Melody Makers Of Pemagatshel - Famed For Handmade Religious Musical Instruments In Bhutan
The trumpets made by local artisans are preferred over the improvised and machine-made trumpets imported from India or Nepal.
By Tshering | Bhutan Today
Upon reaching Khar Gewog in Pemagatshel, the sounds of beating metal will greet visitors. Inside small huts close to their houses, men and women can be seen working hard on the metal sheets, creating beautiful Dung (long-horn ritual trumpets) and Jaling (oboe-like instruments).
Pemagatshel is famous for its artisans and weavers. The traditional religious musical instruments produced here are highly prized and sold throughout Bhutan.
They are used in Buddhist ceremonies to help the mind to focus and to entreat the spirits. During rituals, one can also hear the drones and melodies produced by these instruments.
Monks playing longhorns (dungs) at the Punakha Dzong in Bhutan.
Photo: Youtube/Trailhiker 77
Khar Gewog is popular for producing copper craft products like Dung, Jaling, lakhor (hand turn mini prayer wheel) and also the local Poe (incense stick).
The Gewog consist of 5 chiwogs namely: Khar-Yagyur, Khengzor-Labar, Shinangri, Bongmaan and Nagtseri-Tshebar. It has a population of about 3911 with 380 households in the 14 villages. The Gewog is connected by a 55 km feeder road that connects Pemagatshel to Nganglam Dungkhag.
How the art of making Dung and Jaling was introduced to the villagers
In late 1980s when Lama Sangay Dorji wanted to construct a Zangtopelri monastery in the village, he ran out of money. Therefore, he went to Samdrupjongkhar to learn how to make trumpets for a living.
The money saved from the sale of these instruments helped him to complete the construction of the monastery. He also brought the art of making Dung and Jaling back to the village upon his return.
Monks blowing the sacred horn at the Thimphu Tshechu (Festival).
Photo: Gumar Adventures
Today, the villagers are not just keeping the tradition alive; this craft has helped the village to generate employment both for young and old, including the women.
At the beginning, when the art of making trumpets was new to the village, the craftsmen had to go from door to door to sell the finished products but today, orders come from different dzongkhags.
Dung and Jaling from Khar Gewog are highly sought after in Bhutan
This is because the trumpets made by local artisans are preferred over the improvised and machine-made trumpets imported from India or Nepal. The business is so profitable that almost all the households in Khar Gewog are into the trade of making trumpets.
The popularity of these products encouraged and inspired the villagers to invest more time into their work. Dada and his wife works from 6 in the morning till late evening. If there is more demand, they will work longer.
It takes the duo about three days to make a pair of Jaling. But, like other villagers, the couple is unable to explore markets outside of the gewog for better prices. They shared that if they travel to sell their products outside the gewog, their work gets hampered.
Tsheten Norbu and his wife, Sonam making
jaling in their small workshop.
Photo: Bhutan Today
The 36 year old, Tsheten Norbu, agrees that finding market within the dzongkhag is not an issue, but exploring market beyond is a challenge. At the village level, not everyone is willing to pay Nu 8000 for a pair of Jaling.
Dada’s wife, 31-year-old Sonam, attended a course in design conducted by the Agency for Promotion of Indigenous Crafts (APIC) two years ago. Today, most of the women help their husband in designing the instruments.
Photo: Facebook/Agency for Promotion of Indigenous Crafts
Phuntsho, a customer, came to Pemagatshel to buy a pair of Dung and Jaling. He has great admiration for its fine quality and finishing touch.
Another customer, Sangayla said that there are many products in the market which come from Sikkim, Nepal and other dzongkhags but the village of Tshebar in Bhutan produces the best instruments. They could be identified from the quality of the sound produced.
Sangchu agreed that because of the popularity of the products, the artisans do not need to go from door to door to sell their products. The customers will come to them naturally.
The roles played by the village women in the art of making musical instruments
Another artisan, Karma Zangmo has been designing patterns for the trumpets for the past 14 years. Younger women would come to her to learn the art of tay.
Like her, there are many women in the village who are equally involved in the art. Women now earn about Nu 700 per design. One designer can make about two design plates a day.
“I first learnt the art when I was 12 years old. I have never looked back since,” said 38-year-old Karma Tshomo, a mother of three.
“At least we are assured of instant income right after we finish doing the patterns and designs. We also encourage young girls and boys to learn from the elders, instead of remaining jobless. And some of them are showing great interest in it.
Photo: Ideal Travel Creations
Sonam Dema, a housewife, said, “When I first came here, I was amazed to see women sitting outside and making these wondrous designs. I wanted to learn. I can now make some designs and make good money to help my family.”
Jamphel Choda, 35-year-old and his wife makes Dung for a living as well. They take four to five days to make a pair of Dung. They have a Tshogpa who sells the finished products for them. However, they face the challenge of getting good quality coal.
The success and popularity of the trade has encouraged the villagers to form a group, Tshebar Lakzo Thuentshog buys trumpets from the villagers.
How the villagers sell their products and get the raw materials
Tenzin Drakpa, the chairperson, has been making trumpets for the last 20 years. The tshogpa buys trumpets from the villagers and supplies them to the handicraft shops in Thimphu.
In turn, the tshogpa buys raw materials like copper, metal, copper wire and German silver. He then saves them in the raw material bank that the APIC has helped established.
Raw materials used to make dung and jaling.
Therefore, the trumpet makers no longer have to go to Samdrupjongkhar to get the raw materials. The APIC supplies them on the 16th of each month, and members deposit money in the bank to use these raw materials.
Dendupla, a 75-year-old said that the business has helped the community retain its people from abandoning their roots and moving to the cities to look for jobs. At the same time, the community is able to keep the tradition of making traditional trumpets alive.
The Dzongkhag Planning Officer, Kinley said that children from the Tshebar community need not go outside their village to look for temporary jobs during the school breaks as they can work in the community by helping their parents.
The APIC Procurement Officer said, “Our organisation has provided training, funds, skills and employment for the people of Tshebar. We have plans to promote Dung and Jaling outside Bhutan.”
This article first appeared in Bhutan Today and has been edited for the Daily Bhutan.