Three artists worked together to sculpt the stupa, which took 25 days to complete.
Since 2013, villagers of Phyang, Ladakh in Northen India have been protecting trees and crops from droughts in their cold desert climate by building “ice stupas” inspired by traditional Buddhist architecture. These stupas store water in the winter and irrigate fields in the spring when the weather warms and drought strikes, as Lion’s Roar previously reported.
This year, three young local artists added to the project by sculpting a more traditional stupa inside an ice irrigation stupa in Phyang. The artists hope their work will send a message of impermanence that will draw attention to the realities of global warming, attract winter tourists, inspire more ice sculpture artwork, and support villagers’ livelihoods, The Better India reports.
The sculpted stupa took a total of 25 days to complete and brings a greater sense of religious symbolism to the project. As an integral part of Ladakhi Buddhist heritage, the artists included features usually associated with stupas, including a crescent moon cradling the sun at the top of the stupa, which represents the cessation of duality and the oneness of life.
The artists, Tsering Gurmet, Chemet Dorjay, and Stanzin Khangsar, travelled to Sweden to experiment with different ice carving techniques before making their own ice sculpture. While Gurmet is a master sculptor, this was the first time any of them had worked with ice.
“It was a wonderful learning experience for all of us,” Gurmet told The Better India.
They chose to use flat knives to assemble ice blocks, which they laid similarly to cement blocks. Any damage to the sculpture was repaired easily with a mixture of ice powder and water.
Growing up with snowy winters in Ladakh, Dorjay often thought ice could be a medium to create art. In a YouTube video that chronicles the making of the stupa, Dorjay remarks how happy he is to be working with ice as an artistic medium.
Sonam Wangchuk, the engineer who created the original ice stupas, invented the project to fight climate change, which manifests in the Himalayas as severe droughts and floods. The people of Ladakh build the stupas each winter by using a pipe to spray river water onto a latticework of dry brush. It then freezes into large, conical towers. These towers are built without pumps or electricity, as the pipe runs downhill and gravity forces the water onto the brush.
The ice stupas can grow tens of meters tall and store up to 16,000 cubic liters of water. In 2017, one reached 78 feet — unofficially the world’s tallest manmade ice structure.
While the sculpted stupa is much smaller at roughly 10-feet-tall, Dorjay says that it has made a big impact on the local community.
“What I witnessed was amazement in the eyes of the people seeing an ice stupa inside another one for the first time,” he said.
Watch the artists create the ice stupa and discuss its significance below: