Rural communities struggle to protect their religious heritage

The issue of not having caretaker in monasteries and dratshangs in the country has been discussed since mid 2000 but such issues still prevail in rural communities especially as the young and educated leave the villages for urban areas and rural houses become empty.

The National Assembly of Bhutan before the advent of democracy has passed a resolution that rural communities must take care of their own lhakhangs by appointing their own caretaker and paying them if need be so.

Though concerned organizations and rural communities have been working towards solving such issues, the problem of not having enough caretakers in lhakhangs and monasteries is continuing and even growing in some places.

Gup  Karma Tshering of Khamoed Gewog in Gasa said, “In order to look after lhakhangs and monasteries, people in our Gewogs have take turns to look after it.”

“We have decided that in a year 12 households will look after the lhakhangs and monasteries and they take a turn to take care every one month,” he said.

He said it is not fair that they work without any remuneration and the responsibilities are so huge for these people because if any antiques, relics or properties of the lhakhangs and monasteries are lost, those 12 people who are responsible for looking after it will be held accountable.

“The dratshangs that we have couldn’t appoint any Koenyer for the monks are quite small and since a long time ago we have been requesting for the government to look into these matter but so far we haven’t receive any support from the government,” the Gup said.

Dokar Gewog Gup in Paro, Lhab Tshering said, “In our Gewog there were a lot of problem of not having caretakers in the monasteries and lhakhangs in the past, though it only slightly better these days.”

He said the problem mainly arises, since lhakhangs and monasteries are located in the far-flung areas and the roads are not in a good condition.

Until recently there was no caretaker in the Tashidingkha monastery and the Doleykha Lhakhang, sometimes has to be closed since the caretaker stays back at the village during farming activities.

“There are 20  major lhakhangs and 3 dratshangs in Paro Dzongkhag and so far there is no report of any burglary cases but we are worried that it may happen at any time and have reminded people to be cautious about such incidences,” he said.

Gup Wangchuk of Barp Gewog in Punakha Dzongkhag said, “In our Gewog there three lhakhangs and we faced such problem of not having caretaker or koenyer before and so now we are trying to manage them.”

The problem is more severe in many villages of eastern Bhutan which have seen higher levels of migrations and empty village homes. This has affected the upkeep of small local village shrines.

In fact many local Gups this paper talked to agreed that one contributing factor to the increasing number of Chorten vandalization  cases is the lack of enough local people to properly care and protect their heritage.

However, Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs Secretary, Dasho Sonam Tenzin claimed that many of the lhakhangs and dratshangs in the country have either caretaker or Koenyers.

He said that in the bigger lhakhangs and monasteries the government has appointed either caretaker or Koenyer, and some get pay and some get remuneration. He said that likewise in the community Lhakhangs, people take turns to look after the lhakhangs and it is only in abandoned lhakhangs and monasteries where there won’t be any caretaker.

Gup Pema Dorji  of Chaskhar Gewog in Pemagatshel said, “Right now we don’t have any issues of theft cases but it may happen in the future and it will be better if the government could provide us and install CCTV-Cameras.”

The last data with MoHCA shows that there are around 2,000 lhakhangs and goendeys, out of which 423 were owned by the government, 849 were community lhakhangs, 647 privately owned and 88 were owned by high profile Trulkus and lams.

According to the officials with the Department of Culture, the department is currently collecting the data on how much lhakhangs and monasteries are there in the country and they are also looking into the matter of whether they have caretaker or Koenyers.

Without proper caretaker or Koenyers in some lhakhangs and dratshangs, people have been not been able to perform rituals and any religious activities annually.

It is believed that for not being able to carry out annual rituals with the absence of caretaker or Koenyer, it brings disharmony and bad luck to the people of that particular locality. Moreover in the absence of caret takers there is a high chance of burglary.

This story was made possible due to support from the Department of Information and Media


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