Alchi Tsatsapuri

Mahakala, mural Tsatsapuri lama room (east wall), ca. 13th century
Tsatsapuri temple in upper Alchi, Ladakh
Alchi Tsatsapuri site plan by L.Gratz/THF 2006
Manjushri, wall-painting in Tsatsapuri Dukhang (south wall), ca. 13th-15th c.
THF team consisting of mural conservation experts and architects in Tsatsapuri 2006
Alchi Tsatsapuri is a little-know temple complex situated in close vicinity to the very famous Alchi Choskhor in Ladakh. It contains superb early wall-paintings. The Tsatsapuri complex was built sometime between the 13th and 15th centuries, and consists of three buildings arranged around a central courtyard, plus a ruined residential wing. The upstairs room on the western side, which is the oldest part built originally as a residence for a lama, has murals on the northwest wall showing scenes from the life of Drigung Kyopa Jigten Gonpo Rinchen Pal (‘Bri gung skyob pa ‘jig rten mgon po Rin chen dpal 1143-1217). The inscription mentions his nephew Drigung Lingpa (‘Bri gung gling pa), one of the masters responsible for the spread of the Drigung Kagyu school in the western Himalayas in the 13th century (thanks to M. Akester for help with the inscription).

The Drigung school is a sub-school of the Kagyüpa school of Tibetan Buddhism (bKa’ brgyud pa). A pupil of Phagmodrugpa founded the main monastery at Drigung-til in Central Tibet in 1179. Carbon-dating (thanks to Dr. A. Bräuning University of Erlangen) corroborates a 13th century founding for Tsatsapuri.

The central building has a stupa in the centre where presumably the remains of the founder are enshrined. The three-storey Sumtsek building on the eastern side appears to be stylistically and architecturally later than the rest, and curiously repeats the wall-painting program of the stupa hall.

Over the centuries the temple appears to have suffered a decline, and the Drigungpa presence disappeared. The local Tongspon family has been in charge of the temple for centuries. In the late 19th century one part of it was given to Ridzong monastery (Geluk school). But Tsatsapuri came to be little used, with the monks' residential wing already collapsed and parts of the building not entirely stable.

In 2005 the local community have asked THF for help. THF carried out a full survey and study of the complex, and has prepared site documentation and a conservation plan.

Alchi Tsatsapuri, north elevation, apricot blossom time 2008.
Local restoration 1980s, Tsatsapuri Dukhang.
In Tsatsapuri, there is a large amount of preserved historic wall-paintings are reasonably well-preserved, but extremely vulnerable and the roofs are leaking. Some areas have suffered heavy damage through leaks already, and in some areas there has been a dramatic loss of pigments and even complete paint layer.

In 2008, with support from the Embassy of Germany in Dehli and the Cultural Funds of the German Foreign Ministry, restorers Patrick and Christine Jürgens developed an intervention concept, and together with students from Ladakh and from Erfurt and Cologne in Germany have begun working on cleaning, stabilizing and conserving the paintings in two of the three buildings. These are the lama's former residence and reception room (in recent years locally re-named as Latho Lhakhang as the Tongspon family have relocated their family Lhato from a mountain top to here) and the Tsatsapuri Stupa Hall. To satisfy the needs of the local Buddhist practitioners, important images will be iconographically "completed" using distinguishable and reversible retouching in accordance with international standards. Our local team of artisans has begun restoring the structural balance of these buildings and repairing the roofs. A summary report about our work in 2008 in German language is available here.
Detail of Buddha's life story, Tsatsapuri residence (east wall).
Puja for the start of the restoration work in April 2008.
Conservation workshop set up in Tsatsapuri residence hall
Removal of dirt layer from Mandala, lantern of Tsatsapuri stupa hall.
Restorer Patrick Jürgens fills cracks in the paintings with local mud mix 2008
Tsatsapuri team, with Erfurt students in back and local trainees Samsten and Yangchen.
Work in progress: left side original condition, right site completed
Final presentation, Buddha Sakyamuni and entourage, Tsatsapuri residence (west wall).
Copyright, Tibet Heritage Fund