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Monastery founded in 1040 A.D. by Chetsun Sherab Jungnay. Extended in the early 14th c., by Kunzang Drakpa Gyaltsen.
The monastery of Shalu was founded by Chetsun Sherab Jungnay in the region of Nyangro near the present day town of Shigatse. In the early fourteenth century it became the most important centre of learning under Butön Rinpoche (1290-1364 ), one of Tibet's greatest scholars. There he brought together the one hundred and eight volumes of the fundamental texts of Buddhism, the Kanjur, and the two hundred volumes of "treaties and commentaries", the Tenjur. At the same time he supervised the execution of 499 tantric mandalas, a few of which can be still seen in two chapels on the first floor. In 1305, Butön Rinpoche advised Prince Drakpa Gyaltsen to extend the monastery, following which Shalu was decorated by Tibetan and Nepalese artists who had been trained in the Mongol imperial workshops under the famous Newari master, Arniko (1245-1306). Due to Butön's activity, the monastery became one of the most important centres of study in Tibet, continuing on as an influential, non-sectarian monastry for centuries to come. The association has adopted the name of Shalu, as an exceptional repositary of Tibetan religious art, and in memory of this great Buddhist teacher.
Situated approximately 40 kilometers south of Shigatse. the blue tiled rooves can be seen far across the valley. One of the rare religious sites to escape complete destruction during the Cultural Revolution, the outer structure of the main Serkhang Temple was restored in the mid-1980s, since it was in danger of imminent collapse. However the interiors remain exactly as they were following the Cultural Revolution, with numerous exceptionally beautiful wall paintings in various stages of degradation. The large Gonkhang on the ground floor dates to the 11th c., where rare and precious examples of Pala art are combined with influences coming from Central Asia. The ancient stucco images that were probably part of the original decor remain in heaps of rubble on the floor, and furthermore, this chapel has suffered new damage over the last few years, because the monks, unknowingly, have kept their firewood stacked immediately against the precious 11th c. wall paintings, scratching them as they take the wood in and out. This situation improved due to the intervention of Western concerned individuals, who repeatedly told the monks of the importance of their temple. The remaining paintings, dating to the 14th c., are also in a style eclipsed in the place of origin, ie. that, mentioned above, of the Newari-Tibetan-Mongol school, founded and developed by Arniko at the court of Kublai Khan in Beijing during the latter half of the 13th c. This style continued to influence art in Northern and Eastern Asia for centuries to come.
Detail of early (13-14th c.) mural
In the North and South chapels on the first floor, remains of the mandalas executed under the supervision of Butön, are badly defaced. Below, in the circumambulatory surrounding the main temple, Serkhang, one hundred scenes from the life of the Buddha cover three sides of the outer wall. These suffer considerable damage from water infiltration. Some attempts at restoration with modern chemical paint at the back of the Serkhang show how disastrous the situation may be if international aid is not brought in. Numerous paintings of great beauty adorn the walls and galleries in other parts of the monastery. Again their condition is extremely fragile. Recently the original roof tiles of Shalu have been rediscovered, stacked inside the temple in storage. These, with their splendid roof finials, could be replaced as part of the restoration project.
Detail of a mandala in one of the rooftop lhakhangs
The protection and restoration of Shalu is a project of international importance, and could be undertaken with funds from one of the major institutions, such as the World Monuments Fund, or the Getty Conservation Fund. However, given the urgency of the situation, it is possible, in the immediate future to intervene to simply stop present degradation, by providing funds for weatherproofing, for the building of an out-house for fire-wood, and by convincing the monks not to undertake any restoration of paintings.
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FIELD REPORT UPDATES
June 1994 | January 1995 | October 1995
Shalu Monastery, roof
During the first visit, an inspection of the flat roof on the first floor revealed severe cracks and pitting, covered with old shoes and pans. Leakage into the walls where the wall paintings are below was clearly coming from such damaged areas. It was decided to redo 711 square meters of arga roofing, as the first step to protecting the wall paintings. A veranda on the first floor was also to be constructed to replace one that had been there previously. initial estimate for launching the project was worked out,
JUNE 1994 (J.H.)
Externally the most prominent features of Shalu are the four Chinese-style tiled roofs which rise above the main building mass. The four upper-floor temples which they cover are in turn the vertical expression of the ground floor chapels which enclose the central assembly hall (here called the Tshokhang) on south, west and north sides, and the entrance Gönkhang on the east side. Shalu is also remarkable architecturally for its khorlam, which runs not just around a main chapel on the entrance axis, but around the outside of all the chapels flanking the tshokhang. Work and debate continues on the roofs, to protect the paintings below. A considerable proportion of the monastery is covered by the four tiled roofs which have been re-laid in recent years. Some old tiles have been re-used, but most are new, from China.
