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Who should restore vandalised chortens?

Dzongkhag officials feel the local community can manage provided they don’t inter precious relics 

Crime: It’s not hard to miss the hollowed out chortens along the trails in the backwoods of Trashigang and Trashiyangtse.

The two districts are home to over 287 vandalised chortens of the total 761 that have been robbed off relics across Bhutan between 2008-12.

A large number of vandalised chortens still remain in a dilapidated state for want of restoration, which is a challenge financially for the communities.

A dzongkhag official in Trashiyangtse said, only a handful of chortens could be restored, although over 51 have been vandalised since 2006.

“We’ve instructed the respective gewogs to restore the vandalised chortens, even without relics,” the official said.

But the communities have also been instructed to leave out those located in the far-flung places, he said. “No financial support from the government would be provided, as restoration is community’s responsibility,” the official said.

No new relics are also to be used while restoring, save for those recovered.

“So, restoration is entrusted to the communities, since it’s affordable when new relics aren’t installed,” the official said.

Yallang has restored four vandalised chortens to date with financial help from the government.

Yallang gup, Chesung Wangdi, said, although the community would take responsibility to restore the chortens, restoration works would need the government’s financial assistance.

“Even when done frugally, restoration of a chorten might cost at least Nu 10,000 for just the nanzung,” Chesung Wangdi said.

The community can contribute labour, he said.  Bidung was able to restore only eight of the 70 chortens vandalised.

“We’re planning to restore the chortens on our own with minimal use of relics and nanzung,” Bidung mangmi, Sonam Phuntsho said.

But some gewogs like Khamdhang have been unable to restore any of their vandalised chortens for lack of finance and clearance from the crime investigation team.

“Since, it’s a crime under investigation, we’re apprehensive about carrying out any restoration works without prior notice,” Ugyen Wangdi said.

The vandalised chortens, he said, would be repaired only after they get further directions from the home ministry.

Discussions on whether to use relics like gold, silver, antiques and cats-eye (dzee) are also held among local leaders, since relics are the sole attraction for vandals.  Instances of some chortens being dug up again for relics after restoration were reported in Yallang.

“If chortens bared of relics are as sacred as those with relics, provided they have sokshing (a piece of wood that acts as a relic), then zung must be done away with,” a villager from Trashigang, Nima said.

Another villager, Chesung Wangdi, said, repeated vandalisms have left many people discouraged from taking up restoration works.

But, with or without relics, villagers said there are hundreds of chortens that await restoration.

By Tempa Wangdi, Trashigang

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  1. The country side should be cleaned of the traps, monuments of the dead in the realm of the living excepting those constructed as historical/landmark agreement between the two parties: local, bi-national or multi-nationals if documents exist in support; recovering all the Kushung thuktens and nangtens to be preserved in well guarded museums. They should be available for the occasions of national events under security and restored to the place of security. They should not remain available in unguarded places to be causes of temptations and consequent judgment troubling the parties of the living.

    As such, no question of restoring them with government finances comes for consideration. If the members of the community feel they should rebuild even without nangten, or with a piece of wood in its name to fool about, they can proceed as they wish. The government shall not be subject to the forces of superstition to go about with building chortens in the countryside but manage everything in the country with authority. In case the community builds them without placing relics possessing market value, breaking them will incur loss of time and energy and nobody will be as much interested to break as the communities coming to build them. In such case they will remain safe and provide shadows day and night protecting the criminals that built them as long as they stand. For devotion to unknown and seeking refuge with it is the expression of being criminal, seeking place to hide from the light of conviction penetrating the soul.


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