According to Bhutan’s Ministry of Works and Human Settlement: “Architectural elements in traditional Bhutanese architecture enhance or upgrade the hierarchy and values of a design. The architectural elements in traditional Bhutanese architecture may be divided into two categories:1) Main Architectural Elements and 2) Secondary Architectural Elements. [Source: “Bhutanese Architecture Guidelines” by Namgey Retty, Pem Gyaltsen, Chhado Drukpa, Tashi Dema, Chador Y Yamtsho, Govind Sharma, Pashu Pati, Sunny Drukla, Sonam Tobgay, Yangchen Lhamu, Tshering Denka, Singay DadueMinistry of Works and Human Settlement, Royal Government of Bhutan, 2014]

“The Main Architectural Elements are those that are mainly structural elements and are commonly found in traditional Bhutanese architecture. Secondary Architectural Elements are those that are usually installed to enhance aesthetics and create higher standards of hierarchy and value in traditional Bhutanese architecture.

The following are Main Architectural Elements; 1. Kachen (column); 2. Zhu (capital); 3. Jadhang Tazi; 4. Payab Gochu (windows); 5. Mago (doors); 6. Rabsel; 7. Chimtog (Roof); 1) Bogh; 2) Phana; 3) Pem; 4) Choetse; 5) Tshechu KhaNyim; 6) Norbu Bagum; 7) Norbu Horzhu; 8) Gyetsa; 9) Keymar; 10) Nyim Khep; 11) Sertog; 12) Gyeltshen; 13) Lhadhar; 14) Mythical Animal Sculptures.

Kachen (Traditional Bhutanese Column)

A column or post is known as “Ka” while “Chen” means large in Dzongkha (the Bhutanese language). Therefore, a Kachen literally means large column. According to Bhutan’s Ministry of Works and Human Settlement: “Kachen and Zhu are the traditional Bhutanese column and capital that are built together as a component. In traditional Bhutanese architecture, the Kachen and Zhu are fashioned out of timber by local carpenters as two separate elements and then assembled together during installation in a building. The more elaborate Kachen and Zhu were normally installed in Dzongs, Lhakhangs and palaces. They are also installed in the main altar room of family homes. Simple style Kachen (also called kawa when in simple post form) are usually found mainly in farmhouses.

“In Bhutan, the Kachen were more commonly installed in Dzongs, Monasteries and royal palaces thus helping to signify their important status in the community. Kachen were rarely found in ordinary homes or residential buildings in the past. However, Kachen are now used more commonly also in residential buildings.

“A Kachen is normally fashioned out of timber with a distinct tapering body (Kaw), shoulder (Raep) and head (Drey) that are separated with a neck of carved beads known as Chem or Threngwa. The timber Kachen was normally placed on a circular or square base known as Kadhen made of single slab of stone especially when part of the external corridor.

“Although a Kachen can be designed with many different corners and sides, the four main shapes of Kachen found commonly in Bhutan include the following: 1) Square shaped Kachen is one of the most basic Kachens. It has a square shaped body, shoulder and head with four equal sides. 2) Octagonal shaped Kachen. is the next common type of Kachen after the Square shaped Kachen. “It has eight levels of sides with the levels shaped in a slightly concave manner. 3) 12 corner Kachen is one of the most complicated Kachens. It has a body, shoulder and head with 12 corners and 20 sides. 4) Circular shaped Kachen is rare in Bhutanese architecture as they are harder to fashion than square shaped Kachens.

Zhu (Traditional Bhutanese Bracket)

According to Bhutan’s Ministry of Works and Human Settlement: “One of the most diverse elements in the traditional architecture features, the Zhu is a bow shaped timber bracket placed as a capital on top of the Kachen. As a bracket, the Zhu served a structural function to support the load from the Dhung (beam) above. There are no strict rules as to the type of Zhu one can use on a particular structure. This depends entirely on the elaborateness of the adjacent architectural elements. However, care is taken to ensure that the shape and proportions of a Zhu are maintained in proportion to Kachen. [Source: Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, Royal Government of Bhutan, 2014]

“The Zhu in Bhutanese traditional architecture is usually categorised according to level of intricacy of carvings and paintings on the Zhu. The three main different categories are the following: 1. Gyalp Dhen Zhu 2. Zhu Jaam Tshab 3. Langna Drey Zhu. The typical Zhu has carvings that relate to hierarchy and harmony of people, animals and nature. The carvings represent the following: A) A King presiding on royal throne; B) A Queen bowing in graceful obeisance to the King; C) A dutiful Minister in attendance to the command of the King; D) Twin elephants climbing up the mountain; E) A snake entering its hideaway hole; F) Water flowing in abundance down from the mountains

“The Gyalp Dhen Zhu is the most intricate type of Zhu and this type of Zhu were normally installed in important buildings such as Dzong, Lhakhang, and palaces. In the past, such intricate Zhu were the “Thobthang” (entitlement) of aristocratic families or religious buildings.

