Woodblock Carving

Bhutan has a long tradition of printing texts from hand-carved woodblocks (xylographic printing). In the fifteeth century the Bhutanese Scholar-saint Terchen Pema Lingpa, an ancestor of the Royal Family, turned Bumthang in Central Bhutan into one of the country's first printing centers. The woodblocks he carved for 614 folios of his collected works are still preserved at Kunzang Trak Monastery in Bumthang.

Many other Dzongs and temples in Bhutan also had large collections of woodblocks for printing traditional texts. Unfortunately over the centuries several of these printeries were destroyed either by fire or during conflict. Fortunately the National Library holds prints of many of the old xylographic editions for which the original woodblocks no longer exist.

In 1973 Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Azhi Kesang Choeden Wangchuck commanded the then Director of National Library of Bhutan, Lam (Lopen) Padma Tshewang, to maintain this tradition. The National Library then started collecting and storing wooden printing blocks and, under patronage of Her Majesty, the Library commissioned the carving of woodlocks for the entire 12 volume collected works of Pema Karpo (Kun mkhyen bka' 'bum) and other works.

Woodblocks at the National Library

Woodblock carving 1
Woodblock carving 2
Woodblock carving 3
The following woodblocks are now preserved at the National Library:
  • mDo mang - (700 folio)
  • Kun mkhyen bka' 'bum (12 vol. / 7,329 folio)
  • rJe Yon tan mTha' Yas gSungs 'bum (619 folio)
  • rJe 'Jam dByang rGyal mTshan rNam thar (233 folio)
  • rJe Ngag dBang rGyal mTshan rNam thar (237 folio)
  • Padma bKa'i Thang yig (274 folio)
  • Kun bZang bla ma'i zhal lung (205 folio)
  • rDzogs pa chen po khri Ye shes bla ma'i ma bu lde mig (272 folio)
  • Bar do thos grol bsDus pa dpe thung (109 folio)
  • 'Phags pa Thugs rJe chen po'i gDams ngag dpe thung (11 folio)
  • 'Phags pa Thugs rJe chen po'i dar lcog (15 folio)
  • bKa' gyur sNying po ro lcog (5 folio)
  • 'Phags pa bZang po sPyod pa'i sMon lam (6 folio)
  • bsKye bo lugs kyi bsTan bcos (8 folio)
  • gZungs chen sDe lnga bsdus pa (1 folio)
  • Badzra gu ru'i gZungs (1 folio)
  • bDe bShegs sPyi'i gZungs (1 folio)
  • Srin dug 'khor lo rtsa ba'i gZungs sNgags (1 folio)
  • Srin dug 'khor lo'i las Byor gZungs sNgags (1 folio)
  • Yul 'Khor gZungs (1 folio)
  • bDud sKrag gZungs (1 folio)
  • bDud kyi nus Zhom gZungs (2 folio)
  • Ma ni badzra gu ru mi 'Khrugs pa'i gZungs (1 folio)
  • gShin po'i don du zhi khro btags grol (11 folio)
  • gShin po'i don du mi 'khrugs pa'i rgya grol (1 folio)

From time to time, accordng to demand, these texts are printed in the traditional manner on handmade paper. Subject to availability, copies of these texts, may be ordered from the National Library or purchased from our bookshop.


The library also has facilities for fumigating old woodblocks affected by insects. Those woodblocks which have been so damaged that they can no longer withstand the pressure applied when printing are replaced by carvers from the Library. The service is also provided to Monastaries & Temples which have their own woodblocks in need of preservation.

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