The 16th century Yakgang Lhakhang in Mongar is crumbling under the weight of age and disregard. The temple, built by Pema Lingpa’s youngest son, Sangdag, plays a vital role in the lives of the local residents.
Like many other temples across the country, Yakgang Lhakhang, besides being a place of worship, houses sacred objects. It is where both locals and those from afar seek solace.
To sight dilapidated and abandoned sacred structures commonly is shocking. But the people can only watch in agony as the cracks on the walls and other parts of the temple widen.
The Mongar dzongkhag tshogdu members in the recent session last week agreed that the government should fund the renovation of such historic monuments and sought help from the home and cultural affairs ministry.
With almost every village and every mountain dotted with lhakhangs, state funding for each of them would not be enough. According to records with the Department of Culture, Bhutan has 2,468 lhakhangs, of which 713 are private lhakhangs. Only about 382 belong to the government and are looked after by the Zhung Dratshang.
But such problems are not limited to Yakgang Lhakhang alone. Many more lhakhangs are in dire need of repairs in many remote pockets of the country. For instance, a temple in Phajoding remains mostly locked as the custodians live in Thimphu town. Its sacred contents have been repeatedly burgled in recent years and the structure remains in a dismal state.
So state support for repairs and renovation of these lhakhangs is not sustainable.
A Cultural Heritage Trust Fund was established in 1999 with an initial fund of Nu 31.267 million. But the fund cannot be used until it reaches USD 5 million. There are no additional contributions to the fund besides the accumulated interest.
The government has allocated Nu 2,025M in fiscal year 2019-20 for the preservation of traditional and cultural heritage and to continue reinforcement of identity and sovereignty.
Every monument falling into disrepair and ultimate demise leaves us poorer socially, culturally and economically – considering their tourism potential.
With tourism spreading out to dzongkhags and communities in earnest, such lhakhangs should become part of tour packages or programmes charging a nominal fee on visitors. TCB could create a common fund for such significant structures from the fees and provide monetary support for routine repairs.
Exhibitions of relics from these temples on auspicious days could be arranged at a centralised venue to generate funds for the renovation.
The corporations, as part of their corporate social responsibility, could invest in these invaluable fragments of cultural heritage that are fast fading into oblivion.
Bhutanese are generous and willing to give if the cause is right. A national fundraising campaign to supplement the Cultural Heritage Trust Fund could reap bigger dividends. It could go a long way in preserving our cultural heritage that breathes life into our society and serves as the mainstay of our mental wellbeing.