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China bans major Buddhist festival at Larung Gar

Locals say move aimed at tightening control over Tibetan religion, culture

China bans major Buddhist festival at Larung Gar

This picture taken on May 29, 2017 shows partially demolished houses at the Larung Gar Buddhist Institute in Sertar county in southwest China's Sichuan province. Authorities have banned a major Buddhist festival due to begin Nov. 6. (Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP)

November 2, 2017

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Chinese authorities in southwestern Sichuan province have banned a major annual prayer festival at the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy, sources said.

The ban goes back on an earlier decision to allow the festival, called Dechen Shedrub, to go ahead, a local source told Radio Free Asia (RFA).

“Initially, the Chinese government granted permission to hold the annual prayer festival, which was set to begin on Nov. 6,” the RFA’s source said.

“But on Oct. 29, the government revoked that decision and made an announcement saying the festival would be banned.”

“This is the second year in a row that Chinese authorities have refused permission for the festival, which had been held 21 times in the past,” the source said.

Authorities said the ban was for safety reasons and cited overcrowding and ongoing reconstruction work at Larung Gar.

“The festival organizers had fully prepared for the event,” the source said. “They sent people to Chengdu city to buy everything they would need, and the local people had excitedly begun to set up tents at the venue.”

“Local Tibetans believe the banning of the event is connected to a Chinese policy spurring a broader crackdown on the promotion of Tibetan religion and culture,” he said.

Larung Gar is one of the world’s largest and most important centers for studying Tibetan Buddhism.

Chinese authorities have destroyed thousands of monastic dwelling in recent years in an effort to reduce the number of monks and nuns at the vast complex, according to a senior abbot there.

More than 4,825 monks and nuns have been expelled since 2016, he said.

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