SOAS University of London

Documenting collections in the remote 15th century Tibetan Buddhist Chödzong Monastery, Upper Mustang, Nepal

18 October 2021

Christian Luczanits provides an update on his latest fieldtrip to Nepal in summer 2021.

In this year’s field research campaign of the AHRC-funded project 'Tibetan Buddhist Monastery Collections Today', Christian Luczanits was invited by the Norbusum Foundation to document the collection of remote Chödzong Monastery in Upper Mustang, Nepal. Built around a 15th century painted cave housing impressive images of protector deities documented previously, the monastery has been built on a cliff in an uninhabited valley four hours horse ride from Lo Manthang, the historic capital of Mustang (Figure 1).

Figure 1: View of Chödzong Monastery, which can be recognised by the improvised tin roof protecting its fragile structure on the cliff  (photo C. Luczanits).

Figure 1: View of Chödzong Monastery, which can be recognised by the improvised tin roof protecting its fragile structure on the cliff  (photo C. Luczanits). 

Chödzong’s small collection of images and books has always been exposed to the danger of being taken and sold illicitly. It is said, that its distinctive sculpture of Milarepa, an 11th century Tibetan saint, has been taken multiple times, but was returned again when misfortune hit the takers (Figure 2). To the surprise of everyone, the documented objects included 12th century sculptures and book covers.

Figure 2: The Milarepa image of Chödzong Monastery; Mustang, ca. 1500, brass, 44 x 32 x 26 cm (photo C. Luczanits).

Figure 2: The Milarepa image of Chödzong Monastery; Mustang, ca. 1500, brass, 44 x 32 x 26 cm (photo C. Luczanits). 

The monastery is taken care of by the Chödzong Gönpa Management Committee based in Lo Manthang in cooperation with the local Ngakpa community, a group of tantric practitioners many of whom also joined to perform the yearly ritual for the protector deities of the cave (Figure 3). 

Figure 3: Group photograph at the end of this year's campaign in front of Chödzong Monastery (photo Kunzom Thakuri).

Figure 3: Group photograph at the end of this year's campaign in front of Chödzong Monastery (photo Kunzom Thakuri).