Thangka mem­o­ries

Pre­serv­ing, restor­ing tra­di­tion in Ti­bet is a fam­ily af­fair for some

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - ByPALDEN NYIMA in Lhasa palden_ny­ima@chi­nadaily.

Since 2003, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has in­vested heav­ily to pre­serve a fresco of Lolang Chapel in the Po­tala Palace, as the fresco had be­gun to fall apart as cracks ap­peared in the wall.

Lo­cated in the cen­ter of Lhasa, cap­i­tal of the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion, the Po­tala Palace, to­gether with the Jokhang Tem­ple and Nor­bu­l­ingka Park, was in­cluded in the UNESCO World Cul­tural Her­itage List in 1994.

The fresco in the Po­tala Palace cov­ers an area of more than 2,500 square me­ters and is the quin­tes­sence of Ti­betan art which emerged be­tween the 17th cen­tury and the 20th cen­tury.

The fresco of the Lolang Chapel was com­pleted in 1756 and it tells the sto­ries of 17 In­dian “Great Adepts”, and Jowoje Atisha, the great In­dian mas­ter who founded the Kadampa School of Ti­betan Bud­dhism in Ti­bet.

Preser­va­tion work is be­ing un­der­taken by Man­drong Norbu Sithar, the founder and head of the Ti­bet Thangka Academy, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Born in Xigaze, the sec­ond­largest city in Ti­bet, Norbu Sithar is one of four na­tional in­tan­gi­ble cul­ture in­her­i­tors of thangka art in the re­gion.

Norbu Sithar rep­re­sents the fourth gen­er­a­tion of thangka artists in his fam­ily, with his more than 30 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in paint­ing giv­ing him pro­found knowl­edge of Ti­betan cul­ture and thangka art.

In the 1980s, fol­low­ing his grand­fa­ther, Norbu Sithar par­tic­i­pated in ren­o­va­tion works on the stu­pas of the fifth to the ninth Panchen La­mas, top re­li­gious lead­ers in the re­gion.

Due to his out­stand­ing thangka paint­ing skills, he was handed the work of ren­o­vat­ing some of the dam­aged fresco in the Po­tala Palace in 2005.

It took him and his team eight years to com­plete the work, dur­ing which he also com­pleted 18 thangkas by copy­ing the orig­i­nal fresco of the Lolang Chapel. The thangkas were do­nated by Norbu Sithar to the Po­tala Palace on their full com­ple­tion in July this year.

The fresco il­lus­trates the spread of Bud­dhism from In­dia to Ti­bet. Its ren­o­va­tion works in­volved more than 60 painters, ac­cord­ing to Norbu Sithar.

“Much of the fresco fell apart due to cracks on the wall and ero­sion, with some paint­ings to­tally dis­fig­ured,” Norbu Sithar said.

“Some parts of the fresco are not vis­i­ble these days. The thangkas are useful for re­search and study in the fu­ture,” he said.

Norbu Sithar said the thangkas were of­fered to the Po­tala Palace for preser­va­tion, adding that the size of the thangkas only cover about 30 sq m, but in­clude more than 1,000 dif­fer­ent fig­ures.

Be­ing a fam­ily tra­di­tion, Norbu Sithar be­came in­ter­ested in art as a young boy and he was ap­pren­ticed to his grand­fa­ther at the age of 12.

With his grand­fa­ther, Dawa Don­drub, he had the op­por­tu­nity to visit the Tashil­hunpo Monastery, one of the most im­por­tant cen­ters of Ti­betan Bud­dhism, founded by the first Dalai Lama al­most 600 years ago.

In his lead­ing role in the re­gion’s thangka art, Norbu Sithar has trained more than 200 ap­pren­tices.


Man­drong Norbu Sithar works on a thangka paint­ing at Ti­bet Academy of Thangka Paint­ing in Lhasa, Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

Tourists and pil­grims ad­mire a gi­ant thangka work at Dre­pung Monastery in Lhasa, Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion in Septem­ber.

A va­ri­ety of pig­ment pow­der used for thangka pait­ing (left). A dis­ci­ple paints at the Ti­bet Academy of Thangka Paint­ing (right).

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