Frescoes being repaired in Bagan

Writer: 
Ko Naw
Repairing a bas-relief in the Myinkaba cave pagoda. (Photo-EMG)

The frescoes and bas-reliefs in the Myinkaba cave pagoda in Bagan, Mandalay Region, are being repaired, sources say.

A magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck 25 kilometres west of Chauk Township in Magway Region on August 24 and devastated hundreds of historic pagodas and religious buildings in Bagan.

Thein Lwin, deputy director-general of the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library, said: “The frescoes in the Myinkaba cave pagoda are one of the finest from the Bagan era. Thanks to the Unesco [UN cultural body], the frescoes look shinier than they were before. We will clean and take documents of the frescoes. The detailed work can take up to 10 days.”

The earthquake did not affect the frescoes in the cave but the ones in the stupa, a dome-shaped structure, above it.

Kyi Lin, a fresco expert at the department, said: “We worked together with the UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] to maintain the Myinkaba frescoes in 1983. We contracted Unesco in 1975 after a 6.5-magnitude quake hit Bagan in July that year. Then we signed another contract in 1981. Then I went to Italy for six months to study frescoes. There shouldn’t be a gap between the wall and the masonry. You can find it out by knocking the surface of the relief. If a hollow sound returns, you know there is a gap and that it cannot withstand a tremor.”

He added that some plaster fell off when the quake hit because of contraction and expansion of the plaster induced by the weather and erosion over time.

“We delayed maintaining the frescoes,” Kyi Lin said.

Cleaning the frescoes is a tricky business since they are vulnerable to chemicals and the experts have to employ soft brushes and sponges and wipe off the dirt patiently, said Kyi Lin.

The pagoda was built by Prince Yarzakumar in 1113AD, shortly after the death of his father, King Kyansittha of the Bagan Dynasty.

The maintenance of frescoes is also being carried out at the Ananda pagoda and the pagodas will be closed until the repair work is finished.

Translated by Nay Thiha