Ladakh differs from other Tibetan cultural areas by a long lasting tradition of stone carving. Buddhist stone sculptures, including monumental reliefs, were already noticed by travelers in the region at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Although they are without doubt one of the main sources for the understanding of early Buddhism, both from a historical and religious perspective, they have been the object of scant research.
About 30 stone sculptures, either in the form of relief or stele, have been published so far. To date, the most detailed work on the subject is that of Phuntsog Dorjay (who defended his Phd on the development of Buddhist Art in Ladakh from c. 800 to 1200 A.D. at the University of Jammu in 2006). More recently, previously unknown Buddhist stone sculptures were published by NIRLAC in Legacy of a Mountain People – Inventory of Cultural Resources of Ladakh (2008).
Martin Vernier initiated an inventory of the Buddhist stone sculptures of Ladakh in 2003, still under way.
To date (Spring 2016), 210 Buddhist Stone Sculptures have been inventoried, all over Ladakh and only a few sides valleys remain unexplored.
For each stele or bas-relief, the documentation consists in: a descriptive form (size, subject, attributes, state of preservation, etc…), photographs, and sometimes drawings as well as a plan. When existing, local information (local name, cult, etc…) linked to the pieces has been recorded.
This inventory aims at :
- allowing a better preservation of this heritage. If some Buddhist stone sculptures are still subject to popular worship, some others are in great danger of destruction.
- making available a coherent set of data to other scholars for multidisciplinary analyses.
The publication of the inventory in form of a catalogue is under process by Martin Vernier.
It will encompass all data relative to the location, technology (for example size and depth of the sculpture), iconography (for example identification of the deity, its attributes and attitudes) and style (for example garments and jewels). Previous documentation (publications, archives) for each piece, when available, will also be included. The publication will include spatial, functional, stylistic and chronological analyses of the Buddhist stone sculptures.
Hopefully this publication will ensure the durability of the artworks and enable to discuss their conservation with the local religious and non-religious authorities and institutions dealing with the preservation of Ladakhi heritage.