Volume 57 Number 1, September 2005

Ladakh: Culture at the Crossroads (Reprint 2010)

Edited by: Monisha Ahmed, Clare Harris
Binding: Hardcover
Specifications: 124 pages, 120 illustrations
ISBN: 81-85026-71-8
Dimensions: 305 x 241 mm

This is the first volume to combine essays on the history and ongoing production of art in Ladakh and to recognize both Buddhist and Islamic contributions to the cultural environment. Drawing on recent research in the region, this book covers subjects ranging from the analysis of key sites and prominent contemporary artists, to the interpretation of metalwork, jewellery, and textiles. This publication will appeal to those with an interest in the Himalayas, art, Buddhism, and Islam.

Monisha Ahmed is an independent researcher based in Mumbai. She has been visiting and writing about the Himalayan region of Ladakh since 1987. She has a doctorate in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford. The subject of her dissertation developed into the book Living Fabric - Weaving Among the Nomads of Ladakh Himalaya (Orchid Press, 2002), which won the 2003 R.L. Shep award of the Textile Society of America for the year's best book on ethnic textiles. She spends several months of every year in Ladakh, continuing her research on the region's material culture.
Clare Harris is Curator for Aisa at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Lecturer in the School of Anthropology and Fellow of Magdalen College at the University of Oxford. She is the author of a prize-winning book, In the Image of Tibet: Tibetan Painting after 1959 (Reaktion Books, 1999), and edited Seeing Lhasa: British Depictions of the Tibetan Capital 1936-1947 (Serindia, 2003) in conjunction with the exhibition (of the same name) she curated in Oxford. She is currently the director of a major research project, "Tibet Visual History Online", and continues to conduct research in the Himalayas.

Monisha Ahmed and Clare Harris

House and Fortress – Traditional Building in Buddhist Ladakh
John Harrison

Islamic Architecture in Leh
Ghani Sheikh

Metalworking in Ladakh
John Clarke

The Turquoise Headdress of Ladakh
Ravina Aggarwal

Textile Arts of Ladakh: Nomadic Weaves to Silk-Brocades
Monisha Ahmed

Reshaping Tradition: The Life and Work of Nawang Tsering
Clare Harris

Recent Painting Traditions of Ladakh: Central Tibetan Styles in Far Western Tibet
David Jackson

A Short Biography of a Contemporary Buddhist Painter
Erberto Lo Bue


Ahmed, Monisha and Harris, Clare
Vol. 57 No. 1, September 2005; ISBN:81-85026-71-8, pp. 10-19

The guest editors touch upon the history of Ladakh and the pioneering studies by Europeans in the 19th century. The innovative research in this volume is intended to acknowledge that Ladakh is by no means a mono-culture. Beng situated at a crossroads on Central Asian and South Asian trade routes, its uniqueness may be characterized by its diversity. Ever since Ladakh opened up in the 1970s to tourism and academia, in many ways the culture of Ladakh is being threatened, and yet opportunities for revival have been provided.

House and Fortress: Traditional Building in Buddhist Ladakh
Harrison, John
Vol. 57 No. 1, September 2005; ISBN:81-85026-71-8, pp. 20-33

The ruins of hilltop fortifications are found throughout Ladakh. Comparisons with still-occupied settlements suggest that these ruins were sometimes villages clustered around the castle of a local ruler, and sometimes an independent settlement built for self-defence. As defence became less imperative in more settled times, villages began to disperse into their fields, and the rulers' palaces were built in more accessible locations. Ladakhi buildings, whatever their size and status, have the massive masonry walls and timber columns and beams typical of Tibetan architecture, using the materials immediately to hand. The building of a house necessitates the appeasement of local deities, with many protective devices against malign forces, but these ancient beliefs are overlaid by, and co-exist with, Buddhism. It is hoped that the traditional forms of Ladakhi architecture, growing from the Himalayan landscape and a unique Tibetan Buddhist culture, can survive the pressures of modern development.

Islamic Architecture in Ladakh
Sheikh, Abdul Ghani
Vol. 57 No. 1, September 2005; ISBN:81-85026-71-8, pp. 34-43

It is not known precisely when Islam first came to Ladakh but some sources suggest it was the late 14th century and that a mosque at Shey confirms this dating. However, other scholars claim that it took several more centuries for the Muslim community to be fully established. Their presence was made evident with the construction of a mosque at Leh in the 17th century. Around that time the Ladakhi royals shifted resilience from Shey to Leh and commissioned a Muslim architect to design the nine-storey palace that still dominates Leh town. This article presents a brief survey of one of the most visible reminders of the presence of Islam in Ladakh in the form of religious buildings; the work of Muslim craftsmen who contributed to the creation of other significant buildings in Leh, such as Senge Namgyal's palace, is also noted.