“The Zhu Jaam Tshab is a simple type of Zhu without intricate carvings or paintings and has been installed in buildings of less standing such as farmhouses and can also be found in rooms of less importance in Dzongs, Lhakhangs and palaces such as in storage rooms, and staff residential areas and on the Ground Floor level of Dzongs and Drasha (residential area for monks) of Lhakhangs.

“The Langna Drey Zhu is the only type of Zhu that is not placed as a capital on a Kachen. It is located under protruding Rabsel balconies and bay windows.

Traditional Bhutanese Windows (Payab Gochu)

Payab Gochu is a traditional Bhutanese window that is embedded within the facade walls of a building, According to Bhutan’s Ministry of Works and Human Settlement: It “is an important element of traditional Bhutanese architecture. There are many different styles of Payab. [Source: Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, Royal Government of Bhutan, 2014]

“The Payab Gochu windows are in general simple when compared to the design of the Rabsel. However, in important buildings (such as Dzong or Lhakhang) they are designed with elaborate carvings, multiple layers of traditional cornices, lintels and intricate paintings. Traditionally, the Payab Gochu is flanked and shored on all sides with timber boards. The two sides are flanked with timber boards called Loshog that protect the window to the walls. The lower level is shored with the traditional timber sill called Chiden. The upper part of the Payab has the lintel called Zangshing.

“The general practice in traditional Bhutanese architecture is to incorporate one layer of Bogh (cornices) above the Payab Gochu. The layer of Bogh can be single or double and is sometimes also constructed with a single layer of Phana over the layer of Bogh depending on the significance of the building or the budget available. The layer of Bogh is always supported by a layer of Pem and Choetse and with Dhung or Zumchu. The layer of Choetse is placed above the layer of Pem. These are then placed above the timber members Dhung or Zumchu. When Dhung is omitted, the Zumchu sits directly on the timber window framework called Yathoe.

Types of Traditional Bhutanese Windows

The three main types of distinctive Payab Gochu in ancient traditional Bhutanese architecture are: 1) Horgo Payab, 2) Lingo Payab) 3) Gedkar Payab. 4) The 4th style of Payab, which has been in use only for the past 70 years in Bhutanese architecture, is known as Boego Payab. [Source: Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, Royal Government of Bhutan, 2014]

Horgo Payab is double tiered window with each window opening framed at the top level of its timber frames with Horzhu or Zing carvings. According to Bhutan’s Ministry of Works and Human Settlement: “The traditional Horgo Payab is usually flanked on the two sides by square or rectangular timber panel frames known as Shamig or Soma. This was in order to allow for timber shutters of the windows to slide open behind the Shamig or Soma. However if the sliding window shutters were replaced with hinged shutters it was designed without the Shamig. The Horgo Payab is usually designed with one or two layers of Bogh with Pem, Choetse and Dhung. It normally did not have a layer of Phana as the Horgo Payab was usually placed on the lower level floors of a building. However when it is placed on the top floor it is also constructed with a layer of Phana. The Horgo Payab was traditionally designed either with a Thrangcho at the lower level of the window or it was left simple without a Thrangcho.

Lingo Payab is a traditional window that is usually installed in rooms that did not need a lot of light in the Dzongs, Lhakhangs and Palaces. The Lingo Payab with elongated heights was also used when there was a need to let in natural light while at the same time taking care of the need for provision of spaces on the walls for large paintings and murals inside a temple. The name Lingo is said to originate from a place called Ling in Tibet where these windows were used in abundance.

“Although the Lingo and Gedkar Payabs seem similar in design, the openings in Lingo Payab are much wider than in the Gedkar Payab. The Lingo Payab is also sometimes designed with a timber panel called Thrangcho at the base and has multiple Jughshing or Timber rails in between the frames to cut the openings into smaller openings. While the Gedkar Payab was often left without shutters the Lingo Payab was always designed with interior timber shutters made from timber panels that were hinged on timber pivots at the top and bottom frames. The Lingo Payab is always installed with Bogh, Pem Choetse, and Thrangcho. It is usually designed without any Horzhu carvings and thus sometimes kept simple in design. If Horzhu is added to the Lingo and the openings are kept as wide as a door, then traditionally, the window then becomes a Geysargo door.

