Main chapel ‘unaffected’ by weekend fire at Tibet’s Jokhang monastery

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 5:24pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 5:40pm

A weekend fire at the sprawling Jokhang monastery in Tibet did not affect the main chapel at the 1,300-year-old religious site, considered the spiritual heart of Tibetan Buddhism, the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile said on Monday.

The main Jokhang chapel houses many Tibetan cultural treasures, including the Jowo Sakyamuni, a life-sized statue of the 12-year-old Buddha.

Video on Chinese social media showed a roof in the monastery complex hit by large flames that were visible from hundreds of metres away. Saturday’s fire occurred when many Tibetans were celebrating Losar, the New Year festival that began on Friday.

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No injuries were reported from the blaze. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the government-in-exile, who is visiting Japan, expressed relief that the fire did not affect the Jokhang chapel.

But he cautioned Tibetans in Tibet to remain alert at large public gatherings, especially during occasions such as Losar, according to a statement by the government-in-exile.

Sangay said it was mandatory to have adequate safety measures put in place at holy sites such as Jokhang.

Ven Karma Gelek Yuthok, the government-in-exile’s Tibetan minister for religion and culture, said: “At this point in time, I cannot comment much until the cause of the fire is brought to light, but it is disturbing to see tragic accidents take place at Jokhang temple premises, one of the most hallowed sites in Tibet and a Unesco World Heritage Site.”

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The Dalai Lama has been living in Dharamsala, a northern Indian town, since he fled from Tibet after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Beijing accuses him of seeking to separate Tibet from China, which he denies.

China does not recognise the Tibetan government-in-exile and has not held any dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama since 2010.