligations. In some cases the profession was hereditary – a mother who wove full-time for the local noble would pass her skills on to her daughter. In other cases, a girl whose family owed labor might be singled out for service as a weaver if she demonstrated an aptitude at the loom. Many noble houses kept weavers among their permanent household staff, but they also bought from women who wove on order at their own homes. Weaving under this type of patronage was widespread when the monarchy was established in 1907, and probably had existed for at least several centuries – or as long as hereditary service defined the relationship between local elites and other Bhutanese.’ 69 Until 1957, there were extensive weaving communities of this type within noble households as a result of these local hereditary dues. At the same time, women of local noble families were granted the honour of weaving for princesses of the royal family. In the 1940s, the weaving community inside the royal palace consisted of seven full-time dyers and forty weavers. Twenty more were tasked with spinning and winding the yarn.70 Women who were employed in noble households and at the royal court had the advantage of not being exposed to market forces. As a result, the textiles that they produced were of excellent quality and epitomised hingtham (‘heart weaving’), as opposed to tshongtham (‘commercial weaving’, or ‘weaving for sale’).71 When hereditary dues were abolished in 1957, these women were set free, and could weave for any purchaser or market. Some of these professional weavers are still producing their elaborate textiles in the service of the local noble family. Others now weave for private clients in the capital Thimphu, since weaving has always played a rather subordinate role in Western Bhutan. It was only when the royal Wangchuck family moved from Kurtoe to Bumthang, then to Trongsa, ending up in Thimphu, and took their best weavers with them – most of whom originally came from the villages of Khoma and Yomining 72 – that this high-prestige weaving and its highly regarded weavers reached Western Bhutan. ‘In the past thirty-five years, with the expansion of government services, the building of roads, and increased levels of education, weaving has enjoyed true nationwide visibility.’ 73 The fact that weaving has developed into an income-generating craft is due, according to Pommaret, to several reasons. One being the development of tourism and the gradual opening up of the country to foreign aid agencies; the other is the emergence of a prosperous, urban bourgeoisie in the 1980s, linked to the rise of the civil service and the private economy. Finally, 346

weaving has been substantially helped by the government’s policy of promoting the cultural identity of Bhutan.74 The importance of weaving as a source of income will be examined in the light of interviews conducted with three weavers in 2007. These interviews also provide an insight into the social contexts that these women operate in, and lead on to the next chapter, which looks at the changing conditions for textile art. The women whose voices are heard here come from the three most important weaving regions: Eastern Bhutan, North Eastern Bhutan and Central Bhutan. The first interview was conducted on 15th April 2007 with Aum Sena and her mother Pema Yuden in Radi, in Trashigang district; the second interview took place on 19th April 2007 with Dechen Lhamo and her mother Aum Karma in Khoma, in Lhuentse district, and the third was on 26th April 2007 with Rinzin Wangmo and her mother Aum Leki Wangmo in Jakar, in Bumthang. All these interviews took place inside the weavers’ houses. At this point I wish to express my sincere thanks for their friendly welcome and the informative conversations that they granted me. INTERVIEW WITH AUM SENA / SONAM WANGMO, WEAVER FROM RADI /  TRASHIGANG, AGED 43, AND HER MOTHER PEMA YUDEN, BORN IN YANGNYER / TRASHIGANG, AGED 76 The women of Radi are famous for their skill in weaving wild silk, from which they make kira, gho, pangkheb and textiles for the clothes that are worn by the women of Merak and Sakteng. Sonam Wangmo or Aum Sena, as many people call her, is one of these highly-respected weavers from Radi. The interview took place on 15th April 2007, with her and her mother Pema Yuden, inside her house in Radi. Aum Sena was 43 at the time of the interview; she was born in Yangnyer in Trashigang district, and for the last twenty years has been living in Radi with her four children, her husband and her mother Pema Yuden (aged 76). Her oldest son is 18, and her youngest daughter is nine years old. For her part, she has six siblings, of whom only two were educated in school; her youngest sister, who now works in Thimphu, and one of her brothers. All her other siblings, she recalls, would be hidden when the royal government officials visited the families in their village in the mid-1960s, to take the children to school. Back in those days, children were needed to work for the family, as was Sena. Her task was to drive the monkeys off their maize crops – monkeys that were often larger than her. When she was ten, her mother Pema

Yuden taught her how to weave. She is still grateful for this, because weaving has been an important source of income for her family. Weaving has also enabled her to finance her children’s school education. Although Aum Sena’s husband runs a small shop in Radi, without her weaving, they would find it difficult to meet all their outgoings. They do not own the shop, so they have to pay rent every month. Then there are the income taxes, which amount to 2,500 Ngultrum for the shop, whereas Aum Sena pays no taxes on her weaving. Her annual income from weaving amounts to 100,000 Ngultrum, of which 60,000 goes on materials, leaving her an annual profit of only 40,000 Ngultrum (about 645 Euro). Her mother, Pema Yuden, was born in Yangnyer in Trashigang district; she had already started helping her mother with the weaving process by the age of six, and she wove her first kira at the age of eight. Pema Yuden recalls that, back then in Yangnyer, they had their own cotton fields, and even as a young girl, she started to help bring in the cotton harvest. First, they ploughed the ground, then they sowed the seed. The seedlings were then planted out, and later on their branches were pruned to make the bushes fuller and to increase the yield. In her childhood, silk was also cultivated in Bhutan. However, Pema Yuden still remembers that this was deemed sinful because of

the Buddhist tenet of not killing living beings. Although they collected the silk cocoons only after the moths had eaten through the cocoons, killing them could still have happened inadvertently, which was why they imported the empty silk cocoons from India, boiled them up at home, and spun the yarn themselves. Pema Yuden mentioned in passing that the typical short hairstyles of the Bhutanese women were due to these commercial relations with neighbouring India. That’s because each time East Bhutanese women went to India to buy materials, they received a red mark, which was painted on their foreheads. In fact, this red mark is a tilaka or tikka (Skt. sign, mark) that indicates a Hindu blessing. The most common one is made of red powder, and is applied with the thumb on the forehead, as a dot or a single upward stroke. Since the Bhutanese women did not know what the red mark meant, they simply washed it off, each time. However, this process was repeated every time they went shopping and they grew annoyed. They decided to cut their hair short, so as not to be taken for Indian women. From then on, they were no longer marked with red dots. Pema Yuden’s mother had also told her that in her day the women of Bhutan were still wearing simple tunics. Later on, they started wearing kira made of local cotton above their tunics. These were crossed at the back, with only two rows of red and black

The interviewees; Pema Yuden (on the left) and Aum Sena (on the right ).


This raw silk (left ) was dyed by Aum Sena using local indigo. To obtain red (right ) the silk was left in the dye bath for a week, along with leaves of zimshaba, which provide a yellow colour, which is then dyed red using madder (tsho).


patterns on the back section. Otherwise, the fabrics for these kira were in natural colours. A kira of this kind, with strips of red and blue warp patterns on a natural white ground, was called rigpa thara. The Bhutanese men used to wear gho made of unbleached cotton with red and blue, or red and black stripes (mondre chuba). However, this garment was only worn on special occasions. For everyday wear, the men had gho made of local, unbleached cotton, with no patterns. Pema Yuden points out that these fabrics were primarily woven for the family’s use, but that her weaving has now developed into a commercial business. Her daughter agrees with her. Nowadays, Aum Sena weaves everything, from kira and gho to silk shawls in new designs and garments for the Brokpa women of Merak and Sakteng, along with ritual cloths (chagsi pangkheb); the latter however, only on demand. Once, she even wove a jacket (tego) made of cotton for Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck. While most of the weavers in Radi sell their textiles to government officials in Trashigang, Aum Sena weaves for a Vietnamese woman called Doan Nam Phuong who lives in Bhutan. She is worried about the future, because the Vietnamese woman is soon leaving to go home, so she will no longer be buying her textiles. Some of the raw silks made by weavers in Radi are even sold in Thimphu, at the other end of Bhutan, but since then, this has become very difficult, Aum Sena emphasises. Although the Handicraft Emporium in Thimphu sells the wom-

en’s work, they only take the women’s textiles on commission, and therefore the women sometimes have to wait a long time for their money. Furthermore, they are critical of the way they are often not informed when their textiles are sold. This means that the women have no choice but to travel to Thimphu themselves. They often learn that one of their textiles was sold nine months previously, without the weaver being informed. Sometimes, a piece is even lost. Moreover, the textiles are priced very high in Thimphu, which makes it more difficult to sell them. The number of intermediaries raises the price of a textile for which she is paid 1,500 Ngultrum, to 5,000 Ngultrum in Thimphu. For these reasons, Aum Sena does not willingly do business with the Handicraft Emporium in Thimphu. On the other hand, she is very pleased with the National Handloom Development Centre (NHDC) in Khaling, that offers training in the fields of weaving, dyeing with natural dyes, and design. It was their village headmen (Gup), who told the weavers in Radi about this NGO and its work, and contacted NHDC Khaling. Since the women of Radi had been weaving since they were children, very few of them were interested in the weaving workshop. The majority opted for a dyeing workshop, which finally took place in 2004. Aum Sena was one of the participants in this three-day workshop; the trainers came from Khaling to Radi, and introduced the women to the process of dyeing with natural dyes. Since then, Aum Sena has been dyeing most of her raw silk

herself. The vegetable dyestuff is obtained from the Uzorong gewog in Trashigang and from the Chaskhar gewog as well as from the village of Yadi in Ngatshang gewog in Mongar. The dyestuff includes, for instance, the bark of a local tree called kharkhalingshing; the leaves of a tree called zimshaba, which only grows in high regions, and Indian madder (tsho). Local indigo, which is called yangshaba in Tshangla, the language of Eastern Bhutan, is actually grown in Radi, but it provides a less intensive colour than its Indian counterpart, so the weavers of Radi are thinking about importing seeds from India, and growing the Indian indigo. On the other hand, Aum Sena is proud to report that their local turmeric (yongka) provides a far better yellow than the Indian variant. Walnut shells are used, both as dyes and as mordants. During the workshop, Aum Sena also learnt that tourists prefer either natural or dark tones; in both cases, they prefer natural dyes. This is the opposite to what most Bhutanese people like, she observed with a smile, since they generally favour strong, bright colours, and consequently tend to add a little synthetic dye to the dye bath, to achieve a more intense hue. Aum Sena now always adjusts her selection of colours and dyes to suit the market, and the requirements of her customers. When NHDC Khaling commissions woven cloth, they supply the weavers with raw silk that was purchased in Samdrup Jongkhar and dyed in Khaling. Otherwise, the women of Radi procure their raw silk directly from Samdrup Jongkhar, or

from Guduma in India, which lies very close to the border with Samdrup Jongkhar. Raw silk is very expensive, Aum Sena stresses; the material needed for just one gho costs 2,000 Ngultrum (32 Euro). For this reason, a raw silk gho with supplementary-warp-patterned bands in red and green on a yellow ground (lungserma) costs 10,000 Ngultrum (160 Euro). In Radi, various fabrics are made from raw silk; lungserma, mense mathra (a fabric with yellow supplementary-warppatterned bands on a red ground), jadrima (a fabric with white and yellow supplementarywarp-patterned bands on a red ground and alternating rainbow warp stripes) and yütham / yuthama (a wild silk fabric with multi-coloured warp stripes), not forgetting various plaid fabrics such as adha(ng) mathra, sethra, burai mathra and pangtsi. Lungserma are by far the most valuable fabrics; the cost of making a pangtsi amounts to about half its price: 5,000 Ngultrum (80 Euro). Aum Sena requires between two to three weeks to prepare a panel of fabric for a lungserma gho. A plain kira represents only a week’s work of handweaving. As mentioned above, Aum Sena only weaves raw silk chagsi pangkheb on commission. She demands about 10,000 Ngultrum (160 Euro) for each piece. Her mother, Pema Yuden, recalls how she used to weave pangkheb in local cotton, earlier. Nowadays, pangkheb and chagsi pangkheb are mainly produced in raw silk, in Radi; pure silk examples are made in Khoma, in Lhuentse district.

Aum Sena weaving a raw silk shawl in a new design (left); she is also engaged in weaving raw silk jackets for the Merakpa and Saktengpa women (right ).




The next interviewees are Dechen Lhamo and her mother Aum Karma. This interview took place on 19 th April 2007, inside their house in Khoma. Dechen Lhamo was 22 years old at the time of the interview; she was born in Khoma, Lhuentse district. Dechen Lhamo has four siblings: two younger sisters and one older sister, and an older brother who can also weave. Their mother, Karma (aged 47) is a very talented and well-known weaver; she is also from Khoma. Her father died when she was three, and her stepfather comes from Mongar. Because her stepfather was employed by the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA), the entire family moved to Yongphulla in Trashigang. Dechen Lhamo’s school years were marked by continuous moves: Class PP was in Yongphulla, Class 1 in Lhuentse, Class 2 in Tangmachu, Class 3 back in Lhuentse, Class 4 – 8 in Yongphulla, and Class 9 in Khaling. After that, she dropped out of school. When her stepfather resigned from the RBA, the family moved back to Khoma. Her stepfather now runs a business in Khoma and holds the office of a Chimi, a People’s Representative in the National Assembly. Having spent so much time at school,

Dechen Lhamo was already 17 when her mother taught her how to weave. Nowadays, she weaves silk shawls in a new design for the NHDC in Khaling, which are sold in the Handicraft Emporium in Thimphu. Dechen Lhamo earns 2,000 Ngultrum for each shawl; in Thimphu, they are sold for 5,000 Ngultrum a piece. She established this connection with the NHDC and the National Women’s Association of Bhutan (NWAB) in Thimphu. Back then, like many other weavers from the neighbouring villages, Dechen Lhamo travelled to Thimphu, to take part in the fashion show at the Textile Museum. Like many of her colleagues, she exhibited her own handwoven kira at the fashion event. Dechen thinks that it may have been then that she was noticed, and her weaving skills discovered. In any case, soon afterwards, she was invited to Khaling; this had been organised by the village headman (Gup) in Khoma. In 2004, she took part in a twoweek dyeing workshop that Aum Sena from Radi and four women from Khoma also joined. In spite of that, Dechen Lhamo doesn’t do her own dyeing, as she finds it too difficult to obtain all the materials. Also in 2004, a two-week workshop focused on weaving new designs was held in Khoma where 18 weavers took part. This workshop in Khoma was attended by Ms Jambay Zangmo, Deputy Manager of NHDC Khaling, and by a Singaporean man called Joseph Lo, who was the Culture and Development Coordinator in an United Nations

