Bhutanese art is well-known globally for its meticulous attention to detail, vibrant colour palette, thematic choices, and symmetrical designs. The country, known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon, seamlessly merges the artistic traditions of India, China, and Tibet into its art forms. Art has always played a significant role in Bhutanese people’s daily life, symbolising their internal and external spirituality. The article explores these unique and captivating crafts of Bhutan.

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Bhutan_©Pema Gyamtsho

Bhutan and Art

Nestled in the eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is a small country renowned for its stunning landscapes, rich culture, and unique heritage. One of the most important aspects of Bhutanese culture is its handicraft industry, which has been an integral part of the country’s identity for centuries. The handicraft industry of Bhutan plays a crucial role in supporting the livelihoods of many Bhutanese people and is a significant contributor to the country’s economy. 

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Buddha point, Thimphu, Bhutan_©Prateek Katyal

Bhutanese art is a beautiful amalgamation of Indian, Chinese, and Tibetan artistic traditions, which gives it a unique identity. The use of vibrant colours, intricate details, and symmetrical designs are the hallmark of Bhutanese art. The country’s artists skillfully blend these elements to create art that is not only visually stunning but also holds deep meaning and symbolism. 

This is not just limited to museums and art galleries but can be found in everyday life, from the colourful traditional dress of Bhutanese people to the intricate carvings on temples and monasteries. Art has always remained an essential part of the daily life of a Bhutanese because it represents internal and external spirituality.

The country’s Buddhist beliefs and culture profoundly influence Bhutanese art, evident in the themes and motifs used in various art forms. The symmetry of objects in Bhutanese art is also significant, representing balance and harmony.

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Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery_©Raimond Klavins

In recent years, Bhutanese art has gained worldwide recognition for its beauty and uniqueness.

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Masked dance at Dochula in Thimphu, Bhutan_©Pema Gyamtsho

These art forms are not just visually stunning but also hold deep meaning and symbolism, making them an integral part of the daily life of a Bhutanese. The country’s religious and cultural traditions are closely linked to Bhutanese music and dance. 

One of Bhutan’s most popular dances is the cham dance, performed during religious festivals and events. Cham dances typically involve elaborate costumes and masks. They are performed to accompany traditional Bhutanese instruments, such as the dramyin (a long-necked lute) and the yangchen (a type of hammered dulcimer).

In addition to religious dances, Bhutanese culture also features a variety of secular dance forms, such as the boedra and the zhungdra. Boedra is a lively dance that groups of men typically perform, while zhungdra is a more graceful and delicate dance that women often perform.

Bhutanese music is also an essential part of the country’s cultural heritage, with traditional instruments such as the dranyen (a type of lute), the chiwang (a type of fiddle), and the lim (a type of bamboo flute) being used in many traditional compositions. Bhutanese music often features intricate melodies and complex rhythms and is often used to accompany dance performances.

The Craftsmanship

Bhutanese handicrafts are diverse and vibrant, with each region having distinctive styles and techniques. Some of the major handicrafts of Bhutan include weaving, embroidery, woodcarving, pottery, and papermaking. Weaving is Bhutan’s most popular and widely practised handicraft, with textiles used for everything from clothing to religious purposes.

Bhutanese art is deeply influenced by the country’s Buddhist beliefs and culture, evident in the themes and motifs used in various art forms. The symmetry of objects in Bhutanese art is also significant, representing balance and harmony.

The art of weaving is one of the oldest crafts that have been practised for centuries. Weaving is integral to Bhutanese life and culture, and the craft is widely practised throughout the country. Bhutanese textiles are woven from cotton, silk, or wool in striped patterns – vertical for men and horizontal for women.

The sculpture is another essential art form in Bhutan, with bronze and clay being the most commonly used materials. Bhutanese sculptures are typically created for religious purposes and are known for their intricate details and smooth finishes.


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Sculptures_©Anil Sharma
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Jungshi Paper Factory_©bradford zak

Pottery and papermaking are lesser-known handicrafts in Bhutan but are still crucial to the country’s cultural heritage. Bhutanese pottery is known for its unique shapes and designs, often featuring Buddhist symbols and religious imagery. On the other hand, Bhutanese papermaking involves using the bark of the daphne plant to create a handmade paper that is often used for religious texts. 

The bark is soaked in water for several days, after which it is pounded into a pulp using wooden mallets. The pulp is then spread out on a mesh screen and left to dry in the sun. Once the paper is dry, it is cut to the desired size and often used for religious texts, prayer flags, and other traditional purposes.

