Reviving the Art of Chog-Zhi-Bur-Zo
Reviving the art of chog-zhi-bur-zo (four dimensional woodcarving). Woodcarvings in Bhutan are mostly found on altars, pillars and walls.
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 art of chog-zhi-bur-zo (four dimensional woodcarving).
“All wood carvings subsisting in the country are three-dimensional,” Dechen Tshewang said. Woodcarvings in Bhutan 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.
A four-dimensional display
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 the Bhutanese.
It is a complex arrangement of two imperial dragons twirled around the stems of lotuses which rise up against the sky, wrapped around the statue of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, that 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, seats the god of wisdom, Jampelyang. The entire details of Zhabdrung Phuensum Tshogpa as seen in the Thongdrel has been carved on wood.
Astounding details of the artwork
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 the 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 anxiety of completing the task has even woken me up at three in the morning,” Dechen Tshewang said.
Similar carvings found at the Zhiwaling Hotel in Paro and the nunnery at Woolakha in Punakha
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 has never been 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 have to broaden our imagination,” he said.
He considers the completion of this project auspicious as it falls on the 400th anniversary of Zhabdrung’s arrival in the country.
The tradition will be kept alive hereon, said Dechen Tshewang.
By Tshering Dorji (This article has been edited for the New Bhutan Times)