A fire broke out in the Buddhist institute of Serthar in the Larung valley in eastern Tibet last night (January 9). Vivid images showed flames shooting into the night sky as the blaze quickly took hold in the modest wooden and earthen homes of nuns in one of the largest centers of Buddhist study in the world.
The cause of the fire is unclear, although some local Tibetans suspect it may have been a result of lit butter-lamps or an electrical fault. A report by the official news agency Xinhua said an investigation was underway (January 10, 2014). No injuries or casualties were reported. The institute issued a statement saying that it would ensure the homes were rebuilt, according to exile Tibetan sources.
According to Tibetans in the area who posted the photos on social media, the fire affected the area where nuns live at Larung Gar, home to Serthar (Chinese: Seda) Buddhist Institute in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) prefecture in Sichuan, with at least 100 homes of nuns being burnt down. In one of the images, rescue workers and fire-fighters can be seen moving debris, assisted by monks.
Thousands of Tibetans and Chinese study at the Buddhist institute in a sprawling hillside settlement in the Tibetan area of Kham (images at: Daily Mail, Little boxes on the hillside… home to 40,000 Buddhist monks: The stunning makeshift town that has sprung up around a Tibetan monastery). The Serthar institute, founded by the late religious teacher Khenpo Jigme Phuntsog in 1980, following the Cultural Revolution, has become one of the most important centers for Tibetan Buddhist scholarship and meditation. From its beginnings as a small hermitage in a remote valley, Serthar grew to house thousands of monks and nuns from all over Tibet and China, including overseas Chinese Buddhists.
In 2001, more than a thousand dwellings at Serthar were demolished by Chinese work teams and hundreds of monks and nuns expelled in an apparent bid to undermine Buddhist practice at the institute (ICT report, http://www.savetibet.org/destruction-of-monasteries-spreads-in-tibet/). In recent years, security has been more oppressive in the area following a wave of unrest; in 2012, Chinese troops opened fire on a crowd of peaceful protestors in nearby Serthar town, killing one Tibetan man. The protests were sparked after leaflets or posters were disseminated encouraging Tibetans not to celebrate the New Year, but to mark it by mourning for those killed during the crackdown since 2008. (Images and report at: ICT report, Photos of Tibet crackdown emerge from scene of recent shooting)