Conservation of the Painted Chorten at Sumda Chun, Ladakh, India (2013-14)

Painted Stupa at Sumda Chun

Conservation work was undertaken in the summer of 2013 on one of the earliest recorded painted chortens (stupas) in the village of Sumda Chun, located in the remote mountainous region of Ladakh in northern India. This marked the culmination of a long and successful program carried out on the Sumda Chun monastery complex by the World Monuments Fund in partnership with the Namgyal Institute for Research on Ladakhi Art and Cultural Heritage, the project having earlier received an award of excellence in the 2011 UNESCO Asia-Pacific awards for cultural heritage conservation.

Although the partially collapsed chorten, dating to the thirteenth century, had been structurally stabilized through civil works implemented in 2010, the paintings decorating its interior walls were on the verge of being lost on account of deterioration through exposure to the elements for many years. Particularly grave was the separation of the render from the masonry, an imminent threat that without timely intervention could have led to widespread losses of the highly significant painted surfaces.

Detailed documentation, stabilization, and consolidation of the wall paintings was carried out by a team of conservators from Art Conservation Solutions in collaboration with Himalayan Cultural Heritage Foundation (HCHF), supported by World Monuments Fund and the village community. Priority was given to securing the flaking paint and separating plaster. Original paintings that were hidden under layers of later added lime-wash were revealed through careful cleaning during the course of other works.

The project would not have been realized without the active participation and involvement of the village community who took keen interest in the program and ensured that all logistical and administrative requirements were satisfactorily met. With the possibility of a motorable road reaching Sumda Chun being highly likely in the near future, the conserved paintings and site would soon be available to a wider audience of devotees and visitors for better appreciation.

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