Clumsy restorations harm heritage sites
HA NOI — Clumsy restoration of religious sites such as pagodas and temples is damaging their historical and cultural values, according to speakers at a conference here yesterday.
|Teatime called: Tay Phuong Pagoda in Ha Noi's Thach That District has suffered from encroachment by small businesses such as tea shops. — VNS Photo Truong Vi
Privately-funded restoration work had, in some cases, destroyed original pagoda structures, due to the lack of knowledge of local building contractors, said Buddhist monk superior Thich Quang Tung.
In other cases, designs and patterns had been destroyed and the names of some pagodas replaced, he said. For instance, Lan Dong Pagoda in the northern province of Quang Ninh was rebuilt and renamed Truc Lam Zen Monastery, while the Bao An Pagoda in the northern province of Vinh Phuc was renamed the Tay Thien Zen Monastery.
Encroachment by surrounding households was also frequent, he said. Quang Hoa and Dong Quang pagodas in Ha Noi and Ven and Hang pagodas in Hai Phong had lost land to neighbouring households but no agency had acted to stop it.
"These pagodas are always a mess now whenever people come to pray," he said.
Worse still, he noted, was that some religious sites that had been recognised as historical and cultural sites had begun to charge admission fees, annoying both Buddhist followers and visitors.
"I have witnessed a group of Buddhist followers from Thanh Hoa Province praying outside Bich Dong Pagoda in Ninh Binh Province because they had no money to enter after several days of travelling to the site," the monk said.
Nguyen Pham Hung, who has more than 30 years studying religious issues at the Ha Noi-based University of Social Sciences and Humanities, agreed, saying the preservation was all about rebuilding and renewal, resulting in unintentional harm to heritage sites and a loss of their original values.
"The statue of a four-handed saint at Linh Son Pagoda in the southern province of An Giang was turned into a statue of Buddha after being renovated," Hung said. "The value of the sculpture and the beauty of the natural stone were lost."
Festivals held at many of these sites were ineffectively managed, with excessive marketing of votive papers at pagoda gates and the performance of superstitious activities such as fortune telling, Hung said. The money that Hanoians alone spent on votive paper totals some VND400 billion (US$19.2 million) per year, he asserted.
Viet Nam is home to thousands of historic and cultural sites and over 4,000 festivals. In Ha Noi alone, there are over 5,000 different sites, and the State has an important role to play in preserving them.
Conference participants suggested that State agencies work with pagodas and temples before renovation takes place to ensure work preserves design and typical features of these places. Authorities also needed to crack down on encroachment and quickly eliminate the selling of admission tickets at historical and cultural sites.
The establishment of the Cultural Heritage Preservation and Religion Centre, under the Viet Nam Cultural Heritage Association, last October, would also tasked to make a list of religious relics and map out action plans to better preserve and develop these places in the future. — VNS