Development Programme (UNDP) and the founder of the new designs.75 Since then, she has mainly been weaving silk shawls in this new style. Dechen Lhamo has now visited NHDC in Khaling three times; once for the dyeing workshop, once for an E-Business project, and once to showcase her kira. In 2005, Mr Kinzang Tobgay from the Ministry of Trade and Industry even awarded her the opportunity to travel abroad for two weeks. Along with some other weavers, she spent one week on a study trip to Thailand, where she met women in Chiang Mai who also use backstrap looms; during the second week she flew to New York, to sell her products; successfully, as Dechen Lhamo is keen to point out. Aum Karma, Dechen’s mother, is delighted with her daughter’s success. For her part, she enjoys a very good reputation as a weaver and patternmaker in Khoma. Aum Karma learnt how to weave at the age of eight, from her mother Yeshey Tshomo, who in turn, learnt it from her mother, Pema Tshomo, Aum Karma’s grandmother. Aum Karma still remembers that her grandmother mostly wove kira in raw silk. To prove this, she fetched a bura lungserma kira (a raw silk kira with supplementarywarp-patterned bands in red and green on a yellow ground) that her grandmother had woven, long ago. Her grandmother had obtained the raw silk from Tibet, Aum Karma said, going on to explain that in those days the weavers of Lhuentse

obtained all their materials from Tibet. This applied particularly to sheep’s wool, which the Bhutanese women used to spin themselves, but also to raw silk. Indian cotton, raw silk and silk only started arriving in Lhuentse at a much later date, via the Southern region of Samdrup Jongkhar. Grandmother Pema Tshomo used to dye her bura lungserma kira herself, using a combination of natural and synthetic dyes. She obtained her reds from the secretion of the stick lac (jatsho), and a rich yellow from the local turmeric (yongka), combined with madder (tsho), her blue from local indigo (called ja in Lhuentse), her green from a combination of turmeric and local indigo, and her pinks and violets by mixing yongka with synthetic dyes. Back in those days, a bura lungserma kira of this quality would only have been worn on special occasions. Their everyday kira consisted of fabrics that were known as karjyang, with red and black stripes on unbleached local cotton; similar to the gho, which were made of unbleached cotton with red and blue, or red and black stripes (mondre chuba). Kushung tunics, which used to be worn prior to her grandmother’s time, are no longer to be found in Khoma. The women who used to wear these clothes are already deceased, and their clothes have been cast into the river. However, Aum Karma knows that in those days, kushung were partly woven from nettle fibres. According to her, there are a few villages in Lhuentse

This raw silk kira with supplementary-warppatterned bands in red and green on a yellow ground (bura lungserma kira) was woven by Aum Karma's grandmother and Dechen Lhamo's grand grandmother Pema Tshomo; in those days the materials were obtained from Tibet.


Dechen Lhamo weaves a modern silk shawl in a new design, called rough weaving.


(such as Shawa Gonpa and Tshango), where the women still weave nettles. All these villages can be reached only on foot, and are situated relatively high up, because nettles grow better in the higher, cooler regions. Aum Karma’s parents relied mainly on agriculture for their livelihood, which enabled them to feed themselves and their six children (Aum Karma has two brothers and three sisters); her mother, Yeshey Tshomo, wove in spare time. Aum Karma points out that, in her grandmother’s and mother’s day, weaving was not such a significant source of income as it is today. Nowadays, nearly all the women in Khoma weave. Girls are often set to work at the age of seven, weaving simple patterns, while the older women concentrate on weaving silk kushuthara with especially rich and elaborate patterns which constitute this region’s chief source of income and its ‘brand’. Many women weave all year round, and only leave their looms when it’s time to plant the rice, or to harvest it. In wintertime, almost every woman will devote a lot of time to weaving, while the men look after the cattle and collect firewood. Most of the women weave commercial wares (tshongtham), and only a few weave solely for their personal use. Aum Karma has taught all her children how to weave; she would prefer to keep her daughters at home to weave instead of going to school. Once they have completed 12 th grade, many young people can earn an average of 3,000 to 4,000 Ngultrum (50 to 65 Euro) a month; weaving allows them to earn considerably more. A talented weaver can earn up

to 30,000 – 40,000 Ngultrum (480 – 650 Euro) a month. The best months are February, March and August – before the festival season starts in Paro and Thimphu –, because most of their customers are urban women from Western Bhutan, who commission new kira from the weavers for special occasions. Then there are the months of September and October, when most of the tourists arrive; occasionally they also come to Khoma and buy a few pieces. Weavers in other villages that are not on the tourist trail sell their wares to merchants, who visit their villages in the spring to buy up the fabrics that were made during the winter, which they can then sell in the towns. The price of a pure silk kushuthara in Khoma varies between 30,000 and 60,000 Ngultrum (480 and 960 Euro). Kira with silk patterns on a cotton ground are considerably cheaper. Generally speaking, the price depends on the quality and complexity of the patterns. Gho are also made in Khoma, including the lungserma gho (a gho with red and green warp pattern stripes on a yellow ground), which are among the most expensive. Three panels of cloth for a lungserma gho can cost up to 60,000 Ngultrum. This high price is dictated by the high cost of the materials as well as the intense work that is involved. According to Aum Karma, a kilogram of silk yarns (seshu) costs between 2,300 and 2,500 Ngultrum (37 and 40 Euro). She gets her silk yarns from shops in Lhuentse or from a merchant in Khoma, who claims that 90,000 Ngultrum (1,450 Euro) are spent on silk yarns in Khoma. Aum Karma washes the chemically dyed Indian silk in

boiling water, adding a dash of fruit vinegar to make the dye last longer. Although this process makes the colours a bit less intense, it ensures that they are colourfast. Aum Karma learnt this method in Khaling, as well. Aum Karma and her daughter Dechen Lhamo are currently working for the NHDC in Khaling. The weaving centre commissions silk shawls, provides the material, and sells the completed shawls in the Handicraft Emporium in Thimphu. On 28th March 2007, the two women received the material for making silk shawls, along with precise instructions, in an accompanying letter. 18 women in Khoma are involved in this commission; each woman has to weave eight silk shawls, which must arrive in Thimphu by the second week of April. That’s not very far off, but Dechen Lhamo has already woven her eight pieces and is now helping her mother finish her last shawl. The order applies to the production of pure silk shawls in the new designs created by Joseph Lo. He conceptualised both the design and the name of the individual pattern techniques, such as water weaving, window weaving, rough weaving, single basket, three lines basket, pure basket, float weave, open weave and hole weave. Nowadays, Aum Karma no longer weaves elaborate kira such as kushuthara, because her sight is fading and weaving strains her eyes. As mentioned above, Aum Karma has devoted the last few years to designing patterns for other women in the village. Karma arranges the warp, weaves a small example of her pattern, and passes it on to the other women in Khoma, who then weave the

kira. Aum Karma weaves just enough to enable the other weavers to copy her pattern and continue it. Aum Karma is delighted that her daughter Dechen Lhamo is also very talented, and hopes she will earn a good living from weaving. INTERVIEW WITH RINZIN WANGMO, WEAVER FROM JAKAR / BUMTHANG, AGED 29, AND HER MOTHER AUM LEKI / LEKI WANGMO, BORN IN NGADAG / TRONGSA, AGED 49

Dechen Lhamo produced pure silk shawls in the new designs created by Joseph Lo from Singapore; the techniques are called three lines basket, water weaving, and window weaving (left to right).

The third and final interview was conducted on 26 th April 2007 with Rinzin Wangmo and her mother Leki Wangmo inside their house in Jakar. Both women are highly accomplished weavers, and run The Leki Weaving Studio, which adjoins the oldest family-run lodge in Jakar. Rinzin Wangmo (she was 29 years old at the time of this interview) is an only child; she was born and grew up in Thimphu. Her father, Khandu Tshering (aged 72) comes from Babesa in Thimphu district, and her mother Leki Wangmo (aged 49) is from Ngadag in Trongsa. In 1991, her father was appointed Deputy Governor, and was sent to Bumthang (Rinzin was still at school in Thimphu at the time); in 2004, he was sent to Pemagatshel. He retired at the age of 55 and now lives with his family in Jakar, Bumthang. In 1996, the family opened the Leki Guesthouse in Bumthang, which provides a good income, in addition to weaving. Back then, when they opened their guest353

left: Interviewees Rinzin Wangmo and Aum Leki (Photo by Rinzin Wangmo). right: Aum Leki trains and employs weavers in The Leki Weaving Studio.


house, there were only two others in Bumthang, the Swiss Guesthouse and the old Wangdicholing Guesthouse; consequently, they were able to make a good living from it. Nowadays, there are eighteen guesthouses in Bumthang, and more are being opened, so the business is becoming more difficult to run. The best period, when they would love to have 100 rooms instead of 21, is during the Jampe lhakhang drup, which draws quite a number of tourists every year, and all the guest houses are full. The main tourist season is restricted to the months of March, April, October and November; in September they have only one or two guests. The rest of the year, though, the house is empty, and the women devote their time to weaving, which still represents an important source of income. Whereas they used to weave to improve their income, nowadays, weaving has become a vital means of earning a living. Recently, a few tourists have started visiting them specifically on account of the weaving, but they are very much in the minority. Most of the people who buy their textiles are tourists. Sometimes, they get an order from women in Thimphu, because Leki Wangmo, also known as Aum Leki, is famed for her skill in weaving. For as long as Rinzin Wangmo can remember, her mother has always woven. Aum Leki recalls how she started weaving at the age of eight. To start with, she helped her mother

with various tasks. At the age of eight, she wove her first small cloth on a loom that she held between her hips and her toes. Then she wove a belt (kera), a ceremonial shawl (rachu), and, at the age of thirteen, her first kira. She learnt all about weaving and the associated tasks from her mother Dorji Wangmo, who had woven for the mother of the third king, Jigme Dorje Wangchuck (1924 –  1972) and was known to be a particularly talented weaver. Dorji Wangmo came from Ngadag in Trongsa; to start with, she and her husband were farmers. Then they were forced to leave Ngadag, following conflicts about landownership. Her husband went to Thimphu, where he entered the service of the third king. Finally, he persuaded his wife to come and start a new life with him in Thimphu. That was how Dorji Wangmo arrived in Thimphu at the age of 26, where she was trained as a royal weaver by the third king’s mother. Back in those days, the training was very strict and took years to complete. During her first year, she was only allowed to wind balls. During the next five to six years, she acquired a thorough knowledge of dyeing, because the King’s mother did her own dyeing in those days and attached great importance to dyeing. She was also introduced to all the techniques of weaving and patternmaking. Initially, she only wove simple striped patterns, and plaids (mathra and sethra) and woollen cloth

(yathra), but over time she learnt how to weave every kind of pattern, right down to the most elaborate patterns, using the thrima technique. Dorji Wangmo remained in the service of the queen mother until a very great age. Aum Leki herself spent three years weaving for the royal family, that is, the family of the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck. ‘Weaving is my education,’ Aum Leki asserts, adding that weaving has played a special role in her life: as a source of income and a vocation. Her daughter Rinzin Wangmo started helping her mother with the weaving process at the age of seven. She wound balls, and helped to warp the loom. At the age of nine or ten, she started weaving. After finishing school in Thimphu, Rinzin Wangmo went to Bumthang, to help out in the Leki Guesthouse. She remembers how, for her part, she viewed weaving as a way of earning money when she was a teenager, rather than as a passion. She can still recall vividly how women used to spend hours weaving without a break and without stretching. For her part, as a young girl, she often used to cheat and avoid stretching her legs out while weaving, although this was important for maintaining the warp tension. She far preferred weaving with her legs in a relaxed position. When her woven piece was cut off, her cheating was immediatly spotted, because the pattern was not woven nice and flat, due to the lack of tension. Nowadays, she also works in the dzong. Rinzin Wangmo has two children, a five year-old son called Chhoeing Jurmed and an eight year-old daughter called Michelle Chhoewang. When the latter is ten, and has joined the fifth grade, she will start to teach her how to weave. Michelle has al-

ready made a start on a small piece of work, which is still unfinished; it will be a pair of trousers for her dad, one day. Aum Leki now employs five weavers. Three of the women come from villages in Trashigang district, and they joined Aum Leki as simple weavers two to three years ago. Back then, the three women, aged 19, 26 and 29, could only weave simple striped and plaid patterns; thanks to Leki Wangmo, they have received a well-founded training in the arts of dyeing and weaving. According to Rinzin Wangmo, these young women could return to their villages whenever they want, but none of them plans to leave Aum Leki in the near future. They hold her in respect, because she is passing much of her knowledge on to them and has invested a lot time in training them. Furthermore, they earn a monthly income of 3,500 Ngultrum (56 Euro) and a further 300 Ngultrum (5 Euro) pocket money a month, along with their board, lodging and clothing. Alongside the three employees, Rinzin Wangmo and her cousin Yeshey also weave for Aum Leki, who does very little weaving now. She concentrates on designing, and will now and then weave a strip to demonstrate a design, which the other weavers will carry out. When her mother is away, Rinzin Wangmo is in charge of designing the patterns, but only then, because mother and daughter have different tastes with regard to patterns, and, above all, to colour combinations. For instance, Rinzin Wangmo likes to experiment with her weaving and her colours, which her mother is very sceptical about. Especially when her daughter destroys a handwoven piece with her dyeing experiments, Rinzin Wangmo says, grinning. Most of the time,

Aum Leki's and Rinzin Wangmo's weaving designs combine traditional patterns with fashionable colour combinations.


