Monday, June 27, 2016

Heritage and sacred sites may be losing as the cultural kingdom await a law protecting it

Phrumshingla National Park gives a lead to such a case in Bumthang…. 

The same tractor rushing down the stones
from the sacred site on June 26 and 27, 2016
It is a sad story and shameful that it has to be known. A country well known across the world as a Buddhist kingdom and a cultural landmark hasn’t much in place to protect such sites that gives this identity. It is until today left to its own faith and when there are cases that fight for the preservation, it is often lost.

These sacred sites were well protected until today just because the local communities regard and preserve it voluntarily. But what if such a person who does not regard these sites for his/her own personal benefit and selfish agenda are on rise in a locality? Will our sacred sites with lots of historical accounts sustain? Therefore the cultural and heritage sites bill is must and timely to be enacted sooner then later.

While I know the bill may be coming soon, many of such heritages sites are facing major challenges because even the environmental protective agencies does not care to make a move rather gives in to their own favouritism.
Therefore I am sure, many of destruction of such historical sites, rocks and forests must have gone unnoticed and uncared. Check it with Lopen Kinzang Thinley and he would point out several such sites already lost to such activities. Take this for example, recently the rock regarded as religious text of Drukpa Kinley in Pangna area of Chimi Lhakhang was almost moved out and destroyed if a village elder hasn’t come to its rescue. I was told the excavator brushing the area for some agricultural project broke it. 

File photo of 2014, rummaged site,
 additional rummaging would have made it worse
Here I have a story of same kind, which has been in the focus of my personal interest because it has a relation to my monastery and also to the country as a whole. The nine spring water source site an important site in the community of Soomthrang_Pangkhar_Beteng chiwog under Ura gewog Bumthang. It is losing its battle to the stone slab extraction by a one single person, while Phrumsingla National Park, the only legal body in the locality with authority to protect it watches from a distant as it pretends to be protecting. The site is being hunted several times in past since 2011 and most recently again the same person rummaged the site on June 26, 2016 and even after requesting the park to stop the extraction, it was found to be continuing. Why would park let it be? I do not have an answer but poses so many other questions.

Extraction of stone slabs was causing destruction on the site that poses risk to dry up the spring sources which symbolizes the continuity of the linage of Nyo Tenpi Nyima and his twin brother Jamyang Dragzer  like the running water. Nine symbolizes infinity, if dried would become zero, to put it in a spiritual superstition (This is Sumthrang monastery’s own analytic belief of why nine spring sources could have appeared during the birth of the Pema Lingpa’s grandfather and his twin brother Nyo Jamyang Dragzer). This is why Sumthrang Monastery puts its importance to protect it and preserve it for the community and the country.

Well, one may wonder why it is so important.  As stated above, it is firstly a site that accounts a historical record of Terton Pemalingpa’s grandfather Tenpi Nima, the grand source of Padling bloodline. The nine-spring water sources and nine different flowers were said to have bloomed in this site when Pema Lingpa’s grandfather Tenpi Nima and his twin brothers were born. Later he built his own temple on the knoll near the nine spring water sources and Pema Lingpa’s father was born in this temple residence known as the Goen Langdrang. It is today in ruins.

Secondly it is not only for being a religious sacred site but also the sites remains to be the part of evidence to the story, which is a historical account of a place and persons. If it is destroyed, without it, any written or oral form would be merely a baseless composition. Any religious sites are the evidence of our history and identity as a culturist Buddhist society, and do we afford to destroy it?

Thirdly, our country boosts its status as the steward of environmental preservation. This particular site is a marsh wetland besides it being the sacred site. These sacred sites all having equal environmental values are until today protected and taken care by sumthrang Monastry under taking a royal command of HRH Ashi Sonam Choden Wangchuck, then the His Majesty's representative in the ministry of agriculture. Until it is revoked and asked to leave at the fate of government agencies, not undertaking the command would be the failure of Sumthrang Chojey to undertake a royal command. Therefore, it is very much a part of Sumthrang monastery’s responsibility to keep this sacred cultural and environmental heritages safe for the community and the country. Rest doesn't care because one have to deal such a rough dealings. We do not care rough dealings, because it is a royal command and also was our duty as it associates to the monastery and it remains to be so in the service of Tsawa Sum, towards the protection and preservation of these valuable sites.

Around that place are plenty of area from where any body can pick up or excavate stone of any kind but why does it have to be only this area that one particular person hunts for stone? Why are the park officials not so strict on the person who has repeatedly defied the restrictions?  Or is it the park, that is providing the support encouraging to do it, if not in written, in silence?

