By Tenzin Dharpo
At least 4725 houses and structures have been flattened to the ground since demolition by Chinese authorities began in mid-2016 at Larung Gar. Photo-dawn.com
DHARAMSHALA, Oct. 26: An annual religious festival at the world’s largest Buddhist learning center in occupied Tibet has reportedly been banned by China for the third time in a row, to the disappointment of the monastic community and Tibetan locals there.
An official Chinese announcement dated October 16 stated that the Dechen Shingdrup festival, an iconic festival at Larung Gar that attracted thousands, would be banned this year citing Chinese religious affairs management laws. The announcement was jointly issued by the Larung Gar Monastic Management Committee, the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy Institute and the Setrhar County Religious Affairs Bureau.
The key religious festival of Larung Gar situated in Serthar County in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province had been banned for the previous two years as well by Chinese authorities. A source cited by RFA said that in 2017, the permit application was turned down without any clear reason and in 2018 authorities cited unfinished constructions at the site.
Radio Free Asia cited a source saying, “Tibetan people and devotees have again appealed to Chinese authorities at all levels, from the lowest township authorities to prefectural authorities. The government offered nothing but flimsy excuses as their reason to deny the people’s wishes to participate at the annual religious gathering.”
“They made two specific demands. First, they said it was imperative that the authorities allow the festival to be held in Larung Gar this year, as religious assemblies are legal and in accordance with the freedom of religion. Second, if the first demand is not met, then authorities should allow a smaller, downsized festival with only Serthar County residents in attendance, but this too was not allowed by party officials,” he further said.
London based NGO Free Tibet in October last year released satellite images showing a much-reduced Larung Gar, following the demolition drive initiated by the Chinese authorities in July 2016. Images taken by US-based satellite specialists Apollo Mapping show drastic change with the latest image showing only miniscule remains of once the largest and most important Tibetan Buddhist center housing over 10,000 students.
Following the forceful eviction of students and demolition of Larung Gar since mid 2016, the once sprawling Buddhist learning center boasting over 10,000 students as of May 2017 has been reduced by 4828 monks and nuns, with 4725 houses flattened to the ground.