About Us


 

The Research and Media Division is a division of the National Library & Archives of Bhutan (NLAB) under Department of Culture, Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs. The division conducts research, documentation and translation on a wide range of topics relating to historical, cultural and religious fields in keeping with NLAB’s mandate of preservation, promotion and dissemination of literary heritage of Bhutan.

Aims and Objectives of the Research & Media Division

Functions of Research & Media Division

Objectives of the Research & Documentation of Cultural Heritage of Bhutan

Categories of Bhutanese Culture

It is difficult to define Bhutanese culture in a summary yet concrete manner. The Bhutanese term for culture is lamsol (lam srol), or ‘following a path’; in this case, the customs and practices of our illustrious forefathers, religious and political leaders and communities. For our purposes, ‘culture’ is used synonymously with ‘civilization’ as well as the idea that culture serves as a repository of human excellence, artistic achievement and as an individual pursuit of perfection that principally derives its inspiration from Buddhist doctrine and ethics.

Generally. culture is divided into tangible (dngos can lam srol) and intangible (dngos med lam srol) aspects. That which can be seen and touched, such as dzongs, houses, temples, art, and antiquities is termed tangible heritage, while those traditions and events that are conceptual or otherwise lack tangible form in themselves, like knowledge, skills, attitudes, beliefs, song, music, drama, oral traditions, festivals, and other such happenings that can be recorded but cannot be touched or interacted with, are categorized as intangible heritage.

However, Bhutanese scholars divide the culture of Bhutan into the following four categories:

  1. External objects (phyi yul gyi lam srol)
  2. The culture of internal mind (nang sems kyi lam srol)
  3. The culture of learning and education (shes bya’i gnas kyi lam srol)
  4. The culture of conduct and character (bya ba spyod lam gyi lam srol)

External objects include those tangible items that can be seen and touched, such as dzongs, houses, statues, paintings, and so forth. The culture of the internal mind refers to that which cannot be perceived through the senses, for example, knowledge, attitude, beliefs, and skills. The culture of learning and education encompasses the cultivation of knowledge of the traditional sciences, such as arts and crafts, medical sciences and astrology. The culture of conduct and character refers to conduct of the body, speech and mind: in other words, the reasons why we respect one other, the benefits of showing mutual respect and the negative effects of not doing so.

Of the four types, the cultures of external objects and of the internal mind are considered of prime importance, because they are comprised of tangible, physical objects and intangible aspects housed in one’s mind. According to Bhutanese scholars, these two can encapsulate the entire culture and thus are the backbone — if not the source — of Bhutanese culture.

Nonetheless, in this online database the Bhutanese cultural heritage is divided into 7 domains: (a) Arts and Crafts. (b) Cultural Events. (c) Folk Knowledge and Customs. (d) Historical and Cultural Sites and Properties. (e) Oral Traditions and Language. (f) Performing Arts and Games. (g) Religious Practices.

(a) Arts and Crafts

It describes traditional craftsmanship, comprised primarily of the codified set of thirteen arts and crafts practised in Bhutan that occupy and employ many Bhutanese craftspeople. Additionally, other forms of arts and crafts outside the thirteen will also be researched and documented under this domain, such as bone works, leather works, traditional boot-making, pottery and calligraphy, all of which have played essential roles in Bhutanese society.

(b) Cultural Events

Since cultural events are very important and are lifeline of the Bhutanese cultural heritage, a separate domain is formed consisting of religious festivals or events and the secular festive events. The religious events include tshechus and celebrations such as drupchen, nyungney, lochö, and so on while New Year celebrations and events without religious significance such as Winter Solstice, Blessed Rainy Day, Dasai etc can be found under secular festive events.

Chapter III describes the traditional customs, rituals, ceremonies and festive events that give meaning and essence to Bhutanese ways of life. An attempt has been made to provide an account of all types of ceremonies, tradition and customs, social practices, religious rites, festivals and celebrations as practiced by different ethnic groups and communities across the country.

(c) Folk Knowledge and Customs

This domain presents — to the farthest extent possible — descriptions and lists of folk knowledge and technologies that comprise formal traditional medicinal practices, local healing practices, folk meteorology, arithmetic, astrology and astronomical knowledge, traditional measurements, folk beliefs and superstitions, ecological knowledge, etiquettes, human lifecycle, and societal management. It also describes traditional household and economic knowledge, traditional foods and beverages, and other unique customs of Bhutan such as customs related to house construction and so on.

(d) Historical and Cultural Sites and Properties

This domain not only gives the description of the cultural elements but also the geographical location of those important sites and properties such as dzong, and sacred sites (nye, tshachu, drupchu, etc). Besides, it also provides details of the statues, religious texts, and other sacred objects.

(e) Oral Traditions and Language

It presents the oral traditions in Bhutan; specifically its languages and dialects, as well as the proverbs, riddles, tales, nursery rhymes, legends, myths, narrations, poetry, epic narratives in prose and verse forms, charms, prayers, chants, and songs.

(f) Performing Arts and Games

This domain gives an account of Bhutan’s performing arts and traditional games. In particular, it presents types of ritual mask dances: tsüncham (performed exclusively by monks), böcham (performed solely by lay people), and drama. Further, the chapter enumerates types of musical instruments including religious musical instruments. This domain also deals with traditional games and sports, and provides a comprehensive survey of the games, including detailed accounts of the rules for each.

(g) Religious Practices

It describes almost all the aspects of religious practices such as offerings, ceremonies, religious arts, rituals, teachings, chanting, use of religious artefacts, description of religious symbols and other various religious activities such as prostration, circumambulation and so on. However, religious festivals/events, religious musical instruments and other practices that are closely linked with other domains can be found under their respective domains.