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An Exclusive with Ugyen Tshering

Ugyen Tshering has dedicated over three decades of his life to crafting masks, despite lacking formal education. During his early years, he supported his family by tending to cattle. Yet, his true passion lay in the art of furniture making. His life took a transformative turn when his mentor recognized his exceptional manual dexterity, affirming his potential as a skilled mask maker. Motivated by this newfound purpose, Ugyen Tsheringโ€™s mask-making venture not only secured his familyโ€™s financial stability but also facilitated his childrenโ€™s access to education. Additionally, his success allowed him to extend his generosity towards animals in need. His remarkable journey underscores the profound impact of dedication and finding oneโ€™s calling, enriching not only his own life but also the lives of his family and vulnerable creatures.

Q. When did you initiate your journey into crafting traditional masks, and what inspired you to embark on this creative endeavor?
A. Iโ€™ve ventured into various occupations throughout my life, spanning from farming to the intricate craft of mask-making. My introduction to the art of mask-making came about through the guidance of a seasoned Dzongkha Lopen (Teacher), who had been honing this skill long before I embraced it. Over time, my dedication and diligence in learning the craft allowed me to progress from a novice student to an accomplished practitioner.

I take pride in the fact that my teacher, acknowledging my progress, often commended me by noting that despite being his student, I was able to create more intricate and complex mask patterns. With this newfound expertise, I embarked on the journey of crafting traditional masks, recognizing the substantial demand for these exquisite masks in every corner of our country, especially for the traditional mask dances known as โ€œCham.โ€

Q. In addition to mask-making, are there any other sources of income or work that you engage in? Does the income generated from your mask-making endeavors adequately support both your personal needs and those of your family?
A. Regarding my income from mask-making, I allocate a portion of it to cover my rent and essential household expenses. Furthermore, I have undertaken a commitment to safeguard and care for animals. Additionally, on an annual basis, I make contributions to rescue animals from the slaughterhouse, embodying my dedication to their welfare.

Q. In the process of crafting traditional masks, what specific types of wood do you typically employ, and could you elaborate on the most challenging aspect of this intricate craft? Furthermore, could you provide insights into the average duration required to complete a single mask?
A. When it comes to the choice of wood, crafting patterns on hard woods can be quite challenging due to their toughness and the extended time it demands. Soft woods, on the other hand, offer a more accessible canvas for carving intricate designs. During my stays in Thimphu, I prioritize the use of locally sourced wood for its reliability and resilience against varying environmental conditions. The duration needed to complete a traditional mask hinge on the specific type of mask in question. For instance, crafting different animal masks typically requires 2-3 days, while the intricate deer masks, with their diverse variations, may take up to a week. The meticulous effort invested in achieving perfection in each mask is of paramount importance. Deviations from my exacting standards not only leave me unsatisfied but also carry a sense of spiritual responsibility, as these masks are integral to our religious practices.

Q. Where do you typically market and distribute your crafted masks to interested buyers?A. Given the widespread demand for traditional masks throughout our country, I often receive orders from individuals seeking these masks for personal use in their homes or for religious purposes within dzongs. These orders are typically placed by people who deeply value the religious and cultural significance of these masks. In my case, I donโ€™t actively seek out places to sell my products; rather, interested customers actively seek me out based on the reputation and quality of my work. They reach out to me, expressing their preferences, and I craft masks tailored to their specific requests.


In the current times, I have observed many young individuals aimlessly searching for employment, primarily due to widespread unemployment. Iโ€™ve taken it upon myself to impart some valuable advice to the youth Iโ€™ve encountered. Instead of relentlessly seeking jobs, I firmly believe that the world is brimming with opportunities waiting to be seized. My heartfelt recommendation to them is Zorig Chusum, a skillset encompassing the essentials of everyday life.

Mastering Zorig Chusum can be a game-changer in your quest for gainful employment. Iโ€™ve personally witnessed its transformative power by teaching a handful of students how to craft traditional masks. These students, now self-reliant mask artisans, often reach out to express their gratitude for the skills that have enabled them to sustain their livelihoods.

So, my earnest message to the youth is this: rather than aimlessly wandering in search of jobs, I wholeheartedly encourage you to embark on the journey of Zorig Chusum. Itโ€™s not just a skill; itโ€™s a lifeline to a more promising future, offering a pathway to secure and fulfilling employment.

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