Tibetan Lamas Donate Millions to Restore Prayer Hall

2013-11-20
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tibet-burnt-main-hall-lithang-nov-2013.jpg
The main prayer hall at the Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling monastery in Lithang following the fire, Nov. 17, 2013.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

Updated at 11:55 a.m. EST on 2013-11-21

Three Tibetan lamas have donated more than U.S. $2 million to repair the main prayer hall of a revered 16th century monastery in a Tibetan area of China’s Sichuan province that was severely damaged in a fire last week, sources said Wednesday.

The prayer hall in Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling monastery in Lithang (in Chinese, Litang) county in the Kardze (Ganzi) prefecture was destroyed in a blaze late on Saturday, injuring two monks who had tried to rescue precious relics.

“Not long after the destruction of the main prayer hall in last Saturday night’s fire at the Lithang monastery complex, generous donations were announced for its reconstruction,” a source inside Tibet told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“Lithang Kyabgon Palden Dorjechang has promised 3 million yuan (U.S. $492,000) and Lithang Shakpa Tulku Khedrub Gelek Jampal Gyatso committed 10 million yuan (U.S. $1.64 million), while an anonymous monk promised 500,000 yuan (U.S. $82,000) for the reconstruction of the burnt prayer hall.”

Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling monastery was founded during the era of Sonam Gyatso—the third Dalai Lama, or Tibetan spiritual leader—in 1580, making it of great significance to the Tibetan people.

According to the source, the funds, which likely were collected as donations from religious adherents, “have already reached the monastery.”

“The Tibetan devotees thanked the Rinpoches for their generosity and wished them long life,” he said.

“The monks and devotees are aspiring for a speedy reconstruction of the main hall.”

Meanwhile, the cause of the monastery blaze remains unknown, with some sources suggesting it was caused by a butter lamp and others saying it was triggered by a short circuit.

A Tibetan source in exile, with contacts in Lithang, told RFA that on the night of the fire, a group of 200 monks who lived in a building adjacent to the main prayer hall rushed through the flames to save a senior lama and a monk who acted as the keeper of the hall’s shrine, saving both of their lives.

“They also saved important items from the building that was burnt down,” the source said.

“Some monks tried to save the main statues from the hall and an adjacent building and were injured, but no lives were lost in the tragedy.”

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A damaged statue in the main hall of the monastery. Credit: RFA listener
Monastery history

Ganden Thubchen Choekhorling monastery is known as the birthplace of the seventh and tenth Dalai Lamas.

In 1956, the monastery came under siege and was largely destroyed by China’s People’s Liberation Army, following resistance to attempts by Beijing to impose communist rule and reforms in the area.

The monastery also suffered extensive damage at the hands of China’s Red Guards during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, a social-political movement that targeted historical relics and artifacts as well as cultural and religious sites for destruction.

Lithang has been the site of several public protests by Tibetans against Chinese rule.

On Aug. 1, 2007, Tibetan activist Rongyal Adrak called for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama from exile in India while standing on the reviewing stage of an annual horse racing festival in the county.

He was immediately detained, prompting a standoff between Chinese security forces and thousands of Tibetans who demanded his release, and was sentenced in October to eight years in prison.

Following widespread protests across Tibetan regions the following year, Rongyal Adrak’s calls for Tibetan unity and freedom have now been repeated throughout Tibet.

Sporadic demonstrations and a campaign of self-immolations have continued since 2009, with 123 Tibetans to date having set themselves ablaze to challenge Chinese rule and call for the return of the Dalai Lama.

Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story did not give an updated number for Tibetan self-immolation protests.