Thankas (painted scrolls) as wall decorations, religious figures on calendars and T-shirts, and düngs (religious trumpets) as door handles — Bhutanese religious artifacts have found novel functions today.
While these roles are admired and gel well with the cultural diversity of Bhutan, Bhutanese cultural experts believe that these religious artifacts should be kept in appropriate places.
According to experts, the only place for religious icons like thankas and düngs is the altar room. “Of course, the düng is a musical instrument, but using it for decoration is not appropriate nor is hanging thanka everywhere. You should respect it as it’s only used for religious purposes,” says the Culture Secretary Dasho Sangay Wangchug.
But using religious figures on calendars, says the Secretary, has both pros and cons. He said that it’s good as it makes people understand better, but bad when the calendars are dumped after their use is over.
Do we commercialize culture by using religious icons as decorative pieces?
Observers feel that, although cultures do evolve over time in response to the needs of the time, the political will and popular determination to preserve culture should adequately curb cultural dilution.
“It’s in our hands to preserve the sanctity of our religious art, which we know has no connection with individual expression but rather is guided by religious regulations and considered sacred,” says a Thimphu resident, Tshering Dolkar.
“However, if we choose to commercialize it, we’re to blame if it’s abused by buyers, who may not necessarily share our sentiments but view the items as beautiful aesthetic pieces for decoration.”
Says another observer, who works in an international organization, “I’m hurt when religious icons are used in the wrong place with the wrong connotation. Using them in public places is one way of promoting it, but I still feel there is some need of restriction required.”
A corporate employee feels that the value of religious figures diminishes when used in calendars. “It may be effective, but once they see it everywhere, you stop feeling the sacredness of these symbols.”
What we need at this time, say observers and culture officials, is an intervention by the government. “There are no rules and regulations in place now. We need to have some guidance in place to direct people, to make people aware that religion should be respected and to consult if they don’t know,” says Dasho Sangay Wangchug.