Revealing Sculptures

Gumrang (གུང་རང་) is a charming small village on the north-western slope of the lower Bhaga valley (called Gar) in Lahaul, only about half an hour’s walk from Kyelong (ཀྱེ་ལང་). At the top of the village is a small temple, its original parts in a ruinous state (◊ Gumrang). The temple contains twelve badly damaged clay sculptures together with extremely fragmentary remains of paintings on the entrance wall and on the ceiling (◊ Gumrang Paintings). Apparently the whole of the back wall, i.e., the wall facing the slope, collapsed or had to be replaced, as none of the clay images is in its original position. However, the fragmentary state of the sculptures means that they are extremely revealing in respect of the technique used for making them.

Eleven of the clay sculptures are placed on a comparatively narrow ledge (only about 35 cm deep) along the back wall. One goddess, seated on the ground in front of the ledge, is surrounded by other fragmentary remains of sculptures and their frames. The comparatively small size of the images and the relative differences in size between them suggest that the original composition resembled that at Lalung, Alchi etc., and covered the main wall (◊ Gumrang Sculptures).

  • Luczanits, Christian. Buddhist Sculpture in Clay: Early Western Himalayan Art, late 10th to early 13th centuries. Chicago: Serindia, 2004: 107–12.
  • Luczanits, Christian. "Another Rin chen bzang po Temple?" East and West 44 (1) (1994): 83-98.

Beyond the Publications

As I learned after the publications, fortunately two photographs of the main wall taken by Henry Lee Shuttleworth (1882–1960) are preserved in the British Library (link to the relevant collection) that clarify the configuration of the sculptures. The four-headed Vairocana at the centre of the wall performed the gesture of highest awakening (bodhyagrīmudrā) and was flanked by the two standing Bodhisattvas. The makara head was once part of the structure framing the main image, and the lions have once supported his throne, the frame of which was already fragmentary then. The four other esoteric Buddhas and the four goddesses were seated on either side of Vairocana. As I had expected from their relative sizes, they were seated side by side in two rows. Since the goddesses were seated on the inside and the Buddhas on the outside, the former may still have been understood as mothers of the families rather than the Buddha's wisdom consorts (prajñā), but an ambivalence in this regard may well have been intended. All goddesses appear to have performed the gesture of argumentation (vitarkamudrā) with their right hand and have the left at the hip. Since their colours are not entirely clear they cannot be identified individually.

The configuration on the main wall accounts for ten of the twelve images, only the original position of the Buddha in monastic robes and the fragment to his side remain unclear. They may well have been part of a complementary configuration.