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Phase II: Regional expansion


Typical monastery in Upper Mustang © UNESCO

Project overview and objectives 
Mustang used to have a high quality craftsmanship. The highly skilled masters of painting, masonry and wood carving have built the magnificent Buddhist temples of Mustang, including mud structures and cave monasteries, especially in upper Mustang. The cave gompas of Chhuksang, Luri and Ngiphuk are some of the finest examples that still remain in upper Mustang as evidence of this legacy. Due to lack of proper maintenance, many are now facing disappearance. Only very few monasteries in upper Mustang have been conserved and many others have been lost forever, along with their beautiful ancient decorations including wall painting and elaborate woodcarvings.
However, not everything is lost and there are still opportunities to save a number of monasteries now under threat. Among them is the gompas with great historic and spiritual values such as Lo Ghekar Gompa and the historic Chungs Rangjon. The Charang Palace carrying the legend of the once glorious kingdom is also of immeasurable value and, although deteriorated, still can be saved, including its collection of ancient Buddhist manuscripts, thangka paintings, ancient sculptures and wall paintings.

The programme in Mustang aims to revive traditional arts and crafts with a particular focus on mural painting and woodcarving through study, documentation and training. It will also cover the training in preventive conservation of Buddhist temples and artifacts utilizing both traditional and modern methods. Along with awareness raising activities, it is anticipated that the traditional skills of woodcarving and thangka painting will be revived during the project implementation in Mustang, with particular emphasis on the application of these skills for conservation purposes. 

The programme in Mustang has the following aims:

  • to revive Buddhist arts and practices which are under threat of extinction in monastic communities in Upper Mustang through research, documentation and training
  • to raise awareness among the lamas in Mustang about the conservation of Buddhist arts and rituals

Besides to establish a resource training center, and to include a broad array of crafts and ritualistic practices into the training, the overall project objectives are as following:

  • The main coordinating institute for the project will be Mustang Gompa Bauddhanath.
  • The project will be implemented in active participation from the various stakeholders such as central and local government organizations, Buddhist gompas, educational institutions and local community groups.
  • Preventative conservation activities will focus on developing a system for regular monitoring of physical condition of temple, and for undertaking documentation through various methods.
  • Training will focus on preventative conservation principles which include both traditional and modern methods, mural painting, and wood carving.  Prior to training, trainers will have to be trained to ensure transmission of authentic techniques.
  • Documentation will include the following topics: preventative conservation principles, mural paintings techniques, wood carving, regular monitoring temples, and documentation techniques.
  • Finally, regional networking will allow the training programme to proceed with the most qualified technical input from possible partner organizations like INTACH and ICOMOS.

Project output to date
The first project implementation cycle of six months, initiated in April 2006, is focused on the following activities:

  • study of Buddhist crafts/rituals which would provide a framework for planning activities for the succeeding cycles
  • training in documentation research strategy to allow for proper documentation of crafts/rituals that are under threat of extinction
  • awareness raising and identification of potential trainers, trainees and resource persons.

As a result of networking an collaboration, a group of researchers and technical experts in culture and conservation, undertook a mission to Upper Mustang to identify the different Buddhist arts/rituals, assess the training needs and state of conservation of the various monasteries in Upper Mustang, and train local stakeholders in documentation research strategy in May 2006.

Consequently, monks and local stakeholders in the monastic communities in Upper Mustang have identified the following urgent training needs:

  • Initiation of Wong, Lung and Thee - According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, to be a perfect lama, one must undergone this initiation to be able to perform advanced religious rituals. However, gurus (teachers) who have the power to conduct this initiation on lineage basis are not available in Upper Mustang, hence the need to train senior lamas to become gurus.
  • Sand Mandala - Representing the philosophy of Buddhism, mandala is one of the essential elements of Buddhism. Without a mandala, ritual worship is not complete. Each monastery have specific lineage deities, so sand mandalas mostly focus on the lineage deity of the specific monastery. Unfortunately, mandala ‘writers’ are very rare in Upper Mustang, hence a monastery is forced to hire the services of a sand mandala writer from another monastery which has a different lineage deity.
  • Astrology and Healing - The lamas have an inextricable link with the villagers, particularly in performing religious functions associated with the stages of life: birth, ordination, marriage, death. Lamas have been performing these functions on the basis of astrology. Likewise, lamas treat sick villagers using ancient methods of healing, using different mantras. Since there are no hospitals in Upper Mustang, then the lamas play the role of healers. However, there are very few lamas who know these ancient traditions of astrology and healing, thus the urgency of this training need.
  • Religious text writing and woodblock printing - The tradition of text writing, paper making and woodblock printing has become extinct, thus the need to revive these crafts.