It was not the mantras or sutras that was reverberating from the hills surrounding Thimphu yesterday afternoon. It was the frantic requests of a monk appealing to the crowd to settle down and behave, as the Memorial Choeten where a wang ceremony was held got crowded.
The voice got louder as more people thronged the choeten. Assurance of refreshment reaching where people were seated didn’t work. More got up and rushed when the wang finally began. Those controlling the crowd, police, DeSuups, scouts, organizers and volunteers were overwhelmed.
In the rush, it would be right to guess that some of the hands that touched the bowing head was that of the policeman controlling the line and not that of the Dorji Lopon who was presiding over the wang ceremony.
It was an auspicious day and albeit the rush and the unruly crowd, nobody complained or created any trouble for the organizers. But going by how the crowd behaved and how they were managed, there are a lot of things to learn in managing crowd in Bhutan.
Large crowds are a normal part of the Bhutanese life. Whether at tshechus, prayer ceremonies or at dzongs and monasteries on auspicious days, the crowd is getting bigger and bigger now. But this is not an overnight change. Bhutanese had been gathering for wang ceremony and tshechus. What has not improved is crowd management and the behaviour of the crowd. We had some incidences where children were injured or even killed when the crowd became unruly.
Like the monk on the loudspeaker said yesterday, it was better to behave, receive the blessings and return home safely instead of getting injured and visiting the hospital. The crowd at religious ceremonies like wang comprise of old and young, children and parents carrying newborns in the hope of getting blessed. This increases the risk of injury and even disasters.
Quite often it is women and children that return home disappointed and dissatisfied.
It is time that crowd management becomes an integral part of our gatherings. All who organize events that attract crowd should ensure that crowd safety is an important part of the event. For that, perhaps, we could provide adequate training to our police force or DeSuups in safety management system, which anticipates, monitors and controls potential crowding risks. This will become handy as big gathering happens quite often. Even a little bit of coordination and clear roles and responsibilities could help manage the crowd better.
The Memorial Choeten is a busy place. It will be good if we can further develop the space around the choeten. We had been conducting wang ceremonies for ages. We know what kind of logistics is needed. And it is not much. All we need is space for the lam to move around and people to conveniently receive blessings.
The problem is when we don’t learn from after going through a grueling experience as organizers, event managers and as public. The talk of the crowd overshadows everything today when someone returns from a wang.