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Founded in the 16th c. by Dorje Denpa Kunga Namgyel.
Unique wall paintings by Jamyang Khyentse Wangchuk,
founder of Khyenri school of painting.

View of the front of the monastery
View of the front of the monastery

The monastery of Gongkar belongs to the Zung branch of the Sakyapa school, and was decorated in the 16th c. with beautiful wall paintings by the celebrated founder of the Khyenri school of Tibetan painting, Jamyang Khyentse Wangchuk (born 1524). Numerous wall paintings executed by him are still visible. These unique art historical documents will allow for the identification of this school which is known to have had a strong influence on later Tibetan painting, right up to the 20th c. The monastery used to house one hundred and sixty monks, and now has about thirty. The main building is in good condition, and the exterior has been restored.

Gongkar, Khyentse's private chapel, painting of a form of Jambala on a horse
Khyentse's private chapel, painting of a form of Jambala on a horse
The wall paintings in the circumambulatory are of fine and delicate execution, but are in the greatest danger of being repainted or badly restored, since the monastery does not appear to come under the protection of any government office. Three different groups of paintings of remarkable quality require urgent attention: those mentioned above, which are in a poor state of conservation, and therefore most in danger, together with the series of portraits on the back wall of the assembly hall. The entire Yidam chapel, on the first floor, containing ten large panels depicting tantric deities, is in a different style, perhaps a little later, but of excellent execution. Some restoration dating to recent times is visible there, though it is not too disastrous. Shalu Association proposes to help with reinforcing the structure in the Yidam chapel, where a forest of support pillars were propping up the main beams.


Khyentse's private chapel, painting of the Mahasiddha Virupa
Khyentse's private chapel, painting of the Mahasiddha Virupa

Materials have been gathered. They need more money. They wanted to take out a loan. They would have to pay a lot of interest. S.W. told them not to, but to wait for the funds to come. The visit of an architect to discuss how to go about the operation would be very useful.
woodwork in Khyentse's library/ chapel
Woodwork in Khyentse's library/ chapel

MAY 1995
Gongkar Chöde is planned around a large central assembly hall entered through double vestibules, and an inner chapel, the Tsangkhang, beyond, with a circumambulatory passage. There are also chapels to the sides of the assembly hall, and a further, later, chapel added on the north side of the building, with the Kyedor lhakhang, or Yidam chapel, above it. The sixteenth-century wall paintings with which Shalu Association is principally concerned are located in the assembly hall, the circumambulatory passage, and in the first floor (level 2) Yidam chapel of the northern extension. Apart from this northern extension, the building generally appears to be in fair condition structurally, and so the wall paintings in the dhukhang and khorlam are not threatened by building failure. The high-level windows in the khorlam, however, are not glazed, only protected by inward-opening wooden shutters; rain penetration is a problem with the two windows on the south side, and thought should be given to replacing at least these shutters with glass windows. The paintings on both sides of the corridor have been extensively damaged in the past by rain penetration and roof leaks, but there have been no further leaks since the monks regained possession in 1985. The three-storey north extension has serious structural problems. It was built onto the outside wall of the original monastery, and there appears to have been structural movement outwards over a considerable period of time.
Khyentse's private chapel, painting of forms  of Jambala
Khyentse's private chapel, painting of forms of Jambala
An outer stone buttress wall was added on the north and east sides "a long time ago" to prevent these walls bulging outwards, and internally numerous posts and props have been added to support original columns and beams as they buckled and moved northwards. There is reported to be extensive insect (termite ?) attack in the timber, which will account for some of the internal movement and the deflection of floors, but not necessarily for the cracks seen on the insides of the walls, particularly on the first floor (level 2) where they affect the wall paintings. Movement is continuing here, as indicated by the paper tell-tales set by Thupten Namkar. Internal wall cracks in the second floor room (level 3) have been recently plastered over, although here the floor and roof appear much more level then in the floor below. Strangely however, there is no evidence of serious cracking in the external stone face of these walls; only some bulging on the unbuttressed west wall. It seems most likely that a complete reconstruction of the internal timber is required, and new timber has already been bought to replace those members known to be defective.

Form of Jambhala riding on a horse
Form of Jambhala riding on a horse

Thupten Namkar thinks it is quite possible to do this without damaging the murals. The new timber floor structures must be tied back into the walls, and there must be effective tying across each entire floor. This may prevent further outward movement and consequent cracking in the walls, but it may also be necessary to tie the walls themselves, perhaps by a simple external steel strap tied back into the north wall of the main building. At present no skilled workmen are available for the project. Sonam Wangdu is contacting craftsmen in Lhasa, but proposes to move the craftsmen at Rithang to Gongkar when the former job is completed.

We visited several parts of the monastery not visited before, and could judge better the difficulty of doing internal reconstruction or reinforcement. The immense weight of the upper storey seems to have destabilised the building. Thus the architectural problems remain unsolved, and the wood, bought last year, is lying in storage. It was decided to form a committee this winter to make a study of the question and propose a detailed plan and budget for the spring.

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