Cultural guidelines in the pipeline

Culture: In a move towards preserving the country’s tradition and culture, the Department of Culture of the home ministry is working on forming guidelines that will identify inappropriate activities.

The guidelines will impose restrictions on the use of religious masks for entertainment purposes such as in films and body building competitions. Recently, the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority disallowed the screening of a film in Bhutan following what it deemed to be an inappropriate usage of masks.

The guidelines will also cover issues such as the taking of pictures using drones, the use of religious objects such as jaling (traditional ritual trumpets) and butter lamps for decorative purposes in hotels and restaurants. The painting of dzongs and monasteries such as Paro Taktshang on vehicles for aesthetic purposes, the offering of statues and artificial butter lamps without zungs in lhakhangs across the country, are other issues that the guidelines will address.

This guideline comes after the department, on January 10 this year, issued a circular to all dzongkhags disallowing the carving or painting of religious figures and scriptures on cliffs and rocks along roads.

Cultural Properties chief Phendey Lekshey Wangchuk, said the restriction comes after the department found that people are not taking care of these sites after initially painting it with figures of gods and religious scriptures.

“Not only the culture but the essence of these Buddhist spiritual figures is lost along with their sanctity and value. We see it as a misuse of the culture and the significance these figures carry,” he said. “It was found that people are defecating near these sites, which is a sad state defeating the very purpose of these paintings.”

However, the restriction is not applicable to those who need to paint religious figures and scriptures in order to address the presence of a demon that threatens the lives of people or to remove obstacles in a particular place, Phendey Lekshey Wangchuk said. “To do this, one has to seek permission from the relevant agencies.”

If such a guideline is not in place, Phendey Lekshey Wangchuk said religious objects will be used as decorative items, and one will not be able to differentiate between a home and a lhakhang in the future. He added that without such guidelines, there may come a time when even bars with a choeshum (altar) will be deemed as acceptable.

Before the guideline is in place, issues will be discussed with relevant stakeholders and then brought to the awareness of local government officials, he said.

“In this way, we will be able to decentralise the decision so that community members will have an equal say in addressing such issues in the future,” Phendey Lekshey Wangchuk said. He added that such issues have not been addressed so far due to the lack of such guidelines. He said that it is hoped that the Cultural Heritage Bill will also be passed in the upcoming Parliament session.

Thinley Zangmo

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