Bhutan | Thimphu

Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan

Embrace Bhutan Cultural Tour

Thimphu | Bhutan

08 Nov 2019 | Fri

Day 02 of 13

  • Exploring Capital City Thimphu Bhutan
  • Bamboo Supported Construction Site Thimphu
  • National Memorial Chorten Thimphu
  • Bhutan Institute of Traditional Medicine
  • Bhutan Gross National Happiness (GNH) Centre
  • Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan
  • Lunch in Thimphu
  • Motithang Takin Preserve Thimphu
  • Tashichho Dzong Viewpoint Thimphu
  • Centenary Farmers Market Thimphu
  • Evening Lecture with Kuenzang Dechen

Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan

Royal Textile Academy, dedicated to educate, promote and preserve Bhutanese textiles. Bhutanese textiles have reached new heights as one of the most visible traditional crafts and as a distinctly Bhutanese art form. The textile academy has opened its exhibition on six major themes – warp pattern weaves, weft pattern weaves, role of textiles in religion, achievements in textile arts, textiles from indigenous fibers and the royal collection.

Embrace Bhutan Travel

Outside of Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan

Impressive Academy & Museum

After our wonderful visit to Gross National Happiness (GNH) Centre (covered here), it was time to move on to The Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan.

Here’s a link to the official Royal Textile Academy website.

“The Bhutan Textile Museum or the National Textile Museum is a national textiles museum in Thimphu, Bhutan, located near the National Library of Bhutan. It is operated by the National Commission for Cultural Affairs. Since its establishment in 2001, the museum has generated national and international attention and has garnered a substantial collection of antique textile artefacts, exclusive to Bhutan.”

“The objective of setting up the museum is to promote Bhutan’s achievements in the field of textile arts and to sustain and promote interest of the weavers to continue the traditional textile patterns. The museum also envisions to become the centre for textile studies and research. The purpose is also to promote the history and culture of Bhutan.”

“The museum is divided into six areas of special focus, including:

– Achievements in textile arts
– The role of textiles in religion
– Textiles from indigenous fibres
– The Royal Collection
– Warp pattern weaves
– Weft pattern weaves.

“The Royal Collection of the museum has an invaluable collection of Bhutanese antique textile artefacts of Bhutan, including crowns of Bhutan’s kings, Namzas (dresses) and other accessories worn by the Royal Family, a pearl robe from Tsamdrak Goenpa and the bedding of Shabdrung Jigme Dorji.”

“Some of the unique collections donated by the Queen Mother, Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck, and some private individuals on display in the museum are: the first version of the Raven crown, brocade uzhams(crowns) worn by the first king, and the second king, and a princess crown worn by the sister of the first king, Ashi Wangmo.”

“The ground floor of the Textile Museum has displays demonstrating the skills of spinning, colouring fibres, preparing a loom, and manipulating two sets of yarns. Decorative fabrics and textile arts and crafts are categorically displayed in the galleries situated on the first floor of the Textile Museum. There are displays showing the traditional regional garments produced by women and men in Bhutan, and those garments used for special religious occasions.”

– from Wikipedia Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan

– Also Check Out… Textiles of Bhutan

Academy’s Three Special Programs

– The Weaving School – “trains students in traditional weaving, the art of yarn dyeing, contemporary skills related to design and color combinations, and also basics on business and book-keeping skills.”

– Textile Museum – “a state of art museum to display its collection of artifacts to further the understanding of Bhutan’s rich textile traditions and way of life.”

– The Textile Conservation Centre – “one of the first institutions in the country practicing and imparting internationally accepted methods and techniques of conservation and preservation of the priceless textiles and other artifacts.”

– The Royal Textile Academy

Royal Textile Academy Thongdrol

As told by our guide Tashi Topden, the large embroidered mural/tapestry on display at the Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan is called a “Thongdrol”. The Royal Textile Academy commissioned the Thongdrol in 2015 to honor our 4th King’s legacy in commemoration of his 60th birth anniversary.

Large Embroidered Thongdrol Mural in Lobby of the Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan

The Thongdrol stands 34 ft tall and runs 23 ft wide, is made of different types of silk and brocade, and features a series of Buddhist masters and Zhabdrung’s previous incarnations. Thus, the mural is called “Zhabdrung Phuensum Tshogpa Thongdrol”

Zhabdrung was the 17th-century Tibetan-born Drukpa Kagyu (Dragon school of Tibetan Buddhism). He came to Bhutan in 1616 and later unified Bhutan. His full name is Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. In this mural, he is seated in the center in his red hat and long grey beard.

