文化遺産国際協力コンソーシアム Japan Consortium for International Cooperation in Cultural Heritage JCIC-Heritage logo JCIC-Heritage

Survey on the Protection of Cultural Heritage in the Kingdom of Bhutan

Survey on the Protection of Cultural Heritage in the Kingdom of Bhutan

JCIC-Heritage

Bhutan

Cultural Heritage in Bhutan

2010 Fundamental Research
01/03/2011
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BACKGROUND

A Country Still Strongly keeping traditions of Buddhist Culture

Bhutan is known as a country of devout Buddhists where the teachings of Buddhism remain strong in all aspects of people’s life even today. Despite being neighboring to the two vast powers of China and India, the country retains its own unique traditions, and large numbers of cultural heritage and traditional techniques still play a significant role in people’s everyday lives.
Typical tangible cultural heritage in Bhutan includes Dzong(building doubles as prefectural office and monastic center), Lhakhang(temples), Gompa(monastery), Chorten(Buddhist stupa), and old folk houses. Movable assets are represented by Buddhist-related such as Buddhist statues, paintings and scriptures, while the most well-known intangible cultural heritage are a Tibetan Buddhist mask dance called Cham, a yearly festival called Tsechu, and traditional arts and crafts such as texistiles.

Punaka Dzong

Punaka Dzong

ACTIVITIES

Dispatching a survey team to Bhutan

Eastern Bhutan was struck by an earthquake in 2009, causing damage to a large number of temples and folk houses. Information about disaster-affected cultural heritage reached the Japan Consortium for International Cooperation in Cultural Heritage via UNESCO which requested a field survey for support purposes.
Japanese cooperation in the conservation and restoration of historic buildings was provided for 10 years from 1992 by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. However, there has been hardly any information on local cultural heritage protection since this cooperation, and it is recognized that studying the protection status is required when providing any form of support. It is also recognized that widely grasping cooperation needs relating to movable and intangible cultural heritage is required since cooperation has rarely been provided for cultural heritage other than buildings. Thus, the Japan Consortium for International Cooperation in Cultural Heritage to decided to send out a survey teams.
A Tibetan Buddhism scholar with nearly ten years experience as a consultant to the National Library of Bhutan participated in the survey. From the fact that Bhutan is a Buddhist country, a large number of the National Library’s collection is Buddhist scriptures, so this library differs significantly from ordinary libraries in that it is a sutra library that stores Buddhist scriptures. Further, many of the items stored in the National Museum are Buddhist paintings and statues. This survey reminded us that it is necessary to thoroughly understand the spirituality rooted in Mahayana Buddhism when considering protection for cultural heritage in Bhutan due to the country's emphasis on the intangible aspects of its tangible heritage.

Items from the collection of the National Library

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Traditionally woven fabric

RESULTS

For long-term Cooperation in Bhutan Cultural Heritage

As pointed out in the past expert surveys, our generally held concept of cultural heritage does not exist in Bhutan. Based on Buddhist thinking, cultural heritage deemed worthy of protection by the Bhutanese is in essence spiritual rather than physical. However, this study revealed that this stance is changing in line with modernization. In particular, this study showed that because experts practically involved in the conservation of tangible cultural property are learning techniques and ideas abroad, they are starting to share international ideas about cultural heritage protection.
Oral traditions and traditional weaving techniques emphasized in Bhutan are in danger of dying out in the midst of globalization, and a desire to take measures to support them was shown in this study. In addition, conflicts of opinion concerning whether the earthquake-damaged buildings should be protected by improving their earthquake resistance with modern technology, and whether culturally-valuable traditional styles should be protected were also unearthed by this study. There are hopes that Japan can provide support in a number of areas such as conducting scientific assessments of traditional building technology and improving traditional buildings based on such assessments.
Due to differing ideas about cultural heritage, it is hard to see where Japan can cooperate with Bhutan. It is, therefore, necessary to fully examine how Japan can provide steady cooperation in areas identified in this study, and ensure that this leads to long-term support.

Tsechu at Punaka Dzong

Paro Dzong

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