Promoting What is Ours
“What are three aspects that you think distinguish Bhutan from other countries in the region,” a visitor once asked me. And just as any Bhutanese would answer, I took no time in listing the three things that I thought attribute to Bhutan’s uniqueness – our unique architecture, our artistic weaving culture and our pristine natural environment. I explained the visitor he whole thing with so much pride. That I meant it from my heart he understood it.
Bhutan is dotted with these majestically erected fortresses that sit high atop hills overlooking the valleys down below. They are the true representation of our architectural uniqueness. These dzongs are the living testimony to our artistic skills and architectural magnificence. These monumental structures, which come as gifts from our forefathers, embody our identity. And therein contains our way of life; therein contains our history. These dzongs do us proud and treat charming grandeur to foreign eyes.
Our unique architectural splendor does not end with the dzongs. Our traditional houses in the villages are still built in a style that our forefathers passed down to us. The way our doors and windows open outside, the way they are carved with unique patterns and designs, the way our houses are roofed, the way they are partitioned, the way they are painted, are something that capture the essence of being Bhutanese.
But with modernization, we build less and less houses in a way our forefathers had built them. Even in the villages our unique designs have started to yield to a mighty and tempting force of modernization. Some changes maybe for the better and some may not. And with not many people wanting to learn the art of building traditional houses, it is a cause for concern. These old village houses would only keep standing until our old villagers stay in their traditional setting. As more and more people exit our villages, there would be far less people to preserve our age-old structures and build them.
And welcome to the towns and cities. Here we would find more houses that are almost alien to our traditional architecture. I say almost because our government has this rule. On one hand we take so much pride in the style we build our houses and on the other we depend entirely on the hired Indian laborers to construct almost all the buildings from start to finish. Over the years these laborers seem to have mastered the art of building Bhutanese homes. They do it for cheaper prices. At that rate, Bhutanese carpenters would only grin and walk away.
And if this trend continues then a day would come when we would have only Indian carpenters and laborers building houses for Bhutanese. By then we would have permanently lost the art that’s truly our own. And it would be one embarrassing moment having to learn our art from some foreigners. Unless we do something drastic, we fear the seed is already been sown. Of course we have our Zorichusum (thirteen arts) institutes teaching our young children our traditional arts and crafts. And it is important to render all possible support to these institutions so that our youths take interest in joining them. There lies our hope.
Our weaving culture narrates the same story. In the past our people automatically learnt the art from their parents in the villages. Parents made sure that their children acquire the art from young age. This was how our beautiful textiles with lovely patterns got woven. These fabrics represent our creativity and artistic expression.
Today most of us live in towns and cities and our children go to schools. We go to offices in the morning and come home only in the evening. And even if we may have accidentally learnt the art of weaving from our parents, we are too busy to teach our children. As a result there are not many people who are into weaving habit. Even if some women dare weave, what they earn in a longer duration is far lesser than what people across the border get in a shorter duration. As market competition increases, for these women, it is very difficult to make a decent living by weaving garments.
No doubt our way of weaving is time consuming and the result is expensive clothes, which many of us can afford only for special occasions. And that’s why what we wear today are mostly woven across the border, all types of clothes, including our mentsi martha, lungserm, aai kapur, pangtse, montha, etc. What our people take months, these people weave in weeks and in more quantity. For example, Bhutanese women have to weave three “bjangthas” for a set of kira or gho (now half kiras have reduced that burden to only two) whereas their Indian counterparts weave materials for three or four sets at a time and time taken is less. This would kill our people’s weaving zeal.
While for the people – the end users, it is good for they can buy cheap for now, but it also signals the gradual death of our weaving skills. And then our national dresses would have to be imported from across the border.
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