Buddhist wall paintingPainted images are highly valued as tools representing the teachings of the Buddha. Buddhist wall paintings representing protector deities line the walls of temples across Nepal and other countries in the Himalayan region. The sketch above is the basis for the first decoration in the sacred center of the Chhairo Gompa in the country’s Lower Mustang Region.

An expert guiding the work

Buddhist wall paintingLama Shashi Dhoj Tualachan of Chhairo Gompa is a world-renowned thangka painter as well as a Buddhist monk. He has overseen the gompa’s restoration from the beginning and since 2004, has worked with volunteers from Restoration Works International (RWI).  After years of preparation, the fine artistry of Buddhist wall painting has begun.

Shashi Dhoj belongs to a family of artists dating back generations. The family has been responsible for many of the sculptures and wall paintings in Chhairo and gompas in the area.

A Tukuche native, Shashi Dhoj was instrumental in the rebirth of the Chhairo Gompa and provides the modern-day link to the ancient Tibetan Buddhist traditions. He is also working to establish a traditional Buddhist art center that will provide training to both the monastic and secular communities at the monastery.

The Buddhist wall painting process

The wall paintings are done in seven distinct phases: preparing the walls for painting, making the paint, placing the guidelines on the walls, sketching out the designs with charcoal, painting in the main outlines, filling in the outlines with paint and finally, painting in the faces of the deities.

Master Shashi Dhoj is personally responsible for sketching the designs and finalizing the paintings. RWI volunteers and Shashi Dhoj’s assistant, his brother Chakra, have provided help with the other steps in the process.

Buddhist wall painting
Buddhist wall painting begins with plastering and whitewashing the walls with two coats. Here, a volunteer applies whitewash.
Buddhist wall painting
After the walls are ready , paint is prepared on-site by creating a gelatin base. This involves boiling cowhide for several days and straining it to remove lumps.
Buddhist wall painting
A small pot of each color is mixed until a smooth consistency is reached. This can take up to 30 minutes per color. Because the paint contains gelatin, it must be warmed before it can be applied.
Buddhist wall painting
While the paint is being made, Shashi Dhoj measures and places guidelines on the walls using a chalk line.
Buddhist wall painting
After the guidelines are drawn, Shashi Dhoj begins sketching the base design with charcoal.
Buddhist wall painting
Shashi Dhoj paints in the outline with a very fine brush, making the outlines permanent.
Buddhist wall painting
After the outline is painted in, Shashi Dhoj’s assistant, his brother Chakra, fills in with color.
Buddhist wall painting
This painting decorates the public veranda of a temple in Kathmandu. At Chhairo Gompa the restoration work long underway has now reached the stage for bringing the walls of the interior rooms of worship to life with dynamic paintings of protector deities much like these.

The final step will be to paint in faces of protector deities. The completed works will eventually cover all four walls of the gompa’s sacred center.  Once that is done, only  monks will be allowed into this space. Until then, RWI volunteers have a marvelous opportunity to see a master at work.

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This post is my contribution to Noel Morata’s Travel Photo Mondays on his beautiful blog, Travel Photo Discovery. Take a look!

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Thank you Ortovox for supporting my trip with superb cold weather clothing and exceptional rain gear.

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  1. Tom, thanks for your posts (and getting involved in this project)! Love the way you allow your quality pictures and neutral reporting tell their own story so it looks like I can travel and see for myself . Great!

    • Thank you for your comment.
      I really loved my time on the Chhairo Gompa project and the opportunity to be the photographer on the project. Why don’t you consider joining a trip? Restoration Works International (RWI) will run more volunteer trips this autumn.

  2. Wow, I love this art in the making, it was a gorgeous post, thanks so much for sharing and linking up today for Travel Photo Mondays


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