Temple founded 11th c., perhaps restored in the 14th c.
Founded at the beginning of the "Later Diffusion" of Buddhism in Tibet, the modest temple of Yemar has three chapels which were adorned with majestic stucco figures and fine wall paintings. When G. Tucci visited in the 1940s., they were in almost pristine condition, and the Italian scholar made a detailed study of the site (under the name of Ewang), connecting it stylistically with a small group of early monastic foundations in the surrounding region of Nyang.
The building itself is probably the oldest dry stone temple surviving in Tibet today, retaining its red (painted) stone walls, defence parapet, and internal layout. Heavily damaged during the Cultural Revolution, the walls were partly in ruins, and all wooden structures removed, leaving the three chaples open to the sky. Much of the fine stucco sculpture had been destroyed, leaving in two chapels stark figures of denuded Buddhas and bodhisattvas gazing placidly over the desolation of the world. The summer rains had effaced all of the paintings, and were gradually disolving their fine features. But what remains is a sublime and poignant memory of the greatness of the early years of the Second Diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet.
Following a first visit to the site in 1988, H.S. reported to S.W. requesting that doors be put on the chapels, a proper roof put over the whole structure, and that the stucco images be given proper attention, to avoid further degradation, protect them from attempts at restoration or repainting by the local people, and from theft. A first step was made in 1990 (see below).
FIELD REPORT UPDATES
After discussions with the local responsable people, it was decided to proceed with a general clearing up of the site, followed by the reconstruction of pillars and rooves on the chapels, the remaking of the outer walls with their stupa parapet. A detailed budget was worked out (see below), and the local villagers promised not to paint any more of the statues, for since the last visit, one family had provided funds and three statues had been brightly coloured.
The work had been well completed. The exterior walls had been repaired, the rubble cleared out, and the pillars and rooves on two chapels redone.
MAY 1995 (J.H.)
The design of the capitals was based on fragments found in the ruins. A low platform runs around the room, with the principal statue, badly damaged, and surrounding torana, facing the door. Only a few remains of the stucco figures in high relief which once covered the walls now survive and a few small fragments of painting to the left of the shrine. The East Temple has been similarly re-roofed, with the timber work unpainted. Sixteen large plaster figures survive on a low platform running around the walls. The three central figures facing the door have been painted in bright modern oil colours by local people. One family had wanted to look after Yemar, but after the painting the District took over and appointed a caretaker. Further advice was requested on the possibility of removing the paint from the statues. Both district and local officials apologised for poor workmanship at Yemar, due to the lack of skilled local craftsmen, but I think the new stone-work and woodwork is quite acceptable, and is indeed more appropriate in this case than a highly sophisticated finish would have been. The rough stone and simple unpainted timber admirably sets off the beauty of the stucco figures. (But I realise this is a Western, and not a Tibetan, perception of what is appropriate). The director of the building work was in hospital, and so the accounts were not available. A full report had not yet been prepared as the work was not completed. Both accounts and report will be submitted to Heather Stoddard in July.
Three small single-cell chapels are set around an entrance courtyard. A wide stone wall surmounted by a continuous row of chortens surrounds the complex, leaving space for a narrow circumambulatory within. A simple doorway leads through the wall at the northeast corner facing the approach from the valley below. Wall construction is of the local red stone bedded and pointed in mud, with roofs of timber and mud. Following the Cultural Revolution the buildings stood without rooves for many years, interiors filled with debris, statues damaged by weather, and large holes in the surrounding wall. In 1990 Sonam Wangdu obtained ¥-5000 from Central Government and ¥-3000 was raised locally to re-roof the southern temple, but with insufficient funds a roof of stone slabs had to be laid over undersized joists, and this roof is now leaking. The East and West chapels have now been re-roofed with Shalu Association funds. The current phase of work funded by Shalu Association is now almost complete. The collapsed sections of the outer wall at north and south have been rebuilt by the local villagers, carrying through the string courses and chorten detailing of the surviving sections. However, the rebuilt sections of wall are crowned by narrower stupas than the original sections; unfortunately I did not notice this until I examined my photographs. The new stonework looks rather cruder than the original, but will be less so when mud-pointed as soon as the villagers have finished work in the fields. A larger buttress than planned has been built by the villagers to support the eastern wall where it is leaning outwards. A simple wooden doorway has been installed. The ambulatory has been excavated to its original floor level, with over a metre of debris being removed in places. The inner court-yard and the interiors of the temples have also been excavated to original floor levels and all fill removed from within the site. The West Temple has been re-roofed, with two columns and carved capitals supporting a central transverse beam, squared joists and diagonal boarding, and earth above. To date all the timber is unpainted.
The South Temple should be re-roofed to the same standard as the other temples, as the surviving seven statues are threatened by the leaking roof. A wooden grille or bars should be provided to the window over the entrance door, to prevents the entry of pigeons which are leaving droppings on Shakyamuni's head. Some protection should be given to the various loose stucco heads, limbs etc. which tend to be examined none too gently by visitors. Local people wish to build a small hall and monks' accommodation near the temple, but there has been no permission given for this.
The whole village was waiting for us up at the monastery. We inspected the work done, and then were invited to a party with speeches and songs from a bevvy of local beauties. Presents of dried cheese, khataks and delicious roasted barley grains were offered. The headman who has been overseeing the whole operation, presented HS with excellent accounts (the best amongst all the sites), and his own beautiful woven saddlebag. The rooves, doors and internal structures, with new wooden pillars and beams have been completed on the east and west chapels. The whole site has been cleared out, the outer wall repaired, with its "108 stupas", each surmounted by a white stone. A new side door put in, and a butress wall built on the east side to prevent outward collapse. The central chapel needs attending to. Larger pillars and beams are needed, and a new roof. The suggestion that a small dwelling be built for two monks, just below the site did not receive a favorable echo from our Tibetan colleagues, who are in favour of keeping it as a cultural heritage site. There was no religious community there in the 1940s when Giuseppe Tucci was studying the site. A request has been sent in to the Department of Culture to get the military checkpost moved back again further South, so that pilgrims and visitors can have access to the temple. Later perhaps we may come back and see if it is possible to remove the new chemical paint that was daubed on three of the images in the east chapel, by the villagers about three years ago, in an effort to reinstate its religious function. This is the chapel where offerings are made.