Rinzin Wangmo (centre) designs stunning kushuthara kira in pure silk (Photos by Rinzin Wangmo).


though, Rinzin knows what she is doing. Rinzin Wangmo can weave anything, but she, along with their cousin Yeshey, are the only ones who can really produce good work with new designs such as basket weaving. However, she didn’t learn this new design, which is also called Joseph Design after its founder, from Joseph Lo himself. She only needed to see it once in Thimphu, and then she learnt it by experimenting. The three employed weavers continue to weave in the traditional style, as before. The women prepare the silk and woollen yarn themselves; they take the sheep’s wool to a sheep farm in Tang valley, where it is washed, carded and spun. In addition, they order readyspun yak wool from an old woman in Dur. Aum Leki’s profit (after deducting the weavers’ pay and the costs of the materials) amounts to 60,000 Ngultrum (970 Euro) per year. A pure silk shawl is sold to tourists for 200 USD. When money is urgently needed, they sell their textiles cheaper; for instance, a silk shawl was recently sold for 150 USD, because this year, it’s the turn of their family in Ngadag village to conduct the expensive annual rituals for the religious texts in the village. According to the two women, it is primarily the wealthy tourists who usually try to bargain and beat down the price; this is something that many Bhutanese people simply do not understand. As Rinzin points out, the tourists are often unaware of the amount of work that has been put into each individual piece, or of the high cost of the materials. In Bumthang, pure silk now costs 3,800 Ngultrum (61 Euro) a kilogram. Furthermore, they mainly use natural dyestuff for dyeing, which

is also more expensive and time-consuming. Rinzin and Leki Wangmo are keen to pass on their knowledge of dyeing and weaving to interested foreigners in a Weaving and Natural Dyeing Workshop; a woman from California promised to send them nine clients, but the project fell through at the last minute. Unlike many other weavers, Aum Leki has been abroad many times. For instance, she has travelled to Japan three times, and has taken part in textile workshops and selling exhibitions. In the summer of 2006, Rinzin and Leki Wangmo accepted an invitation from one of their guests and flew to the USA. They spent six weeks there and took part in a three-day Textile Convergence in Michigan. Given that weavers from all over the world were coming to this event, and that Michigan is a well-reputed centre for weaving, the two of them hoped to achieve a lot by attending it. They asked the National Women’s Association of Bhutan (NWAB) to support them (they arranged visas for them) and packed various kira and other Bhutanese textiles in their luggage, along with a loom to demonstrate their weaving technique on. Unfortunately, they did not sell nearly as much as they had anticipated. Their profits were very small, and scarcely covered the cost of their flights. If their host family had not covered all their other expenses, they would have lost money, Rinzin Wangmo reflects. They left most of their wares in Michigan, to be sold, and were thinking of sending the textiles to Santa Fe, where another textile conference took place. Rinzin and Leki Wangmo are keen to have another go at introducing Bhutanese textiles on the international market.

Rinzin Wangmo imparts her knowledge to students from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna in 2011. Notes 1 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.71. 2 Aris, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.29. 3 According to Aris these details are repeated in Je Khenpo Yönten Thayé ’s work Mutig doshel / The Necklace of Pearls, 1970. (Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.39.) 4 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.39. 5 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.169. 6 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.78; Pommaret 1994, p.174. 7 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.207. 8 Ibid., p.78. 9 Karma Ura 2004, p.134. 10 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.78. 11 Ibid., p.78. 12 Ibid., p.78. 13 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.180. 14 Ibid., p.180. 15 Ibid., p.176. 16 Karma Ura 2004, p.134. 17 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.78. 18 Ibid., p.79. 19 Karma Ura 2004, p.9 20 Pommaret, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.174. 21 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.58. 22 Karma Ura 2004, p.106. 23 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.60. 24 Peissel 1970, p.200. 25 White 1914, p.405.

26 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.75. 27 Karma Ura 2004, p.2f. 28 Ibid., p.82. 29 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.80. 30 Ibid., p.76. 31 Ibid., p.80. 32 Bartholomew 1985, p.3. 33 Driglam Namzhag 1999, p.204. 34 Ibid., p.204. 35 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.72f. 36 Ibid., p.73. 37 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.174f. 38 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.76. 39 Ibid., p.71. 40 Michael Rutland, 8th March 2007, interview in Thimphu. 41 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.77. 42 Pommaret, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.177. 43 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.71. 44 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.130. 45 Ibid., p.130. 46 Ibid., p.130. 47 Ibid., p.130. 48 Ibid., p.130. 49 Ibid., p.130. 50 Ibid., p.131. 51 Ibid., p.130. 52 Ibid., p.133. 53 Aum Sena and Pema Yuden from Radi,

15 th April 2007, interview. 54 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.135. 55 Ibid., p.210. 56 Aum Sena and Pema Yuden from Radi, 15 th April 2007, interview. 57 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.131. 58 A detailed list can be found in the Code of Etiquette Driglam Namzhag. (Driglam Namzhag 1999, p.211 ­– 215.) 59 Rinzin Rinzin, born in the weaver village of Gonpakap, 2 nd May 2007, interview. 60 Aum Leki Wangmo and Rinzin Wangmo from Jakar, 26 th April 2007, interview. 61 Aum Sena and Pema Yuden from Radi, 15 th April 2007, interview. 62 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.92. 63 SNV Bhutan 2007, in: pages/bt/ecdu/bt_ecotour01f.html. 64 Poverty Analysis Report 2007, p.14. 65 Pommaret, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.178. 66 Ibid., p.178. 67 Ibid., p.178. 68 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.87. 69 Ibid., p.87f. 70 Ibid., p.180. 71 Ibid., p.181. 72 Ibid., p.176. 73 Ibid., p.88. 74 Pommaret, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.176. 75 The United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, was launched in 1965 and is based in New York. It is the main organ of UN Funds and Programmes and invoves 166 states.




opposite: Ugyen Wangchuck in Wangdicholing Palace in Bumthang, 1905, surrounded by female relatives (Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California).

The old Wangdicholing Palace in Bumthang; when the royal Wangchuck family moved from Kurtoe to Bumthang, they took their best weavers with them to the royal palace.


All our human traditions, languages, concepts and behaviours are in a permanent state of transition, as is our material culture; this process also applies to the textile art of Bhutan. Despite the fact that Bhutan’s topography and deliberate demarcation policy made it difficult to reach for a long time, the country was never wholly cut off from the outside world. Relations with Tibet and India were always maintained, through trade, wandering lamas, pilgrimages, diplomatic delegations and hostile incursions. ‘Situated near major crossroads of ancient trade and migration routes, Bhutan has enjoyed access to Tibet, China, Southeast Asia, India and destinations far to the west.’ 1 The result was that the Bhutanese combined some of the South East Asian traditions and techniques of weaving with those found in the high plateaux regions of Tibet, thereby producing an independent culture and art form. Right from the start, Bhutan’s textile art has been closely associated with the history of their country. This deep-seated historical connection started in the 7 th century, with the advent of the Chinese Princess Wen Cheng (also known as Ashi Jhazam in Bhutan), who took her place beside the Nepalese princess Bhirkuti as the second consort of the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. Wen Cheng was a princess of the Tang Dynasty, who was sent to the royal palace in Lhasa (Tibet) in 641 to marry Songtsen Gampo as part of a political settlement.

Marriages of this kind were the norm; historical documents record the practice of sending Chinese princesses to the rulers of the steppe and mountain peoples as tribute and a form of legitimation. According to Bhutanese oral tradition, Wen Cheng also passed Bhutan on her way to Lhasa. When the Bhutanese people heard about her bitter fate, they welcomed and honoured her by burning incense. In return for their compassion, she is supposed to have introduced weaving to the country. This historical connection continued in the 17 th century, with Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel’s innovation, the national dress for men (gho). It has been continued by the Wangchuck Dynasty, which has greatly promoted the status of textile art. The royal family’s roots go back to Jigme Namgyel, the father of the first king Ugyen Wangchuck, who came from the village of Dungkhar in Lhuentse district – one of the most famous weaving regions in the country. The royal family’s influence meant that the textile art of their home region was highly regarded, and the highly-developed weaving skills of Lhuentse in Northern Bhutan were transferred, via Bumthang in Central Bhutan, where the first Wangchuck dynasty built Wangdicholing Palace, their first palatial residence, in 1857, to Trongsa, and finally to the new capital Thimphu in the western part of the country, where the royal family settled.

AVAILABILITY OF MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT Susan Bean points out that the golden age of weaving in Bhutan was between the mid-19 th and the mid-20 th centuries.2 In the mid-19 th century, most fibres were still obtained, dyed and woven locally. Consequently, the process of weaving fine and high quality fabrics (hingtham) involved a great deal of work and time. In those days, talented weavers worked for elite families who kept the fabric for their own use. Less talented weavers were commissioned to weave the fabrics that were used to pay taxes, or to present as gifts to nobles and inferiors.3 When the weavers could afford the materials, they also produced hingtham (‘ heart weaving’) for their own families. During the 20 th century, significant changes occurred, which were bound up with new imported materials. New yarns and dyes were imported from India and China and gradually spread all over Bhutan. Myers explains how it happened: ‘The new fibres penetrated Bhutan unevenly. Bhutan’s trade with India was always relatively modest, and until the 1960s most Bhutanese traders must have bartered only what they could transport back to their home or village. Those who represented noble households might have purchased goods in some quantity, but few others would have been affluent enough or even interested in purchasing novel fibres. Many traders would have come from nonweaving areas, such as western Bhutan, and presumably found ready-made cloth of more use and value. Imported goods, therefore, did not necessarily compare well or even compete significantly with indigenous products for some years. Even for the well-to-do, there were no dramatic economic advantages to machine-spun yarn; labor for the noble workshops was plentiful, as were supplies

of indigenous wool and cotton and Assamese wild silk.’ 4 By the mid-20 th century, when the hereditary dues and labour services were being abolished and the economy was slowly changing from barter to money, many weavers were obliged to start using cheaper imported materials. At this point, many women started weaving for their own use and changed to using materials that they could afford. Instead of silk, they opted for silk-like synthetic fibres, or to mercerised cotton, which has a soft silky sheen. Indeed, the Bhutanese weavers welcomed these imported wares, as they represented an opportunity to alter and extend their traditional local materials with new colours, textures and surfaces. Chemical dyes in particular opened the way to a new, rich and hitherto unknown range of colours. Enthusiasm for these new materials rose steadily; consequently ready-to-use chemical dyes and synthetic, machine-produced yarns gradually supplemented and to some extent replaced the local dyes and yarns. The result was that materials were not only being imported from abroad simply for reasons of cost but also on account of the new variety that they offered. Seventy-six-year-old weaver Pema Yuden from Radi recalls the range of weaving materials that were available in her day: 5 until the mid-20 th century, her family – like many other families in Eastern Bhutan – grew their own local cotton. In Tshangla, the language of Eastern Bhutan, this local cotton is called mongan. Nowadays, she says, only a few villages close to Wamrong in Trashigang district still grow their own cotton. By the mid-20 th century they started obtaining machine-spun cotton yarn from India. In Hindi it is called tukuli, but in Eastern Bhutan this rougher machine-spun cotton yarn was commonly referred to as thangteng kudpa. Pema Yuden recalls that it took

left: Chemical dyes and synthetic, machineproduced yarns found their way into Bhutanese weaving, and gradually supplemented and to some extent replaced the local dyes and yarns. right: The advent of bright acrylic and gold threads and large geometrical patterns in the early 1980s made traditional patterns seem very out of date.


left: A wool-like acrylic material, called jachen, was very famous in the 1980's. right: Kira by Pema Yuden; ground: cotton (tukuli), pattern: wool-like acrylic yarn (jachen).


at least two days to reach the markets in India. Sometimes, they undertook this long journey only to discover that the materials they favoured were no longer available. Sometimes, they even had to wait a few days in the houses of their Indian hosts (shazi) until the new wares came in. Back then, they paid 11 Ngultrum for the quantity of cotton yarn needed to weave a kira or a gho. At the same time, acrylic yarns started appearing on the Indian markets. In those days they were considered valuable and were only used for patterns. One of these synthetic materials looked like wool, and was called jachen. Pema Yuden still owns an old kira, which features a ground made of cotton (tukuli) and patterns made of wool-like acrylic yarn (jachen). Another yarn that Pema Yuden mentions is called lata. She explains how it was used by a great many women and was relatively easy to weave, although the yarn was sensitive and ripped easily when in contact with water. Pema Yuden has often used this yarn to weave with. As evidence, she displays a kira that she wove in the 1950s, which is made of lata. It consists of three lengths of cloth; she spent a month working on each length. The pattern combination that she used for this kira is not common anymore, Pema Yuden says, because

the young women have already forgotten how to weave these kinds of patterns. She goes on to say that this type of cloth used to be woven and delivered as a tax to the royal family and local elite households. Three variants were woven in lata: a fabric with white and yellow supplementarywarp-pattern bands on a red ground, and alternating colourful warp striping (jadrima), a fabric with yellow supplementary-warp-pattern bands on a red ground (mense mathra), and a fabric with red and green supplementary-warp-pattern bands on a yellow ground (lungserma). However, Pema Yuden was unable to provide further details regarding to the type of material she calls lata. More detailed notes are provided by Diane Myers, who uses the term lata for the shiny, machine-spun cotton yarn from India. According to Myers, this yarn was already being imported to Bhutan in the 1890s, but in very small quantities: ‘Not until forty years later did cotton yarn figure as one of the chief exports to Bhutan from Assam, entering mainly through the market town of Samdrup Jongkhar in the southeast.’ 6 She also cites an anecdote about the origins of the term: ‘ This yarn was known as lata, a name that Bhutanese explain reflected cultural perceptions of the time. Eastern Bhutanese, who were

the predominant clients of Indian merchants along the border, spoke only their own language and had to rely on sign language to communicate, pointing to what they wanted. The Indian merchants, not known for their patience, would cry out in exasperation, “Lata!” – meaning simpleton, but which the Bhutanese came to think was the name of the yarn. The term spread to Tibet via the Bhutanese, who still use the word for Indian cotton yarn.’ 7 Mercerised cotton (japan tukuli or japan kudpang) and polyester yarns, which are known as terry cotton, küpsap (‘new yarn’) or jaküp (‘Indian yarn’), also found their way to Bhutan via India. A silklike acrylic yarn (silik) provided an alternative to reeled silk yarn (seshu). Nowadays, Pema Yuden obtains her raw silk (bura) from India, but she also orders cotton and wool, and a finer, machinespun wool known as them, which she uses for making bumthang mathra. The latter is supposed to be considerably cheaper than the sheep’s wool and yak wool from Bumthang. A further change came when Bhutanese weavers were introduced to a new kind of loom; horizontal frame looms (thrithag) were introduced from Tibet during the first half of the 20 th century. By the 1930s, the above-mentioned initiative by

