Of­fi­cials seek UN­ESCO help for Ba­gan mu­rals

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - EI EI THU eiei­thu@mm­times.com

More than 40 mu­rals in Ba­gan were dam­aged by last month’s earth­quake in cen­tral Myan­mar, ac­cord­ing to a Re­li­gious Af­fairs and Cul­ture Min­istry of­fi­cial.

AS the full ex­tent of the dam­age be­comes clearer, the Depart­ment of Ar­chae­ol­ogy, Na­tional Mu­seum and Li­brary’s deputy di­rec­tor gen­eral U Thein Lwin said this week that mu­rals were af­fected at more than 40 pago­das after a pow­er­ful earth­quake rocked Ba­gan on Au­gust 24.

“Luck­ily, it did not dam­age any whole paint­ings – it just de­stroyed a part of the orig­i­nals in each dam­aged pagoda that has mu­ral art,” he told The Myan­mar Times. “We doc­u­mented partly dam­aged mu­ral paint­ings at over 40 pago­das and that num­ber may in­crease after doc­u­men­ta­tion is com­plete.”

This week, his depart­ment and ex­perts from the United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UN­ESCO) will be­gin a thor­ough cat­a­logu­ing of the dam­age to pago­das in Ba­gan, he said.

“The de­tailed doc­u­men­ta­tion will de­ter­mine specifics: where the dam­age started; what parts of a pagoda are dam­aged; to what de­gree it has been im­pacted; how much mu­ral art was de­stroyed; and where we should start to ren­o­vate,” U Thein Lwin said. “After fin­ish­ing the de­tailed doc­u­men­ta­tion, in Novem­ber, we will be­gin ren­o­va­tion.”

Cur­rently UN­ESCO is train­ing vol­un­teers to clean and han­dle bro­ken pieces of the dam­aged pago­das without caus­ing fur­ther harm, he said.

“After the de­tailed doc­u­men­ta­tion, UN­ESCO’s ex­perts will dis­cuss the re­sults with lo­cal ar­chi­tects,” U Thein Lwin said.

As of Septem­ber 5, more than K1.8 bil­lion (about US$1.5 mil­lion) has been do­nated by peo­ple across the coun­try for the restora­tion of Ba­gan’s pago­das, Man­dalay Re­gion Hlut­taw MP U Win Myint Khaing (NLD; Nyaung-U 1) said.

“We have a bank ac­count to main­tain the money from donors and we have only with­drawn K20 mil­lion of the K1.8 bil­lion,” he said.

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive tasked with main­tain­ing the donor money said that some in­ter­na­tional donors have also of­fered to give money to pagoda con­ser­va­tion.

The thou­sands of pago­das that dot the Ba­gan plain in cen­tral Myan­mar have long been a ma­jor tourist draw as well as a pil­grim­age site for Bud­dhists. Nearly 400 pago­das were dam­aged to some de­gree by last month’s earth­quake.

Of­fi­cials are plan­ning to sub­mit an ap­pli­ca­tion to earn UN­ESCO World Her­itage Site sta­tus for Ba­gan at the end of 2017. That plan will move for­ward, in par­al­lel with the plans for restora­tion of the quake-dam­aged pago­das, Myan­mar’s UN­ESCO na­tional project co­or­di­na­tor Daw Ohn Mar Myo told The Myan­mar Times.

“It will be three months late be­cause first we have to ren­o­vate the dam­aged pago­das,” she said.

Daw Ohn Mar Myo re­minded vol­un­teers not to rush the clean-up ef­fort.

“Most vol­un­teer peo­ple do not un­der­stand and can­not dis­tin­guish the an­cient bricks, which would be valu­able for the her­itage site des­ig­na­tion,” she said. “That is why we do not want to rush to clean up be­fore UN­ESCO’s ex­perts train the vol­un­teers.”

To­mor­row, UN­ESCO ex­perts will kick off a two-day train­ing ses­sion aimed at teach­ing vol­un­teers how to sys­tem­at­i­cally clean the pago­das, without neg­a­tively im­pact­ing the sites.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from UN­ESCO will per­form a ground check for her­itage site des­ig­na­tion in 2018, ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of Ar­chae­ol­ogy.

Photo: AFP

A vol­un­teer cleans up pieces bro­ken from the Htilominlo Tem­ple in Ba­gan after the Au­gust earth­quake.

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