China Bans Major Prayer Festival at Larung Gar

Officials reverse an earlier order allowing the gathering to go ahead, citing concerns over crowds.

Sichuan's Larung Gar Buddhist Academy is shown in an undated photo.

Authorities in southwestern China’s Sichuan province have shut down preparations for a major prayer gathering at the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy, further tightening government control over the institution, sources said.

The ban reverses an earlier decision to allow the festival, called Dechen Shedrub, to go forward, a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“Initially, the Chinese government granted permission to hold the annual prayer festival, which was set to begin on Nov. 6,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“But on Oct. 29, the government revoked that decision and made an announcement saying the festival would be banned.”

“This is the second year in a row that Chinese authorities have refused permission for the festival, which had been held 21 times in the past,” the source said.

Authorities cited overcrowding by festival participants and unfinished reconstruction work at Larung Gar as reasons for the ban, the source said, adding that the government order had greatly disappointed devotees hoping to attend.

“The festival organizers had fully prepared for the event,” he said. “They sent people to Chengdu city to buy everything they would need, and the local people had excitedly begun to set up tents at the venue.”

“Local Tibetans believe the banning of the event is connected to a Chinese policy spurring a broader crackdown on the promotion of Tibetan religion and culture,” he said.

Thousands expelled

Many thousands of Tibetans and Han Chinese once studied at Larung Gar Academy in Sichuan’s Serthar (in Chinese, Seda) county, making it one of the world’s largest and most important centers for the study of Tibetan Buddhism.

At the end of June, a senior abbot at the center said that Chinese authorities had destroyed 4,725 monastic dwellings at Larung Gar over the course of a year, with a total of more than 7,000 demolished since efforts to reduce the number of monks and nuns living at the sprawling complex began in 2001.

More than 4,825 monks and nuns have also been expelled since 2016, the abbot said, with many forced back to their hometowns and deprived of opportunities to pursue religious studies.

The Aug. 20 announcement that six members of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, all of them Tibetan, will now manage the day-to-day affairs of the Buddhist center has further demoralized many of those left behind, sources told RFA in an earlier report.

Reported by Kunsang Tenzin for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.