Gedkar Payab is the window with the most basic design in traditional Bhutanese architecture. It usually has a small narrow opening and was placed in less important rooms such as storerooms, spaces for animal shelter, basements, and passages on the ground floor. [Source: Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, Royal Government of Bhutan, 2014]

“The Gedkar Payab is made up of a simple plain rectangular timber frame and it usually does not have any Bogh (cornices) or Pem Choetse carvings or paintings. The topmost lintel called Zangshing is thus placed directly on the window upper frame called Yathoe. However, in buildings such as Dzongs and Lhakhangs where the walls were very thick, the Gedkar is sometimes designed with a Zimchu or Dhung between the Yathoe and Zangshing lintel to provide extra support to the walls above. The openings for light in a Gedkar Payab are generally very narrow ranging from 100mm to 250 mm in opening width.

“The Gedkar Payab found in farmhouses are much smaller and are designed with a series of horizontal members that divide the elongated narrow openings into smaller divisions. This was usually to provide protection from intruders as the Gedkar were usually placed on the Ground Floors of buildings. Since the Gedkar were usually in spaces that were rarely inhabited by people, they were left open without any timber shutters.

Boego Payab is a Bhutanese window that has been developed in the past 70 years since the introduction of glazing into traditional Bhutanese architecture. It is used in not only family homes and apartment buildings but also recent Dzong and Lhakhang architecture. The Boego Payab is an interpretation version of the Horgo Payab where the two tiers of openings are reduced to just one level of opening. The Barthoe is thus removed. However, apart from the reduction of two tiers to one tier, all other Payab elements found in the Horgo Payab are also found in the Boego Payab.

Mago (Doors) and Jadhang Tazi (Traditional Balcony Railings)

Mago or the main entrance door to a traditional Bhutanese house is an important aspect of a building. According to Bhutan’s Ministry of Works and Human Settlement: “The direction of the door is usually dictated by various Buddhist astrological instructions in relation to the function of the building and the date of birth of the owners of the building. For good fortune and prosperity, in the case of a family house, the local belief is that the outer door should face a direction according to the man‟s date of birth and the direction of an internal door should be installed according to the date of birth of the woman. [Source: Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, Royal Government of Bhutan, 2014]

“The doors of homes are typically simple. However, the Mago in Dzongs, Lhakhangs and palaces are elaborately decorated with intricate carvings on the doorframes. Sculptures of the heads of auspicious animals such as the Singye Karpo (snow lion), Jachung (garuda) and sometimes even small statues of deities are placed above the door or in between the Bogh above the doorframes.

“The size of the Mago usually depends on the building design, size and significance. However, the sizes of the Mago are traditionally usually over 2000 mm in height and around 1000 mm in width. The Mago door, especially for those in a Dzong or Lhakhang, is installed with Pem, Choetse, Zumchu and Bogh. The sizes of the Bogh, Pem and Choetse are often matched to the sizes of the windows near the door to create a more harmonious facade or are in proportion to the size of the doorframes. Great care is taken by local carpenters to ensure that the proportion of timber frames in a traditional door (especially the entrance door) is designed correctly

Jadhang Tazi is the name commonly used for traditional balcony railings. Landing railings, roof barrier railings and stair hand railing balusters are as well often called Jadhang Tazi too. Tazi is sometimes also pronounced Tazee in some areas of Bhutan. The name Ja-dhang Ta-zi is derived from the functions of a balcony with railing. “Ja” literally means bird, while “dhang” is from the name given to a timber perch (for the bird to rest on). The name “Ta” originates from the action to look down from the balcony while “zi” is an honorific reference of the same action to look or observe.

“The design for Jadhang Tazi can be very simple or very elaborate with Tshegen, intricate carvings and paintings. The width of the newel post of Jadhang Tazi is traditionally said to be of the size of a palm width and is usually square in dimensions. The height of the newel is said to be of standard human height or just below the shoulders. The cap on the newel post is designed as an offering of “Norbu tog” (wish granting treasure).

Roofs in Traditional Bhutanese Architecture

According to Bhutan’s Ministry of Works and Human Settlement: “The roof plays an extremely significant part in the characterization of traditional Bhutanese architecture and is therefore one of the most important elements in traditional Bhutanese architecture. A very noticeable design aspect of the typical Bhutanese roof is the elevation of the roof high above the building (often in layers) to form what is often called the “flying roof”. This type of roof appears to float above the building. This design thus allowed the roof to protect the building from rain and sun while allowing cooling breezes to flow freely through the attic space under the roof. This meant that the area under the roof in the attic is thus a very useful and practical space for storing and drying vegetables, fodder and other produce from farms and gardens around a house. In addition to protecting the building from external environmental elements, in the traditional Bhutanese practice, the roof element additionally played an important role in defining the hierarchy and significance of buildings and their status. [Source: Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, Royal Government of Bhutan, 2014]

“The roof structure in traditional architecture is constructed with a simple timber frame structure with timber rafters, and purlins supported by columns and brackets. The main roofing cover material used is split timber shingles. The elements of the traditional Bhutanese roof, like other timber frame structures, were also constructed by carpenters without nails or screws. [Source: Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, Royal Government of Bhutan, 2014]

“The principal timber truss rafter plate used for a Bhutanese roof is called a Dhingri. The Dhingri rests on a timber member called Gha which in Bhutanese means saddle. The Dhingri then supports timber posts above which simply saddle over the Dhingri using the weight of the roof to remain in place. The timber central king post is known as Shari while the posts at the sides are known as Shathung. The king post supports a central roof ridge made of timber known as Gungchhen while the Shathung side timber posts support timber under purlins known as Gungchung.

