Founded in 1081 A.D., by Drapa Ngönshey (1012-1082)
When Giuseppe Tucci visited this small monastery in the 1940s, he found the original wall paintings and large stucco figures in excellent condition. Clear and distinct influences from the surrounding Buddhist civilisations: Central Asia, India and Nepal, were manifest in both sculpture and painting, making Drathang an excellent source for the study of the development of early Tibetan art.
Used as a grain store from the Cultural Revolution to this day, the building itself has survived in reasonable condition. The stucco figures have all been destroyed, but six large painted panels, depicting scenes of the Buddha's teaching remain, as well as a superb carved and painted triple doorway that leads into the main chapel. Later wall paintings of fine quality, in various styles, adorn the walls of the entrance way and the first chapel.
Water infiltration has damaged the painting, and a new concrete wall, cutting cleanly in two a fine portrait of the founder of the temple, in the entrance, demonstrated the value put on such sites in Tibet today. The entire building needed weather-proofing, and reinstating in its former role. A grain store needs to be made available elsewhere. The wall paintings will need to be analysed and eventually cleaned and restored, when proper techniques have been developed.
The whole monastery covers an area of 1440 sq m. and is two stories high. The main structures are the assembly hall and the tsangkhang, or inner chapel, which contains the early wall paintings. The protection and restoration was undertaken as follows:
- Removal of concrete layer and old damaged arga over the whole roof:
- Remaking of the traditional arga surface over 80 sq m. Keeping what is good of the original arga.
- Changing of the pillars and beams in the entrace to the Assembly Hall. Rain damage on the north and west sides: restoration of walls and beams in the Assembly Hall.
FIELD REPORT UPDATES
The work that we decided on in June has been done well. The cement has been removed from the terraced roof (below which are the 11th c. wall paintings) and the central part redone with fresh arga. The parapet wall has been rebuilt to protect the roof from wind and driving rains. Next year they would like to complete the entire terraced roof area in the same way, and to rehabilite the second storey. Some new wooden beams are needed, new window frames, and the main door also needs remaking, in traditional design, instead of the present metal sheeting, as we decided in June.
MAY 1995 (J.H.)
The assembly hall was renovated some sixty years ago, and it is thought that the wall paintings there may therefore be recent (but see Victor Chan, Tibet Handbook p.395). The first phase of work funded by Shalu Association consists of repairs to the roofs over the early murals. Some joists had to be replaced on the north side of the ambulatory where water penetration from above and insect attack had caused decay, and the entire roof of the inner temple and ambulatory was resurfaced in arga, replacing the cracked cement surface. During the removal of the old arga roofing the bases of an old upper storey, walls and columns, were found, and so the stone walls of the inner temple below have been built up to take a future roof. The building was known to have had a tiled hipped roof, and a few of the original green tiles have been found. The arga to the western roof has now been laid, compacted and oiled, and is awaiting the spreading of red earth and final polishing with candle wax. Thupten Namkar had been worried about vibration during the laying of arga, but had found experienced craftsmen and had checked the walls below for any loose plaster.The new roof surface is drained to four new outlets and, instead of spouts, galvanised metal rainwater pipes run down the external walls. Unfortunately one of these has to bend rather awkwardly around a window as the outlet was positioned directly above the window.
Rainwater pipes on the rebuilt temples at Drepung are handled more elegantly with a spoon-shaped galvanised rainwater head and a stone base to the downpipe to prevent damage.Internally, in the ambulatory the bottom 40 cm of inner and outer walls has been replastered with a fine sand and mud mix where the old plaster had been loosened by rising damp. There are also areas of new plaster below the south west window and on the north inner wall where rain penetration had completely destroyed the murals. The monks wish to repaint these murals, but Sonam Wangdu has said there must be no repainting or cleaning of murals. The next phase of work will extend the arga over the dhukhang. Some timber will require replacing in the roof, particularly at the northeast corner, before the arga is laid. Arga is also required to the tops of all the parapet walls to stop rain penetration seeping down to the murals below. Thupten Namkar is confident that the core of the building is now safe-guarded, but considerable repair work is still required to the south, and particularly the north, wings. The north wing is three storeys high, with a room entered from the main roof threatened by a leaking roof, causing rot and fungus in the timber structure, and cracks in the outer walls.
