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