Metalworking in Ladakh
Clarke, John
Vol. 57 No. 1, September 2005; ISBN:81-85026-71-8, pp. 44-55

The article traces the history of the craft in Ladakh back to original settlers from Nepal in the 16th century and examines evidence for their involvement in the production of the large metal images that still exist in the temples of the region. There follows a discussion of the craftsmen/farmers living in the Zanskar village of Chiling, who are the heirs to the former Newar settlers. The range of contemporary products, types of commission, and modern working methods amongst the two predominant groups of goldsmiths or sergar and blacksmiths or garra are also discussed and illustrated. The types of work are found to overlap extensively, though work in iron is the exclusive realm of the blacksmiths. The innovative modern craft of building steel stoves, a speciality of blacksmiths, is also examined. Lastly there is a discussion of the future of the craft in the face of today's economic and social conditions in India and its chances of long term survival.

The Turquoise Headdress of Ladakh
Aggarwal, Ravina
Vol. 57 No. 1, September 2005; ISBN:81-85026-71-8, pp. 56–65

This essay describes the turquoise headdress, popularly known as perak, worn by women in Ladakh. By exploring the material composition, regional variation, economic significance, and social and symbolic relevance of the headdress, it provides a lens through which we can understand the historical and contemporary culture of Ladakh.

Textile Arts of Ladakh: Nomadic Weaves to Silk-Brocades
Ahmed, Monisha
Vol. 57 No. 1, September 2005; ISBN:81-85026-71-8, pp. 66–81

Though the origins of textile production in Ladakh can only be elicited from mythic and oral accounts, the writer provides a history of their production and contexts of use. Drawing on visual sources (such as the famous murals at the Alchi Sumtsek), travellers’ tales, and her own fieldwork, she analyzes the varied role of textiles – as dowry goods, religious offerings, clothing, and traded commodities. In this latter case, Ladakh’s cultural sphere is seen to extend through a network with vast geographical spread.

Reshaping Tradition: The Life and Work of Nawang Tsering
Harris, Clare
Vol. 57 No. 1; September 2005, ISBN:81-85026-71-8, pp. 82–93

In the early 1990s the writer interviewed a number of artists in Ladakh as part of a wider project for her doctoral research on visual culture in Tibetan Buddhist communities. Amongst them was the Ladakhi sculptor, Nawang Tsering, whose massive clay figure of Chamba at Thikse monastery had already begun to earn him a reputation as one of India’s most respected art practitioners. Harris’s essay provides an overview of Nawang Tsering’s career, technique, and aesthetic concerns and attempts to position his work within a set of debates about traditionalism and modernity.

A Short Biography of a Contemporary Buddhist Painter
Lo Bue, Erberto
Vol. 57 No. 1, September 2005; ISBN:81-85026-71-8, pp. 94-103

This article records 40 years of wall painting by Tsering Wangdu, one of the foremost traditional Buddhist painters in 20th-century Ladakh, in temples, monasteries, and hermitages belonging to all Tibetan Buddhist religious orders, both in Ladakh and in Nepal: Likir, Leh, Sangkhar, Sabu, Sagti, Spituk, Stok, Chemre, Chumathang, Nyemo, and Bodhnath. The religious inspiration, the technical skill as well as the wide-ranging iconometric and iconographic competence of Tsering Wangdu - to whose painted scrolls a special exhibition was devoted in Leh in 2004 - were recognized at national level with an important award in 1977 for a scroll especially painted for the Kalachakra initiation performed by the Dalai Lama in Ladakh. The author argues that Ladakhi artists such as Tsering Wandu have played a crucial role in upholding both Buddhism in Ladakh and the Tibetan artistic tradition after the Chinese invasion of Tibet.

Recent Painting Traditions of Ladakh: Central Tibetan Styles in Far Western Tibet
Jackson, David
Vol. 57 No. 1, September 2005; ISBN:81-85026-71-8, pp. 104-121

The writer assesses the question of style in Ladakhi painting. He capitalizes on his experience of visiting Ladakh in the 1970s, coupled with extensive knowledge of Tibetan textual and visual sources, to provide a response to two crucial questions: to what extent can the roots of Ladakhi painting be said to derive from Tibetan sources and which schools of Tibetan art have been the primary inspiration for Ladakh's painters. The misconception is that Ladakh and all of Western Tibet were dominated by a "universally present Lhasa style".