Murals in the Jokhang Temple (大昭寺) in the Tibet autonomous region’s capital of Lhasa are currently undergoing the most extensive restoration in their 1,300-year existence, according to local cultural relic officials.
The restoration project, funded by an investment of 10 million yuan (about 1.6 million U.S. dollars), was launched in early June and is expected to be completed in three years, said Li Liangqi, deputy director of the Lhasa cultural relic bureau.
The Jokhang Temple, located in the heart of Lhasa, was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2000 as one of the top destinations in the world for Tibetan pilgrims.
Centuries of erosion have cracked many of the temple’s religious murals, which led officials to start the restoration, Li said.
The restoration process began when the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage was invited by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage to examine the murals and create a detailed restoration plan for each mural, Li said.
“The murals will be restored in the same way as they originally were. The work is not expected to happen quickly, but will be delicate,” he said.
Li said traditional pigments will be used for the restoration, adding that 30 local painters spent months training in Beijing to tackle the job.
Li said waterproofing work has already started on the murals.
“Each mural alludes to something and tells the story of Buddha. They were painted by top painters gathered by the fifth Dalai Lama,” said a Lama named Nyima Tsering from the Jokhang Temple.
“They (the murals) are a form of heritage from our ancestors. We felt hurt to see the cracks. It is virtuous to repair them,” Nyima Tsering said.
“We started to copy the paintings a few years ago when we saw them falling apart. We thought this would be useful someday for restoration efforts,” he said.
Although the murals have been repaired before, the current restoration project is the largest in the temple’s history, he said.
The temple itself previously underwent two years of renovations starting in 2009 to repair the temple’s wooden structures and earthen walls. Other renovation projects were also undertaken in the 1970s and 1980s.