Inspired by the sanctity and grace of the Shiva Mandir in Samtse and mindful of the lessons from the painful journey of the Hindu temple construction in Thimphu, the Shiva mandir construction in Phuentsholing is headed in the right direction, at least for the moment. Planned on a land gifted by a generous private individual opposite to the Kabreytar suburb, it is being conceived with all the traditional and religious design principles and orientation guidelines. The Shiva mandir is aimed to provide a social and cultural avenue for the city and mitigate Bhutanese going to the neighboring town of Jaigoan for prayers, marriages and religious ceremonies, which is the case at the moment.
The members, volunteers, and retired senior citizens working for the project are doing their best to come up with design options for approval to begin the work. Given the discussions, site visits, inputs and designers working on the project, I am confident that the design will not be faulty here.
But how about the steep sloping site located on an environmental precinct (E4) where only 25 % of plot coverage is allowed? Is it adequate to fit the main temple along with all its supporting facilities like a priest residence, public toilets, preaching/meditation halls, septic/ water tanks, parking, pavilions and the gate? What sort of development will come in the flat areas located in the immediate vicinity of the temple few years down the line? Will it complement the sanctity of the temple or will it dilute it as seen in neighboring countries and towns? I am afraid these issues will stretch the green hilltop to its fullest physically, socially and environmentally. Visual observation refers to a bed of sandy soil at the base of the hill and the area receives the heaviest rainfall and scouring during monsoon.
The grammars of modern education teach us to dream beyond the boundaries of neighborhoods and religious and social beliefs. His Majesty The King has repeatedly encouraged us “to think big, to have big hopes and ambitions for ourselves and for our country.”
Such words of comfort and farsightedness give me the confidence to free my imaginations beyond the challenges of the steep slope, environmental precinct regulations and the fear of unknown next-door developments. I saw the blue print of the new Shiva temple of Phuentsholing on the empty and sanctified land beside the Rinchhending Geomba.
One can agree to disagree about the land ownership, religious compatibility and other issues but the potential of such an institutional complex could be truly enlightening to the soul and the goal of our tiny yet towering nation. Should such a temple reside beside the sacred monastery, I believe it will be a showpiece where Buddhism and Hinduism flourish together at the gateway city to our country. It is difficult to find reference to such complexes in contemporary world. It could be a major regional tourist and pilgrimage destination for Phuentsholing and Bhutan. The complex will stand in the vicinity of the institutional zone, beside the RIGSS Coronation Hostel and the College of Science and Technology. The complex is likely to get the support of volunteers from these institutions of higher learning to organize and manage a moelam or a puran. These institutions will complement each other and be a significant step towards our journey for an enlightened modern Bhutan.
It is said that a civilization can best be understood by its architecture because they show the interests of a society, its organizational skills, affluence or poverty, the kind of climate and attitude towards technology and arts. In towns and cities, the general structure of society can be understood through the medium of architecture, so it becomes the most pervasive mirror of man’s presence. The setting and the planning of the above institutions along with the challenges and potentials provided by them provides Phuentsholing city – the land of prosperity to build an institution of ultimate faith, pilgrimage, tourism, economy and humanity.
Will such an institutional complex become a reality or will it remain just an individual’s thematic vision? Only time will tell. However, for the moment I tread along with my imaginations, which are obviously easier to ascend than the steep slope at the site.
*Foot note: The views expressed here are of the author only and not of any agency or organization