“The Gungchhen and Gungchung support the upper rafters known as Tsim. The Tsim are sometimes made of round young tree trunks. Timber battens called Dangchung are laid over the Tsim. Timber shingles called Shinglep were then laid and held in place by stones over the Dangchung. The slope of a roof with Shinglep is kept gentle - between 11 and 13 degrees to prevent the stones from rolling off. In Bhutanese roofs, the traditional rule of thumb was to space out the rafters so that there is enough space for a man to get through while the purlins are spaced out with enough space for a sparrow to get through.

Types of Traditional Bhutanese Roofs

There are four main types of roof design in traditional Bhutanese architecture: 1) Jabzhi Roof; 2) Jamthok Roof; 3) Drangim Roof; and 4) Chenkhep Roof. According to Bhutan’s Ministry of Works and Human Settlement: “ Within the “Thobthang” practice of entitlement of architecture in traditional practice, the Jabzhi roof is the roof of the highest level. The simple gable roof and the layered gable roof style known as Jamthok roof is the most common one found in traditional Bhutanese architecture. For buildings of very high status such as the Utse of the Dzong, palace or for the Lhakhangs with Sertog the “square hipped” roof called Jabzhi (four corner roof) was used to signify their importance in the community.

Jabzhi Roof is a square hipped roof with four prominent corners. These roofs were used in buildings of high status such as the Utse of a Dzong or palace or over the building housing the main altar of a Lhakhang. The Jabzhi roof can be designed with just one roof layer or with several layers of roof to form a pagoda style roof. The roofing material for the Jabzhi roof over these prominent places are usually made of metal plated with gold.

“The eaves of the roof are then ringed with a metal curtain embellished with decorative and sacred iconographic carvings known as Chuzha Chulo. Where gold was not available, the Jabzhi roof was then painted in yellow colour to symbolize its sacred and high status. The four sides of the Jabzhi roof is capped off usually by the heads of auspicious animals like the garuda or dragon or by the scared cared sculpture known as Chuju Patra. These caps are made of brass or copper which are usually gold plated.

Jamthok Roof in traditional Bhutanese architecture consists of a smaller gable roof laid over a longer gable roof in layers one over the other. This allowed upper layer of the roof to be raised further up to create a much more spacious area in the central area of the attic under the roof. In the traditional practice of “Thobthang” or entitlement in architecture, this layered Jamthok roof is said to be second in rank to the Jabzhi roof.

“The upper layer of the Jamthok roof did not traditionally have windows under it and was left open to allow for air to flow through. However, in some cases, where the attic area was converted into a habitable space, the space under the upper layer of the Jamthok roof was framed into a horizontal line of clerestory windows on two sides and often decorated with Horzhu and Pem Choetse. The Jamthok roof when it is left open without windows is also often called a Lungo Roof.

Drangim Roof in traditional Bhutanese architecture consists of a gable roof of the same length laid over a lower level gable roof. This allowed upper layer of the roof to be raised further up to create a much more spacious area in the attic under the roof. The upper layer of the Drangim roof did not traditionally have windows under it and was left open to allow for air to flow through.

Chenkhep Roof is a simple traditional lean-to-roof that is usually installed to provide additional protection to a cantilevering Rabsel. It is laid at a lower level under the main roof of the building.


The Rabsel element in traditional Bhutanese architecture is one of the most significant and beautiful. According to Bhutan’s Ministry of Works and Human Settlement: “It mainly consists of timber frame structure with multiple windows and panels that cantilevers from the wall. “Rab” in Dzongkha means “good” and “sel” means “clarity” and the Rabsel was thus named because it provides light and clarity into a building through its multiple window openings and is the main visible architecture component that adds beauty and sophistication to a Bhutanese house. [Source: Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, Royal Government of Bhutan, 2014]

“The Rabsel is generally constructed with a series of vertical and horizontal timber frame components with multiple windows and panels made either out of timber known as Soma or with Shamig which is a wattle and daub infill panel made of bamboo and mud plaster. The Rabsel usually projects out of the main superstructure. It is supported by the cantilevering ground floor joists known as Tshechu kha-nyim. The Tshechu kha-nyim is usually supplemented with Pem or Pem with Choetse and Dhung. A Rabsel always has cornices Bogh, Phana with Pem, Choetse and Dhung elements.