Ashi Wangmo, the first king’s daughter, and her weaver, Sonam Dondhrup, led to the horizontal frame loom being widely used in Central Bhutan. A decade later, it was also known in Thimphu because the Thimphu Chamberlain (Zimpön) Rinchen Dorji held Tibetan woven textiles in high regard, and thus brought two Tibetan weaver families from Phari to the Bhutanese capital in the 1940s. They brought their horizontal looms with them, with the result that the Bhutanese copied them, and they soon were popularised.8 These horizontal frame looms opened up new opportunities in the weaving sector. Although not suited for moving about, on account of its size and design, this loom enabled Bhutanese weavers to produce new textiles. The woollen cloths (yathra) that were formerly woven on backstrap looms were now being made on the new horizontal frame looms, a change that was accompanied by changes to the yathra patterns and new applications for this fabric. ‘The first major innovation occured in wool lengths that were cut in half and stitched together to form a cushion or floor covering (denkheb). These began to be woven to resemble pile rugs from Tibet, with traditional design elements enclosed in a lattice in the field and framed all around by a “Chinese

clockwise from left: A shiny, machine-spun cotton yarn, called lata, was imported from India; jadrima kira by Pema Yuden, ca 1950; red ground and colourful warp striping: lata, supplementary-warppatterns: bura; monthakira in mercerised cotton (japan kudpang) by Pema Yuden.


wall” meander (janachari). […] Today lengths of wool are decorated with designs like those on fancy women’s dresses (kushüthara). New pattern combinations appear regularly, and some become known as the design of a particular woman or weaver.’ 9 According to Myers, card looms were also reaching Bhutan via Tibet: ‘ Card weaving flourished in Burma, India and Tibet […] and may have been introduced to Bhutan from Tibet. The strongest evidence for this hypothesis is the range of textiles traditionally made on this loom. They are all similar to textiles made in Tibet and are used in contexts that were introduced from Tibet: for male dress (men’s belt and garters for securing boots) and religious purposes (ties for binding religious texts [petha or singtha] and, sometimes, straps to hold reliquaries worn on the chest.’ 10 In the 1960s, narrow belts for women were being made on card looms that had been previously reserved for making textiles for men and for religious purposes. ‘Perhaps it was only possible because of the social and cultural changes that have led to the relaxation of other textile and dress traditions since the 1950s.’ 11 These three common forms of loom, the backstrap loom (pangthag), the card loom (shogu thagshing) and the horizontal frame loom (thrithag), have never undergone substantial changes in Bhutan and are being used in the same way as before. The choice of new yarns, together with a fresh range of colours and the different kinds of looms, has not only provided the weavers with new opportunities, but has brought in new fashions for clothes. THE VIEW FROM OUTSIDE (17 th – 20 th CENTURIES) The descriptions of various foreign travellers allow us to reconstruct, to some extent, how the textiles and clothes of the Bhutanese people from the 17 th to the 20 th century looked. As pointed out in the introduction to this book, in 1627 two Portuguese Jesuits called Estevão Cacella and João Cabral arrived in Bhutan as the first visitors from Western Europe. After them came, for instance, George Bogle (1774), Dr Alexander Hamilton (1776 – 77), Captain Samuel Turner with Lieutenant Samuel Davis (1783), Captain Robert Boileau Pemberton (1838) and Ashley Eden (1864) as part of a British mission. In 1904, the British Colonel Francis Younghusband led a military expedition to Lhasa that included Ugyen Wangchuck as a negotiator and interpreter, and in 1905 and 1907 John Claude White turned up in Bhutan as the Political Officer in Sikkim. He was followed by members of various expeditions, such as Lieutenant Frederick Marshman Bailey, who travelled around Bhutan between 1922 and 1928, and the British botanist George Sherriff, who, together with Frank Ludlow, 364

went to Bhutan and Tibet six times, between 1937 and 1949, on behalf of the British Museum.12 This section ends with a traveller’s account from 1968 that was written by the French ethnologist, Michel Peissel. The reports, drawings and above all the photographs that all these expeditions brought back provide information about Bhutanese fashions through the ages. In Cacella’s description from the year 1627, when the country was ruled by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, we find, for instance, the following account of the way Bhutanese men dressed at the time: ‘[…] their arms are bare and they cover themselves with a woollen cloth from the neck to the knees, over which they wrap another cloth like a cape; they wear leather belts with very well made buckles – the bracelets normally worn on their arms and caskets for relics slung over their shoulders are also very well crafted; normally they go barefoot but they also wear leather boots or socks made of their cloth specially when they are travelling;’ 13 ‘[…] from November to February it will be colder, but the people have very good quality woolen cloth with which they clothe themselves.’ 14 In addition Father Estevão Cacella remarked in 1629 that the Shabdrung ‘has a long beard which reaches to his waist, and he normally keeps it wrapped in silk, except during festivals when it is uncovered as when we first met him.’ 15 After the visit by the Portuguese missionaries, almost 150 years passed until some more western ‘guests’ stood on Bhutanese soil. George Bogle, an officer in the Civil Service in Bengal travelled to Tibet in 1774 on behalf of the British East India Company. Bogle spent several weeks in Thimphu, waiting for permission to continue his journey to Tibet. He wrote various accounts of the Bhutanese people and their clothes at the time; in a report about an audience with the Bhutanese Desi, he describes a procession: ‘First came twelve led horses, then about a hundred and twenty men dressed in red and blue, thirty matchlock men, thirty archers, thirty horses laden with cloth, forty men on horseback, some wearing bushy hats, and six musicians, all preceding the Deb Raja, also on horseback in scarlet cloak and large yellow hat, men waving fly whisks on either side of him and others carrying a white silk umbrella with coloured fringes which protected him.’ 16 This fly whisk (camara), which Bogle mentioned, used to be made from yak hairs; according to Blanche Christine Olschak, they are among the oldest trade goods that were exported to the Indian plains: ‘Yak hairs were so expensive and so important to Ancient India that the lands, such as Bhutan, that yak hairs were imported from, were simply called “Yak tail lands”. The Camara, or Ngayab in Tibetan, was used as a fly whisk and as such, formed part of the royal insignia’.17 George Bogle also mentions a little cloth (torey), that was

traditionally used to wipe the wooden drinking bowl (phob) and was then stowed away, along with a knife (gaju), inside the large breast pocket on the garments that the Bhutanese wore: ‘Then a man with a silver kettle of buttered tea poured some into his own palm before filling the dishes of the Deb and the officials who provided their own wooden cups which were glazed black on the inside and wrapped in cloth as they were carried in the owners’ tunics next to the skin.’ 18 Furthermore, Bogle describes the soldiers’ uniforms as follows: ‘Soldiers wore quilted caps, iron netted hoods or helmets; some had coats of mail and most wore woolen hose soled with leather and gartered under the knee. Over their tunics they carried several striped blankets. They slept in the open keeping themselves warm with their plaids and whisky.’ 19 Yet another witness to this period is provided by an oil painting, which shows George Bogle at an audience with the third Panchen Lama in Tibet. The third person on the right appears to be wearing a gho with supplementary-warp-pattern bands (aikapur), but a closer

look reveals that this gho is not being worn in the Bhutanese manner. It falls, not to the knees but to the ground, and the cuffs of the white tego beneath cannot be seen. Given that some of the figures in this picture are not correctly dressed, Michael Aris has deduced that this painting is simply a reconstruction of the audience that Bogle attended.20 In his opinion, though, this is still the oldest available representation of a gho by a western artist.21 The next missions were led by Alexander Hamilton (1776 – 77) and Captain Samuel Turner (1783). Their task was to negotiate an improvement in the trade relations between Bengal, Bhutan and Tibet, and to free up the frontiers. Lieutenant Samuel Davis accompanied this trade mission, which was led by Captain Samuel Turner, as an artist; the sketches he made brought Bhutan to the world’s notice. In 1813, William Daniell made an aquatint print of Samuel Davis’s original painting from the year 1783 called View between Murichom & Choka. The man depicted in the lower half of the painting is holding a bow and wear-

This oil painting by Tilly Kettle shows Georg Bogle at an audience with the third Panchen Lama. The third person from the right appears to be wearing a gho in aikapur (Royal Collection Trust /  © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015).


View between Murichom & Choka (left) and A Temple of Bode (right), 1813 London, handcoloured aquatints by William Daniell, from Views in Bootan, after the original by Samuel Davis, dated 1783 (The British Library).


ing a pakhi, the wrap-around garment that is occasionally still worn in Southern Bhutan. Another aquatint that Daniell made in 1813 from an original drawing by Samuel Davis is titled A Temple of Bode. It shows a temple known as a chorten, which is flanked by tall prayer flags. The people depicted in the foreground also give some indication of the garments worn at that time. After Turner’s mission, British-Bhutanese contacts languished for more than 50 years. The next available description comes from Captain Robert Boileau Pemberton’s diary, written in 1837 – 38: ‘The garments of the upper classes consist of a long loose robe which wraps round the body and is secured in its position by a leather belt round the waist. Among the higher orders the robe is generally made of Chinese flowered silks, the favourite colours being red and yellow. Over the robe in the winter a large shawl of black satin or silk is generally thrown, and when seated, the person wearing it wraps it round the knees and feet so effectively as to conceal them from view. A legging of red broadcloth is attached to a shoe made of buffalo hide; and no Bootea [Bhutanese] ever travels during the winter without protecting his legs and feet against the effects of snow

by putting these boots on and they are secured by a garter tied under the knee. A cap of fur or coarse broad cloth, or blanket, completes the habiliment; and the only variation observable is the substitution of a cloth for a woollen robe during the summer months of the heat.’ 22 Soon after, Ashley Eden travelled to Bhutan in 1864 against the will of the Bhutanese government. As a result, his mission was scorned, and Eden was humiliated, stoned, and forced to sign a contract that recognised Bhutan’s rights over Assam Duars, the southeastern gateway to Bhutan. The term duars means ‘doors’, and it applies to the entire frontier area of Southern Bhutan; for a long time these floodplains and foothills were the only possible gateways to Bhutan. In all, there were eighteen duars, seven in Assam and eleven in Bengal. This fertile tropical region was heavily farmed and consequently a cause of dissention between Bhutan and the British who occupied Assam in 1828. Although Eden wrote detailed accounts of all this, they include hardly any descriptions of Bhutanese clothing worth the mention. John Claude White, for his part, produced a series of photographs which provide revealing

insights into Bhutanese fashions at the start of the 20th century. As the British Political Officer for Sikkim, he travelled to Bhutan on three occasions with official permission. Among other gifts, he awarded Ugyen Wangchuck the order of Knight Commander of the Indian Star (K.C.I.S.), one of the highest awards in the British Empire, and in 1905 Ugyen Wangchuck was dubbed Knight Commander of the Indian Empire (K.C.I.E.). Furthermore, White and his wife attended Ugyen Wangchuck’s enthronement in 1907. John Claude White’s accounts often mention the clothes and the textile art of his time. Thus, he wrote: ‘All the people who formed the immediate entourage of the officials were clean and respectable in their outward appearance, while the officials themselves were always immaculate in their brocades and silks.’ 23 ‘Weaving is pretty general; the factories are maintained by the wealthier officials, and the weavingroom at Byagha was very noticeable. Cotton, wool, wild and domestic silk are all freely used, but unfortunately, the introduction of aniline dyes has spoilt many patterns.’ 24 ‘No attempt has been made to grow mulberry silk plants, because the cocoons, from which Endi or Erhi or Tussar silk is made, are collected in their wild state from the jungles inhabited by the insects which produce them.’  25 However, our most informative sources are the numerous photographs that John Claude White took: one of his photographs from the

year 1904 shows Ugyen Wangchuck in the midst of his entourage, in Lhasa, Tibet (see p.368, top left). At this point, Ugyen Wangchuck was still the Trongsa Penlop and he was acting as mediator between the British and the Dalai Lama in Tibet. Ugyen Wangchuck is wearing a striped gho, Bhutanese boots and the famous Raven Crown, which still formed part of the insignia of the Trongsa Penlop; it only became an established part of the royal crown when Ugyen Wangchuck was crowned in 1907. In 1905, Ugyen Wangchuck is pictured with his British guests at a trail camp en route to Punakha (see p.368, top right). Ugyen Wangchuck is wearing a gho combined with western shoes and socks. In 1905, John Claude White took a photograph in Trongsa (see p.368, below) that shows Ugyen Wangchuck as the Trongsa Penlop wearing a silk brocade gho, plain knee stockings and western leather shoes. On his left is Ugyen Dorji, his confidant and representative in Kalimpong / Sikkim. He, along with Ugyen Wangchuck’s bodyguards, is shown barefoot and wearing a striped gho. In the background, curious villagers are watching. In yet another of White’s photographs (see p.369, top), Ugyen Wangchuck can be seen, surrounded by his ministers in Punakha. This photograph not only indicates that very different striped patterns were being worn, but that it was then the fashion to wear several garments, one

According to Meyer, this is the only photograph known to him that shows John Claude White together with the rulers of Bhutan and Sikkim. Back row, left to right: a Bhutanese soldier, Captain Henry Hyslop (John Claude White's son-in-law), Ugyen Dorji (Ugyen Wangchuck's confidant and representative in Kalimpong / Sikkim), Lobzang Chöden, Jerung Dewan, Burmiak Kazi, together with a Bhutanese and a Sikkimese soldier. Front row, left to right: D.E. Holland, Ugyen Wangchuck (still Trongsa Penlop at the time), John Claude White, Maharaja Thutob Namgyal of Sikkim and Maharani Yeshe Dolma of Sikkim (Group at Hastings House, Calcutta, 1906, Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California).


top left: Ugyen Wangchuck 1904 in Lhasa, Tibet (Photo by John Claude White, The British Library). top right: Ugyen Wangchuck with his British guests in 1905 at a trail camp en route to Punakha (Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California). below: Ugyen Wangchuck surrounded by his guards; taken in 1905 in Trongsa (Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California). 368

top: Ugyen Wangchuck with his ministers in Punakha in 1905. lower left: John Claude White's reception in Punakha. lower right: Ugyen Wangchuck, on being made Knight Commander of the Indian Empire in Punakha in 1905 (Photos by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California). 369

The ceremony accompanying Ugyen Wangchuck's award of Knight Commander of the Indian Empire in Punakha in 1905 (Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California).


