Until the closing of the border with Tibet in 1959, the High Himalayas provided easy access in several places with certain passes open even in winter. There were numerous cultural and economical exchanges between the two countries going all the way back to the seventh century. On the whole the Bhutanese are known to have religiously guarded their culture from outside influence. During festival times, dancers in brilliant silk costumes re-enact legendary events accompanied by blaring horns, booming drums and clashing cymbals as they perform to large audiences. Certain dances require the participants to wear heavy masks. Amongst the dancers the atsaras or clowns with their expressive masks and postures provide a welcome counterpoint to the formalised religious dances. They confront the monks and within prescribed limits mock them. In a country where sacred matters are treated with the highest respect only the atsaras are allowed to make fun of religion.
Art and painting are the important aspects of Bhutanese culture and they depict the spiritual depth of Bhutanese life. Painters use vegetable dyes to give their work the subtle beauty and warmth. The work itself is done on statues, murals or the renowned thangkas. A Bhutanese does not view a painting or a sculpture as a work of art but as a religious work. The rules of iconography are firmly established and must be scrupulously respected. Each deity has a colour and special attributes that cannot be changed without altering the meaning and religious function. The thangkas are not hung permanently in the temples but are kept rolled up in boxes and only displayed during important ceremonies.
Bhutan also has a wealth of hand-crafted artwork including sculpture, jewellery, bamboo-work and especially textiles. The art passes from father to son and mother to daughter. Though Bhutan is particularly famous for the quality of its textiles the other arts too are typical of the place. Each region has its specialities: raw silk in eastern Bhutan, brocade in Lhuentse, woollen goods in Bumthang, bamboo wares in Kheng and gold and silver work in Thimphu.
Bhutanese jewellery is limited but spectacular. Wood carvings too are famous- they are found on wall panels and small folding tables that are always painted. Masks, representing human characters animals or gods can be made of wood and paper-mache and are always painted. Bhutanese hand-woven fabrics are unique in themselves. Weaving skills too have been developed to an art form with the weavers creating artistic patterns and designs.

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