“The Rabsel is designed to either form as continuous frame covering the whole of the upper facade of the building or is broken into smaller bay window type of units known as Lombur Rabsel or Gomang Rabsel. In traditional vernacular architecture the Lombur Rabsel has single or double Shamig panels. The type of windows used in the Rabsel is the Horgo, Gyesargo, Lingo or Boego windows.

“The Rabsel can be categorized into four main types based on the secondary architectural elements that it is constructed with: 1) Rab- Langna-Drezhu-Gyetse This is a Rabsel with all the secondary elements and is the most intricate and elaborate of all Rabsel .2) Ding- Sa-dung-Pem-Choetse The Ding category refers to a Rabsel that is less intricate than the Rab Rabsel. It does not have Langna Drezhu and the Dhung sits directly on the Jang (wall) .3) Tha- Sa-dung-pem This Rabsel does not have Choetse and is less intricate than the Rab and Ding Rabsel .4) Thali tha-Jangu Budhen This Rabsel is the most basic Rabsel. It does not have Pem Choetse and the Dhung sits directly on Jang (wall).

Components of the Rabsel

Components of a Typical Rabsel are: 1) Budhen; 2) Thrangcho; 3) Bhu (Lenbhu, Jaka); 4) Genthi or Mathoe; 5) Keyra Genthi or Barthoe; 6) Yathoe; 7) Shamig (Ekra); 8) Dhung; 9) Pem; 10) Choetse; 11) Bogh and Boghkhep; 12) Cham and Chamkhep; 13) Phana or Ngakey and Ngakhep; The window members consist of the following. a) Kachung; b) Jughshing; c) Horzhu or Zing. d) Gochu; e) Tshegen;

Budhen (Bu means middle or intermediate and Dhen means base) is the lowest horizontal member that supports the entire vertical frame members known as Bhu, and Zumbhu. The Budhen is placed directly on the floor joist Tshechu kha-nyim. The Budhen is fixed with timber dowels and it is square or rectangular in section measuring 6 to 7 inches depending on the floor level of the building.

Thrangcho is the horizontal timber plank member fixed just above the Budhen. The Thrangcho timber plank is 200 to 300 mm wide in height. It traditionally always painted in red colour. The height of the Thrangcho is said to have been derived from the measurement of a person sitting on the floor. The height should not be too high that a person cannot look out of the Rabsel Window. The Thrangcho passes through the bottom of all the intermediate Bhu members and gets locked to the Zumbhu with a mortise joint.

Genthi, or Mathoe, is the horizontal timber member fixed above the Thrangcho. The member above this is Keyra Genthi (also known as Barthoe) and Yathoe. Between the Mathoe, Barthoe and Yathoe members, windows openings are inserted. The width of these horizontal members is as wide as the width size of the Budhen mainly since it has to accommodate the sliding groove for the shutters. The thickness of these three members is usually less by an inch to the width. The Zumbhu is the corner and end posts of a Rabsel. It is the only post that interlocks the Budhen with a tenon jointing system. The size of the Zumbhu is normally the same as the size of the Budhen. Between the two window panels in the rectangle frame formed by Horizontal and vertical members, a wall panel called Ekra is constructed with bamboo weave which is then plastered over with mud. This panel is known as Shamig. When a timber planks are used this wall panel between the timber vertical and horizontal frames are known as Soma.

Bhu are vertical posts between the two Zumbhu members there generally called as Bhu. But depending on its position they too have individual names. The Bhu that frames the sides of the window is known as Jaka. The Bhu between the Zumbhu and Jaka or between two Jaka is called Lenbhu. The Bhu members saddle over the Thrangcho. Traditionally Bhu members are not interlocked to the Budhen. The front width of Bhu is same as horizontal members but the depth of Bhu varies between Jaka and Lenbu. The Jaka is a square member whilst Lenbu depth is same as Budhen.

Dhung is a structure of timber lintel members sometimes embedded in the wall on which the load of the entire Rabsel rests. To support a cantilevering Rabsel structure to the building walls, a cross beam Dhung at the Yathoe level is provided. The ends of such Dhung are anchored deep into the wall and in order to prevent the tilting of the Rabsel, it is slightly tilted towards the wall at the Dhung level by a half or one inch. At the floor level the Budhen is fixed to Tshechu kha-nyim with timber dowel. The window openings in a Rabsel are called Gochu. The Gochu are usually in two or three tiers of windows. The window opening consists of Kachung and timber motif with carvings called Horzhu or Zing.

