Burma’s Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library has called on the public to pitch in for the preservation of hand-painted murals in the famed ancient city of Bagan, urging well-wishers to make cash donations to restore hundreds of paintings in pagodas scattered across the area.
The department’s Deputy Director General Thein Lwin told The Irrawaddy that while the department, which operates under the Ministry of Culture, has received support from several foreign organizations and the UN cultural body, Unesco, it is not financially strong enough to carry out all of the necessary restorations.
“As there are more than 400 pagodas [housing murals], it is not easy for us to take care of them with our annual budget. There has been international assistance, but still it is not enough,” he said. “If people make contributions, we can preserve the murals.”
Ananda Temple, one of Bagan’s most well-preserved and frequently visited temples, is among the sites with intricate murals requiring regular maintenance. This and many other pagodas in the Bagan Archaeological Zone had fallen into disrepair over the centuries since they were built, ultimately undergoing whitewash treatments by the former military junta in the 1990s.
The restorations have been criticized for—among other things—obscuring original features of the artifacts. Ananda Temple has since undergone further restoration with technical assistance from the Archaeological Survey of India.
Thein Lwin said that the walls have undergone four rounds of whitewash removal and the paintings have been “restored to their original condition,” adding that with the help of Unesco the department has already restored paintings in about 100 temples.
The Burmese government has taken steps to nominate Bagan as a Unesco World Heritage Site, and officials within the organization have predicted that it will be added to the roster within the next few years.
The Bagan area spans about 42 square kilometers (16 miles) and is peppered with more than 3,000 temples, built between the 9th and 11th centuries, when some 55 Buddhist kings ruled the Bagan Dynasty.