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An explosion of technology has threatened the country’s written tradition

Culture: Traditional calligraphy and xylography in the country are on terminal decline with increasing population being exposed to computers and electronic gadgets, researchers said.

Saving Bhutan’s unique written culture

An explosion of technology has threatened the country’s written tradition

Culture: Traditional calligraphy and xylography in the country are on terminal decline with increasing population being exposed to computers and electronic gadgets, researchers said.

In an attempt to preserve the traditional calligraphic, xyllographic and print culture in the country, experts from around the country are working on the National Library and Archives of Bhutan’s (NLAB) three-year project. German Bhutan Himalaya Society is funding the first phase with Nu 2.16 million.

They are conducting a research on historical significance of ancient calligraphy and xylographic print culture, and making videos of the calligraphic skills. The national library would also have a small museum with various exhibits collected during their research.

The project is divided in to two phases of 18 months each. In the first phase that ends in December 2016, besides collecting initial samples, the researchers would compile and produce a draft book.

One of the researchers and the project consultant, Gregor Verhufen said that the country has a unique written script, a vast and great tradition now threatened by the explosion of technology.

Gregor Verhufen is a German researcher on Tibetan language and culture including its neighbours and has helped create a digital catalogue of the 140,000 texts in the national library in a 10-year project in the early 2000.

Mgyogs yig (jo-yig), a script introduced to Bhutan by a disciple of Guru Padmasambhawa, Denma Tsemang during the Guru’s second visit is unique to this country,” Gregor said.

However, an English explorer in 1907 discovered a sample of the script in a monastery now called Dunhuang, on the old silk route, in China.

“So the question is how did the script reach thousand of miles away from here, which is interesting to research,” he said. “This is not just significant from a religious point but also from the cultural side.”

Chief research officer of NLAB, (Dr) Yonten Dargye said the project could not lose any more time. “There are still few experts on the writing culture and we would document every aspect of it for preservation,” he said.

“Few years down the line, we may not be able to achieve what we can today.”

Researchers said that without proper research and documentation, the significance of this heritage that forefathers valued may not be properly understood and appreciated by future generations.

Given that great Buddhist masters introduced the preponderance of this heritage to establish national identity, it is important that the most accurate information possible is gathered, analysed, and documented for posterity, researchers said.

The book has eight chapters on topics including traditional paper-making, ink, pen, origin of the Bhutanese script (Mgyogs-yig), xylography, and printing texts, among others.

Tshering Palden

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