Larung Gar residents prohibited from celebrating Buddhist festival

Larung Gar, thought to be the largest Tibetan Buddhist institution in the world
Larung Gar, thought to be the largest Tibetan Buddhist institution in the world
Larung Gar, thought to be the largest Tibetan Buddhist institution in the world
23rd October 2018

Residents have been prevented from celebrating the Dechen Shingdrup festival every year since 2016

Authorities have prohibited the residents of Larung Gar Buddhist Institute from gathering to celebrate Dechen Shingdrup, a major Buddhist festival. 

Larung Gar, which is located in Serthar County in eastern Tibet, has been subject to a range of restrictions in recent years, as well as a programme of demolitions and forced removals in which thousands of residents have been forced to leave. This is the third year in a row that Dechen Shingdrup celebrations have been prohibited.

The notification was issued on 16 October by the Larung Gar Monastery Management Committee, the Serthar Buddhist Institute Faculty Committee and the Serthar County Ethnic and Religious Affair Bureau. A translation was carried out by our research partner Tibet Watch. The notification stated that the festival will not be held at the monastery. Monks who live at the monastery are permitted to carry out chanting during this period, but “monks and other religious practitioners from other monasteries are forbidden from visiting Larung Gar”.

Houses at Larung Gar
Houses at Larung Gar

Dechen Shingdrup is held on the 22nd day of the ninth lunar month every year. It lasts for eight days and marks the day when Buddhists believe that Buddha descended from heaven to earth.

In previous years authorities have banned gatherings to celebrate the festival, citing safety concerns related to overcrowding and ongoing construction work. Residents reportedly prayed alone in their rooms. Meanwhile Chinese tourists have been permitted to visit the site all year round.

The notification issued by local authorities on 16 October
The notification issued by local authorities on 16 October
The notification issued by local authorities on 16 October

Over 4,800 monks, nuns and students were forced to leave Larung Gar between July 2016 and mid-2017 as part of a plan by local authorities and the Chinese central government to dramatically curtail the number of residents. 4,700 homes were also torn down during this period.

Many of those who were forced to leave were required to sign documents pledging that they would not return to Larung Gar. Security gates have since been installed, with the remaining residents required to pass through metal detectors and to display cards proving that they live at Larung Gar.

Authorities attempted to restrict the flow of information from Larung Gar, prompting Free Tibet to commission satellite images of the site before and after the 2016-2017 demolitions. The images showed that houses were demolished to widen roads and create new paths, while hotels and car parks could be seen around the site. The images suggested that a key reason for the demolitions, removals and subsequent restrictions has been to facilitate tourist access to Larung Gar at the expense of the resident monks and nuns.

Satellite images from 2016 and 2017 show the scale of the damage caused by the demolitions
Satellite images from 2016 and 2017 show the scale of the damage caused by the demolitions

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