Jampa Gompa

Thubchen Gompa

Luri Gompa




Jampa is set back within an enclosed space behind a wall along the lane outside, and is reached through a door in this wall. The extraordinary structure within the wall consists of a three-storied building of which the lowest story fronts onto a large courtyard.

The unusual feature of its configuration is an earthen platform, projecting forward in two wings. The three sides of this larger supporting platform partially extend over a central courtyard. They are supported by wooden pillars with carved cross-beams and decorated with the heads of lions. Jampa's external dimensions are 42 x 25 meters. The interior eastern and western walls are slightly over thirteen meters in length, and the southern and northern ones are 9.8 meters long.

External stairs lead up to the middle level, which is the main story. It is entered by a single door on this second story.

The third or top story is virtually inaccessible, and can be entered only by obtaining a ladder and climbing through what appears to be a window on the east wall that may once have been a door. There are indications of former doors, two on the east wall and one on the north wall, now closed in and plastered over. Even though this third level may have been reserved for initiates only, presumably there was access by means of a stairs leading to a superstructure, both having long since crumbled. An opening remains in the roof for a former set of stairs. This opening has exposed this floor to weather and caused extreme damage to its paintings.

Like its sister gompa, Thubchen, the exterior of Jampa is stained with a red clay wash.

The central feature of Jampa is an enormous gilded clay statue of an enthroned Jampa (Maitreya), the Buddha of the future age, approximately fifteen meters high, which until recently was the largest statue in Nepal. In the light from the open door, the huge golden figure glows softly. The base of Jampa's throne is set into a smaller room at the level of the courtyard. The paintings on this first floor have faded almost to invisibility. The body and crowned head of the statue rise into the lha-khang--the second, or middle floor, where they are covered with a full ceiling overhead. From the third, topmost floor, the statue is not visible.

The Main Floor

The main or second story, the lha-khang, is rectangular, with its single door set into the east wall. When open, it is the only source of light, as there are no windows or skylight. As the statue is set directly against the west wall (opposite the door), it is not possible to make the customary circumambulation. (This is possible, however, in the small room on the ground floor, holding the base of the statue.) The width of the lha-khang is thirteen meters and the length is 9.8 meters. Its height is approximately five meters.
The major element of the design is the double row of large mandalas that encircle the great room. To the left of the door, as one enters, are two registers of three mandalas each, superimposed above each other, six in all. The southern wall has six mandalas in each register, twelve in all. The west wall, separated into two sections by the statue, has two large superimposed mandalas on each side of the statue. The northern wall repeats the pattern of the southern wall, with two rows of six, twelve in all, six of which have been virtually obliterated by seepage of mud and water. The section of the east wall, to the right of the door, is similarly symmetrical, with six mandalas in two registers. Alongside the door, on either side, are four stacked, superimposed squares, containing images of various manifestations of Mahakala. Thus there is a total of forty large mandalas, each approximately 1.5 meters in diameter, with some variation in size; of these, thirty-four remain sufficiently undamaged to be seen. Wrapped by mandalas, this lha-khang is a hall of inner vision and magic possibilities, the walls swirling with mandalas believed to have power, with a deity at the core of each who can be made real.

Positioned in the spaces between and beside the large mandalas are smaller ones, of which sixty-six can still be seen, as well as small roundels or vignettes containing images of individual deities. Tucked into the small spaces between vignettes and mandalas are a few charming miniature images, where artists perhaps seized the opportunity to add their individual touch to the overall plan. Twined around all the mandalas, great and small, and wreathed around the vignettes, are scrolling vines and flowers. Thus there is no empty space; rather, the painted areas in their entirety are patterned into a brilliant and intricate tapestry.

Although, as mentioned above, Buddhist art is almost always unsigned and anonymous, in a few places some artists very discreetly wrote a few words and sometimes their names, not with a large flourish but in very small script. In one, the artist Tungchen wrote that these paintings were made to ensure that all prayers made here would go directly to Maitreya (Jampa). Another, Chogyong Wangchu, expressed his desire that all may enjoy a long life, free of sickness. And a very small inscription tells that Palpo Devananda came [from Kathmandu: "Palpo" is the Newari name of what we now call Nepal] and made this painting: as rain falls from the sky, making people rejoice, let this mandala, like the rain, bring peace, and happiness.

Below the mandalas on part of the eastern wall is a painted frieze of protector deities. A band of written inscriptions (see Appendix B, Inscriptions), and a band of small painted vajras, extend around the base of the painted sections, forming a border. Below this border, the walls are merely painted black. From the floor, this lower portion is about 110 cm high.

The upper, third story, almost inaccessible today because of structural damage, may possibly have been reserved for special or higher initiates. This floor is 2.75 meters in width and 3.4 meters in length. The northern end, which once accommodated a stairway to the building's roof, is partially open to the sky. Owing to this open skylight, damage to the walls has been extensive, with sections defaced by water and mud, and the colors altered because of exposure. As on the floor below, large portions of the paintings on the north wall have been totally obliterated. Of its large mandalas, twenty-nine are more or less legible, each about 1.2 meters in diameter, and approximately one hundred vignettes can still be seen.

The third story is a hall of tantra, painted with a single row of thirty-one mandalas, all of them tantric, with couples in yab-yum in the center of each. Whereas on the floor below, one is surrounded by Dhyani-Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, wrathful deities and Dharmapalas, this upper story is given to yi-dams amd their mandalas. Between the mandalas are smaller vignettes depicting yi-dams, singly and in yab-yum, and minor supramundane beings. Dakinis dance and some leap into the air, performing acrobatic feats. These mandalas are much less complex and ornate than the ones below, and thus their central figures stand out more prominently. Instead of the concentric rings of fire, lotus petals, and vajras that encircle the mandalas on the floor below, the outer rims of these mandalas depict charnel grounds, with severed limbs and fierce beasts--a feature of tantric imagery. The space around the mandalas is also much less richly decorated, with no scrolling vine, flowers or tiny secular images. Athough the colors are faded or darkened through exposure, the palette appears to have been much more restricted and austere.

There are twenty-eight large mandalas in a single register on the upper floor: seven large mandalas on the east wall, seven on the south wall, four on the north wall, and ten on the west wall. These are interrupted on the west wall by a Buddha flanked by two standing Bodhisattvas. Below the mandalas are groups of small roundels.

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