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Books on Bhutan



The Raven Crown: The Origins of Buddhist Monarchy in Bhutan
Michael Aris 

The definitive history of Bhutan's monarchy. Aris, who lived in Bhutan from 1967 to 1972, is a leading western authority on Bhutan's history. The book is lavishly illustrated with rare photographs of the early days of Bhutan that help show what a unique civilisation existed in the early 20th century. 

From the old feudal Theocracy that left Bhutan in the turmoil of civil strives, the world's recent kingship arose bringing peace and stability. The first king of the new dynasty, Ugyen Wangchuk (1862-1926), was a charismatic figure who came to power against a turbulent background of incessant and complex feuding. He adopted as the unique symbol of his authority a crown surmounted by the head of a raven. The bird represents a form of Mahakala, Bhutan's guardian deity. The prototype of the founding monarch's Raven Crown had first been devised as a battle helmet for his father, Jigme Namgyel (1825-81). Known as the Black Regent, he had worn it in bloody struggles against his many rivals within the country and against the British who tried, unsuccessfully, to subdue him.

The story of the Wangchuk dynasty's rise and triumph moves from a picture of turmoil and chaos to one of relative peace and stability. In contrast with earlier published accounts based solely on the colonial records of British India, here the narrative is founded on the Bhutanese chronicles which offer a new perspective and bring many new details to light. 




Bhutan - Mountain Fortress of the Gods 



 A coffee-table book providing documentation for a 1998 Bhutanese exhibition in Vienna. Edited by Christian Schicklgruber & Françoise Pommaret, it has extensive illustrations and excellent information.






Views of Medieval Bhutan

Michael Aris

In 1783 Warren Hastings sent a second embassy to Tibet and to the isolated Buddhist state which survives today as the Kingdom of Bhutan. Samuel Davis, a young lieutenant in the Bengal Army, accompanied the mission as draftsman and surveyor. Although he was denied access to Tibet, David spent several months in Bhutan, and fifty-nine of his original drawings of that country have recently been traced by Michael Aris to collections in India, the United States and England. The finest of these hitherto unpublished views form the main content of this book.




The Dragon's Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan
Edited by Terese Tse Bartholomew and John Johnston
Contributing authors: Ven. Lopon Pemala, Ven. Khenpo Phuntshok Tashi, Dr. Stephen Little, Terese Tse Bartholomew, John Johnston, Dr. Karma Phuntsho, Dr. David Jackson, Dr. John A. Ardussi, Dr. Yonten Dargye, Dr. Per K. Sorensen, Dorji Yangki, Ephraim Jose, Mark Fenn and Joseph Houseal

This catalogue accompanies The Dragon's Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan, one of the most highly anticipated exhibitions of Buddhist art to be held in recent times. For over five years, the Honolulu Academy of Arts, under the direction of Dr. Stephen Little, has conducted ambitious fieldwork and research in Bhutan. Enjoying a close working relationship with the Royal Government of Bhutan, the Honolulu Academy of Arts research teams have been given unprecedented access to the nation’s treasuries of sacred art and dance.

The Dragon's Gift offers a rare opportunity to introduce, to the wider international audience, some of the most sacred Buddhist images of Bhutan. From the wealth of material surveyed, the organizers of the exhibition have selected over one hundred objects of superior aesthetic achievement and deep religious significance, the vast majority of which have never before been seen in the West. Nearly all of the works of art presented in this catalogue are from active temples and monasteries and remain in ritual use. Most of the items are painted or textile thangkas or gilt bronze sculptures which date primarily from the 17th to the 19th centuries – a golden age in the Buddhist arts of Bhutan. Ranging from depictions of Tantric deities to individualized portraits of Buddhist masters, the exhibition and catalogue present outstanding works of art with a wide iconographic scope. For the Buddhist people of Bhutan, these sacred items are conceived as supports along the journey to enlightenment, and are of vital spiritual significance.

Complementing the presentation of sacred works of art is the documentation of the ancient Cham dances of Bhutan, to which the dance preservation team was given privileged entrée. Having documented over three hundred hours of sacred and secular dances, they have made a first assay of one of the few surviving treasures of the trans-Himalayan movement tradition. These differing approaches to the visual and moving arts provide further insight into the unique experience of Buddhism in Bhutan.

A brief sampling of the variety of extant dance lineages – some many centuries old – is included on the DVD contained within the catalogue.

Beautifully illustrated, the catalogue also includes twelve essays contributed by leading Bhutanese and Western scholars, covering various aspects of the Bhutanese arts. Contributors include: Dr. Stephen Little, Ven. Lopön Pemala, Ven. Khenpo Phuntsok Tashi, Terese Tse Bartholomew, John Johnston, Dr. Karma Phuntsho, Dr. David Jackson, Dr. John A. Ardussi, Dr. Yonten Dargye, Dr. Per K. Sørensen, Dorji Yangki, Ephraim Jose, Mark Fenn, and Joseph Houseal. 



Bhutan: Hidden Lands of Happiness
John Wehrheim
Photographs by John Wehrheim

Tibetan folksongs sometimes sing of beyul—hidden lands that can only be seen by those of pure heart and mind. Tucked into the towering peaks and steeply forested valleys of the Eastern Himalayas, the Bhutanese believe their country to be such a place.

