Along the highway to Chamkhar town in Bumthang, there’s a shop in a beautiful traditional house adorned with a line of Yathra textile jackets and other textile displays. But the textile display isn’t just outside. As you make your way towards the main door, you catch a glimpse of more colorful and intricate handicraft exhibits inside. A sweet elderly woman greets you at the door. She is aum Sonam who owns one of the popular textile shops in the valley. And the best things about her Yathra store is that besides selling the textile, she also community women in her courtyard weaving the textile. There’s also a shed where she makes organic dye for her yarn.
Chumey is the home to Bumthang’s famous Yathra textile. The motifs are bigger unlike the more intricately designed smaller motifs on kiras. Traditionally woven with yak hair or wool, Yathra is thicker and feels more coarse which is ideal for the cold winters in the valley. But there’s more to the story of this textile as aum Sonam shares.
Once upon a time, the Tibetan King Songtshen Gampo sent his subject to China to bring him Princess Jatsa to be his wedded wife as per a prophecy. Disheartened, the Queenmother consulted a Jowo Deity of her land who told her that the princess had already been taken to the land down south.
In fury, the Queenmother cursed the princess and the entourage to never arrive at their destination. It is believed that they had with them sheep of different colors like red, blue, yellow and green. Because of the Queen’s curse, the group encountered floods and broken bridges which took away all the sheep except the ones colored black and white.
Ama Sonam shares that the princess on her journey to the King, spent years in this valley where she wove the sheep wool textile all by herself. “The old textile was woven in the traditional “pangthag” loom which is the vertical loom. Today most of these textiles are woven on the “Thrithag” the modern loom.
In the later years, Late Queenmother Ashi Phuntsho Choden during her stay at Domkhar Palace is said to have further developed this art and empowered local women in the valley to earn a living through this tradition.
“The support from our Royal family goes a long way in keeping this art alive,” says Ama Sonam as she shows me a picture of herself with His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo.
But she isn’t the only one looking after the shop. Her young daughter who just completed college is assisting her in her work. 22 year old Tashi says that there’s a lot to learn from her mother’s generation of weavers and she wants to intertwine the old art with some new designs. “I want to learn as much as possible when my mother’s with me.” She’s currently helping market the designs through social media platforms like instagram and facebook. So if you’re in Chumey, stop by the textile shop in Zungye.
For more details on druk_yathra you can contact the family at +975 17419856.
p.s the young daughter is also an aspiring designer. Follow her work phama