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Gangte Goemba Monastery_©bradford zak
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Woodcarving at Gangte Goemba Monastery_©bradford zak

Carving is extensively practised in the country to produce items such as printing blocks for religious texts, furniture, altars, and slate images embellished on the many shrines. The traditional Bhutanese woodcarving is done by hand, using simple tools like chisels and mallets. Woodcarvers use various types of wood, including pine, cedar, and spruce, depending on the object they create.

One of the most common forms of woodcarving in Bhutan is mask-making. Masks are essential to Bhutanese culture and are used in many traditional dances and festivals. The masks are usually made from wood and painted boldly, often featuring religious or mythological themes. The masks are also believed to have spiritual and protective powers, and many Bhutanese households have a collection of masks used during various ceremonies.

Another popular form of woodcarving in Bhutan is the creation of figurines, which are often used as decorative items or as souvenirs for tourists. These figurines are usually made from wood and are painted in bright colours, featuring intricate details and designs. The most common subjects for Bhutanese woodcarvings are religious and mythological figures, animals, and scenes from everyday life.

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Masked Dancers_©Pema Gyamtsho
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Choki Traditional Arts School_©bradford zak

Thangka painting is a traditional Buddhist art form practised in Bhutan for centuries. The word “thangka” means “rolled up” in Tibetan, and these paintings are typically painted on cotton or silk and then mounted on a scroll. Thangkas are usually created using natural pigments made from ground minerals, stones, and plants and are known for their intricate details and vibrant colours.

Thangkas depict various Buddhist deities, stories, and teachings and are considered an essential religious art form in Bhutan. They are typically created by highly skilled artists who undergo years of training in traditional techniques and styles. The artists use precise measurements and proportions to ensure that the figures depicted in the thangka are anatomically correct and by traditional Buddhist iconography.

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A huge thangka painting exhibited at the Drepung Monastery, Lhasa_©Xinhua

Thangkas can range in size from small portable pieces to large wall hangings, and they are often displayed in monasteries, temples, and homes as objects of veneration. They are believed to have spiritual and healing properties and are used in various religious rituals and ceremonies.

There has been a growing interest in Bhutanese thangka painting outside the country recently. Many collectors and art enthusiasts appreciate these paintings’ intricate details and religious significance. The Bhutanese government has actively promoted thangka painting as a cultural heritage and has established training programs and workshops to support and preserve this art form.

Promoting the Industry

Many traditional handicrafts, such as weaving, woodcarving, and thangka painting, have grown in popularity, with younger generations taking an interest in learning and preserving these skills. Establishing craft centres and training institutes has allowed local people to learn and develop their skills in traditional handicrafts and access markets to sell their products. These initiatives have also helped to increase the quality and standard of Bhutanese handicrafts, making them more competitive in the international market.

Tourism has also played an essential role in the growth of the handicraft industry, as visitors are often interested in purchasing souvenirs and mementoes of their trip to Bhutan. Handicraft emporiums and markets have been set up in major tourist destinations to cater to this demand. Many visitors are willing to pay a premium for handmade, authentic Bhutanese handicrafts.

The international market for Bhutanese handicrafts has been growing in recent years, with exports to Europe, North America, and Japan seeing significant increases. Bhutanese textiles, in particular, have become popular in international markets, with their unique designs and high quality attracting buyers worldwide. The government has been actively promoting Bhutanese handicrafts abroad, participating in trade fairs and exhibitions to showcase the country’s traditional crafts.

Overall, the handicraft industry in Bhutan plays an essential role in the country’s economy and cultural identity. The government’s efforts to promote and support this industry have successfully reserved traditional skills and provided economic opportunities to local communities.


  • Langmusi: Taktsang Lhamo: Amdo Tibet Travel Destination: Snowlion tours (2020) SnowLion Tours | SnowLion Tours arranges high-quality, eco-friendly travel services with a Tibetan touch. We provide outstanding trips across all regions of the Tibetan plateau with the best level of services available. We warmly welcome you to join us in exploring the Land of Snows. Available at: (Accessed: April 12, 2023).
  • Living master of thangka[3]| (no date). Available at: (Accessed: April 11, 2023).
  • The craft gallery: Thimphu, Bhutan (no date) Bhutan Crafts. Available at: (Accessed: April 12, 2023).
  • Holidify (2023) 13 Bhutanese Arts and crafts for the wandering artphile, Holidify. Holidify. Available at: (Accessed: April 12, 2023).

Isha Ralhan is a 5th-year undergrad student pursuing a bachelor's degree in architecture. She likes learning about new things and traveling to new places. She enjoys photography as a hobby, reading books in her free time, and adores cats.