An aesthetic voyage of Indo Tibetan painting: Alchi and Tabo unfolds a fascinating world of Indo Tibetan paintings adorned in the early Buddhist temples of the western Trans Himalayas, the region bordering Tibet. The extensive research, in the most difficult and land locked terrain until recent times, was carried out to identify and document the meticulous details of paintings that carried the significant influence of various connecting regions resulting in a significant aesthetic form.
The book carries a realistic approach on the stylistic modes of paintings that emerged in the virgin space that was documented meticulously, analysed scientifically and appreciated aesthetically, since 1976 onwards. The well organised with illustrations, the text deals with a mature style which records its transformation into another aesthetic expression before declining in its own native land. Moreover, the emphasis is laid on the cohesive progression of the art tradition forming in a geographical area which may really be called a melting pot of cross-cultures. Evolution of the style, dealt in the book, shed light on the important components that developed in the background of a more eclectic, generous but heterogeneous socio-cultural milieu encircling the region of ancient Kashmir, Western Tibet, and Western Central Asia with a network of Silk Route. The visual culture in form of painting, preserved in the ancient temples of Alchi and Tabo do not only document the socio-cultural and religious ties with India, at the time of second diffusion of Buddhism in the land of snow, but it carries a statement of human genius that was evolving on more liberal and cross-cultural attitude of medieval society in a rugged and complex territory in a larger context, which set a new paradigm in the contemporary economic globalisation.
Dr. Ajay Kumar Singh, a pioneer in the field of Western Himalayan Art, has persistently been working in the region stretching between the rivers Indus and Yamuna in the inner Himalayas, since 1976. To document the antiquities and also to record the changing paradigms, he has been exploring the region extensively and has discovered several sites. He has meaningfully translated the research into teaching for which University of Bonn, Germany, entrusted him with the honour of Guest Professor during 1996-97.
Dr. Singh has worked in several international projects those include, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes in Kinnaur Valley, sponsored by the Institute of Comparative Research in Human Culture, Oslo and Art Heritage of Lower Satluj Valley, DFG, Germany. He has delivered a number of lectures in many European Universities, participated in more than dozens of International conferences abroad and he has numerous scientific research publications to his credit.
At present Dr. A. K. Singh teaches History of Art at Banaras Hindu University.
The region between the river Indus and Sutlej in the Western Himalayas has been remained an important place of strategy. Buddhist monastic enclaves Alchi and Tabo are premier establishments associated with second diffusion of Buddhism in the Trans Himalayan regions of Ladakh and Spiti. The region, culturally felt Tibet out of political Tibet; preserves unique cultural heritage representing the synthesis of Indian and Tibetan cultural traditions along with conglomeration of many elements from surrounding regions. Western Trans-Himalaya having close proximity with Iran, Central Asia, and International Silk Road grew into an international zone of trading which ultimately evolved a syncretistic character and life style that is very well expressed in the art of the region. Ladakh and Spiti respectively situated in present Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh States of India and sharing common geographical and topographical character, once formed unified territorial Western Tibetan Kingdom where some of the premier Buddhist monastic establishment of the second diffusion have survived. Particularly, Alchi and Tabo within the Indian Territory are oldest establishments with magnificent murals that acclaim the highest aesthetic achievement of the medieval frontier societies.
