THUBCHEN, AND LURI GOMPAS
In the desert east of Lo Monthang, sandstone cliffs and bluffs have
been fluted by wind and weather into fantastical formations, like
serried, tapered pillars or organ pipes. These cliffs are pitted
with caves, and such a cave forms the inner sanctum of Luri gompa,
a small jewel of Buddhist art. The gompa, covered with a red wash,
perched on a ledge on a one hundred-meter high cliff, stands out
against the sand and bone-colored sandstone pillars. (A newer gompa
is found below on the valley floor; although more easily accessible,
it is of no art-historical interest.) The part of Luri gompa visible
from the valley below is its mud-brick superstructure, perched on
a ledge on one of these sandstone pillars. Photographs make it appear
that entrance to the gompa is obtained by scaling this pillar, yet
a winding footpath climbs one hundred meters to a door in a lower
cave, inside which a notched log leads up to the gompa itself. A
single entrance door opens into the outer chamber.
The outer chamber, containing a shrine, is painted very crudely,
apparently at a later date than the paintings within. This outer
chamber leads into the inner room, the cave within the rock.
The treasure of Luri is the inner chamber, a rounded space that
was hollowed out or enlarged and smoothed within the cave. One small
window provides some natural light. In the center of this chamber
is a chorten, six meters high, with painted figures on all sides
of its rectangular base, on its dome, and also beneath the ritual
parasol atop the dome. The domed ceiling is decorated with eight
painted images of Mahasiddhas, circling above the chorten. Along
one wall is a set of painted figures, amd above them a row of nine
small portraits of lamas.
Although no documentation has been found pertaining to this gompa,
its paintings appear to be of earlier date than those in Jampa and
Thubchen, perhaps by a hundred years, which would set them back
to the fourteenth century, or even earlier. While the later paintings
of Jampa and Thubchen belong to the later, more fully developed
Tibetan style, a classical style with elements of Chinese influence,
the Luri images reflect the influence of Indian and Kashmiri style.
The small lama portraits may possible reflect Persian or Byzantine
influence. Helmut F. Neumann has offered identifications of many
of these images (see Bibliography).
The Mahasiddhas were historical persons, yogic masters, and their
collective name has sometimes been translated as "great adepts."
This refers not to a group of scholars but rather to promulgators
and practitioners of tantrism, employing ritual and incantation,
and legends ascribe magic powers to them. According to the legends,
some lived in the forest or in caves, and thus Luri's cave setting
is very appropriate. The Hindu god Shiva is the lord of yogins.
By tradition, they are eighty-four in number. Their historical dates
appear to extend between the eighth and twelfth centuries.