on top of the other. For instance, the individual on the right side of the image seems to be wearing a second, striped gho underneath his plain gho. White was often greeted by a procession (see p.369, lower left): he describes one that took place in Punakha in 1905 as follows: ‘About four miles out we were met by a deputation from Trongsa Penlop. He had sent the Ghassa Jongpen, who brought scarfs of welcome and baskets of fruit […] The Tongsa had also sent his band, which consisted of six men, two in red, who were the trumpeters, while the remainder, dressed in green, carried drums and gongs. The mass of colors of every hue was most picturesque, and we made a very gay procession as we started off again toward Poonakha. […] The procession must have extended for quite half a mile along the hillside. First came the pipes and drums and escort of the 62d Punjabis, followed by some twenty led mules, most of them with magnificent saddle-cloths, with their syces and other retainers; next the bodyguard of the Tongsa, about twenty men, dressed in beautiful silks and brocades and each with a yellow scarf.’  26 White’s photograph of Ugyen Wangchuck when he was being made Knight Commander of the Indian Empire (K.C.I.E.) in Punakha also dates from 1905. He was awarded a knighthood for his assistance during the negotiations between the

British and the Tibetans in the aftermath of Younghusband’s expedition in 1904. White describes this photograph (see p.369, lower right) as follows: ‘ He is shown standing in the doorway of his residence, wearing the insignia of the Order of the Indian Empire, which was bestowed on him by the British Government before his elevation to the throne.’ 27 The rooms in which this ceremony took place (see above) were described by White as follows: ‘The centre […] was hung with a canopy of beautifully embroidered Chinese silk. Between the pillars were suspended “chenzi” and “gyantsen” hangings of brilliantly coloured silks, and behind the tongsa’s seat hung a fine specimen of needle-work picture, a form of embroidery in which the Bhutanese excel […] On the opposite side of the nave, facing me, was a low dais with magnificent cushion of the richest salmon-colored brocade, on which Sir Ugyen Wangchuck sat, dressed in a handsome robe of dark-blue Chinese silk, embroidered in gold with the Chinese character “Fu”, the emblematic sign of good luck.’ 28 On 17 th December 1907, Ugyen Wangchuck was elected Bhutan’s first hereditary monarch. Captain Henry Hyslop, White’s son-in-law, described this event (see p.371, top): ‘The Tongsa [Penlop] was dressed in blue silk brocade, with

top: Coronation of the first hereditary monarch Ugyen Wangchuck on 17 th December 1907; left to right: John Claude White, Ugyen Dorji (standing), Ugyen Wangchuck and the highest abbot Jampel Shenyen (Photo by Henry Hyslop, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California). bottom: 'Christmas Day, 1907. The Tongsa and council came over from the dzong in single file, which is evidently the mode of progression in this country of narrow paths, and then grouped themselves for us to photograph.' (Hyslop 1908, in: Meyer and Meyer 2005, p.153.) (Photo by Joahn Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California). 371

This photograph by John Claude White shows Sir Ugyen Wangchuck in Wangdicholing Palace in Bumthang surrounded by members of his family (Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California).


the star and ribbon of the K.C.I.E. Everyone was of course in his best dress, and as these are of every conceivable colour, you can imagine what a kaleidoscopic effect the whole produced.’ 29 On Christmas Day 1907 a group photo (see p.371, below) was taken which shows Ugyen Wangchuck (centre) and Ugyen Dorji (far right) wearing bright, silk gho. John Claude White also snapped Ugyen Wangchuck in his private attire (see above), and described the scene as follows: ‘On the top step stands the king, not in his robes of state but in the comfortable attire of private life. Beside him are his sisters and her two daughters, and on his right one of his nephews. The three girls in front are serving-maids who wear the modern costume of their class.’ 30 ‘They all wore their quaint and distinctive dress, which consists of a long piece of Bhutanese cloth, woven in coloured stripes, draped round the figure, and fastened on the shoulders and confined at the waist by a band of brighter Bhutanese cloth. They also wore many necklaces of large, rough beads of coral, turquoise, and amber, and occasionally gold filigree beads and many bangles of gold and silver. Their hair was left unornamented and either cut short or worn in two long plaits.’ 31 Ugyen Wangchuck is wearing a simple plaid gho, combined with western shoes and stockings. The kira that his sister Yeshey Chodron is wearing

is also modest, as befits her age. She is wearing a plaid kira (bumthang mathra), much of it covered with a striped apron, combined with a dark jacket with a light tego beneath, of which only the cuffs can be seen. The clothes worn by Lemo and Lhadron, her daughters, are all the more remarkable; they are both wearing richly patterned kira with white grounds (kushuthara), broad belts (kera) and dark jackets (tego), which appear from their sheen to be made of silk. Beneath it, a second, white jacket can be glimpsed. Ugyen Wangchuck’s nephew is wearing a gho with supplementarywarp-pattern bands (aikapur). The three servitors in the foreground are, according to Aris, weavers from Kurtoe;32 they also appear to be in fashionable dress. The standing woman is wearing a kushuthara and a broad kera. Her neighbour’s kira, though, has only a few patterns; her dark jacket seems to be made of velvet. The young woman sitting at the feet of Ugyen Wangchuck and his sister is wearing a kira with kushu patterns, which are arranged in squares: a fashion that can no longer be found. All of them, apart from the King, are barefoot. A further photograph (see p.358), taken in Wangdicholing Palace in Bumthang, shows Ugyen Wangchuck flanked by his daughters Pedron and Yangdzom, the children of his first wife. His sister Yeshey Chodron is standing on a gallery in

the background, with her daughter Lemo on her left. To her right is Ugyen Wangchuck’s second wife with a small child. Aris thinks that this may be Pedron’s son Tsering Penjor, who later became the Paro Penlop.33 Ugyen Wangchuck is wearing a plain gho with a second, patterned gho beneath it. He has combined this with western shoes, but no stockings. Both his daughters are wearing plaid kira and two jackets; a light and a dark one. All the women in this photograph are also wearing Tibetan-style aprons with horizontal stripes (dongkheb) around their waists; these are still worn by older women in Bumthang today. A unique testimony is provided by White’s photograph of seven female attendants (see above), who are all dressed in archaic tunics (shingkha). White gave it the following title: Sewing maids in old costumes, now discarded, which shows that by the beginning of the 20 th century, these tunics were hardly ever worn. John Claude White was followed by other explorers, whose photographs serve to illustrate the fashions of the time in Bhutan. In this respect, the photographs that were taken by Frederick Marshman Bailey and the British botanist George Sherriff are particularly worthy of note. In addition to recording the second king Jigme Wangchuck’s fashions, their photographs concentrated also on female members of the Wangchuck dynasty.

In 1927, Bailey documented the coronation of the second king Jigme Wangchuck (see p.374, top). This photograph shows the King surrounded by his guards, wearing a striped gho and a large ceremonial cloth made of Chinese silk brocade, Bhutanese boots and the Raven Crown. On his right can be seen his younger brother Nakhu, wearing a light gho and a white ceremonial shawl (kabne). A photograph taken by Georg Sherriff in 1933 (see p.374, lower right) portrayed King Jigme Wangchuck at the age of 28, wearing a light gho made of Chinese silk brocade and the Raven Crown. A formal studio portrait of King Jigme Wangchuck and Queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden was taken in Calcutta in 1934 (see p.375, top left), and presented to Colonel and Mrs. Bailey. Many copies of this photograph were later distributed in Bhutan. On this photograph, Queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden is shown wearing a kushuthara kira with a Tibetan-style striped woollen apron (dongkheb) on top, combined with a white jacket and a brocade jacket. Decorated boots (lham), and heavy necklaces complete her outfit. King Jigme Wangchuck wears a gho with broad supplementarywarp-pattern bands (aikapur), tshoglham, and a sword. He is adorned with the insignia of the Order of the Indian Empire and the Order of

Weavers in Wangdicholing Palace in Bumthang in 1905. For this photo, the women put on archaic tunics (shingkha) (Photo by John Claude White, The Kurt and Pamela Meyer Collection, Los Angeles, California).


top: The coronation of the second king Jigme Wangchuck in Punakha in 1927 (Photo by Frederick Marshman Bailey, The British Library). lower left: Steel helmets were padded inside and decorated with a braid in five colours for lucky protection. The plain steel helmet belonged probably to a bodyguard while the brocade-ornamented helmet was worn by a general (Photo by Erich Lessing). lower right: The second king Jigme Wangchuck at the age of 28 with the Raven Crown. This photograph was taken in Bumthang in 1933 (Photo by Georg Sherriff, Š The Trustees of the British Museum). 374

the Star of India. Both, the Queen and the King, are wearing embroidered crowns. Queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden wears an embroidered silk hat (peshasham) that was worn by queens or princesses. King Jigme Wangchuck's crown, however, does not the usual raven head. This one has an upturned rim on which a group of three gems flanked by two dragons has been embroidered. The three gems (norbu) represent the Three Jewels of the Buddha, dharma, and sangha. The norbu is an auspicious object that is also referred to as wish-fulfilling jewel (yeedzin norbu / cintamani). The dragons are also holding a norbu in each claw, which represents Bhutan’s wealth and the security and protection of its people, while the dragons’ snarling mouths symbolise Bhutanese deities’ commitment to the defence of Bhutan. The dragon (druk) represents the Thunder Dragon of Bhutanese mythology that can still be seen on Bhutan’s national flag. In 1949, a photograph of King Jigme Wangchuck with Queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden Wangchuck, the elder of the two sisters he married, was taken in Kunga Rabten Palace in Mangdelung, to the south of Trongsa, where he died three years later (see above right). King Jigme Wangchuck is wearing a richly patterned gho with supplementary-warp-pattern bands and numerous supplementary-weft-patterns (aikapur shinglo) combined with white knee stockings and western-style leather shoes. Ashi Phuntsho Choden is wearing a kushuthara kira, held in place with a broad kera. In addition, she is wearing a

dark jacket made of silk brocade, and decorative boots. The last western traveller in this list is the French ethnologist Michel Peissel. His book, Lords and Lamas appeared in 1970; while it reveals his egocentric and superior approach to the Bhutanese he met, it also records the exertions that he endured during his journey through the mountains of Bhutan, since he detested mountaineering and preferred riding on a mule: ‘ To be honest, there is nothing I dislike more than mountain-climbing. As with all sports that require far too much physical exertion, it’s tiring and, what’s worse, dumb, because climbing up means one will also have to climb down again.’ 34 In spite of this, his book is a revealing contemporary record. With regard to the clothes of Bhutan, he wrote: ‘The men all wear Kos [gho], those loose lapped dress-coats that are held together with a belt and fall to the knee; the Bhutanese national dress. Some were black, some olive green, but the majority had red, yellow and lively green stripes, and were decorated with white patterns.’ 35 The tax collector (Nyerchen) and judge (Thrimpon) of Trongsa are described as follows: ‘The two headmen of the Dzong looked very impressive in their gleaming, flowing robes, with their swords glinting in the morning sun and the tasselled cartridge pouches that they wore on the side.’ 36 He went on to note that ‘the best Kos [gho] from Bumthang are woven in thick endi silk [Silk from the samia cynthia ricini silkworm] and so are as warm as a fur coat’ and that ‘one of these costs as much as a mule, about 150 dollars.’ 37

left: A formal studio portrait of King Jigme Wangchuck and Queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden taken in Calcutta in 1934 (Courtesy National Museums Liverpool, World Museum Liverpool). right: King Jigme Wangchuck with Queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden Wangchuck in Trongsa 1949 (Photo by Georg Sherriff, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh).


top: Gho belonging to the first king Ugyen Wangchuck, raw silk, 160 x 225 cm; During the reign of Ugyen Wangchuck, only kings and members of the nobility could afford a pure silk gho. The patterns consist of white and yellow supplementary-warp-pattern bands on a red ground, and alternating colourful rainbow stripes (jadrima). This gho was made of naturallydyed raw silk. Remarkably, this gho is unusually long, and has not been altered by its owner, who received it as a gift from the first king. Normally, a person who receives a gho from the King has to have it altered to match his own measurements. Consequently, most of the gho that belonged to the first king, who was relatively tall, needed to be altered (Weltmuseum Wien Collection, Photo by Erich Lessing). left: A kira belonging to the first queen shows supplementary-warp-pattern bands and rows of supplementary-weft-patterns. This kira aikapur shinglo is made of silk and measures 264 x 152 cm (The Tower of Trongsa Museum, Bhutan, Photo by Stefan Zeisler). 376

THE INFLUENCE OF THE WANGCHUCK DYNASTY AND ELITE FAMILIES ON FASHIONS IN BHUTAN The fashions that were documented by all the foreign travellers were not, however, restricted to the elite circles. Both the Wangchuck dynasty and the nobility had been influencing fashions in Bhutan for ages, and had a profound effect on public taste in clothing. The queens, princesses and noble ladies employed the best and most creative weavers to work for them, and they introduced new trends with their innovative colour combinations and patterns. As Myers writes: ‘ Queens, princesses and other well-to-do women have influenced trends in weaving and fashion, adopting Tibetan-style blouses, seeking out the Tibetan loom, designing more complex colour schemes, and popularising new patterns which depart from traditional formats.’ 38 As can be seen in numerous photographs, richly-patterned, handwoven fabrics with supplementary-warp-pattern bands and supplementary-weft-patterns (aikapur shinglo) were the most sought-after clothing for the elite. These fabrics were used for women and men, with the distinction that the stripes on a kira

run horizontally, and those on a gho are vertical. Although this trend has not been adopted by the current women’s fashions – kira aikapur shinglo are considered old fashioned, and are only occasionally worn by older women – highly-placed men will still wear a handwoven silk or raw silk gho aikapur shinglo for ceremonial occasions, even today. In this respect, Myers states that: ‘If there is a classic fabric pattern for men’s dress comparable to the kushüthara […] for women, it is one of the supplementary-warp patterns (aikapur) from eastern Bhutan […]. Although aikapur cloth is not as definitive a choice for men, partly because it is also worn by women, robes of aikapur have been favored for several centuries. […] An innovation, possibly of the late nineteenth century, is the addition of supplementary-weft patterning in between the bands of supplementary-warp patterning on both men’s robes and women’s dresses. The patterning features trees of life (shinglo), stylized masks (shyauli bap), Chinese coins (tranka), and other symbols of long life […]. This decoration is especially associated with the first and second kings, who frequently presented loyal officers with robes of this kind.’ 39 The fifth king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck himself wore a pure silk handwoven gho aikapur

These silk brocade gho belonged to the second king Jigme Wangchuck. The black one was gifted to Changap Aku Dorji, one his attendants, in appreciation for his good services.


left: The third king Jigme Dorje Wangchuck and his bride, Queen Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck, display wedding silks and brocades in 1952 (Photo by Burt Kerr Todd). right: King Jigme Dorje Wangchuck with Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck in the palace at Thimphu in 1957 (Photo by Armin Haab / Fotostiftung Schweiz).


