Bhutan seeks help of Brit experts to preserve endangered temple art

Posted By: Nairita Das
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London, Jan 2 (ANI): British art experts have been given access to the hidden heritage of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, including 16th to 19th century wall paintings from its 2,000 temples and monasteries, so that they can advice the country on ways to preserve the masterworks for the future generations.

The Courtauld study will lead to an understanding of how the art deteriorates and how it can be preserved.

"An alarming number of Buddhist wall paintings in India and Tibet have been irreversibly damaged by well-meaning but disastrous cleaning. Bhutan's isolationist past protected its cultural heritage from such dangers, but the opening up of the country means that such risks cannot now be ignored," The Guardian quoted Stephen Rickerby, from the Courtauld, as saying.

He and a colleague, Professor David Park, would reportedly publish a report next year as a benchmark for the future study and conservation.

As of now, there is no clear idea of how many paintings existed, let alone their condition, date or significance, Rickerby said, adding: "We were astonished by the rich, jewel-like quality of some of the paintings in such remote settings. It was quite unexpected. Their significance and quality deserve far wider recognition."

He described their technique as incompatible in the west and praised a unique layering of colours and coatings in the paintings, adding that the sophistication of facial expressions and flowers were "staggering". Some of the paintings are reportedly huge, extending across hundreds of square metres.

Calling the wall paintings as absolutely stunning, Professor Park said that "some of the earlier examples, especially, are extraordinary."

The wall paintings are among the earliest in Bhutan, and are intimately associated with one of the most revered figures in Bhutanese Buddhism, the saint Pema Lingpa. The paintings can be dated to his time at Tamshing, between 1501 and 1506, and they include his portrait. "The paintings are immensely important," Rickerby said.

Access to the sites was granted as part of a three-year research collaboration between the Courtauld and the Bhutan department of culture, through funding from an anonymous US benefactor. The last stage of fieldwork and scientific analysis has just ended.

Bhutan, a kingdom of 700,000 people with a Tibetan Buddhist heritage, has temples and monasteries in rugged mountain terrain where, in some areas, horses, mules and yaks are the most common modes of transport. (ANI)

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