Categories of Rabsel

There are eight main types of Rabsel designs in traditional Bhutanese architecture: 1) Rabsel Go-Cham Thognyim; 2) Parop Rabsel; 3) Byelgo Rabsel; 4) Gyesargo Rabsel; 5) Lingo Rabsel; 6) Nimchu Rabsel; 7) Gomang Rabsel; 8) Lobur Rabsel; [Source: Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, Royal Government of Bhutan, 2014]

Rabsel Go-Cham Thognyim is the most common is a style of Rabsel and can be found all over the country with very little variation from region to region. This Rabsel‟s main distinguishing feature is the fact that it has two tiers of Gochu window. This type of Rabsel is also used predominantly in dwellings and in Dzong, palaces and temple complexes and it is mainly used in areas used for living spaces of the residents. In farmhouses and dwellings, there is slight variation of the design of this Rabsel in Western Bhutan compared to this type of Rabsel in the East of Bhutan.

Parop Rabsel is taller than the Rabsel Gocham and consists of three tiers of windows separated by two Keyra Genthi or Barthoe. This type of Rabsel is very commonly found in Paro and thus this Rabsel is known as Parop Rabsel. This Rabsel is also used in buildings such as Dzong where there is a need to have rooms of higher floor to ceiling heights than normal since the three tier windows allows the Rabsel to be taller. Generally the height of Thrangcho in the Parop Rabsel is smaller compared to Rabsel Gocham Thognyim.

Byelgo Rabsel is an older style of the Rabsel which can be found in ancient medieval Bhutanese dwellings. Very few of these Rabsel still exist today. The Byelgo Rabsel is said to be easier to construct as this Rabsel has only a single tier of windows without the small members of Kachung and has large open spans from Bhu to Bhu. In the Byelgo, the Rabsel height is divided into three sections like in the Parop Rabsel but this is done without the Thrangcho.

“The lower one third segment of the Byelgo Rabsel consists of the Soma timber panel between the timber frames whilst the remaining upper two third segment of the Rabsel is converted into window openings. The second Barthoe doesn‟t continue into the window openings. A horizontal timber Jughshing is inserted instead to create the division in the window opening. In the remaining timber frames on either side of the windows, timber planks known as Soma are used in the place of the bamboo wattle and mud daub known as Ekra. For practical purposes, in order for people sitting on the floor to get a view of what‟s happening outside the house, a small window is sometimes carved into the lower Soma panel. This little window is known as Soma Gochu. A Byelgo Rabsel may or may not have Soma Gochu so this little window is not essential part of the Byelgo Rabsel. In Traditional vernacular architecture, the Byelgo Rabsel sometimes does not cantilever out like Parop Rabsel or Rabsel Thognyim. It is placed directly on the wall. However it is still built with Bogh, Phana and Pem Choetse on the top of the Rabsel frame.

Nyimchu Rabsel is a version of a Rabsel that encloses an open balcony. It is usually constructed without any windows and has open timber posts instead. It is also usually constructed with a roof over the Rabsel. Instead of Zing or Horzhu, the timber Bhu posts are capped with Zhu on top like a little capital over a column post. In the Nyimchu Rabsel, between the Bhu posts, the traditional railing Jadhang Tazi is installed. Generally the Nyimcho Rabsel is not kept fairly simple without cornices in farm houses. In special buildings such as Dzong and Palaces, the Nyimchu Rabsel is installed with two layers of Bogh with Phana layer on top.

Gomang Rabsel looks similar to the Nyimchu Rabsel but the Gomang Rabsel does not have Jadhang Tazi between the Bhu (timber post frame) and the space between each Bhu is much smaller. There is also usually a series of doors that lead into the Rabsel balcony space which is why this Rabsel is known as Gomang or “many doors” Rabsel. In traditional vernacular architecture, the Gomang Rabsel does not have Horzhu between the Bhu. In place of the Horzhu element, a simple Zhu is used on the Bhu especially when the spacing between them is large. The Gomang Rabsel are stand-alone components and are found one on top of another with the same projection or sometimes projecting out consecutively from the lowest Rabsel to the topmost Rabsel. The Gomang Rabsel is usually protected from the sun by a Nyimkhep made of timber or metal which hangs down over the Bogh and Phana elements.

Gyesargo Rabsel features a window that is said to have originated in a place called Ling in Tibet. It is called Gyesar because King Gyesar hails from Ling. The Gyesergo is a large rectangular opening as wide as door (Go) between the Budhen and Yathoe with Horzhu and is as wide as Shamig or Soma panel. It has a very low Thrangcho and Jughshing at the Barthoe level. The Gyesargo is generally found on a Rabsel only and not as an individual window alone. The Gyesago Rabsel is fairly rare and is found in very few ancient houses. It can also be seen at the Folk heritage Museum farmhouse.

