PAST PROJECTS | 2010 - 2016
Conservation of a 700 year old temple, its wall paintings and clay sculpture attributed to the Great Translator Rhinchen Zangpo in the picturesque village of Kanji.
The main work on the conservation of the temple and its decorative features was first begun by members of the Achi Association, Zurich in 1998 and the conservation of the temple was completed under the auspices of the Achi Association India after its establishment from 2010 - 2016. Work campaigns mostly lasted for 3-4 weeks each year during summer and for the rest of the year the temple was maintained by its caretaker family of the Skyapa House (more recently known as Kagarpa), one of the three principal houses in the historic core of the village. Konchok Tinlas, the youngest of three brothers from the family, and a former monk now inherits the responsibility.
Kanji is a village located in the Kargil district of Ladakh at around 3875 metres above sea level. It is home to one of the oldest village temples in the region dedicated to Buddhist deities Avalokiteshvara, Medicine Buddha and Tara (locally the temple is called the Tsuglakhang). The temple is attributed to the great translator Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055) and is stylistically dated to approximately 700 years old. It was probably created at a time when the village was under the royal patronage of the kingdom of Wanla.
The Kanji temple lies at the foot of the cliff on which the historic core of the village stands. Although the temple must have been well kept for over centuries for it to have survived at all, it was neglected during the last century when the caretaker family fell on hard times, which led to its deterioration. Urgent conservation was necessary because of the temple’s fragile state of preservation and the high quality of its interior decorative elements – the sculptures and wall paintings.
The Kanji Tsuglakhang is a small square plan building on an open, eastwards sloping site. The building is made of mud bricks on stone foundations (similar to most traditional buildings in Ladakh). The walls are plastered with a mud mortar, which is covered by several layers of white wash drawn from local lime-rich clay called karsi (it was scientifically analysed and concluded that the material is decomposed stone). The investigated samples of Karsi from Kanji showed a silvery shiny material with a fatty/talcum-like touch and consists of some very fine-grained carbonate minerals and fibrous serpentine minerals. On the entrance wall, under some layers of this white wash, wall paintings were uncovered in one of the campaigns.
The temple also has a porch that has a central pillar and a crudely-carved capital. There is a small central doorway on the south wall, which provides light for the interior. Within the chapel a central pillar and carved capital carry the main east-west beam, which is also supported at the outer ends by unusual brackets and struts. Secondary beams which are covered with wooden boards run from the main beam to the north and south walls. It was deduced from its macroscopic appearance that the wood used for the temple construction and the decorative elements are deciduous, but soft-wood like Poplar or Willow (both, locally available but not in great abundance).
There were several problems with the temple for which it needed attention. The movement of the east wall opened a large crack in the south-east corner, 10cm wide at the top, and a crack in the north running through the wall. The two large external eastern buttresses, built by the Lamayuru monastery in 1996 and sponsored by Togdan Rimpoche, stopped further outward movement (confirmed by paper trails placed in 2000). It was reported that the temple once had an upper roof, removed some 40 years before, when the roof timbers were reused in the building of the new village temple (gompa). This upper roof was a solely a protective device, only 3-4ft/1m high, with a south entrance and a short central pillar. However, its removal had caused water seepage.
Most of the wood which was exposed to outdoor conditions for a long time were damaged or had a corroded surface and showed multiple shrinkage cracks. There was evidence of insect attack as well. The traditionally applied red paint, due to its water solubility, was partly lost. The cohesion of the paint, but also its adhesion to the support, was found to be poor and a result of the ageing process of this glue bonded paint. The surface oxidation of the paint had caused a darkish patina. The surface was soiled by dust and earthen deposits caused by various temple-renovation measures, and the wood in some areas had stains due to water spotting or to formerly wet earthen based coating. The door showed signs of wear. The original ceiling parts of the interior temple were obliterated and damaged by soot, dust and earth. Visible water marks were caused by former water seepage or wet earth penetrating through the ceiling boards.
The main decorative elements inside the temple were studied in detail by art historian and Tibetologist Christian Luczanitz. Most apparent are certainly the three larger-than-life sculptures at the back wall depicting the four-armed Lokeshvara flanked by the Medicine Buddha and a Green Tara and all the painted surfaces on the walls are structured in sections by dark yellow borders that set off the black background. In the corners a strip has been left undecorated with only the background colour painted in.The top and bottom of the painted surfaces are decorated with common border motifs. At the top there is a row of geese and a valance motif representing a hanging cloth (typical of temples attributed to Rhinchen Zangpo). All the walls are covered with Mandalas dedicated to various deities and protective gods and goddesses.
To know more about the paintings click here (https://www.achiassociation.org/activities/sites/kanji/tsuglag-khang/reports/description-of-paintings-and-sculpture/)
The Kanji Temple with its double-layers roof parapet.
Wall painting conservator Alexandra Skedzuhn-Kafir working on wall paintings.
The image of Goddess Tara in the Kanji Temple.
Consultation with the Kanji community before the conservation was undertaken.
Clay sculptures of Medicine Buddha, Vairochana and Tara in the Temple.
Repair of the roof which was collapsing due to overloading and other structural defects.
The Conservation initiatives over the years focused on stabilizing the temple structure at its foundations, providing support to the de-stabilized east wall and reduction of debris from the roof to reduce load on the building. This was followed by relaying of the roof and creation of a parapet on the roof. This was followed by full conservation of the decorative elements viz wall paintings and sculptures including consolidation of plaster and paint layers, filling and reintegration of paint and cleaning of soot and mud deposits. The floor of the temple was repaired and covered with wooden planks as per traditional norms. A few parameters for worship were set and communicated to the caretaker family so that future soot deposits could be avoided. While the project involved a number of architects, conservators, scientists and historians, the main project team included John Harrison, (architect, UK), Wolfgang Heusgen (architect from University of Graz, Vienna), Deldan Angmo (conservation architect from Ladakh), Martina Oeter, Barbara Sadelczek, Alexandra Skedzuhn-Safir, Sven Trommer, Phillip Schubert, Suzanne Bosch, Joyoti Roy and Heike Pfund (wall painting conservators), Christian Luczanits (art historian) and Christine Blauer (Scientist). Local craftsmen Sonam Wangchuk and Sonam Dorje (masons) were also involved from the village.
To read the full work report over the years download the pdf here. Images and Text: Achi Association, Zurich.