shinglo for his enthronement in 2008; just as his father Jigme Singye Wangchuck had done for his coronation in 1974. In addition to these exquisite examples in silk and raw silk, nowadays, cheaper versions are being produced, woven in cotton, or even made in India using cheap machine-made fabric. This development means that many more men can now afford this kind of gho, although they still reserve it for ceremonial occasions, as before. A fashion that was maintained until the reign of the third king was a gho made of imported, Chinese silk brocade and silk damask, which were particularly appreciated by the first two kings and members of the elite circles. ‘Because this imported fabric was so costly and rare, it was an unmistakable sign of prestige to wear it’, Myers writes, going on to say, ‘  The same silks from China via Tibet were used for women’s jackets among the elite […], but never worn as wrapped dresses. Women say that bolts of fabric were sometimes kept for many years and sewn into robes or jackets decades later. Bhutanese also recall that the first two kings sometimes gave their old brocade robes to their daughters and female relatives, who made them over into jackets. On some occasions pieces of silk salvaged from worn-out robes could likewise be stitched into clothing for statues in temples, an act of religious merit for the robe’s owner.’ 40 Myers adds that the fashion changed again during the reign of the

third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck: ‘ The third king was known for identifying very strongly with his people, and while he occasionally did wear a brocade robe, he more often wore a garment woven locally. Moreover, because by the 1950s silk brocades from Tibet had become affordable to more people, some of the cachet they had enjoyed earlier was lost. Then, with the closing of Tibet’s borders in 1959, the availability of brocades from their traditional source diminished sharply. Silk from Hong Kong continues to be used in men’s robes (go) [gho], but was of minor importance by the 1980s. Heirloom robes of old Chinese silk are still worn by the king on special occasions.’ 41 Karma Ura also emphasises that the third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck preferred simplicity to luxury, and that at a certain period of time, he chose to wear only two plaid bumthang mathra gho, which he put on alternately until one of them got damaged by cigarette burns and needed to be replaced.42 According to Bean, the fourth king also distanced himself from the tradition of wearing a gho made of Chinese silk at formal occasions, choosing instead handwoven Bhutanese fabrics on all occasions. Bhutan’s highranking men soon followed the King’s fashion.43 Despite its plainness, this plaid woollen fabric (bumthang mathra) is still considered a status symbol. The reason for this, among others, is that the preferred wool from Bumthang comes from Dungmethang in Tang valley and is not only ex-

pensive, but comparatively rare. Two kilos of wool are needed to make one kira, and as much as 2.5 kilos to make a gho. A bumthang mathra gho currently costs 12,000 Ngultrum, which is about 200 Euro. The probably most noticeable changes to Bhutanese men’s clothes have taken place within the last hundred years, when both the elite garments for men in Chinese silk, and the plain gho for ordinary people that were made of local cotton and nettle fibres, disappeared. ‘When the state stopped distributing cloth for making garments and abolished serfdom in the 1950s, the choices of clothing fabrics available to many Bhutanese men increased. […] Plain-colored, thick Tibetan woolens (thruk) were popular especially during the reign of the second king (1926 – 52). In cold areas, robes were lined with lambskin, as they sometimes are today. Another favorite for men’s robes in this century has been adha mathra, a cotton or wild silk plainweave with blue, green, red, and yellow warp stripes, whose special appeal as ‘the dress of the Wangchuck king’ is mentioned in a Bhutanese folk song. [Lebi adha mathra, wangchuck pönpoi namza – The beautiful adha mathra is the dress of the Wangchuck king.] 44 Striped and plaid patterns woven of wild silk in the east, of wool in central Bhutan, and of cotton in the south are enduring styles.’ 45 Furthermore, in the early 20 th century it was still common to wear multiple garments. Men used to

wear several gho as a way to keep warm, and as a mark of their prestige; this fashion is nowadays rarely to be found, and only continued among older Bhutanese. A Bhutanese man who held the post of governor (Penlop) in Thimphu until the 1950s, commented on the fashion back then as follows: ‘I’d feel shy to go out in just one robe – people would talk!’ 46 His innermost gho was made of striped Tibetan woolen (hothra), the middle one was made of thick Indian cotton, and the outer one of patterned wild silk.47 Furthermore, Myers comments that: ‘The popular explanation for why multiple garments were originally worn is very practical: thick, layered clothing protected a man from arrows and knives (if not from bullets) during the constant civil strife of the 1700s and 1800s. Quilted robes of wild silk were believed to be particularly efficacious in resisting the stroke of a sword.’ 48 Wearing a shirt (tego) beneath a gho was, according to Myers, originally only usual among elite Bhutanese. Ordinary citizens only adopted this fashion in the 19 th century; while modern tego are mainly white and light blue, the Dasho and other higher officials wore red or maroon tego until the 1950s. Nowadays red tego are only worn by lay monks (gomchen) and are associated primarily with the Nyingma School of Buddhism.49 The most famous women’s garment (kira) in the 20 th century was the kushuthara, and high society gradually started commissioning variants of the

top left: At a certain moment in time, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck distanced himself from the tradition of wearing a gho made of Chinese silk at formal occasions, choosing instead handwoven Bhutanese fabrics such as bumthang mathra gho (Dorji Wangchuk Private Collection). lower left: The fashion of wearing bumthang mathra gho was soon adopted all over Bhutan (Dorji Wangchuk Private Collection). right: Despite its plainness, this plaid woollen fabric is considered a status symbol, and is used for kira, too (Sonam Eden Private Collection).


In the 20 th century, the female members of the royal family started commissioning variants of the kushuthara; highly-placed men wore a handwoven silk or raw silk gho aikapur shinglo for ceremonial occasions (Photo by John Scofield 1974 / National Geographic / Getty Images).


kushuthara: with a blue ground (ngosham), a green ground (jangsham), a red ground (mapsham) and with a black ground (napsham).50 After that came variations in every conceivable colour, although light, pastel colours were mostly the trend with young women, as is still the case today. The original kushuthara with a white ground did not experience a comeback until the 1990s, and the most precious items – regardless of their colour – are still pure silk examples with rich, complex patterns. In response to the kushuthara’s growing popularity, it was taken on by many weavers, and adapted. In the process, they introduced new interpretations with larger or simpler motifs, which saved time. Further innovations include versions of kushuthara that have no patterns in the middle part of the kira, which is not visible when worn. Reducing the amount of patterns cut costs and also saved a significant amount of time.51 Variations on the kushuthara style are plentiful. There are variants with narrower or missing end border patterning at the fringed ends, ones where the field pattern is continued in a smaller and modified form at the upper and lower edges instead of showing warp stripes, ones with neat rows of different supplementaryweft patterns, and ones that were combined with supplementary-warp patterns. The weavers were clearly enjoying their creative freedom and expressing it in these very varied creations. ‘At least two dozen different styles of kira can be distinguished according to the combination of motifs and colors produced in different weaving centers.’ 52

Older kira generally feature smaller sizes, which does not necessarily mean that Bhutanese women used to be smaller. It is much more likely to be because women usually wore their kira shorter. As mentioned earlier, there used to be a regulation whereby village women or women of lower status were obliged to leave their ankles uncovered; higher status women were allowed to wear kira that came down to their insteps, whereas the women of the royal household wore kira that swept the ground. ‘ Family photographs show girls even from higher-status families with their dresses above the ankles, a style seen today only in rural areas,’ Myers points out, adding that ‘Dresses also had much longer fringes – on some examples made as late as the 1940s, the fringe is 10 cm long, while now it should not exceed 3 cm.’  53 Previously, it was also the fashion for women to wear several items of clothing, in this case, kira, one on top of the other; this fashion seems to have been primarily about prestige. For instance, Aum Yeshe Chöden recalls her girlhood in Bumthang in the 1930s as follows: ‘ How we girls dressed up! First I’d put on a thin, cotton dress, maybe pangtsi [red-and-black plaid on a white ground]. Then on top of it a wild silk sethra [gold plaid] dress, and on top of that, the third one would be a lovely kushüthara. We’d make sure that as we walked, the fringed ends would flutter in the breeze so the young men could see our beautiful dresses … What fun it was to go to a festival! ’.54 This custom of wearing several kira at the same time was also

very practical: during the winter months, layered fabrics helped to ensure warmth, and when travelling, they served as bedding.55 Nevertheless, this custom is maintained only by elderly women in the countryside. As older photographs show, until the mid-20th century, not only were several layers of clothing up-to-date; well-padded waists and hips were also desirable. Consequently, noble women – and later on, ordinary women too – usually wore two wide belts (kera) to emphasise their waistlines. The matching jackets (tego) were worn very short, to direct attention to their prominent bellies. Similarly, the bag-like pockets in their kira had to be especially large and full, whereas the current trend requires that they should be smoothed flat, and look as empty as possible. Furthermore, Tibetan costumes and fabrics have had a remarkable influence. For instance, the blouses (wonju) that are commonly worn under the kira are of Tibetan origin. According to Myers and Pommaret, the noblewomen of Central Bhutan were responsible for introducing these silk blouses in the early 20 th century, and for popularising them.56 This uniform adoption of Tibetan blouses gradually replaced the custom of wearing two jackets, one on top of the other.57 As can be seen in old photographs, noble ladies used to wear another thin, white jacket under their dark jacket until the mid-20 th century. All that could be seen of this jacket were the wide cuffs, with occasional glimpses of the hem. Photographs also reveal that the cuffs were worn rather wider and

covered more of the hand than is the case today. According to Myers, these inner jackets were made of white cotton or wild silk. The outer jackets were made of plain dark cotton or wool, or velvet; a fashion that has not survived.58 On the other hand, the trend for silk brocade jackets has been maintained: ‘Fancy silk brocades with white cuff pieces were worn by the well-to-do or saved for special occasions, as they are today.’ 59 Myers goes on to say: ‘Jackets were cut differently, with deeper dolman-style sleeves that began just above the waist and were often fully lined […] As blouses replaced the inner jacket, jackets were not cut as wide and narrower sleeves were introduced. White wild silk jackets remained popular until the early 1970s, and were considered old-fashioned, if classic, for more than fifteen years, and then began returning to style in the late 1980s.’ 60 At the start of the 1990s, elite women also favoured wearing tego in pastel coloured Thai silk for everyday use.61 During the last few years, the style of these women’s jackets has undergone a change. Whereas they used to be cut short and wide, tailored and figure-hugging styles can now be seen. This development is the result of a project that was undertaken by the National Institute of Zorig Chusum in cooperation with the Vietnamese fashion designer Doan Nam Phuong; she came to Bhutan in 2004 and introduced young Bhutanese dressmakers to new patterns. Recently, fabric has been added to the women’s jackets’ collars and cuffs, which saves wearing a separate blouse (wonju). Alongside the Tibetan blouses,

Contemporary variations on the kushuthara style are plentiful.


Ashi Phuntsho Choden Wangchuck, the senior queen of the second king (centre), with her sistersinlaw Ashi Wangmo (on the left ) and Ashi Pedon (on the right ) in Calcutta in 1937 (Photo by Georg Sherriff, © The Trustees of the British Museum).


large quantities of Tibetan textiles with striped patterns have always been imported, thereby influencing the fashions and textile designs, mainly in Central Bhutan. This fashion also includes striped aprons made of Tibetan wool (dongkheb), which are still worn by Layap women and a few women in Central Bhutan – albeit mainly women of the older generation. This Tibetan fashion accessory was also adopted by noblewomen in Central Bhutan; the old photographs almost always show women of the royal household wearing these striped aprons. A photograph taken by Georg Sherriff in 1949 records women’s fashions at the royal court. This image shows Queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden Wangchuck with her sistersin-law Ashi Pedon and Ashi Wangmo in kira with supplementary-warp pattern bands and supplementary-weft-patterns (aikapur shinglo) combined with striped aprons (dongkheb) made of Tibetan cloth. All three women are wearing thin white jackets and jackets made of shiny Chinese silk brocade, which had also found its way to Bhutan via Tibet. They are also wearing decorated woollen boots, which were the fashion in Tibet,

and large metal brooches (thinkhab) sparkle beneath their jackets. Their embroidered hats are particularly fetching.Myers refers to the queen’s clothing as follows: ‘Her narrowly striped apron is made of imported Tibetan fabric and resembles the aprons worn by well-to-do women in Lhasa. Her embroidered woolen boots are a style that was popular in Tibet and came to be made in Bhutan.’  62 The clothes that female members of the royal family are wearing demonstrate unmistakably the influence that Tibet had on contemporary fashions in the royal court in Bumthang during the 1930s. The cloth hats worn by the female members of the royal family are very prominent; they are generally made of silk in pillbox shapes. These hats are called pesha or peshasham (‘ Lotus cap’ ); they are beautifully decorated with embroidery, showing lotus flowers, dragons, flaming jewels and other auspicious symbols. According to Myers, they are similar to hats that are worn in Tibet and are associated with social standing. The fact that they also appeared in Bhutan can be taken as evidence that the royal family was in contact with Lhasa during the early 20 th century. The custom of wearing this

kind of headgear ended with the third queen Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck.63 The first king, Ugyen Wangchuck, can also be seen wearing one of his hats (usha). ‘They are round, usually with a stiff, upturned brim made of silk and brocade streamers hanging down the back. The brim is characteristically embroidered with a pair of dragons flanking a cluster of three flaming gems.’ 64 Similar hats were made of silk or velvet, and were worn by lay and religious officials. CLOTHES WORN BY RURAL PEOPLE Unlike elite persons, who have always been able to afford to change their gho and kira fairly often, country people often had only one garment, which they wore during the day and used to cover themselves at night-time. Old photographs show that women who could not afford the fabric for several kira used to wear a simple cotton cloth over their kira to protect it. Their clothes were worn and patched until they fell apart, and were replaced with a new garment. Even today, some Bhutanese women in the rural districts own two garments at most; a simple garment for everyday wear and a better one, which might be richly patterned; it is stored inside the woman’s ‘box for prosperity and happiness potential’ (yanggam) and only taken out for special occasions. Occasionally, a description of the clothes that rural people wore in the past can be found in Bhutanese literature. For instance, Karma Ura recalls the year 1944, when he was summoned to the court

at Wangdicholing Palace as a seventeen-year-old, and set out with his twelve-year-old brother and a couple of porters on the way to Jakar: ‘They [the porters] were rough-clad and had worn their dress to the thread, and had sewn on many patches, typical of people in the village in those days. Their gho was variegated with patches of different textiles and colours. Yet the colours were not visible because of overlying grease and grime. None of us had shoes, although the track was muddy and strewn with splinters, blades of strong grass and twigs.’ 65 Fashion did not only affect well-situated Bhutanese women; it also played an important part in the village context, as Pommaret explains: ‘A woman will weave or try to save money to be the first to wear what is considered fashionable in town. This might be a trend which did not exist in the past. But fashion has also to do with age. The older a woman becomes, the less bothered she is with fashion and, instead of weaving or spending for herself, she will start weaving or spending for her daughter.’  66 Myers, too, describes the impact of fashion: ‘Because Bhutanese want to stay current with fashions, even the finest clothing does not automatically become an heirloom. Instead, a woman is likely to sell her own and her husband’s garments – or give them away – as they go out of vogue, in order to weave or to purchase new cloth that reflects the changing tastes. Some families have cloth or garments from previous generations packed away in trunks, and now there is a new appreciation of surviving old dresses that are especially intricate in design.’  67 During the late 1980s and early 1990s, traditional patterns made a comeback and were repro-