Lingo Rabsel is similar to the Gyersargo Rabsel except for the fact that the windows are in the Lingo style which does not have any Horzhu. The window opening is also kept as wide as the timber Soma panel. Often a Jadhang Tazi is also installed for railing protection since the openings can be as wide as a door. It also has a low Thrangcho like the Gyersargo Rabsel. The Lingo Rabsel with its simple design is often considered to be of lower hierarchy to a Rabsel with Horzhu and is thus kept at the lower level Rabsel when a tiered level of several Rabsel are used stacked one on top the other.

Lobur Rabsel is like a bay window and is designed with elements similar to those found in the Rabsel Thognyim and the Parop Rabsel. The main differences are that it is designed as a single unit and covers just a segment of the wall facade rather than the entire upper level of the wall that is usually found in the design of the Parop Rabsel and the Rabsel Thognyim.

Secondary Bhutanese Architectural Elements

Secondary Bhutanese Architectural Elements include: 1) Bogh; 2) Phana; 3) Pem; 4) Choetse; 5) Tshechu Kha-Nyim; 6) Norbu Bagum; 7) Norbu Horzhu Gyetsa; 8) Keymar; 9) Nyim Khep; 10) Sertog; 11) Gyeltshen; 12) Lhadhar; 13) Mythical Animal Sculptures; [Source: Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, Royal Government of Bhutan, 2014]

Bogh and Phana are traditional Bhutanese cornices. The Bogh is an end of the extension of the Cham or interior timber joist for ceiling or upper floor levels that are set to project outside the wall as cornices. The Phana which is a timber cornice shaped like a pig‟s nose or neck of a duck is laid over the Bogh. Generally the Bogh and Phana are laid over the Rabsel which consists of the elements Pem, Choetse, Bogh, Boghkhep, Cham, Chamkhep, Phana and Phanakhep. On most traditional old buildings only one layer of Bogh and Phana are used in a Rabsel. The double layer of Bogh and Phana was found mainly in Dzongs. The Bogh and Phana elements are also laid over traditional windows, doors and sometimes Kachen and Zhu.

Pem and Choetse are usually found together as a component over the Beam (Dhung) and below the Bogh and Phana components. The Pem which is painted onto a timber lintel portrays the sacred lotus flower, while the Choetse which is laid over the Pem painting and is usually carved into the timber represents a stack of prayer books. In some cases the Pem is used without the Choetse element. When the Pem and Choetse component is laid to decoratively frame a door or window they can be installed around the door and window without the Dhung

Tshechu Kha-nyim is the special shaped projecting floor joist (Cham) that cantilevers externally beyond a wall to provide support to a Rabsel. The Tshechu Kha-nyim is usually supplemented by a Dhung (lintel beam) below it which is sometimes embedded into the wall. The decorative elements of Pem and Choetse are often included below the Tshechu Kha-nyim and above the Dhung.

Norbu Bagum is a set of interlocking square timber bracket components fixed with joints like an intricate inverse mountain block of jutting cubes. The Norbu Bagum element is fairly rare and is usually found only in Dzong and special Lhakhangs. These decorative supporting elements is said to be designed as paths of offering to the Gods and Spirits. The Norbu Bagum can be placed below a Rabsel, above a Rabsel or as part of the roof structure to hold a Sertog. It s rarely found in farm houses or dwellings. When laid under a Rabsel, the Norbu Bagum is usually laid over a supporting decorative element known as Gyetsa. When the Norbu Bagum is placed over a Rabsel bay window it is usually installed with Pem Choetse and Dhung under layers of Bogh and Phana.

Norbu Horzhu is usually carved or painted on a timber block. It consists of three Norbu (precious jewel) framed together by three curved motifs. It is usually installed as a component with Pem Choetse. This element is located on the top of Rabsel, but in religious buildings they are also installed below the Rabsel if Bogh layers are used under the Rabsel instead of a Tshechu Kha-nyim.

Gyetsa is a timber element that cantilevers from the wall. It is responsible for the support of the Drezhu and the Rabsel above. The Gyetsa form can be in two different shapes: 1) In the form of Tshechu kha-nyim or Langna (nose of the bull). 2) In the form of Mythical animal heads. While the Gyetsa in dwellings is usually in the form of Langna, in religious buildings, Dzong and Palaces mythical animal heads carved in timber are mainly used for the Gyetsa

Keymar is a wide band around the external walls of a building that marks the structure as a sacred religious place. The Keymar is usually red in colour but in certain Lhakhang and Choetens the Keymar is also black or grey in colour. The Keymar is left simple or is usually framed by Bogh on the upper and lower sides with a timber lintel band. On the Keymar at intervals, round motifs to represent the Sun and the Moon are often painted on or installed in plates made of copper plated with gold. The Keymar is located along the upper levels of the walls of a building or Choeten. Where there are Rabsel, the Keymar is installed or painted in line with the upper middle level of the Rabsel but is in general never placed below a Rabsel. The standard rule of thumb is to ensure that there is a measure of at least half the width of the Keymar of wall space above the Keymar as shown in the drawing.

