About 4,000 choetens and lhakhangs were vandalised in the last 27 years, show police records

Heritage: About 779 choetens (stupas) across the country of the 2,751 proposed for renovation to commemorate the 60th birth anniversary of the Fourth King are restored as of September 9.

Records with the department of culture show that there are about 10,000 choetens and 2,000 dzongs, lhakhangs and temples in the country.

Officials said they are exploring ways to inculcate a sense of ownership of heritage sites in the communities, which has today diminished. The losing sense of ownership of heritage sites particularly choetens, according to officials, was evident from the number of choeten vandalism cases.

“This tells us that our people are not being responsible over joint community ownerships particularly choetens,” chief architect Nagtsho Dorji said, adding that the scenario with lhakhangs was better with caretakers nominated from each household, a trend that is still being continued.

When it comes to choetens, officials said that no one cares and that even after years of vandalism, it still remains unrestored.

The department is also collecting information from each dzongkhag on the number of choetens vandalised, restored and if not restored the reasons for it.

Records with police show that nearly 4,000 choetens and lhakhangs were vandalised in the last 27 years, which is about 148 a year. Last year police recorded a 12 percent increase in cases involving offence against the Ku-Sung-Thukten or statues, scriptures, and lhakhangs.

Despite the rising choeten vandalism cases, protecting the existing choetens remains a huge challenge. “All we can keep informing people is to be more responsible and feel for the common assets that you have for your community,” Nagtsho Dorji said. “It’s a situation you don’t have 100 percent control over despite knowing what the problem is.”

The Royal Bhutan Police’s initiative of installing CCTVs in choetens and lhakhangs, according to culture officials is a good move but of the 10,000, only less than 100 is expected to receive attention.

Trashigang dzongdag Lungten Dorji said that except for few, almost all choetens in the dzongkhag were vandalised. “It is still being vandalised including choetens located near houses,” he said.

There are more than 1,000 choetens in the dzongkhag. Since 2011, about 400 choetens were renovated where the relics (zungs) were installed with support from the dratshang and villagers contributing labour.

Lhuentse’s cultural officer Tashi Phuntsho said that 172 choetens in the dzongkhag were proposed for renovation, which should have been completed by October 10. However, he said that so far only 64 were renovated as per the list he received.

“After several awareness programmes, choeten vandalism has dropped to some extent,” Tashi Phuntsho said. “To discourage people from vandalising choetens and if there is a need for dzees (cat’s eye) to be installed as zung, it is crushed in to powder.”

Besides choeten vandalism, the department of culture is also in the process of assessing choetens and lhakhangs across the country. “We’ll see what needs to be done and if there is a requirement for new construction, where should it come up,” Nagtsho Dorji said. “We’ll prioritize accordingly and report to the government.”

The department is also looking at streamlining the budgetary release. While the government is the main funding agency, officials said that if private individuals were interested, the department would see where it is necessary.

Nagtsho Dorji also said that they would look at ways to improve the living conditions of the monks. When building dratshangs, it needs to be seen whether the area has provisions for water supply and cleanliness, among others. “With young growing monks, they are like any other children who require good living conditions,” she said.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay in his state of the nation report address in the last parliament said that there are 8,065 choetens in the country with 4,226 in need of repair many of which were vandalised.

To commemorate the 60th birth anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth King, lyonchoen said that all choetens around the country are being restored.

“So far, a total of 1,238 choetens in seven dzongkhags have been repaired,” lyonchoen reported in his address. “I urge the dzongdags, local government and people to repair these heritage and to let me know if you need government help or approvals.”

Kinga Dema