The present work deals with amazing and magnificent synthesis of artistic traditions of India and Tibet, along with several traces of surrounding cultures those have crept in mainstream with passage of time. The area being situated in close proximity to the famous Silk Route developed into a zone of international trading and finally stimulated the growth a unique aesthetic expression that can be called international. The murals of Alchi and Tabo acclaim the highest aesthetic achievement of the frontier societies nurturing values of international understanding, peace, and harmony among the people of different ethnicity. Alchi and Tabo both are survived pride establishment associated with the second diffusion of Buddhism in the Tibetan world. The Himalayas embrace some ancient and amazing cultures, which have remained geographically and culturally very distinct. These cultures are expressed in their vernacular art, which, in contrast to international art, represents both place and culture in the anthropological sense. Vernacular art mirrors historical and geographical forces and it provides insight into social aspirations, and thereby is important in understanding social behaviour. Most aspects of the art forms of painting, dance, music, embroidery, architecture, and sculpture are regionally distinct. What unique culture is India; it is because of the Himalayas. The Himalayas, world’s largest but youngest mountain system known for its natural grandeur, command a profound status in the Indian religious, cultural, and philosophical milieu. The gigantic snowy ranges of Himalayas create natural boundary separating Indian subcontinent from West Asia, Central Asia and Tibetan Plateau. Nevertheless, Himalayas has had been formidable barrier for exodus Hence the extensive stretch of the Himalayas falls into two zones; the Western and the Eastern Himalayas. Western Himalayan valleys protected by the lofty mountains preserve a rich heritage of art and culture about which still not much is known. In general sense, whenever, the Himalayan painting is discussed, the painting of Kangra commands the prime status, but the Himalayas preserve a rich and outstanding art heritage in the form of medieval Buddhist painting, which transformed into the Tibetan expression and amazed the world and also clubbed with the Persian zed idioms of the Mughal painting manifested in fullest lyricism as the Kangra painting.
In fact the history of Himalayan paintings begins from most probably in Kashmir. Since the discovery of the wall paintings in the Buddhist Temples of ancient western Tibetan provinces, presently many of them located in Indian Tibet or Indian Trans Himalaya are most authentic and valid evidence of the school which has been instrumental throughout the historical period in the western Himalayas. Due to the expansion of Islam in Kashmir this tradition died hard.
Present study attempts to focus on the rich tradition of western Himalayan paintings with especial reference to the Buddhist temples Sum-tSek, Alchi in Ladakh and tSug Lha-khang(Du-khang ),Tabo in Spiti, since the specimens of mural painting are preserved in these two temples least disturbed from the time of virtual execution. The paintings adorning the walls of these old age temples unfold a fascinating history of the origin and development in this region of western Himalayas, which had been a part of the complex civilization encompassing Iran, Kashmir, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Western Himalayan provinces including the Tibetan high land. The paintings belong to a general period from 10th to 13th centuries. Banking on this material, a story of the origin and development of the wall painting in the land of snow can be reconstructed.
This study is mainly focused on the wall paintings of oldest temples at the Alchi and Tabo monasteries belonging to the 10th and 11th century, a period of Buddhist renaissance in western Tibet. Mainly the frontier regions of Ladakh and Spiti which once were the part of western Tibetan empire experienced tremendous Buddhist activities under the patronage of royal dynasty of western Tibet, especially the King Ye-she-od and his favourite Lotsawa Rinchen-bzang-po. It is known through the historical records that the King Ye-she-od chosen twenty one intelligent boys of his land and sent them to Kashmir for educating them in Buddhist religion, and Sanskrit. Only two returned successful after completing the task rest died due to unfavourable climatic conditions of Kashmir, as this way lower land for highlander Tibetans.
Lotsawa Rinchen-bzang-po, after spending seventeen years in Kashmir, brought with him a group of scholars, craftsmen, and monks to begin a renaissance In his native land. In the first phase of temple building. he obtained the services of seventy-five craftsmen and painters of Kashmir, who introduced the art of wall painting and sculpture of their own style and period into western Tibet His biographers clearly confirm that the greet translator and temple builder Rinchen-bzang-po paid three visits to Kashmir to obtain resource personals to accomplish the great campaign of revival of Buddhism. He also paid visits to Ladakh and other provinces of western Tibet mNgaris to establish Buddhist convents. The temples and Buddhist establishments those are listed as 21 is valuable repository of ad heritage belonging to the finest achievement of the Buddhist art of the western Himalayas. The most remarkable feature of the wall paintings is that in the first phase it all had been painted by the Kashmiri painters of the 10th and 11th century, who enjoyed the adorable period of the art in north-western India. Unfortunately examples of highly accomplished tradition have vanished in its own native land.
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