Bhutan: Hidden Lands of Happiness is a geographical and cultural passage from the yak pastures along the Tibetan border to the rice lands in central Bhutan. Guiding the reader through the districts of Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gasa, Laya, Lunana, Wangdi, Bumthang and Trongsa, the book reveals remote hot springs and isolated hermitages and ends in the streets and nightclubs of the country’s capital, Thimphu Town. 108 black and white images narrated with stories, journal entries, folklore, dharma teachings and oral history create a portal across centuries. Clear, skillfully composed and rich in depth and detail, these flawless images illustrate an intimate tale of Bhutan told by an artist who is deeply familiar with his subject.


From the Land of the Thunder Dragon: Textile Arts of Bhutan
Edited by Diana K. Myers and Susan S. Bean
Contributing authors: Diana K. Myers, Michael Aris, Françoise Pommaret and Susan S. Bean

Bhutanese textiles are among the last of the major arts of Asia to gain recognition in the West, and this is the first book to present this outstanding art form in its cultural and historical context. Bhutan's textiles, especially the intricate brocades and complex supplementary-warp patterns, are unmatched anywhere in the world. This art, with a steadily growing and devoted following in the West and Japan, has become Bhutan's most powerful emblem abroad.

This volume, first published in 1994 (now reprinted in 2008) in conjunction with a special exhibition organized by the Peabody Essex Museum of Salem, Massachusetts, covers all aspects of Bhutan's textiles and weaving heritage, from the central role of women - more than 80 percent of Bhutanese women contribute to their household's income by weaving - to fibers, dyes, and looms, to the functioning of beautiful cloth as an item of trade and an indicator of historical change and social identity. This copiously illustrated book reveals the richness, originality, and striking beauty of Bhutanese textiles. Examples come from the Peabody Essex Museum, which holds the largest such collection of any North American museum, and public and private collections in Bhutan, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The illustrations are supplemented by field photographs and rare archival images.



Of Rainbows and Clouds : The Life of Yab Ugyen Dorji as told to his Daughter Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck

Set in the remote and little-known Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, this biography of Yab Ugyen Dorji as told to his daughter, Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, provides a fascinating and vivid insight into life and times in that country during this century. Intimate and revealing glimpses of traditional life in monastic retreats, remote villages, as well as forts and palaces, provide a unique perspective on Bhutan's history, society and traditional culture.

Yab Ugyen's memoirs reveal the story of a remarkably close and loving family, brought to life through historical photographs of five generations of its members as well as contemporary photographs of those temples, houses and palaces associated with the family. The book includes a description and the only extant photographs of the royal wedding in 1988 of His Majesty the King of Bhutan with four of Yab Ugyen's daughters.

The latter part of the book chronicles Yab Ugyen's struggles as he grows from a fledgling shopkeeper to a successful merchant. Through the dramatic and gripping vicissitudes of his life and fortunes, beautifully narrated by his daughter, Yab Ugyen reveals a simple and inspiring philosophy of life that has enabled him to tide him over hard times and deepened his spiritual faith and belief in the invisible forces of karma.

This biography provides a fascinating and vivid insight of Bhutan. There are intimate and revealing glimpses of traditional life in monastic retreats, remote villages, forts and palaces. 



Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon

In Bhutan, progress is measured in terms of “Gross National Happiness” and Thimphu, the capital city, has no traffic lights. This mesmerizing book captures the beauties of this remote kingdom, the only independent country to support Buddhism as the official state religion. Readers are transported to ancient fortresses and temples, colorful festivals, and religious ceremonies, as well as to isolated communities along the roof of the world. Featuring photographs taken over the course of three years, the book guides readers through areas normally off-limits to Western visitors, and encompasses a wide range of landscape, portrait, and editorial photographs.



Lonely Planet Bhutan  

Stan Armington


One of the most comprehensive guide book on Bhutan (well, there are not many other guide books on Bhutan). Lonely Planet Bhutan gives detailed descriptions of places, events, travel information and cultural descriptions of Bhutan. Includes map; information about environment, history, and culture; attractions; and practical information for visitors. As the author says, it is for the single, group and arm chair travellers. 







Hero with a Thousand Eyes

Karma Ura


 A historical and a biographical novel by a Bhutanese author. The book follows the career of a courtier in the court of Bhutan second and third monarchs, and it gives insight into the bygone Bhutanese government and administration. 





So Close to Heaven, The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas

Barbara Crossette


An excellent account of Bhutan's history and culture. The author is a New York Times correspondent who has spent considerable time in Bhutan and other Himalayan regions. Published in 1995, the book discusses some of the current development and political problems facing Bhutan. 




Dreams of the Peaceful Dragon


A traveller's account of a walk across Bhutan in the 1970s, before the road between Bumthang and Mongar was completed. It gives a good picture of trekking in Bhutan. 



Joanna Lumley in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon

Joanna Lumley: 


By Lumley, the co-star of the BBC program Absolutely Fabulous. Her grandfather was a political officer in Sikkim; the book is based on a TV program that traced his trek through the country in the 1930s. 






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