BEIJING – The holiest site in Tibetan Buddhism, whose oldest parts date back to the remote 7th century, was at least partially engulfed in flames when a fire erupted in Lhasa over the weekend, Chinese state media confirmed on Sunday.
According to the official Xinhua news agency, the blaze broke out at the Jokhang Monastery on Saturday evening at around 6:40 pm local time (1040 GMT) and was put out a while later, although the extent of the damage to the temple and the causes that provoked the fire remained unknown.
Xinhua said that no casualties had been reported and that cultural relics had been spared from the flames.
Chinese authorities exercise strict control over information emanating from the autonomous region, known as the “roof of the world,” following decades of conflict and tensions with Beijing since Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army invaded Tibet in 1950.
Journalists are generally denied access to the region, with few exceptions such as organized trips held under the Chinese government’s watchful eye.
Jokhang, located at the heart of Lhasa’s Barkhor neighborhood, remains shrouded in legend: it is said to have been the main of the 12 temples built by Songtsen Gampo, the first king of the unified Tibetan Empire and the person credited with bringing Buddhism to the region over 1,300 years ago.
It now houses more than 3,000 images of the Buddha, as well as invaluable manuscripts, sculptures and paintings embroidered on silk that are cared for by monks belonging to the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism who live in the building.
The Golden Urn – a vase sometimes used for a draw to select the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, Gelug’s two most important spiritual figures – is also enshrined within the monastery.
It remains to be seen if any of the aforementioned priceless artifacts were affected by Saturday’s inferno.