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The four-dimensional carving of Zhabdrung Phuensum Tshogpa displayed at the Zorig exhibition yesterday

Reviving the art of Chog-Zhi-Bur-Zo

Craft: The details are just astounding.

Dechen Tshewang, a trainer at the Institute of Zorig Chusum in Thimphu, along with his three apprentices, will be remembered as the folks who revived the chog-zhi-bur-zo (four dimensional woodcarving).

“All wood carvings subsisting in the country are three-dimensional,” Dechen Tshewang said. Woodcarvings are mostly found on altars, pillars and walls.

He said that during Zhabdrung’s reign the art of four-dimensional woodcarving was practiced to make statues. “There are today only a few wooden statues and these are centuries old. One is at the Chari monastery.”

The tradition of making four-dimensional wooden statues died with the emergence of bronze and mud statues, he said.

Upon the Royal Command of His Majesty The King a few years ago, a project to revive this art was started. Dechen Tshewang’s sense of fulfilment was visible from his gestures at the Zorig exhibition yesterday.

The most appealing display at the exhibition was the four-dimensional, architecturally convoluted four-foot edifice of Zhabdrung Phuensum Tshogpa, the most significant altarpiece for Bhutanese.

A complex arrangement of two imperial dragons twirled around the stems of lotuses and rising up against the sky wrap around the statue of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, which sits in the centre of the piece.

On the petals of the lotus are seated 14 smaller statues of Drukpa masters like Naropa, Pema Karpo and Tsangpa Jayray, among others. On the top centre,sits the god of wisdom, Jampelyang. The entire details of Zhabdrung Phuensum Tshogpa as seen in Thongdrel has been carved on wood.

What makes the structure look so extraordinary is that all these life-like details are carved on a single piece of wooden block, making the entire network look like a celestial abode. It took Dechen Tshewang and his team five months to complete the project.

“Such thing has never been made in Bhutan,” Dechen Tshewang said, adding this is only the first step in reviving the chog-zhi-bur-zo. He plans to carve Guru Tshengye on a similar architectural model.

This, however, would not be possible without the two trainers from Nepal hired specifically for this project.

“The anxiousness of completing the task has even woken me at three in the morning,” Dechen Tshewang said.

It was his hands that gave a rich traditional feel to the Zhiwaling Hotel in Paro and the nunnery at Woolakha in Punakha. But he was never so nervous.

“It was a challenge because there were no fast rules or a model,” he said. “There were times when we had to make people pose. Sometimes we had to broaden our imagination,” he said.

He considers the completion of this project auspicious as it falls on the anniversary of 400 years of Zhabdrung’s arrival in the country.

The tradition will be kept alive hereon, said Dechen Tshewang.

Tshering Dorji

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