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Detail of a mandala in one of the rooftop lhakhangs
The veranda on the terrace on the first floor has been rebuilt with new wood. The materials for the arga terracing have been gathered together, but they dared not touch the flat rooves for fear of damaging the wall paintings which are everywhere, just immediately below the arga. Drainage pits need to be made. The expert advice of an architect is needed. Concerning the Gönkhang (the oldest part of the monastery, containing the 11th c. wall paintings) they have remade two guardian figures, in the entrance part (near the most important wall paintings), but after discussion with S.W. have not extended these all the way through. The firewood is still there...
The Shalu archives have been well done, with photos, descriptions in Tibetan, measurement etc.
I did not see the old tiles which are said to be stored in the monastery, but Sonam Wangdu said many are in poor condition. It was also difficult to mix the old with the new, which are of a different size. Connecting the three tiled roofs of the upper North, South and West chapels are several lower flat mud roofs. Around three sides of the upper courtyard the colonnade structure has been completely rebuilt, with a new flat roof. The new woodwork is now being painted. It is agreed that the roof will be finished in arga, as there will be no threat to wall paintings from vibration in this location. The two corner chapels to northwest and southwest (both now used as storerooms) are more of a problem, as there are wall paintings within these rooms and further murals on the other side of their walls on the floor below. These two roofs have always been mud, not arga, and there have been no roof leaks since the monks took over and resumed regular maintenance. Further advice is to be sought from old craftsmen on this matter, and Sonam Wangdu proposes to lay a small trial area of arga to assess the likelihood of damage to paintings below.The upper courtyard surface has now been fitted with pipes and channels to conduct rainwater out to the northeast corner and the entrance stairway. It is thought that the drainage run would be further improved if the last section could be piped. Internally there has probably been most damage to murals in the past in the circumambulatory passage surrounding the ground floor chapels on three sides of the assembles hall. This would be the first area to suffer from leaking roofs or the ingress of rain or damp through the external walls; it was also used as a hay store during the Cultural Revolution.
Detail of mural
There is some evidence of rising damp on inner and outer walls of the passage, but this is well below the paintings. There is also water penetration at the bottom of the outer wall on the west side; the exterior of the wall requires pointing where rain has washed open joints, but repointing should be in traditional mud, not cement as suggested by the monastery. The construction of a drainage channel around the outside of the building, probably set below the stone paving in the narrow surrounding alleyway, would help to dispose of heavy rainfall and should also reduce rising damp in the external wall. The stone paving in the alley is at the same level, I was informed, as the stone paving in the khorlam. The unglazed high-level windows in the passage have presumably been a problem for 600 years, and there is much damage to paintings in these locations, particularly on the south and west weather sides, and to a lesser extent on the north. One window on the west side has a dropping lintel and decayed reveals, requiring careful repair. All windows should be fitted with glazing to prevent rain driving in, and incorporating some ventilation to maintain air circulation within the passage. The question of dust in the khorlam was not regarded as a problem, and the installation of glazing will prevent much dust blowing in. The floor of the passage has old stone paving. There has been some recent cement pointing at the base of the east entrance facade, but it should not be necessary to remove this unless it is found to encourage rising damp or efflorescence on the inner face of the wall in the gonkhang. The cement step outside should be removed and replaced with stone if a step is needed to stop surface water blowing across the entrance yard against the building. The gonkhang itself is now to revert to being the main entrance to the assembly hall. One of the three monastery leaders (who was not present at the time of my visit) had wanted to make the gonkhang into a chapel, but this had been opposed by the commission. Financial assistance was requested to clean out and restore the gonkhang. Firewood was still stored there, although Sonam Wangdu had repeatedly requested its removal.
Detail of Nepalese style mural in main ambulatory
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Visit to all the chapels. Inspection of the terraces. Only about one third of the arga that we agreed on last year on the first storey has been completed. It has been very well done, however, and two more coats of mustard oil will be rubbed in over the next couple of months. The new gallery has been well built and painted with great skill and devotion, but concrete was used over the porch area, since it is more difficult to pack down the arga there. It will be removed and arga put in place. After long discussions with the head monk it was decided that a new gönkhang shall be built in a side courtyard, where seven monks' cells had stood previously. Then all the new stuccos that were recently put into the present gönkhang shall be moved there, thus saving the 11th century wall paintings. Spent the night in Shigatse. Electricity cut.
A further excursion to the Shigatse-Gyantse region was made with the UNESCO-Norwegian group. Shigatse, Tashilhunpo, the old town of Gyantse, the Palkorchöde and Kumbum. We went right to the top and inspected the recent restoration. The site is a State Cultural Monument, and structural work has recently been done. However concrete has been used to fill a number of cracks. New paint and varnish is seen in many chapels. In the top-most Vajradhara chapel, a panel with garish new paintings does not match in any way the superb quality of the 15th c. originals.
Since the trip two weeks ago, a wooden frame has been partly built around the new stucco images. Splashes of paint and varnish have reached the 11th c. images behind.....A request was made to put up a cloth protection to cover both of the 11th c. panels. We were again assured that all the sculptures and frame would be removed once new gönkhang is built.
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