The room below also has wall cracks and deflecting beams. More extensive replacement of structural timbers will be required than in the main block. Some cracks are evident in the external stone walls which appear to be related to roof and waterspout leaks or to the two relatively recent ground floor windows in the Dhukhang. These windows are to be removed and stonework rebuilt in the openings. Internally, future work would include the removal of cement plastering from the bottoms of the walls around the Dhukhang, and replastering in traditional materials; and the removal of later partition walls to reinstate the original first floor (level 2) rooms. A new store for the flour is to be built as soon as possible, but no date has yet been agreed. After completion of work to the temple, Thupten Namkar will report to Central Government recommending the removal of all the new buildings within the original monastery wall. He has already written to the Lhasa Government quoting the law on the protection of cultural relics, and as the buildings are all owned by the district government he thinks there is a reasonable chance of success.
The main temple building, which, with the surrounding wall, is all that remains of an extensive monastery site, is entered from the east into a wide shallow vestibule, and then a square double-height assembly hall, or dhukhang, lit by first-floor windows. Beyond the dhukhang through a triple doorway lies the inner temple, or tsangkhang, with its early wall-paintings, and surrounding ambulatory. Ancillary accommodation is located above the entrance and in two-storey wings to north and south of the dhukhang. The building has been used as a store house since the Cultural Revolution, and although the monks have now taken over the inner temple, the dhukhang is still used to store sacks of flour.
As we stood there by the old gönkhang, waiting for the foreman to appear, Françoise Pommaret rolled up with her group straight from Dechen in Yunnan. We were all invited into the protectors' chapel for a cup of tea. Later the group made a quick visit to the tsangkhang to see the wall paintings, which they had never managed to do on previous trips. They left a generous contribution.
SW, HS and AH went off to the temple to inspect the work that had been done since the previous year. The concrete had been removed over the whole roof area, and the arga on the central part well finished. It is fine grained, and is said to be of superior quality, extracted from an old known site in a nearby cliff. The new stone wall that has been raised over the tsangkhang temple was part of the original structure, and used to house another chapel, which was crowned by a golden pitched gyaphib roof, like the Utse Temple in Samye. This second storey with its roof was not included in our project last year, but they clearly desire to restore it. Considerable danger is present on the roof and around the front of the building in the form of a veritable spiderweb of electric wires. We suggested that the entire network be moved away from the temple site.
Inside, the temple is still being used for grain storage, but the religious commitee has made an application to the central government in Beijing to return the temple and the entire site within the old circular wall to its former owners, the monks. This is being considered, and an answer is expected soon. This would mean that the workshops and army HQ which are now within the old precincts would have to be moved, and a new barn built for the grain outside. Drathang is clearly accepted by all as an important cultural site. Inside the tsangkhang the roof leakage and rising damp, which was seen at the top and bottom of the walls where the 11th c. wall paintings are found, has been treated successfully without any further damage to the paintings. HS and AH spent some time taking photos and examining the details of the paintings. SW said that we should bring a professional photographer next time. We plan to bring out a book on Drathang in collaboration with the Cultural Department of the TAR. SW considers that the work there has been very well accomplished. The foreman is extremely devoted, and showed me various points on the outside walls where problems subsist. They have removed the ugly construction on the first floor of the South wing.
Further work to be done with the help of Shalu Association includes the finishing off of arga over the whole roof and exterior parapets (approximately double the area treated so far); the reconstruction of the main door with its antechamber; restoration of the window structure on the first floor above, with the former reception room behind. This is at present divided into three separate small rooms used by local government commitees for meetings. The original structure was similar to that of the Assembly Hall in Rithang.