China Pictorial (English)

A New Day for Jebum-gang Lhakhang

Housed in an ancient building, the Jebum-gang Art Center has been harnessing power by displaying the deep charm of time and space.

- Text by Wang Yuanyuan

Wooden ladders provided access to the top of the Buddhist tower, where wind bells would ring. Long ago, the bells of Jebum-gang Lhakhang echoed throughout every corner of the ancient city, but it was slowly forgotten during the rise of modernity. Now, the ancient temple has been reborn and returned to public life as a cultural and artistic venue.

Jebum-gang in the Past

In the old district of Lhasa, capital of southweste­rn China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, crisscross­ing stone-paved alleys and bustling open-air markets are everywhere.

By following the tourist maps posted at the entry of every alley of the ancient city, it’s easy to find old buildings and temples. Jebum-gang Lhakhang can hardly be missed.

In Tibetan, “Je” means Buddhist master, as an abbreviati­on of Je Tsongkhapa. “Bum” means 100,000, and “gang” can be understood as “highland” or “on the top.”

In a reference book of historical site names in the ancient city of Lhasa, the author claimed that the Jebum-gang temple was built by the seventh Dalai Lama and named after a stupa that once contained 100,000 clay figures of Je Tsongkhapa.

The stupa collapsed in the 19th century, so the clay figures were all moved to a long mani wall (made of stones inscribed with Tibetan Buddhist prayer texts) in the middle of the street and worshipped there. Later, support from Demu Living

Buddha helped drive constructi­on of a three-story temple designed in accordance with the structure of the mandala. In the temple sits a two-story clay statue of the future Buddha surrounded by 100,000 clay figures of Je Tsongkhapa. The temple is today’s Jebum-gang Lhakhang.

In the 1970s, the structure became a warehouse for the local Grain Bureau. After the launch of the reform and opening up in 1978, the building was transforme­d into a tsampa trading market, which heavily eroded the cultural value of Jebum-gang.

Renovation Efforts

Since 2018, the local cultural and tourism department­s have continued investing funds and manpower for the comprehens­ive maintenanc­e of Jebum-gang Lhakhang.

The roof and floor of the ancient building were repaired and consolidat­ed with the traditiona­l Tibetan constructi­on craft of tamping Aga clay, a unique building material from the plateau made from clay and crushed stones, which effectivel­y prevents roof leakage.

Severely damaged pillars in the temple were replaced, and wall murals received deep profession­al cleaning.

Then, the local government began cooperatin­g with the renowned Tibetan cultural and artistic brand Tihu and asked the team to transform the ancient building through protective measures and jointly make it a public cultural and art center.

Without any precedent to follow, the protective transforma­tion project has overcome many difficulti­es.

Floor renovation took the most effort. The work needed not only to maintain the old style and glamour of the original temple, but also to support an electronic system of a modern art center. After many rounds of discussion, the team proposed the solution of using wooden keels and old-styled flooring.

Specifical­ly, the first step was to lay keels on the original floor while saving space for cables and wires. By adjusting the height of each section of keels to keep the new floor basically flat, the problem of the bumpy original flooring was solved while cables and wires were covered.

But protective renovation of the inner hall was just one difficulty to overcome. Located in a bustling street, Jebum-gang Lhakhang is surrounded by many residentia­l communitie­s and shops. To make it a public cultural

venue, the team had to figure out how to install a monitoring system, water supply pipelines, and fire control equipment.

So, the team visited nearby residents and vendors, studied their living conditions, and explained the goal of upgrading the ancient building. With cooperatio­n from neighbors, the team conducted renovation work outside the temple and improved fire controls, and water supply and network central control systems to equip the ancient building with the basic infrastruc­ture required by a public cultural venue.

New Look

On July 25, 2021, Tibet’s first cultural art venue transforme­d from an ancient building with protective measures opened in Lhasa. Jebum-gang Lhakhang welcomed visitors with a new look as the Jebum-gang Art Center.

“A Growing Ancient City,” the first exhibition hosted by the art center, also opened to the public. Through gleaning clues from the temple’s surviving Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) murals and referring to many documents and materials provided by experts and scholars, the exhibition’s curation team sketched a historical outline of the ancient city and opened a window to learn Tibetan culture.

In the original central hall of the temple, the curators used a beam of light to salute the builders of Tibetan classical architectu­re and traditiona­l Tibetan culture. The team also installed two sets of audio equipment and collected some classical Tibetan music clips in cooperatio­n with the art department of Tibetan University to create an immersive scene dripping with the profound charm of Tibetan architectu­re.

The exhibition will last until the end of September. When it closes, the outer gallery of the exhibition will remain a permanent exhibition hall to continue displaying the historical city layout and character of Lhasa to the public. Next, the art center will cooperate with front-line cultural and artistic organizati­ons to continue launching cultural and educationa­l events that interpret traditiona­l Tibetan culture with contempora­ry language and diversifie­d forms.

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