ONGOING PROJECTS  |  2020 Onwards

Photoksar

Conservation of the Photoksar Temple and its wall paintings.

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The Community of the village of Photoksar, situated on the connecting road from Wanla to Zanskar in Ladakh, requested support from the Achi Association to preserve their old Drigung temple, a 3-storey structure which was in a very dilapidated condition and at high risk of destruction and damage. The interiors of the temple are embellished with very fine wall paintings of exquisite quality and date to mid-18th century. The project aimed at preserving the temple structures and its precious paintings. It also aimed at bringing international and interdisciplinary practitioners together to learn from each other and leave more knowledge about the architectural restoration and wall painting conservation in the region. Given the fact that 2020 saw very few international travels, most of the project was completed with Indian professionals with guidance, particularly in the building conservation part, by board member, Achi Association and architect Hilde Vets from Belgium via online meetings.

Through a survey carried out in 2017, it was however apparent that the murals had suffered much and exhibited signs of decay, most of it being caused by the ingress of water through a decayed roof, adversely affecting the structure and its decorative surfaces. Recognizing the threat posed, a program was initiated by ACHI ASSOCIATION in consultation with the village community to undertake measures for the conservation of the building and its embellishments.  A comprehensive project was developed for the revitalization of the site, with building and art conservation works planned to be carried out in tandem for the structure and paintings respectively.

The old temple complex is situated higher up the village against the rock face of the mountain that is protecting the area from the North. Three chortens mark the start of a tiny path leading up to the temple, which is mostly crumbling down. Earlier a hazardous walk led to one of the small complexes of chortens and the monastery building. During the architectural survey it became clear that the upper room of the temple had been built later on top of the existing temple. Through inquiry in the village, it was learnt that this room was added 120-140 years ago, to serve as accommodation for a visiting Rhinpoche or official. A study of the structure revealed that it was suffering from downward shifting of the column and main beam, outwards movement of east wall and corners and inferior quality of the upper room which threatened the stability of the building.

The paintings were found to have undergone substantial changes in appearance and physical state over the last centuries of their existence. At the superficial level, accumulated surface deposits had reduced the freshness of the brilliant colors used in their execution. These non-original deposits include soot and accretions from the lighting of lamps and settlement of dust and dirt. Cobwebs could be seen randomly distributed all over the painted surfaces, long soot-covered strings being especially noticeable dangling from the roof. Lime-wash splashes of relatively recent origin were present at bottom areas of the paintings. More disturbing was the damage caused by the ingress of water from the roof, causing paint loss, mud-deposition, localized staining and rendering the surviving paint layer in the affected areas unstable.

Structural problems were also found responsible for the deteriorated condition of the paintings. Excessive load on the roof and differential settlement of the building had given rise to cracks and caused bulging of the plaster in the internal wall surfaces. At places, the stresses were acute enough to dislodge chunks of paintings, wider cracks also causing some degree of disfigurement when passing through painted details. Most of the wide cracks had earthen fills from a past restoration effort, such fills also invariably covering areas of original extant paint along the edges of the cracks.

One of the most affected areas due to structural problem was found in the left corner of the south wall which was almost on the verge of falling down. The cracks were very deep and in certain areas it was even see through. The roof on this part had collapsed partially which made the paintings open to the elements. Any sort of liquid infiltration was falling directly on the paintings damaging the painted surfaces at a faster pace than the other areas.

In the year 2020, major attention was given to remedying structural issues and stabilizing the wall paintings to protect them from further damage. The completion of the conservation works will be carried out in 2021.

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