In Afganistan, Talibans made only one attempt to destroy the rock statue of Lord Buddha, but this particular person made several attempts to dry up this sacred site in the pretext of collecting the stone slabs and it continues to do so. And equally, the park is supposedly the partner in crime.  When approached to stop it, park official's reply is often ‘we did not know’. But the site lies just above the high way. On the contrary, what confuses more is, when my parents constructed a toilet for temple using stones from vegetable gardens and refining the agriculture field that has no environmental or cultural impact, the park officials bumps hard citing natural resources protection acts and rules and so on. Summoned my mother several time to the office. I suppose it is an abuse of power. 

Therefore, I could not restrict myself but to put on record my doubts on why the park could not protect this site and continue to bully the one trying to protect the sacred site by allowing the other to do the way he want.
1.     May be the park is weak to undertake and enforce the rules and regulations as entrusted, therefore demanding the evaluation of the park officials. Because I was told the park officials often fear this person because who would tell that they would be fired if he made a single call. But otherwise to an ordinary person, I was told the park would even go to the, extend to fixing camera traps to nap a person, while they would just let this person steal in daylight. If it is permitted, the same office have said in past incidences that they did not allow and it is not allowed.
2.     May be there is a relative of the person who is extracting the stone from this particular site at a higher rank in the park, which is providing the protective favor.
3.     May be as people say, since the one who is extracting the stones with pride without fear is a party coordinator of the current government, there are special consideration through the interference of a cabinet figure. I was told he would call the Finance Minister to cover up for him in every case. 

Both the points 1 and 2 above suggest the department of forest and park services to review their staff posting policy. Because, as a human people make mistakes, when you have a relative, you could not without favoring. In this case, a relative official in the park or forest would favor his or her own keen in extracting natural resources illegally while bumping hard on others. In turn a government organization would stir conflicts among the villages from an action of one official.

On the third point, I am wondering if the Bumthang and Trongsa minister in-charge have a special backing on this case too. I say ‘too’ because, in 2014, the minister interfered in our personal matter of Sumthrang monastery by sending the dzongrab on a weekend holiday driving the government car with the driver. That was a silly matter where no such inteference is needed. But he did just because the party coordinator called him. I am sure there is a DSA involved here, it may be reflected for different purpose. So, when he can go that far with a power in hand, I am left with no option but to doubt his credibility to national interest. I do not know, but there may be an official who is a relative to the minister who takes direct command from the minister too in the park. This gives no guarantee as well as the trust and confidence to a political government and calls for a reform in Royal Civil Service because, it is the bureaucratic system that could provide confidence and trust in a system. The political system is visibly divisive, and if political interference of a government continues, it would not take long to build a mass of disgruntled citizens into two or more groups that would break the mother country into pieces.

One may be wondering why am I focused so much into protecting this site?. I am a son of Sumthrang family by birth, which is of karmic destination and I did not make the choice. Sumthang happened to be monument central to Bhutan’s history and story, whether one accepts it or not. Many sacred sites that were protected and kept safe until this generation along with its historical accounts that are narrated and written therefore surrounds the monastery. I could not just sit back and watch it being destroyed, but it torments to be watching it destroy when authoritative legal agencies entrusted to protect it enjoy watching it destroyed. 

This is not the issue of any enmity but the particular person being so much bent on destroying this particular site. I shall return with the history of this issue. If he were extracting stone legally or illegally from any other site, Sumthrang Monastery would not have had any problem.

This is not only the selfish action of this particular person, it is also the failure of our former governments who have failed to identify such threats to our heritage site and its historical accounts associated to these sites and objects (sacred rocks, trees and waters). Particularly the failure of our governments to enact a law protecting heritage and sacred site was the major set back to a country that is known for its Buddhist being and cultural richness.

Sumthrang monastic family as a responsible local family (earlier a monastery) which over saw the protection and preservation of the sacred and environmental heritage sites around the temple until today has done enough trying to protect every heritage sites around withstanding every enmity it built as we stood shielding these sites without any backings rather facing backers.

Now it is only the hope that, the cultural and heritage sites protection bill be enacted sooner than later, because this may be a tip of an ice berg, we do not know what awaits the fate of these precious site across the country that are more valuable than what it seem.


  1. We have to do something. May be there is a way out. I like the article anyway... let's hope for the best la.

    1. we have tried every possible ways out.. this issues dates back to 2007, the same person doing the same thing and the park still being laid back and supportive to the one who intends to destroy the site... some thing is not right in the park management system and the government system as a whole towards the cultural and environmental protection, beside their verbal boost in the international forums, on ground, every one seems to be focused on mining development....

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