Tibetan wood carving : Craft for the Art

Different types of Dramyin

Tibetan wood carving is a sublime art. Everything from Dalai Lama’s throne to incense boxes and Chemar bowls, has imprints of it. The signs of art of wood carving can be traced to as far as 7th century Tsuglakghang in Lhasa constructed during reign of King Songtsen Gampo. Wooden table paintings were also unique and popular during those times. That was said to be another branch of Tibetan art. Subjects and pictorial composition of these wooden table paintings are similar to those of thangka paintings. 

Two well-crafted and decorated dramyins

Beautiful wooden engravings have lavishly decorated the columns, beams, doors, windows, cross beam supports etc in Tibetan monasteries and temples. Even shrines, platforms for deities, altars, stupas and other ritualistic objects were usually adorned with wood carvings. It has also been used in decorating traditional musical string instruments…like Dramyins and Piwangs.

Passang Tobgyal playing a Piwang

Motifs normally used in wood carvings are similar to other Tibetan arts. Various types of flowers, mountains, clouds, other elements of nature as well as religious symbols are represented. Since in Tibetan Buddhism there is a typical style of drawing of every symbol, hence craftsman have to master the art of carving the vast repertoire of motifs and designs. Tibetan culture is so much influenced by Buddhism that although wood carving itself is not a religious art but many the motifs used have religious significance.

A craftsman working on an instrument

Though not a flourishing art, because the younger Tibetan generation has different choices, still there are some craftsman, giving their life and dedication to wood carving. Passang Topgyal is one of such master craftsman at Mcleodganj. He studied Tibetan traditional art of wood carving at Norbulingka Institute at SIdhpur in Dharamshala for six years and now designs many items including traditional musical instruments. Most of them go as souvenirs with foreign tourists to different parts of the world.

Passang’s shop and the factory attached to it

Playing such instruments is now limited to monks at monastic functions. Although there are attempts to improvise these instruments by modernising them in use, while retaining their traditional design and craft. For example Dramyins are designed also to be used as electric guitars. 

Musical instruments at Passang’s shop

Lack of patronage among the younger generation for the traditional music as well as the craft is posing a huge challenge for craftsman like Passang to keep the passion alive and rewarding.

Imprints of a beautiful art piece!

So next time you go to Dharamshala, don’t forget to visit Passang Tobgyal’s shop.

Where: Passang Tobgyal’s shop of Tibetan Wood carving and Musical instruments is near Dharamshala Cantt on way to Dal lake (in Naddi village) from Mcleodganj. It is approximately two kilometres walk fro Mcleodganj town.

You can watch a short film on Passang Tobgyal on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below.

Have you ever tried your hands on a traditional Tibetan musical instrument? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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