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Rare Cache of Centuries-Old Buddhist Murals Discovered in western Sichuan

January 27th, 2010 admin Leave a comment Go to comments

 

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A team of architectural conservators working in the Minyak region of the eastern Tibetan plateau has discovered an unusual temple containing extensive Buddhist murals painted in a style that was previously known only in central Tibet.

The paintings were found in a small temple called Trupa Lhakhang in Pusarong Village, Kangding County. Because of the remoteness of the site, the paintings escaped the destruction of China’s Cultural Revolution, surviving to the present day virtually intact.

Tibetan art historians consulted by Kham Aid Foundation observe that the paintings strongly resemble murals painted in central Tibet, specifically Gyantze, which is located more than 1,000 kilometers from Pusarong. They are tentatively dated at 16th century. It is not known how or why artists traveled from central Tibet to paint murals in Pusarong.

The temple building itself is also mysterious: it is constructed in an architectural style unlike others in the region. Details of roof and door construction, and metal decorative elements on the temple door, suggest influence by another ethnic group, possibly Naxi.

The paintings, which adorn four walls, ceiling panels, and columns, cover more than 160 square meters. Red is the dominant color, in contrast to most Buddhist art of the eastern Tibetan plateau which features dominant blue-green coloration. The main subject of the murals are figures of Buddhist deities embellished by elaborate backgrounds that include a multitude of symbolic pictorial elements. The use of strong red, lack of blending, shapes and coloration of deity faces, stylistic details, choice of embellishments, and what seems to be central Asian influence all contribute to an impression of similarity between the Pusarong paintings and those of central Tibet.

Because the temple roof is in poor condition, Kham Aid Foundation is undertaking to replace it so that the murals will be better protected from monsoon rains. The paintings, though in generally good condition, are threatened by flaking and separation from their underlying walls. Later this year Kham Aid Foundation will dispatch a wall paintings conservator who will recommend interventions to prevent future loss of this rare and potentially significant find.

To better understand the origins of the building and paintings, Kham Aid Foundation is working with art history researcher Luo Wenhua of the Palace Museum in Beijing.

Protection of the building and paintings will be coordinated with the Sichuan Cultural Relics Bureau and local authorities.

Kham Aid Foundation was established in 1997 to protect the cultural heritage of the eastern Tibetan plateau and to provide humanitarian and development assistance to the people living in the region. It has led wall paintings and architectural conservation at four other sites in Tibetan ethnic areas of western Sichuan.

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