Inside the Jokhang Jowo Sakyamuni Chapel – Digitization of Tibetan Monastery Treasures
An Evening Presentation by Professor Luo Wenhua, Senior Researcher, Religious Affairs Department, Palace Museum, Beijing
Drinks Reception at 06.30pm
Presentation at 7pm
Close at 8pm
Tibetan Monasteries today are vast repositories for innumerable Tibetan Buddhist cultural relics. Dating from as early as the 7th century, these sacred statues, thangkas, and murals etc. reflect influences from multiple traditions - Swat, Kashmir, East India, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, and China. The existence and extent of these great stores of artistic wealth is essentially still a mystery and very little, if any, has been formally identified, let alone studied or examined. In 2013, on behalf of the Palace Museum, Beijing, Professor Luo Wenhua initiated the effort to catalogue and digitize the immense trove of Tibetan Buddhist relics starting with the murals of Gongkar Chode Monastery and Phuntsoling Monastery in the Tibet Autonomous Region. By enriching the murals’ intrinsic cultural value, proper administration and protection of cultural relics stand a better chance in Tibet and especially in the monasteries themselves. This endeavor soon led to the milestone collaboration with the Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa.
Undoubtedly Tibet’s most revered religious structure, Jokhang Monastery was first commissioned in the 7th century by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. Songtsen Gampo’s armies ranged as far as northern India and Nepal, threatening even the Tang emperors in China. It was through the marriage alliances with the Chinese Princess Wencheng and the Nepalese Princess Bhrikuti that Buddhism first gained royal patronage and a foothold on the Tibetan plateau. Working alongside Jokhang personnel and lamas who were understandably wary at the beginning, Professor Luo’s team introduced a methodology whereby each single piece of relic was carefully cleaned, assessed, and catalogued (likely for the first time) before being digitized. This unprecedented collaboration proved so successful that Professor Luo was further granted access to Jokhang’s (and arguably Tibet’s) most important shrine – the Jowo Sakyamuni Chapel to digitize the gold statue of the teenage Sakyamuni Buddha supposedly brought by Princess Wencheng 13 centuries ago. Upon completion, Jokhang will have a state of the art database of high quality images of its over 5,000 statues and 1,400 thangkas, each with proper cataloguing and contextual information. This will be the basis for the first digital asset management system for any Tibetan monastery ever.
Professor Luo will share his aspirations and experiences as well as the challenges of this pioneering project the outcome of which will affect not just future research in Tibetan art and culture, but also the current understanding and beliefs of its past.
Professor Luo Wenhua (罗文华) is a senior researcher at the Religious Affairs Department of the Palace Museum, Beijing. He is a professor at Beijing Capital Normal University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He graduated from the Peking University where he majored in Archeology and History. His research focusses on Tibetan Buddhist art and the relationship between Tibetan and Han Buddhism.
* Presentation in Mandarin. Simultaneous interpretation available in English