From Mysore to Mastery: Sculpting statues and legacies

From Mysore to Mastery: Sculpting statues and legacies

Tshewang Dorji sculpted not just statues, but a legacy of perseverance and success that continues to inspire

In the bustling heart of Bhutan’s capital lies Tenzin Samphel Sculpture House, a beacon of artistic excellence renowned for its exquisite Buddhist statues. At the helm is Tshewang Dorji, a 40-year-old sculptor from Udzorong in Trashigang district, whose journey from a modest beginning to becoming a master craftsman is nothing short of inspiring.

Back in the early 2000s, a young Tshewang, then only 17, left for Mysore with just Nu 1500 in his pocket and dreams of dedicating his life to the dharma. However, life had other plans. After facing family betrayal and a severe illness that left him with a Nu 30,000 medical bill, Tshewang was compelled to return to Bhutan. His initial days back home were fraught with challenges. “Being a lay monk and uneducated, I initially earned my living by performing rituals. But I always knew I wanted more,” Tshewang recalls.

His perspective shifted dramatically one day while browsing social media. A post struck him deeply, suggesting that earning money through religious rituals without a genuine spiritual intent was sinful. This was a pivotal moment for Tshewang, prompting him to explore other avenues to make a living. His ventures ranged from selling dumplings as a street vendor to working as a hawk, each step gradually steering him away from his religious routine toward the world of commerce.

With Nu 50,000 saved from these endeavors, Tshewang traveled to Kalimpong, where he dipped his toes into the religious merchandise business, setting up a small shop by the riverside near what is now the centenary farmers market. The initial business was a humble one, but it laid the foundation for what would eventually become a flourishing enterprise.

The path wasn’t smooth. Tshewang and his younger brother soon found themselves grappling with a daunting debt that ballooned to over Nu 3 million. Undeterred, the brothers persevered, selling their sculptures at various local festivals. “We didn’t speak a word to our families about the debt; we just focused and worked hard,” Tshewang explains. Their efforts paid off during the Monggar Tshechu, where they managed to repay two-thirds of their debt, and finally achieved full debt clearance at the Paro Tshechu.

Today, Tenzin Samphel Sculpture House stands as a testament to Tshewang’s unyielding determination and business acumen. With a workforce of 45 employees and a thriving store in the capital, Tshewang’s enterprise not only serves all districts of Bhutan but also symbolizes the profound impact of resilience and dedication. His journey from a troubled young man in Mysore to a respected businessman in Thimphu illustrates the powerful narrative of overcoming adversity through steadfast commitment and hard work.

“You must demonstrate your commitment until you achieve your desired outcome and avoid giving up halfway, regardless of the endeavor,” says Tshewang, encapsulating his philosophy towards both life and business. In the face of adversity, Tshewang Dorji sculpted not just statues, but a legacy of perseverance and success that continues to inspire.

By Sherab Dorji, Thimphu