Queen's hat (top left): napped wool, silk brocade, silk cloth, silver lame, cotton lining, H: 7 cm, D: 21 cm (Weltmuseum Wien Collection); men's hat (below) that belonged to a high-ranking nobleman in Kurtoe and was intended for ceremonial occasions; satin silk and silk damask, silk and gold embroidery, silk lining, H: 8.5 cm, D: 26 cm (Antony Aris Private Collection); Penlop hat (top right) with embroidered brim; Ugyen Wangchuck also wore hats (usha) of this kind (Weltmuseum Wien Collection) (Photos by Erich Lessing). 383

A herder's family, dressed in plain garments; the herder's wife, who is preparing yak cheese (chugo), is wearing a mathra kira and wrapping a wide belt (kera) around her waist (Photo by Burt Kerr Todd, 1952).


duced by many weavers; this development was connected to the fact that Bhutanese fabrics had by this time gained international recognition, and many western collectors and purchasers valued the old textiles. WESTERN INFLUENCES When the country was opened up in the 1970s, the increase in western influences could be clearly seen in Bhutan. Until the code of etiquette (driglam namzhag) was promulgated in 1989, one could see many Bhutanese people in the towns – primarily in the capital Thimphu – wearing western-style clothes. As mentioned earlier, western fashions became a status symbol, and took the form of tennis shoes, for instance, which were worn by court ladies in the 1930s and subsequently by many Bhutanese people, or jeans, which came to Bhutan in the 1990s. Western trousers had already been worn by businessmen in the towns, and even by villagers beneath their gho; likewise with the warm winter jackets, which still mostly bear the label ‘Made in China’. Myers wrote about the 1990s as follows: ‘ More recently, young men who have studied in Berkeley or London, or traveled to Bangkok, have sported Nike’s

latest athletic shoes, brand-name sweatsuits, designer jeans, and army surplus fatigue jackets. Before the 1989 edict requiring Bhutanese dress in public, men were freer than woman to wear this sort of casual dress to the Sunday market in Thimphu or around town. Young boys and men, particularly, still wear western dress at home. Suits or sport jackets and ties formerly were office attire for some southern Bhutanese, but otherwise formal western wear has not been widespread. Today, men from all walks of life wear western-style shoes and socks, from rubber flip-flops to Reeboks to leather dress shoes, and some continue to wear sweatshirts or T-shirts and trousers under their robes. As for women, however, their main garment will be Bhutanese.’ 68 During the last twenty years, western fashions have become even more important; urban women in particular are taking a greater interest in international fashion trends. Nowadays, even when women are dressed in their kira at formal occasions, they wear western accessories such as modern handbags, high-heels, and fashion jewellery. While most of the rural people still wear Bhutanese dress during the day, and use it to cover themselves at night, most of the urban population prefers to wear comfortable western clothes in their free time: tracksuits, jogging trousers, hoodies, jeans and T-shirts. Meanwhile, all over

Bhutan, the national dress is being combined with western clothes. For instance, men often wear T-shirts and, in the cold regions, trousers beneath their gho; young men occasionally choose jeans. Women, too, often combine T-shirts, blouses and waistcoats with a kira. During the cold season, jackets and coats are pulled on over gho and kira, along with a woolly hat or a basketball cap, gloves and scarves. While women are happy to wrap themselves up in cheap polyamide imitations of pashminas – which are normally made of a mixture of kashmiri wool and silk – or to pull a knitted cardigan over their kira, the men prefer down jackets. However, these western garments are mainly imported from India and China and many Bhutanese complain that this imported stuff is very poor quality. Many of them even think that these products only reach Bhutan because they are not good enough to sell in the West, and would not otherwise be sold at all. Wearing western clothes is often a question of money rather than location. Not only in Thimphu, but in the smaller towns, in little hamlets along the main roads, and even in remote villages, there will always be western wares, clothes, and cultural products for sale. However, Korea is far more influential than the West, these days. The ‘Korean wave’, as the growing global popularity of contemporary South Korean pop cul-

ture in the 21st century is often described, has also reached Bhutan and is influencing the young Bhutanese people’s ideas about contemporary fashion. On the other hand, the opening-up of Bhutan also served to raise people’s awareness of their own national identity, and in 1989 this led to a rule, which made it obligatory to wear the national dress in the form of gho or kira. Since then, it has been regarded as a sign of Bhutan’s present national identity.69 When Bhutanese people wear their national dress, they must ensure that the style and pattern they select always fit the occasion. Of course, this only applies to the higher social classes, because such requirements cannot apply to people who own only one or two garments. Thus, Pommaret is referring to the country’s better-situated women when she writes: ‘For particularly important functions, women consult each other beforehand about what to wear, in order not to outdo more important people, while at the same time they also have to be careful not to shame their hosts or disgrace the occasion by being underdressed.’  70 Furthermore, new fashions are appearing each year, which mainly affect young women in the towns. Every woman who can afford it and who wants to be up-to-date, has a new kira made every year, in line with the latest trends that are published just before the next festival period via a variety of media.

left: Female farm hands Ha valley, dressed in plain kira, thresh the Governor's barley (Photo by Burt Kerr Todd, 1952). right: Fashion has also to do with age. The older a woman becomes, the less bothered she is with fashion. Rather she will passionately devote her life to religion.


INNOVATION VERSUS TRADITION Tibetan fabrics are not alone in having had a remarkable influence; when the country was opened up in the 1970s, the increase in western influences could be clearly seen in Bhutan (Sonam Eden Private Collection).


The opening-up of Bhutan, together with its long-standing trade with other countries, has always brought new ideas that changed textile art. With regard to the national dress, its fabrics, colours and patterns are subject not only to changing influences and fashions; they are also influenced by new styles, patterns and innovations. During the later 1980s, the so-called half-kira was developed. This trend started in Southern Bhutan on account of its subtropical climate and during the early 1990s it spread to the other regions of Bhutan. It was originally made of machinewoven Indian fabric, and sewn into a wraparound garment that imitated the lower part of a kira. When a half-kira is worn with a blouse (wonju) and a jacket (tego) that is held together in front with a brooch, the illusion of a whole kira is easily created. Since half-kira are more comfortable to wear and at first glance are scarcely distinguishable from a whole kira, this fashion article has become an integral part of every day life, especially in Thimphu. It is prevalent, even inside the Government offices, where it is officially not allowed. According to Rinzin Wangmo, checks are sometimes conducted on women entering a dzong to make sure that government officials are not wearing a half-kira and even in the schools, the teachers sometimes check the clothes that their pupils are wearing.71 Within their own homes, during their free time, and even at informal occasions, many Bhutanese will wear a light half-kira

with a western T-shirt, a sweatshirt, or a cardigan. Many shops offer a wide range of ready-made half-kira which are made in India, specially for the Bhutanese market. The half-kira is more comfortable to wear because it can be fixed with narrow stripes in a relatively uncomplicated way, and wearers can dispense with the tight belt (kera) and the sharp silver brooches (koma). The absence of a belt that gradually becomes looser means that the task of tightening the belt and straightening the kira several times during the day can be avoided. Furthermore, machine-woven garments are thinner, lighter and cheaper. Very soon after these machinewoven garments started appearing, half-kira made of handwoven Bhutanese fabrics were appearing on the market. They still had to be held in place with a kera but were much nicer to wear in the summertime, being lighter and not as warm as a whole kira. Many Bhutanese value this innovation and emphasise that half-kira are an adequate expression of their desire to uphold their own culture, while simultaneously keeping in with the fashion. What’s more, a modern whole kira would require far more yarn, to cover the extra length that city women require, with their high-heeled shoes. Others are more critical and see this trend as evidence that their traditional national costume and the survival of traditional silversmiths’ crafts are in danger, since these silver pins (koma) will soon fall out of use. However, these pins are already undergoing a change. The kind of brooches (thinkhab) that were formerly used for pinning

several layers of cloth can now only be found in museum display cases, or as individual items in the souvenir shops of Thimphu. Even the traditional round koma have been replaced by new, light, band-shaped versions since the 1990s. This new shape makes it possible to wear the kira a bit lower down, which is more comfortable. Girls and young women are particularly keen on this light version, as are urban women, who have to wear a traditional whole kira for working. Women and girls who cannot afford to buy a new koma will sometimes sew little bands, ribbons or strips of cloth to their kira, so they can wear it lower down, with more of a gap. So the koma have recently been re-worked and turned into brooches, for pinning the jacket (tego) to conceal the half-kira below. The appearance of the half-kira has been accompanied by a half-gho which consists of two parts; an upper and a lower part. For a while, this trend was popular with taxi and lorry drivers, but it did not catch on permanently. Yet another, apparently successful new form is the ready-made kira, which is a modified halfkira. It is not wrapped around like a kira, and is much more like a skirt, being closed with a strip of velcro and some small hooks and eyes. The kira’s characteristic fold is sewn in place, to imitate the appearance of a properly worn kira. Given that these ready-made kira are close fitting and do not require much fabric, they are especially popular with young urban women, who like to emphasise their slim waists. Indeed, many of these young Bhutanese women would never consider wearing

several kira at the same time, or wrapping two wide belts (kera) around their waists, as was once the fashion. Thus, the establishment of ready-made kira has already sounded the downfall of the traditional women’s belt (kera), as the traditionalists point out. Ever since these innovative ideas appeared, there’s been a lively debate in Bhutan about which elements comprise the Bhutanese traditional dress for women: a kira, a belt (kera), a jacket (tego), a blouse (wonju) and a pair of silver brooches (koma) or a half-kira and a tego. The only certainty is that the women’s national dress will continue to be affected by current fashions, because fashions are snapshots of a process of continuous change. Culture is dynamic. Yet another debate has been launched by the issue of patents for Bhutanese patterns. In the early 1990s machine-woven fabrics with Bhutanese designs started appearing on the market. These products were substantially cheaper, lighter, easier to care for, more practical and pleasanter to wear, and they soon became very popular. Myers recalls this time as follows: ‘In 1991 – 92 an enterprising Thimphu merchant arranged to import Indian cloth that quite deliberately imitates warp-striped and supplementary-warp-patterned cloth from Bhutanese manufacture. Inexpensive and much easier to care for, the machine-loomed fabrics from Ludhiana and Amritsar have achieved near universal popularity, virtually overnight.’  72 ‘The new fabrics [are] called sephup after the home region of the Bhutanese merchant who imports them.’  73

Bhutanese women enjoy wearing a half-kira, in the countryside (left ) and in the town (centre), because they are lighter and not as warm as a whole kira, and much nicer to wear in the summertime; when a half-kira is worn with a blouse (wonju) and a jacket (tego) that is held together in front with a brooch, the illusion of a whole kira is easily created (right ).


above: Being closed with a strip of velcro and hooks and eyes, the ready-made kira modified the half-kira. opposite: In the early 1990s machine-woven fabrics with Bhutanese designs started appearing on the market. Indian merchants are selling machine-made kira in Jaigaon near the Bhutan border; the town adjoins Phuntsholing, the gateway to Bhutan, and is thus a very thriving place of trade.


Even higher-class women preferred to wear these practical alternative garments for everyday purposes, or when travelling.74 However, Myers asserts that this was not the first time Bhutanese patterns had been produced outside the country for selling in the Bhutanese market. During the late 1960s, textiles with Bhutanese designs were already being machine-made in the Indian town of Amritsar, and were being sold in Kalimpong as khadebu. These imitation fabrics with their colourful stripes and plaids and aikapur designs were used for making Bhutanese garments, as well as bags and waistcoats. Within Bhutan, though, a law was passed to prohibit the use of these fabrics in the early 1970s.75 Nowadays, a great range of cheap Indian fabrics is once again to be found in the textile shops in the urban centres. The prices for gho and kira made of Indian fabrics (sephup / mechi) are currently between 500 and 1,200 Ngultrum (about 8 – 20 Euro). Many Bhutanese weavers report that Indian merchants are travelling to the most remote villages of Bhutan to

buy up old kira, with a view to copying the patterns on machine looms. Although old kira now fetch very high prices in Thimphu, they can still be purchased far more cheaply in some of the remote villages. In the meantime, the Bhutanese market has been flooded with machine-made Indian wares, and the traditional patterns that they copy actually appear to be influencing current trends, because old Bhutanese patterns have recently come into fashion. This has necessarily stimulated a discussion about patent rights for Bhutanese patterns and the influence of machinemade imports. While some people are worried that these factory-made wares will suppress handmade fabrics, others are convinced that a craft that has been successfully integrating newly-imported fibres and designs for centuries, and has even survived the advent of Chinese silk and Indian cotton, is not about to collapse. In fact, Bhutan’s weaving art does appear to be experiencing an up-turn, and handwoven local fabrics are once more in fashion.

Notes 1 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.47. 2 Bean, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.17. 3 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.181. 4 Ibid., p.192. 5 Pema Yuden from Radi, 15th April 2007, interview. 6 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.191. 7 Ibid., p.191. 8 Ibid., p.200. 9 Ibid., p.184. 10 Ibid., p.202. 11 Ibid., p.202. 12 Collister 1987, p.186. 13 Cacella, in: Baille 1999, p.32. 14 Ibid., p.31. 15 Ibid., p.32. 16 Collister 1987, p.15. 17 Olschak 1987, p.268. 18 Collister 1987, p.16. 19 Ibid., p.20. 20 Aris, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.36. 21 Ibid., p.37. 22 Collister 1987, p.66f. 23 White 1910, p.36. 24 Ibid., p.37. 25 Ibid., p.40. 26 White 1914, p.394f.

