A Bhutanese woman’s most valuable asset is her traditional attire; a textile that speaks volumes about her feelings; an heirloom passed down from generation to generation. There is something unique about Bhutanese textiles. Its intricate patterns, rich with symbols and stories woven into each thread, are nothing short of mystical in their beauty. The motifs and fabric also reveal a lot about the weaver’s life, including the village where she lives and the natural environment surrounding her. Therefore, the apparel varies depending on the climate. In the warm, dry east, silk and cotton clothing are the norm, whereas, in the cold, windy central region, heavy wool fabrics are preferred. For instance, Yathra, a unique weave made of sheep wool is an integral part of the lifestyle in the deep valleys of central Bhutan. Yathras are prized and known for their design, elegance, and color diversity.
The Emblematic Yathra Textile of Bumthang Valley
If the indigenous Tshanglas or Sharchops of eastern Bhutan are renowned for their textiles using raw silk. Then the Bumthaps in the central region take immense pride in the legacy of Yathra, the weave of wool and yak hair. Yathra, a unique weave of Bumthang is a heritage that dates back many generations. Made of high-quality wool and embellished with motifs woven into the fabric, it is emblematic of textiles from central Bhutan.
The Bumthang district, captivating in its rural serenity, is frequently regarded as the spiritual and cultural heartland of Bhutan. The country’s traditional weaving culture of Yathra was nurtured amidst the tightly-knit farming communities. In the wide and glacial Chumey valley, you’ll see women of all ages weaving balls of yarn into colourful, intricate patterns. Women take delight in displaying and wearing traditional Yathra clothing. And they are trained to weave the fabric by the age of eight. Every home of the lush valley owns a backstrap loom to weave Yathra and is considered a source of pride.
An Intimate affair of Yathra Weaving
Four to six women face each other immersed in picking motifs on the woolen threads in the backstrap loom. At times stopping momentarily to converse on a trendy topic and compliment each other’s ongoing works of art. This is a typical setup of Yathra weaving at clustered settlements of Chumey valley. It’s a beautiful sight to see women working together in sisterhood to diversify their weaving and pool their resources.
The women often work together to weave in a shed in the pristine valley of Bumthang. They mentor one another and form a support network. Sometimes they even sing together or listen to radio programs as they weave. The whole setup exudes deep connections between the weavers and their weavings.
The Yathra Journey
Yathra, thick hand-woven wool with intricate traditional designs is a unique specialty of weavers in Chumey, Bumthang. The cold, long winter in the country’s central area, spurred the creation of this fabric. The locals made thick pieces of clothing from the fleece of sheep and yaks to protect themselves from the cold. Then it was used to make coats, bedding materials, raincoats, furniture covers, and accessories. Over time, people from all over Bhutan began utilizing Yathra pieces as gifts for special occasions or stitched into clothes to wear during dances at celebrations. In this way, Yathra found a place as part of Bhutan’s culture and lifestyle.
How is it made?
Yathra is made with wool from both sheep and yaks. The farmers take great care of their animals which results in wool that is incredibly soft but sturdy. Shearing takes place on the sheep and yaks periodically throughout the year. Firstly, the wool is colored after it has been sheared by soaking it in plant and tree bark, bringing out the gorgeous spectrum of colors. After that, wool is gathered and brought to the weavers.
Then the actual magic happens!
Yathra, a unique weave, is a craft that has been refined and perfected over a thousand hence, producing a cloth that is captivating, vibrant, and spiritual. Each piece is hand-loomed and woven by the creative minds of the weavers using horizontal frame looms also referred to as “treadle looms. The skilled artisans expertly bring their fabric into being with love and gentleness. The process of making a tunic or coat can take between 4 to 12 days depending on the complexity of the patterns.
Yathra, a Source of Basic Income in Bumthang Valley
The thick and warm fabric of Yathra is an inseparable part of the people of Bumthang. Around 240 households of 13 villages in Bumthang rely on the sale of Yathra for their livelihood. Subsequently, the weavers have developed supply chains and cooperatives to get their fabrics to secondary markets. They mostly supply Thimphu-based designers and sewers who utilize Yathra to manufacture trendy jackets, coats, and accessories. Some weavers sell their products in the craft market to tourists who visit Bumthang. Whereas some prefer to barter their Yathras for groceries and garments. The unique art of Yathra contributes to cultural preservation and also provides women employment. The demand for locally hand-woven Yathra is consistent, especially among tourists as a special souvenir from Bumthang. Consequently, the weavers are currently benefiting from a surge in demand for fabric.
A luxurious souvenir among tourists
A distinguishing element that adds to Bhutan travel journals has always been a one-of-a-kind souvenir of the Yathra textile of Chumey Valley. The thick and sophisticated textile filled with vibrant hues and intricate motifs continues to attract shoppers from all walks of life. Yathra, a unique weave of Bumthang has established itself as the most authentic and ethnic souvenir among tourists. Coats, raincoats, furniture covers, purses, and bags made of Yathra are some of the popular products. Thus, the handicraft shops across the country are filled with Yathra products from Bumthang which are the most loved textile piece.
Druk Yathra- Authentic Yathra Producer Since 1985
Druk Yathra is a family-run business based in Bumthang that produces authentic handwoven Yathra products. Basically, their main areas of interest include traditional and natural dyeing. The company was launched specifically to provide basic necessities to the women of Bumthang in the 1980s. The mother, who is the primary craftsman, started weaving at the age of twelve and has been an avid practitioner ever since. She had experience weaving on several looms and had studied traditional dyeing from her mother. The small, home-based business aspires to keep producing the high-quality Yathra goods that the scenic valley of Bumthang is famous for. Moreover, they aim to always safeguard the century-old weaving tradition of Yathra.