Nyim Khep in traditional Bhutanese architecture is usually a timber panel which is placed over a Rabsel window to protect the residents from the Sun. In Dzongkha, “Nyim” means Sun and “Khep” means cover or shade. This element is usually only found mainly on windows and balconies of religious buildings. The external visible side of the Nyim Khep panel is usually decorated with carvings or painted with floral motifs, mythical animals and religious symbols and iconography.


The Sertog element in traditional Bhutanese architecture is said to be the highest level of entitlement signifying highest sacred ranking, position of command and mark of highest form of respect in the land. The Sertog was thus usually placed only on top of the roofs of Lhakhang, Choeten, Dzong and the main royal chambers in palaces of Monarchs. According to Bhutan’s Ministry of Works and Human Settlement: ““Ser” in Dzongkha means gold and “Tog” means tip or pinnacle. The Sertog element in traditional Bhutanese architecture is usually made from beaten copper or brass which is gold plated by local artisans. [Source: Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, Royal Government of Bhutan, 2014]

“The Sertog, in general, is placed on top of a Jabzhi type of roof made of metal plated in gold or painted yellow. The eaves of the Jabzhi roof was normally also decorated in a curtain of gold plated metal with intricate carvings and embossments. This curtain plate is known locally as Chuza Chulo. The corner edges of the Chuza Chulo are normally capped with the decorative elements known as Chunju Patra.

The Sertog is composed of mainly five elements. This includes the Bell element and two layers of the lotus flower (Pem) which are said to symbolize the six transcendental virtues in Buddhism. The holy water vase known as Bumpa symbolizes the seven branches of awakening. The precious jewel on top of the Sertog known as Norbu symbolizes fulfillment of all wishes.

Bhutanese Architectural Ornaments: Flags, Parasols and Mythical Animals

Gyeltshen is an element in traditional Bhutanese architecture that represents the sacred parasol of victor of compassion and good. According to Bhutan’s Ministry of Works and Human Settlement: The Gyeltshen was thus only placed over roofs of religious buildings, palaces and residences of high Buddhist Masters as a mark of sacred blessings. The Gyeltshen is constructed out of brass or copper which is often plated in gold with carvings of sacred iconography and prayers. The Gyeltshen is usually placed directly over all types of roof including Jabzhi roof and Jamthok roof. Unlike the Sertog roof, the roof for Gyeltshen is not decorated with Chuza Chulo or Chunju Patra. The Gyeltshen is often also placed over the very tall prayer flag poles known as Lhadar. In this case the Gyeltshen is made out of simple elements such as local cloth which is wrapped in a simple woven bamboo container basket. [Source: Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, Royal Government of Bhutan, 2014]

Lhadhar is a multicolored sacred flag which is placed on top of the roof of homes in Bhutan and sometimes simple village temples. The Lhadhar is said to represent the banner of the local Gods and is thus usually installed annually on top of the roof after the main annual family prayer offerings to local deities.

“Elements of the Lhadhar The Lhadhar generally consists of a white cloth with three trips of different coloured cloths stitched on to it in horizontal stripes.. The three stripes of cloths were stitched in the order of the colours of the Rigsum Goem which is the family of the three main Buddhas. The Rigsum Goem are Chenrigzig, Jambayang and Chana Dorji and their colours are blue, red and yellow respectively.

“Thobthang of the Lhadhar Traditionally, according to the “Thobthang” or „entitlement‟, the Lhadhar was also designed with the inclusion of other different decorative and symbolic elements. For example, the top of the Lhadhar is also designed with a circular disc called Khorlo and a Sword called Reldri. These were usually made out of local timber and painted by local artisans. It is also said that only the building that has volumes of the Domang and Gaytom Buddhist scriptures or only aristocrats who can sponsor a ceremonial tea offering to the monastic body were entitled to have the Reldri and Khorlo. The other families were entitled to install the simple Lhadhar without Reldri and Khorlo.

Mythical Animal Sculptures are are usually found on the walls of important religious structures and palaces. These are installed mainly to provide protection from negative energy and spirits and also to symbolize the sacred and high ranking significance of the structure. The most common mythical figures include the Singye Karm (the white snow lion), and the Jachung. The sculptures are sometimes carved out of wood or made in clay. The Mythical figures are usually embedded in the wall to form the Gyetsa element which also structurally provide support to Rabsel, or balconies.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Council of Bhutan (tourism.gov.bt), National Portal of Bhutan, the Bhutan government’s main site (gov.bt), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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