Collecting material for writing a New Indo-Tibetica Series the present author has been conducting a village-to-village survey in Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur-two frontier districts of Himachal Pradesh. The present study focuses primarily on the Buddhist monastery of Ropa, and its astounding wooden and clay sculptural wealth (Figure 1).
The village of Ropa (Tibetan: Ro-dpag, Ro-pag and, Ro-spag) is situated at a height of 2725 m in pargana Shuwa of tehsil Pooh in Kinnaur district, at a distance of 16 km from the national highway number 22 (Figure 2). With the exception of Gyawang village, which is bifurcated into two halves on either side of the Shyaso rivulet, the other four revenue villages in the Ropa valley are located on the left side of the river. The Ropa monastery has been also mentioned in the biographies of Rin-chen bzang-po (rDo-rje tshe-brtan 1977). It is indeed surprising that two early-twentieth century European explorers, namely, A. H. Francke and G. Tucci did not visit this monastery. The district census handbook of Kinnaur briefly says that the Bodh Labrang temple at Ropa is 210 years old (1982: pp. 52-3). The main purpose of this study is: 1) to test archaeologically whether architectural and sculptural remains preserved in this monastery belong to the time of Rin-chen bzang-po; 2) what could be the period of its construction, and other associated sculptural remains preserved in the monastery 3), and to situate this monastery in the overall Buddhist environment that prevailed in the kingdoms of Guge and Purang during the tenth and eleventh centuries. And, finally to assess the importance of the sculptural wealth preserved in this monastery for the study of Mahayana Buddhism during the bstan-pa phyi-dar has been highlighted.
The Ropa monastery: an architectural evolution
Most of the Buddhist monasteries constructed during the 'second diffusion of Buddhism' in a vast region from Ladakh to western Tibet embody certain architectural features that had been borrowed from diverse artistic sources (Thakur 2002: pp. 215-37). Influence of local architectural practices and from areas contiguous to Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur can also be traced to a considerable extent.
The architectural survey of an east-oriented monastery at Ropa carried out in situ seems to suggest two possible phases of construction (Figure 3). The sanctum (dri-gtsang-khang) enshrining five Tathagatas, measures 333 cm by 260 cm. The rectangular hall ('du-khang), however, is much larger and measures 709 cm by 280 cm. In the centre of the hall has been constructed an altar, measuring 147 cm by 110 cm. The main purpose of this altar was to keep oil-lamps burning and to keep other items of rituals and worship associated with the deities of the Vajradhatumandala. A total number of nine pillars (four are square and five round) support the ceiling and an upper storey of the temple. The entrance into the hall is through a door facing east. Sculptural arrangement made during its original construction in the hall and the sanctum remains astonishingly undisturbed. Five Tathagata Buddhas are enshrined on the raised pedestals in the...