27 Ibid., p.429. 28 Ibid., p.405. 29 Hyslop 1908, in: Meyer and Meyer 2005, p.153. 30 White 1914, p.434. 31 Ibid., p.427. 32 Aris 1994, p.82. 33 Ibid., p.83. 34 Peissel 1970, p.170f. 35 Ibid., p.65. 36 Ibid., p.227. 37 Ibid., p.245. 38 Myers, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.194. 39 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.120. 40 Ibid., p.121. 41 Ibid., p.121. 42 Karma Ura 2004, p.237. 43 Bean, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.18. 44 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.210. 45 Ibid., p.127f. 46 Ibid., p.128. 47 Ibid., p.128. 48 Ibid., p.128. 49 Ibid., p.128. 50 Ibid., p.94. 51 Ibid., p.94. 52 Bartholomew 1985, p.14. 53 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.104.

54 Ibid., p.93. 55 Ibid., p.104. 56 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.57. 57 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.104. 58 Ibid., p.104. 59 Ibid., p.104. 60 Ibid., p.104f. 61 Ibid., p.100. 62 Myers and Pommaret, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.59. 63 Ibid., p.151f. 64 Ibid., p.152. 65 Karma Ura 2004, p.23. 66 Pommaret, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.178. 67 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.92. 68 Ibid., p.129f. 89 The disturbances in Southern Bhutan are also cited as further reasons for the introduction of national dress and for strengthening national identity. 70 Pommaret, in: Aris and Hutt 1994, p.179. 71 Rinzin Wangmo in Jakar, 26th April 2007, interview. 72 Myers, in: Myers and Bean 1994, p.96. 73 Ibid., p.89. 74 Ibid., p.89. 75 Ibid., p.209. 389



opposite: Will the new generation of young Bhutanese preserve textile art as a cultural heritage?

above and opposite: The links between past and current life forms are particularly thrilling in Bhutan, a country where hardly anyone prior to 1961 could have imagined a world of streets and cars, not to mention electricity, TVs, computer and the Internet.

Since Bhutan was opened up, the country has been changing rapidly. Imports of factory-made wares, the introduction of modern technology and other achievements of western civilisation, the growth in mobility and migration to the cities, the imposition of a modern system of education and tourism have all led to social and economic change, and have impacted on Bhutan’s textile art and on the lives of the people who produce it. In this concluding chapter, the future of Bhutan’s textile art will be discussed. How is Bhutan’s textile art, in its current state of development, standing up to the forces of globalisation and urbanisation? How is the global trend towards homogenisation and rural-urban migration impacting on the lives of textile workers in Bhutan, both today and in the future? What measures are available to the government to counter the negative effects of globalisation and urbanisation, such as high youth unemployment? To what extent does the next generation of Bhutanese citizens value textile art; what does it mean to them? Will Bhutan’s textile art also function as a source of income, and will it be possible to preserve it as a cultural heritage? BHUTAN AND A GLOBALISED WORLD Over the last few decades, globalisation has fundamentally changed the world we live in and led to an un-anticipated level of global connectedness. Indeed, globalisation has resulted in a visible overlapping of cultures, something which has always existed, but to a lesser degree. This globalised diffusion of cultural practices, forms of expression and ideas has, according to the South Korean author, cultural theorist, and philosopher ByungChul Han, resulted in a hyperculturality. Cultural forms of expression such as ways of thinking, rituals, symbols etc. have been loosed from their


place of origin and circulate freely in this ‘global hyperspace’. ‘It [culture] becomes an un-bounded, un-limited, un-seamed hyperculture. It is not the boundaries, but the links and the networking which organise the hyperspace of culture.’ 1 Accordingly, hyperculture is characterised by the proximity and synchronicity of different things. Different times and continuities exist side-by-side in hyperculture – which is why Han calls his global terrain a ‘mosaic universe’. ‘The excess of possibilities makes it possible to define one’s existence beyond the horizon of “inheritance” and “tradition”. Thus, it operates in a de-factualising way, and thereby creates an increase in freedom.’ 2 Han goes on to emphasise that hyperculture is not an over-dimensional monoculture. ‘It is far more about making available, through the mediation of a global network and a process of de-factualisation, a fund of different life forms and practises, which is changing, enlarging and renewing itself, and which includes life forms from former times, which are accessed in the hypercultural mode, meaning de-historicised. Within this de-limited space and time hyperculture puts an end to “history” as an emphatic concept.’ 3 The links between past and current life forms are particularly thrilling in Bhutan, a country where hardly anyone prior to 1961 could have imagined a world of cars, streets, electricity, telephone services, banks, postal services, well-equipped hospitals and schools, not to mention TVs, mobiles, computers and the Internet. The rapid development that Bhutan has experienced since the 1960s is briefly summarised here: Jigme Dorje Wangchuck, the third king and ‘Father of modern Bhutan’, decided to open his country up to the rest of the world, although his kingdom was politically stable and peaceful at the time. He realised that the world was changing and that in order to survive Bhutan could no longer afford its political isolation, and had to develop and make cautious over-

tures to the western world. In 1961, Bhutan introduced five-year-plans to develop the entire country. The first five-year-plan involved key sectors, such as agriculture and animal husbandry (95 per cent of the Bhutanese population lived from agriculture and animal husbandry at the time), forestry, health, education, the provision of electricity, and road building.4 That same year, the first motorway was built, running straight through the country, with Indian assistance. In 1962, Bhutan joined an international organisation for the first time, the Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic and Social Development in Asia and the Pacific, and in 1971 it joined the United Nations. Subsequently, diplomatic relations were established with other countries, and funding for developments in the fields of communications technology, education and health was sourced. The years 1971 – 83 saw a particular surge in the construction of health and education systems and differentiated agriculture. The country was opened up to controlled tourism in 1974 by the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck, and in 1983 Bhutan’s first airport was opened in Paro, along with its own airline. In 1988, the telecommunications system was extended. The administrative bodies in the dzong were equipped with telephones and FAX machines, and computers, and by 1999 Thimphu was already connected to the Internet and a national TV network. Nowadays, Bhutan has almost national mobile coverage, and the Internet is accessible even in the remote eastern parts of the country. In the capital Thimphu, modern laptops and wireless connections are part of everyday life, now. State media, such as the newspaper Kuensel and the Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) started publishing international news in the 1990s, and since then a host of state and private media has grown up, bringing Bhutan closer to the sphere of influence of the globalised world. According to Karma Ura,

due to this globalised media and new information technology ‘the distance between Bhutan and the outside world has begun to collapse.’  5 Nevertheless, life forms from the past and today – Karma Ura refers to a ‘Medieval and Modern Bhutan’ 6 – continue to coexist and share equal rights. For instance, when travelling through Bhutan, one can see a modern Toyota Land Cruiser passing a farmer, who is ploughing his land with an ancient wooden plough and a span of oxen. Likewise, modern equipment such as a rice cooker or water boiler can be found inside a smoky old kitchen, having been carried to their otherwise inaccessible village on the backs of villagers (rice cookers and TV being among the first acquisitions once a village gets electricity), and young weavers sitting at their backstrap looms will be listening to music on their MP3-Players as they work. One aspect of globalisation that has been criticised by many of its opponents is the strong and unavoidable influence of the western world, although this process may have been slower in Bhutan than in many other countries. The most massive dissemination of western values is effected through television programmes, which are easily consumed and are loved by all generations. The changes which have been introduced by this medium can be seen in all the towns. Growing consumer demands and awareness of fashion, resulting in altered clothes and hairstyles are just a few of these changes. ‘It was usual to judge a woman by how hard she could work on the farm, but nowadays, a woman is sometimes compared with a surfeit of lovely women, which appear on Indian TV programmes,’ Michael Rutland observes.7 In addition to Bhutanese productions, and the TV series and soaps produced by the Bollywood industry, Korean dramas are particularly popular. Together with Korean pop music; they have unleashed the ‘Korean wave’ that was mentioned above, which 393

left: As part of Bhutan's modernisation program, its road system has been under development since the 1960s. right: In 1983 Bhutan's first airport was opened in Paro, along with its own airline, which not only provided easier access to the country for tourists, but has enabled Bhutanese people to travel around their country too.


has in its turn exercised considerable influence over the fashions adopted by young urban dwellers. However, there is yet another relatively new medium that is bringing the world of consumerism and materialism closer to Bhutanese people – the Internet. The younger generation in particular is using it increasingly as a source of opinions and fashion. Generally speaking, computers, the Internet, mobiles, iPods, MP3-players, DVD-players and the like have changed the way young people in Bhutan spend their free time and have fun, and have altered their cultural values, especially in the towns. However, the dissemination of western values and life styles is not limited to TV and the Internet – tourism is also involved; it is partly responsible for the decline of cultural traditions. The constantly growing flow of tourists, together with their own improving economy and associated commercialisation have stimulated a debate about the way religious objects and cultural values are displayed. Using thangka for hanging on walls or printing Buddhist deities on calendars and T-shirts is, albeit very common, regarded as a misuse by part of the Buddhist population, and is heavily criticised. Bhutan is aware of the effects of tourism – to some extent at least – and has for this reason opted for a gentle form of tourism. Tourists numbers are kept low by imposing travel per diems of at least 200 – 250 US Dollar per day and person, which include all accommodation, all meals, transportation, the services of licensed guides and porters, and cultural programs, along with other economic factors, such as free hotel rooms and available booking flights. However, the infrastructure is constantly being extended and the number of tourists is increasing year on year, so that by 2011, 37,479 travellers were counted; this is a growing trend.8

The demands and aspirations that have been aroused by the flow of global information are viewed with considerable scepticism by many Bhutanese, especially the older generation. According to Pommaret, the emergence of a middle class has been observed since the start of 1980s; it consists of civil servants, merchants and entrepreneurs who have developed a hitherto unknown level of consumer demands. The range of products available in the towns testifies to a relatively high standard of living.9 ‘The average Bhutanese observes the above-average living standards of the elite, and is becoming better informed about goods and services that may broaden his or her consumption. The elite are in turn aware of the greater privileges enjoyed by Europeans or Japanese. Income can hardly keep up with expectation.’ Karma Ura observes.10 The growing prosperity, consumerism and excess that the young Bhutanese of today are exposed to and consequently adopt as their own aims, have led to a number of social problems. A further effect of globalisation has already been mentioned in the previous chapter, whereby Bhutanese textiles are being copied in other countries and used in the mass production of textiles that are then sold cheaply on the international market. When these cheap and easy-care machine-woven textiles from India appeared on the market, many weavers found it difficult to sell their own handwoven textiles. For this reason, it was forbidden to use these materials for a while during the early 1970s.11 Similarly, there are still no machine looms in Bhutan, although this form of modernisation is constantly being debated, and it appears to be only a matter of time. In de facto terms, though, the government is trying to avoid mechanisation, because so many families would lose their source of income.

However, globalisation also helps to strengthen local and traditional aspects. In this regard, British sociologist Stuart Hall has established that global and local elements are re-ordered and re-shaped within a mutual process.12 This mutual restriction of globalisation and re-localisation, in other words, the coexistence of the multi-dimensional process of globalisation and its local and regional effects, has been given a new term ‘glocalisation’, coined by British sociologist Roland Robertson.13 Consequently, every development in the world has a global and supranational significance and, at the same time, a local and supra-regional significance. Furthermore, ‘glocalisation’ implies an urge to return to one’s identity and to research and reinforce one’s own unchanging values, which is what is happening in Bhutan. In this sense, some Bhutanese people are beginning to value Bhutan’s traditional textiles once again. At the same time, Indian businesses have been obliged to respect local features, and to match the tastes of their Bhutanese customers when they bring their machine-woven copies to the market. The Bhutanese weavers and designers, whose textiles ought to be linked to the global market, are in their turn

obliged to develop both local and global networks in order to compete on the global market. In this sense, globalisation can also be seen as promoting innovation, as well as creativity. URBANISATION – A CHALLENGE FOR A SMALL COUNTRY Bhutan must face yet another challenge in the form of the country’s growing urbanisation. Like so many other parts of the world, in Bhutan too, more people than ever before are on the move: migration has become a vital aspect of our globalised world. In 1998 Bhutanese author Kunzang Choden could still write that urbanisation in Bhutan was a new phenomenon, scarcely 30 years old and that less than ten per cent of the population was living in towns. Nevertheless, Kunzang Choden goes on to say, Bhutanese people were not wholly unfamiliar with the concept of town. The word throm, the closest Bhutanese equivalent to the word town or city, is, according to her, the term for a temporary settlement, when people gather for a specific

One aspect of globalisation that has been criticised by many of its opponents is the strong and unavoidable influence of the western world, although this process may have been slower in Bhutan than in many other countries (right; Photo by John Scofield / National Geographic / Getty Images).


The capital Thimphu (left) and smaller towns such as Paro (right ) are attracting more and more people from the rural regions.


purpose. These occasions were mostly religious or celebratory in nature, at which the women wore their best garments and jewels, which were often heirlooms that they only wore once or twice a year. Thus adorned, they would promenade through the place (throm she). Nowadays, people still refer to a throm when attending the annual markets which take place on the occasion of religious gatherings and festivals.14 Although there had been no urban forms previously in Bhutan, Bhutanese people were familiar with the towns in neighbouring India and Tibet, and even more distant Nepal, having visited them as traders and pilgrims. During these pilgrimages to important Buddhist sites, they even arrived in large cities such as Benares, in India, Kathmandu in Nepal, and Lhasa in Tibet. According to Kunzang Choden, the Bhutanese learnt about this urban life style – and returned home, content with their rural conditions.15 Nowadays, though, the situation is viewed quite differently. Urbanisation is advancing rapidly in Bhutan; it is primarily the young, well-educated people who are leaving their little villages in the countryside to find work in the expanding urban centres. This is leading to urbanisation problems that did not exist before, and which constitute a great challenge for Bhutan. According to the last census, in 2005 the urban population of Bhutan comprised 196,111 persons, or 30.9 per cent of the entire population.16 In 2008 the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement conducted a study with showed that by the year 2020, 73 per cent of Bhutanese people will be living in towns. The greater part of this migration from countryside to town involves an East to West movement. Forty-four per cent of migrants are aged between 16 and 30. They move away because they expect a better education in