Significance of Bhutanese Thongdrols

Before getting started, it’s important that we first define the various terms that are used to describe the various aspects of a Thongdrol.

Appliqué – “is ornamental needlework in which pieces or patches of fabric in different shapes and patterns are sewn or stuck onto a larger piece to form a picture or pattern. It is commonly used as decoration, especially on garments. The technique is accomplished either by hand stitching or machine. Appliqué is commonly practised with textiles, but the term may be applied to similar techniques used on different materials. In the context of ceramics, for example, an appliqué is a separate piece of clay added to the primary work, generally for the purpose of decoration.”

– from Wikipedia Appliqué

Thangka – “is a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala. Thangkas are traditionally kept unframed and rolled up when not on display, mounted on a textile backing somewhat in the style of Chinese scroll paintings, with a further silk cover on the front. So treated, thangkas can last a long time, but because of their delicate nature, they have to be kept in dry places where moisture will not affect the quality of the silk. Most thangkas are relatively small, comparable in size to a Western half-length portrait, but some are extremely large, several metres in each dimension; these were designed to be displayed, typically for very brief periods on a monastery wall, as part of religious festivals. Most thangkas were intended for personal meditation or instruction of monastic students. They often have elaborate compositions including many very small figures. A central deity is often surrounded by other identified figures in a symmetrical composition. Narrative scenes are less common, but do appear.”

– from Wikipedia Thangka

Bhutanese Thongdrol (Thongdrel) – “is a large appliqué religious image normally only unveiled during tsechus, the main religious festivals in Bhutan. They are the largest form of thangka paintings in the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Thongdrels typically depict a seated Guru Rinpoche surrounded by holy beings in a composition that, unlike most smaller thangkas, is in a “landscape” format, somewhat wider than it is tall.”

– from Wikipedia Thongdrel

So based on these various terms, the Bhutanese Thongdrol is a form of “Applique Thangka” that has been passed down from the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. It has also been stated that the general term of “Thongdrol” also means “liberation through sight or seeing”.

Paro Tsechu & Thongdrol of Guru Rinpoche

One of the most revered and important events (involving a Bhutanese Thongdrol) is the Paro Tsechu (Festival) held each Spring (March/April – 11th to 15th day of the 2nd month of the Bhutanese calendar every year).

People from all over the country flock into the festival premises in their best dresses to witness and get blessings during the five day Tshechu. Tourists from far and wide add to both the number and variety of people attending the Tshechu. Various Mask Dances and Folk Dances are performed both by the monks and the laymen from the community.

The highlight of the festival is the unrolling of the Thongdrol of Guru Rinpoche on the last day. This huge embroidered tapestry which is shown only on this one day each year is not allowed to be struck by the direct rays of the sun. It is unfurled pre-dawn around 3 am in the morning and rolled back up by 8 am.

As previously mentioned about how “Thongdrol” means “liberation through sight or seeing”, the Bhutanese people believe just the act of viewing the Paro Thongdrol will bless and cleanse the viewer from negative karma.

People from all over the country flock into the festival premises in their best dresses to witness and get blessings during the five day Tshechu. Tourists from far and wide add to both the number and variety of people attending the Tshechu. Various Mask Dances and Folk Dances are performed both by the monks and the laymen from the community.

– Tashi Topden Embrace Bhutan Travel & Royal Government of Bhutan Annual Paro Tsechu

Impressive Textile Academy and Museum

We thoroughly enjoyed touring the Royal Textile Academy & Museum. It is an impressive facility that goes into great detail covering the entire history and culture of Bhutan’s unique textile art form. They offer a mixture of informative displays, video presentations, displayed artwork, traditional clothing, murals, woven pattern displays – all showing off Bhutan’s amazing gifted talents (intricate patterns, colorful dyeing, and weaving techniques)

I do not have a lot of photos from this visit as they do not allow photography inside The Royal Textile Academy & Museum. They did, however, have a wonderful gift shop to visit at the end of the tour that had various handmade items from different regions of the country.

More About Bhutanese Art

from Wikipedia Bhutanese Art

Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan

Map – Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan

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