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Bhutan’s artistic tradition has its roots in Buddhism with almost all representation in the arts running along the prevailing theme of struggle between good and evil. Bhutanese art is mostly symbolic. It is highly decorative and ornamental.

The Buddhist nature of Bhutan’s artistic heritage may be traced to Pema Lingpa, the great 15th Century terton (treasure discoverer), who was an accomplished painter, sculptor, xerography, and architect. In 1680, Desi Tenzin Rabgye opened the school of Zorig Chusum to teach 13 types of Bhutanese arts and crafts under the instruction of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.

Such promotion of traditional Bhutanese art has been preserved through the centuries, with continued patronage provided by the Royal family, nobility and clergy. The common people, who depend on the artisans for a wide variety of metal and wooden objects indispensable to typical Bhutanese households, provide active support to the arts.The artist is often a religious man who creates the work commissioned by a Jinda or patron.

Paintings and sculpture are made by groups of artists working in special workshops executed by monks or laymen. The basic preliminary work is done by the disciples, after which the master carries out the finishing touch of fine details.
The 13 types of Bhutanese arts and crafts are:
1. Shing zo (Woodwork)
2. Dho zo (Stonework)
3. Par zo (Carving)
4. Lha zo (Painting)
5. Jim zo (Sculpting)
6. Lug zo (Casting)
7. Shag zo (Wood Turning)
8. Gar zo (Blacksmith)
9. Troe zo (Ornament Making)
10. Tsha zo (Bamboo Work)
11. De zo (Paper Making)
12. Tshem zo (Tailoring, embroidery and applique)
13. Thag zo (Weaving)

The arts and crafts continue to thrive despite a small tourist market. Much of this is due to the government’s support and emphasis on the preservation of culture and tradition.

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