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For a tiny landlocked country like Bhutan, preservation of its rich cultural heritage is important for its identity and sovereignty. It is like a soul that keeps the nation breathing forever. Knowing culture’s critical significance to the very survival as a nation state, Bhutan has adopted preservation and promotion of culture as one of the pillars of GNH, and consequently many initiatives are in place for the upkeep of our distinct cultural heritage.
Meet a foreigner, and one common question that he or she will ask will be undeniably about our culture. Irrespective of how we value or nurture our culture, we conceitedly give every positive detail on our religion, music, dress, festivals, and sports. Perhaps, most of us involuntarily exaggerate with excitement to convince the guest that we have a rich and unique cultural heritage. As such, it is obvious that deep in our mind, it is everybody’s vision to see our distinctive culture and heritage live forever.
However, it seems that our deeds are dictated by the materialistic mind. For wealth and fame, people are seen intrepidly playing with the culture, which has remained untouched for centuries. Our culture seemed to be more sold out than preserved!
For instance, cultural exchanges are common. The government contentedly finds platforms to perform our sacred mask dances and unique folk dances overseas. It is obvious that the intent of such an exchange is to promote our rich and diverse cultural heritage to the outside world, but at the cost of the significance of some scared mask dances.
Private companies, especially tourist resorts, arrange mask dances on their entertainment stage to amuse their customers. And we understand that it is more for the benefit of their own business. I doubt if the complex steps are taken care of or undermined to save pain and time.
And lately, one of the children’s talent shows is also advertised with Atsara as an anchor, likely to be arranged to attract more viewers. Some music bravely integrated some religious tune as an interlude, and some architecture creatively used the shape of religious instruments as door handles.
Most frighteningly, even some religious festivals are also said to be brought before schedule or postponed as per the demand and convenience of tourists, compromising the significance of the auspicious dates. The sacret song of Aum Jomo: Amo Cheley, which is prohibited even to be hummed except during a particular ceremony, is out in mass production.
One perfect example of how we are bent on achieving fame is that we see more and more lhakhangs, mani and chortens (religious stupas) constructed alongside the highways. The old religious monuments situated in the vicinity of towns get ample sponsors who renovate them beautifully. Conversely, in the far-flung places, many scared lhakhangs, manis and chortens are on the verge of collapse, demanding an urgent attention. If we are genuinely devoted to our sublime religion, we would directly prefer the significance of the monument and place, over wealth and fame that our deeds fetch.
Consider the declining number of gomchens in the villages and the growing number in the towns. We cannot complain against them for going for wealth when the most learned khenpos are after dollars. The only fear is that very soon there might not be any gomchen left to conduct religious rituals and ceremonies in the villages.
Every mask dance bears some important significance and thus is prohibited from being performed beyond prescribed place and date. When the blessing of our scared religion declines, we cannot hope for better.
We need to understand the nature of our cultural heritage that we aim to deal with. Otherwise, gradually we will lose the significance of our distinctive culture just for some amount of money. I wish soon there will be rules monitoring our culture.
Contributed to Bhutanobserver