Monastic: Samdrupjongkhar dratshang has all the facilities a monk would need. Admission, food and lodging are free.

There are other benefits too. The dratshang contributes Nu 860 to each monk annually into a welfare scheme. It provides Nu 100,000 in case of death of a monk or a family member.

Despite that, the dratshang is seeing enrollment decrease every year. The dratshang established in 2009 didn’t see any enrollment until this year, when four new boys joined them. Only 60 monks occupy the hostel built for 80.

This is worrying the dratshang officials said.

Dratshang Drungchen, Pema Tashi said, the older ones are leaving.

“If the trend continues, we won’t have enough monks to conduct important kurims (rituals) and there will be no monks to run the dratshang in future,” he said.

Pema Tashi said they hired monks from Pemagatshel to conduct the annual moenlam chenmo (great prayer ceremony) last year.

“It has also become difficult to conduct the annual tshechu and fulfill the needs of the local residents,” he said.

Worried, the dzongkhag tshogdu deliberated on the issue last year. The dratshang requested local leaders to help them find young boys interested in becoming monks.

“We thought the DT could be a good way to raise this concern and get the help to increase enrollment,” the Drungchen said.

Four gewogs had responded, but the situation is not encouraging. Most preferred sending their children to school or study in shedras or monasteries outside the country.

“Only the poor sent their children to the dratshang,” he said. “Most send their children to study in religious institutions in Sikkim or Mysore in India.”

The dratshang’s Lam Neten, Sangay Tshering who joined recently too is anxious. He said there are not enough people to fulfill the dratshang’s main responsibility – to conduct rimdo and kurim for the country’s peace and security.

“His Holiness the Je Khenpo had personally requested people to send their children to the dratshang during the moenlam chenmo, but we have not received a single child,” he said.

The Lam Neten said many are under the false impression that dratshang still practices corporal punishment, which discourages parents from sending their children. “It is not true,” he said.

He said there are so many options these days for children and parents to choose from. Lam Neten is planning to visit gewogs and encourage school dropouts to join the dratshang.

Predominantly a Nyingmapa sect following region, villagers prefer sending their children to the Nyingmapa institutions. Institution like Choki Gyatsho Institute in Dewathang is seeing three children on an average joining them almost every two to three months. The institution has 150 monks.

“We usually take in 30 monks every four years, but parents are bringing children whenever they want,” the Kudrung (discipline master), Jamyang said.

Parents who spoke to Kuensel said with free education, it was better to send them to school. “The future is better with modern education,” a farmer, Sangay, from Phuntshothang said.

Records with the dzongkhag education office show the school enrollment has been increasing every year.  The 29 schools in Samdrupjongkhar have 6,786 students today.

By Yangchen C Rinzin, Samdrupjongkhar