It was in 1968 that the National Museum of Bhutan was established in Ta-Dzong, Paro, Bhutan. The ancient Ta-dzong building was renovated in line with the command of His Majesty, the King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the third hereditary Monarch of Bhutan. The necessary infrastructure was created to house some of the finest specimens of art, including masterpieces of bronze and paintings. Suitable galleries were constructed to house the extensive collections. Works of art were elegantly displayed on scientific lines. The museum was opened to the public in 1968.
Today the National Museum has in its possession over 3,000 exquisite works of art, covering more than 1,500 years of Bhutan’s cultural heritage. Its rich holdings of various creative traditions and disciplines, represent a remarkable blend of the past with the present and offer a perspective for the future: they bring history of life. The National Museum has become a feast for the eyes of the local and foreign visitors.
The Ta-Dzong building was Paro’s Watchtower-cum-Fortress with a history stretching over 340 years. Tenzin Drungdra, the first penlop (Governor) of Paro and the Second desi (Regent) of Bhutan who ruled from 1656 to 1667 built it. He was the half-brother of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and was born in Trongsa Mangde.
Ta-dzong is an unusual round, seven-storied structure, with 2.5 metre thick walls. It is of great historical significance. It was built above the main Paro Dzong with a view to protecting this main fortress.
The Ta-dzong has played an important role in the modern history of Bhutan as well. In 1872, Prince Ugyen Wangchuck, later to become the first hereditary monarch of Bhutan, was sent by his father, Jigme Namgyal, to quell the insurrection of Paro’s penlop, Tshewang Norbu. The revolt of Tshewang Norbhu was quickly suppressed and Paro Dzong was captured. Prince Ugyen Wangchuck stayed in Paro to put things in order. A plot was hatched to assassinate the young prince, but his father discovered the plot and the prince was saved in this dzong.
Unfortunately, this historical watchtower was not maintained properly and by the 1950s it had reached to a state of collapse.
Pre- and early history, manuscripts, paintings, decorative arts, jewellery, arms and armour, anthropology, numismatics and epigraphic items, textiles, philatelic items, and bronzes.
- New Galleries: A gallery on the Shabdgung Era and the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has been added. A total of 65 selected exhibits are beautifully displayed here, including the seal of Nga Chudrugma, Thangkas and photographs of dzongs pertaining to his lineage and important deed. The objects stimulate a sense of devotion, dedication, and respect for Shabdrung who unified Bhutan in the seventeenth century AD. The latest gallery is on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: in this the star exhibits are the Stem Cup of the First Desi Umze Tenzin Drugyal and pair of arrows belonging to Sir Ugyen Wangchuck, the first king of Bhutan.
- Thangka Art: Thangka painting was introduced into Bhutan as early as the twelfth century AD. The art style reflected in the thangkas is associated mainly with the combined tradition of Menlung and Gongkar Khentse that flourishes in Bhutan. The subject of these masterpieces are Buddhas, guardian deities, and tutelary deities. In fact, the thangkas in the National Museum symbolise the harmony between the metrical verses of poets and the brush-strokes of painters.
- In all, 45 selected thangkas of varying types are exhibited in three sections covering (1) the origin of Buddhism in India by eight masters, (2) the development of Buddhism in Bhutan, and (3) the main protective and tutelary deities of the country. The thangka paintings cover a period from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century AD.
- Evolution of the Bhutanese Script: In this gallery a chart narrating the story of the development of the Bhutanese script is shown. The evolution chart throws much light on jogyig, the Bhutanese cursive way of writing.
- Decorative Arts: The gallery brings to light 60 exhibits of seventeenth century objects, including some of the finest copper tea pots with metal inlays, and exquisite geometric patterns and design, marvellous to behold.
- Tribal/Nomads of Merag Sakteng: A total of 22 excellent traditional exhibits of dresses, apparels, ornaments, and personal adornments of Merag Sakteng nomads, which are still in use, are on view.
Bronze Gallery: In this gallery a total of 188 bronze, ivory, wood, and iron objects are exhibited. The exhibits include some of the finest bronze pieces, cast to perfection.
- Arms and Armour
: A good number of arms and armour are exhibited; the most spectacular is the long matchlock gun (tshanda), Rhino hide-shield, fish-scale helmets, spears and canons. Most of them are indigenous arms used during the war between the Bhutanese and the Tibetans in the fifteenth century and Duars war of the nineteenth century.Jewellery: A number of jewellery items, ranging from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century AD are displayed. The most interesting pieces include brooches (thingkhab), amulets (ga’u), and ear-rings, all eye-catching objects.
- Bhutanese textiles: The gallery presents the skill of the Bhutanese weavers through the ages. A variety of excellent textiles in cotton, silk, and wool, covering the entire length and breadth of the country gives visitors a glimpse of rich Bhutanese textile tradition. The evolution of Bhutanese man’s dress (gho) and woman’s dress (kira) is specifically demonstrated. Monk’s dresses and religious costumes are also displayed.
- Natural History: This gallery brings light to Bhutan’s rich fauna. Birds, butterflies (especially the Bhutan glory), the snow leopard, the golden takin, and the crocodile are the main exhibits. This gallery attracts quite a number of school children.
- Water Clock: An ancient water clock is among the star exhibits, and attracts enormous curiosity among visitors. This ancient instrument measures time, and is a unique piece which led to the coining of the Bhutanese terminology for wristwatch – chusang khorlo or water measurement mechanism.
- Epigraphic & Numismatic Items: The gallery has a large number of stone inscriptions; inscribed footprints on rock which constitute very important source materials for research into the history and culture of Bhutan. The numismatic treasures of the museum include early coins and more contemporary gold and silver coins, all of which throw considerable light on the numismatic history of Bhutan.
- Manuscript Gallery: A few collections of rare manuscripts including the Prajnaparamita text (Transcendental Wisdom) written in golden letters is among the unique treasure in the museum. These provide source material to researchers and scholars. Manuscripts like the Prajnaparamita text are a rare acquisition.
Special facilities: Free guided tours of galleries are arranged for special guests.
Gallery talks are also held on specific topics in the respective galleries. The students who visit the museum are specially given talks on Bhutanese history and culture and other related subjects.