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

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

They consist of

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

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

This list was probably codified at the end of the 17th century during the reign of the 4th Temporal Ruler (Desi), Tenzin Rabgye (1680-1694) and incorporated all the arts which were necessary to the religious and administrative life developed by  Zhabdrung Ngwang Namgyel (1594-1651). One of the most famous artist, who is renowned for his work is Penlop Dragpa Gyatsho ( 1646-1719) of Paro. Many of the eminent lamas were great artists.

Religious craft work is considered highly meritorious, and people (monk and laymen) who are assigned these tasks are highly regarded in the community. Until the 1990s, women did not do any of the religious works as it was considered a  privilege of men, but by contrast they were almost exclusively the weavers.

As religious work was considered a privilege only men were given, women did not do any religious craft work until 1990s. However, women did most of the task associated with weaving. International agencies, NGOs, tourism and government institutions have enabled women to take weaving as a full time profession. Specialized schools like the Seal of Excellence introduced in 2009, encourage the artists to promote their work.

Weaving woolen textiles called yatra is the specialty of the Bumthang district and is done by women, usually on pedal looms. Made of sheep or yak hair, every pattern has a  symbolic meaning.