Officials seek UNESCO help for Bagan murals
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“We have a bank account to maintain the money from donors and we have only withdrawn K20 million of the K1.8 billion,” he said.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.
A volunteer cleans up pieces broken from the Htilominlo Temple in Bagan after the August earthquake.