National Museum’s tryst with Ladakh culture gains momentum

New Delhi, Nov 7: The age-old culture of Buddhist-dominated Ladakh is bracing for a fresh breath of life amid winds of modernity, as the National Museum is documenting the intangible cultural heritage of the remote Himalayan plateau known for its distinct dance, music, cuisine, architecture, costumes and agriculture which have evolved over centuries.

The effort of the National Museum Institute (NMI) to work with Ladakhi people to develop inventory on their unique lifestyle has gained renewed vigour with brighter prospects of a string of museums coming up in the high-altitude valley.

The ongoing project on ICH (intangible cultural heritage), which has support from the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), aims to safeguard the region’s heritage in the wake of increasing pressures of new-age needs, tourism and globalisation.

Dr Venu V, who is Director-General of National Museum, said today that NMI’s department of museology was giving in-service training for the personnel from several monasteries dotting Ladakh so as to realise the ambitious task.

“True, the area has several monasteries, some of which serve as museums on local Buddhist religion, art and culture. Maybe more such heritage repositories are set to open, but NMI is helping them adopt new techniques of conservation, display and documentation,” he added.

Prof Manvi Seth of NMI, which is a deemed university providing higher education on art history, conservation and museology, informed that the training programme has been designed with special consideration to the needs of Ladakh. “We have identified three remote villages in the region; work is already on at Gya. The broad topics being covered in this module are around documentation (of museum objects and of ICH), preventive conservation and security,” she added.

Chiktan and Skurbachan are the two other villages where NMI will work on exploring the nature and range of ICH. “At present, substantial data has been collected from Gya,” Prof Seth informed.

The mission has invited praise and enthusiasm from Ladakhis. The LAHDC, which is based in Leh where the museum is proposed to come up, has sought the cooperation of organisations working in Ladakh for better collaborations in the conservation of culture.

“We have a unique heritage, but its richness is now being dishevelled by a mounting storm of tourists,” said LAHDC Chief Executive Councillor Rigzin Spalbar. “It will be excellent if there is a raise in the standards of existing museums or ones being set up in monasteries.”

Dr Venu noted that the 14-month-old endeavour, overall, has been leading to a growing consciousness in Ladakhis to uphold their heritage. “Museums have a vital role in safeguarding, documenting, communicating and promoting the culture and heritage of a region and community,” he said.

NMI has been informing and equipping monks and curators managing museums in Ladakh’s monasteries to deal with the basics of museum management and preventive conservation. “The idea is to raise their standard to a level where it will require only minimum intervention from outside. Also when a project proposal in the field of conservation or museum management is put before them, they must know to judge it by themselves and not let their objects/monasteries become experimentation ground,” said Prof Seth.

The region preserves its heritage at two levels: community (in the villages) and by monks (in the monasteries). While the material for heritage conservation needed for architectural heritage are stored in monasteries, it is the people at large who own the other intangible assets such as collective memory, legends, songs, dance and rituals.

The Ladakh ICH project, which is on since September 2012, turned a new leaf recently when NMI organised an in-service workshop last month. The six-day event, which concluded on October 28, discussed the relevance and significance of community participation in collaborative efforts in the field of heritage conservation.

Besides Prof Seth and Mr Spalbar, the event was addressed by Central Institute of Buddhist Studies Director Wangchuk DorjeeNegi, Gompa Association president Geshe Konchok Namgyal, besides NMI Registrar Prof M. V. Nair.

There were also presentations made by Abeer Gupta, who leads the research team on Ladakh ICH, besides fellow members Stanzin Naljor, Lobzang Stantiz and Tashi Dorjay. They covered the basic socio-cultural survey of Gya, and came up with an in-depth report on the documentation of Gya’s Losar celebrations, stone-carving, Amchi medicine and weaving practices.

Prof Seth noted that people in Ladakh want a museum in Leh which collects, documents and represents all aspects of a their heritage, life and culture in tangible and intangible manifestations.

“It seeks to become a platform not merely for preserving physical collections but for connecting the younger generation with their own identity, for stimulating dialogue on the present issues concerning culture, and for providing a mechanism for understanding and channelising the future course of cultural change,” she added.

The project must lead to two types of museums in Ladakh. One is a bigger and central one, based in Leh, which will be representative of entire Ladakh, its heritage and culture. The other will be smaller museum in the villages of Ladakh, set up by villagers for themselves and for tourists their heritage and way of life.

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