China / Society

Tibet expands protection of sky burial

By Da Qiong And Palden Nyima In Lhasa (China Daily) Updated: 2016-06-02 07:32

Tibet will increase its spending on the protection and maintenance of the region's sky burial sites, it's department of civil affairs said.

The regional government will invest 165 million yuan ($25 million) this year on 47 sky burial sites, most of them close to religious buildings. Each site will be assigned up to 5 million yuan, which will finance repairs and protection work, according to the department.

Sky burial is a Tibetan and Mongolian custom which the bodies of the dead are fed to predatory birds, in place of cremation, so that their souls may ascend to heaven.

Aiming to create a proper environment for sky burials and respect tradition, the regional Department of Civil Affairs proposed to the central government that financial support be offered for sky burial sites.

Under the proposal, the region would move to improve 256 key sites in five years.

"We will renovate 100 sites using subsidies from the central government," said Tenzin Ngodrub, deputy director of the social welfare and social affairs office of the department.

"Our goal is to respect this unique custom and to make it more convenient for residents to practice the ritual."

Tenzin explained that the local authorities want to make participation more convenient by improving roads to the sites, and outfitting locations with useful facilities, including buildings for religious activities, stoves and garbage bins.

The authorities are also mulling legislation covering sky burials, Tenzin said.

Pawo Samtenling Nunnery, which was built about 400 years ago in Qonggyai county, was one of the first beneficiaries of the program. It is expected to act as a blueprint, said Champa Drolkar, a principal nun at the nunnery.

The nunnery has a 1.4 kilometer fenced-off enclosure with around 100 vultures, as well as two dedicated rooms for mourners to rest and for the bodies to await sky burial. In addition, a waste storage tank was installed for burial waste.

"A fence alone is not enough to prevent wild dogs from entering the site," said Sonam Rigzin, head of the civil affairs bureau at Shannan city, which administers Qonggyai county.

At least one body is handled each day, sometimes three or four.

A dozen nuns take turns to help with the ceremony. They participate in a rotation, with two taking part at a time. They chant sutras for the deceased, summon the vultures and clear the burial waste, said Champa Drolkar.

Resident Namgyal, 68, said he hopes to be laid to rest in the traditional way.

"The protection of sky burial sites is very important," he said.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

Hot Topics