Monks plan independent tally of dead

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 April, 2010, 12:00am


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Monks from Serda Lharong monastery in Sichuan are hoping to collate and compare the number of bodies handled by temples in Yushu county so an accurate quake death toll can be determined.

The monastery has sent more than 1,000 monks to the quake-hit town of Jiegu, joining dozens of other temples outside Qinghai province that have sent monks to help with rescue efforts and carry out Buddhist ceremonies for the dead.

The number of people killed by last Wednesday's quake and its aftershocks remains in doubt, with the official count lagging the tally from temples that have handled most of the burials around Jiegu, where 97 per cent of the population are Tibetan.

The Serda Lharong monastery's study is the first independent effort to arrive at an accurate figure.

'We notified some other temples, urging them to bring their death toll to us tonight, but none has come so far,' Suo Nan, one of the monks helping to register the deaths, said. 'Perhaps they are still tallying.'

Xi Ran, another monk from the monastery, said 1,800 bodies had been taken to its monks for funeral ceremonies, with details such as names, gender and addresses noted. Families had notified the monastery's monks of another 1,500 deaths but had not delivered the bodies.

Angwen Danbarenqing, the living Buddha of Jiegu temple, the biggest in town, said 2,110 bodies were cremated on Saturday, the first day of large-scale funeral ceremonies.

The official death toll as of last night was 1,944.

There is a possibility of figures overlapping - for example, families taking bodies to the monastery's site for ceremonies but to Jiegu for cremation. Monks from Serda Lharong monastery said this meant a comparison of figures was needed.

Angwen Danbarenqing said the details of the deceased in the temple's register had been sent to the government.

Since the quake, crimson-robed monks have been handing out food, water and other essential items around the town.

They have also helped rescue survivors and dug out bodies. Yesterday, they began handing out cash - 200 yuan (HK$230) to each family who had lost their home or a loved one.

Many are joining hands for the first time - since they belong to different branches of Tibetan Buddhism they rarely interact, and there are also historical animosities to overcome.

Juechi and Longzhi, living Buddhas from different sects in Sichuan, spoke after the quake and travelled to Yushu together, each taking about 100 monks.

They decided to work with Tudengduoji, from another sect in Sichuan, when they arrived.

The two living Buddhas felt that the monks had not been fully utilised by the government. They felt they could only offer help when they saw it was needed and could offer more if there was greater co-operation with the government.

'I have tried to call the county secretary but I could not reach him. I tried to speak to someone from the United Front Work Department but that person did not seem interested in what we could do,' Juechi said. 'The cadre did not even ask for my name but just told me a location to drop off the relief goods.'

Longzhi said: 'We are living Buddhas and people here respect us. There is so much we could do. Even with rescue work, since we are from places of high altitude, we could help with rescue work immediately.

'Instead, in most places where there were soldiers we were not allowed to help. We could only help dig in places where there were no government rescue workers yet.'

They urged the government to reach out more to monks. 'We talk about unity and harmonious society. Religion is an essential part of it. This is what religion is for,' Longzhi said.