(TibetanReview.net, Feb22, 2018) – After playing down the seriousness and extent of damage resulting from a raging fire which could be seen from miles away in the city on Feb 17, China is reported to have closed the Jokhang Temple for three days, raising fears about damage not revealed to the public, reported the Tibetan Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA, Washington) Feb 20. The Jokhang is Tibet’s most sacred shrine with the centrepiece of it being a life-size statue of Buddha Shakamyuni at age 12.
The report cited Tibetan sources as saying the Chinese move raised fears that the Feb 17 fire, which damaged an adjacent building, may have spread to the Jokhang itself, causing damage not yet revealed to the public. China’s official media had claimed that there was no damage to cultural relics.
The RFA report cited a source in Lhasa as saying that on Feb 18, the fourth day of the Tibetan New Year, the Jokhang was open to the public and was crowded with devotees. However, yellow draperies had been newly hung behind the temple’s central image, the famous Jowo statue of the Buddha brought to Tibet in the seventh century by the Chinese bride of the Tibetan emperor Songtsen Gampo.
“Also, no one was allowed to go up to the second floor of the temple,” the source was further quoted as saying, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The temple’s management committee was stated to have issued a public notice saying the Jokhang, remaining open that day, would be closed the next day. This was followed by a notice saying the temple would remain closed through Feb 22.
The authorities were also stated to have moved to quickly shut down news and images of the blaze circulating online, warning that anyone caught spreading news of the fire would be jailed.
China’s official media too has been largely silent on the fire, carrying only brief general kind of reports released by Xinhua, the nation’s main official news agency.
The Jokhang enjoys a UNESCO World Heritage status; so the fire, in any case, is a major embarrassment to China which makes great efforts for such listing as “proof” of their concern to protect Tibetan culture.