The traditional printing of important religious works onto Bhutanese
handmade paper from wood-blocks is still carried out from time
to time, but only in limited editions (time and production costs
make manual block printing onto handmade paper uneconomic for the
Hand operated letter-press printing is also carried out from time
to time for the works of Kunkhyen Longchen Rabjam for which the
Library holds metal blocks.
The range of printing activities now includes the block printing
of dharani (gzungs) for insertion
in prayer wheels, Choten and Buddha images. In 1993, the Library
successfully tendered to provide mantras for insertion in three
new images (each 28-30 feet high) being made for Punakha Dzong
as part of a major restoration project, supplying 200,000 sheets
of the approximately 300,000 required to fill each statue.
Xylograph (woodblock) Printing Process
Woodblook printing was invented in China by the 7th century CE
and was used largely for the purposes of propagating Buddhist
literature. The oldest dated printed book in the world is a Chinese
version of the Diamond Sutra from 868 now in the British Library
which shows considerable level of sophistication. This printing
process was enthusiastically adopted in Korea, Tibet and Bhutan
because Buddhists believe great merit is attained by printing and
distributing holy texts.
Bumthang was one of the early centres of woodblock printing in
Bhutan and original woodblocks carved by Terchen Padma Lingpa still
survive at Kunzang Trak retreat. Punakha Dzong also had a printing
establishment which was famous through the Himalayan Region. Unfortunately, over the centuries there have been several
major fires at Punakha Dzong, leading to the destruction of most of the woodblocks originally housed there.
Bhutanese continue to use this process right up to the present
day for the purpose of printing important religious texts.