Yathra Weaving – A Specialty In Bumthang Which Brings Income And Villagers Together
For tourists, Yathra products are popular and unique souvenirs from Bumthang.
By Kinley Yonten | The Bhutanese
Thick hand woven woollen textile with intricate designs, locally known as Yathra has been a unique specialty of weavers in Chummey, Bumthang for generations.
Yathra weaving is prevalent in all the four gewogs in Bumthang. Around 240 households out of the 13-15 villages in Bumthang depend on the sale of Yathra for their livelihood.
It is also a tradition that has been kept alive by the women weavers in Chungphel, Zhurey, Kertsho, Bhim, Terzoe and Yeerangbi in Chummey.
Weaving Yathra as a communal affair
The women weave throughout the year as it is their main source of cash income. Settlements in these villages are clustered, therefore women come to weave together as a group in a hut. Girls begin their training to weave as young as 8 years of age.
Source: Stranovsky Photography
In a typical set up, a group of four to six women usually weave facing each other. While they weave, they converse on various topics and sometimes they sing together or listen to radio programs.
The joint collaboration among weavers in Bumthang has helped to increase diversification in their weaving patterns and to enhance its sale.
Uses of Yathra
Due to the long cold winters, the people in Bumthang have had to use Yathra as coats and raincoats and bedding material. Yathra can also be used as furniture cover, stitched into caps, purses and bags according to the design preference of customers, who are mostly tourists.
A weaver by the name of Dema is a successful entrepreneur today. She said that her investment is now paying off huge dividends as the marketing and delivery of products became much easier.
She had pooled in her resources and weaving expertise to set up a joint venture. In the process, weavers share floral designs and multi-coloured stripe combinations. They even guided each other as they weave in groups.
Dema and her family are delighted to show their successful endeavour to other weavers and farmers in the village.
Where and how do villagers sell their Yathras?
There are three Yathra weaving centres located in the Chhumig gewog. The Gakid Yathra Weaving Centre is located in Umsang village, while the Thokmed Yeshey Handicraft, Yathra Production Centre and Sonam Lhaden Tshongkhang in Zhung Ngae Chiwog are located in the Chummey gewog. This facilitates the sale of Yathra to highway commuters and tourists.
Villagers who hail from Zhungri, which is about a day’s walk to Chhume, sell their products to the dealers once a month. They prefer to barter their Yathras for groceries and garments.
Yeshey, a Yathra dealer in Chummey said that he gives cash to people who take money for their yathras and groceries to those who barter their Yathra. This form of transaction suits him as he does not have cash on him at times.
Each year Yeshey supplies about 100 to 200 Yathra pieces to the various textile shops in Thimphu and other dzongkhags. He sells them for Nu 600 to Nu 1,800 depending on the quality of the product.
According to Yeshey, the products he buys or exchanges with the villagers fetches him about Nu 20,000 to Nu 30,000 during the peak tourist seasons and drops down to Nu 5,000 to Nu 6,000 during the lean tourist seasons.
However, many weavers prefer to sell their products to shops along the bypass road, the main marketing outlet, to commuters and tourists. They then buy yarns and rations from grocery shops.
Yathra is a popular souvenir for tourists
Source: Book My Tour/Bhutan
The demand for locally hand-woven Yathra has been consistent as they are valued by consumers.
“For the tourists, the Yathra products are unique souvenirs from Bumthang. However, to increase the market base, the channel of marketing will have to be improved further,” said Ap Wangdi from Chummey.
Using wool imported from India to weave Yathra instead of Bhutanese wool
Although weavers prefer to use imported Swiss wool as yarn for weaving Yathra, these days the wool from India is in demand for economic reasons.
“Bhutanese wool is considered to be of greater quality,” said Yeshey. “But the charges are abnormally high.”
According to the Information and Technology Communication (ITC) officer in Bumthang, Sonam Jamtsho, Yathra production could become cheaper if there is technological advancement in the production of woollen yarn in Bhutan. This will lower the cost of making local wool.
“The lack of such a processing unit has compelled the Yathra factory owners to depend on imported Indian wool, although the locally produced wool is of pure and superior quality, which is preferred by the consumers,” he said.
He added that the dependency on imported wool has led to the decrease in sheep rearing for wool in the dzongkhag.
“Yathra is traditionally woven by wool produced from sheep raised by the people of Chummey. But the decreasing number of sheep has led to the import of raw materials from India. Today, almost all the raw materials are imported from India,” Mangmi Chundu Tshering said.
The cost of local wool production is expensive as compared to the cost of using imported Indian wool. The price of bleached and ready-made Indian wool ranges from Nu 300 per kg for the cheapest version to Nu 1,200 per kg for the superior ones.
As a result, the Yathra producers depend on imported wool to keep production costs down. Yathra factory owners pay about Nu 10,000 to 15,000 for weaving 15 pieces of Yathra.
Moreover, some owners also provide meals to the weavers. “One piece of 3 metres long Yathra requires approximately 1.1 kg of wool. A weaver can complete weaving 15 pieces of 3 metres long Yathra in one month,” said Yeshey, a Yathra dealer.