By Dan Bodine
Students from Bhutan may want to spend some time in quiet reflection there, but to most other students and visitors on the University of Texas at El Paso campus, the eloquently crafted Bhutanese prayer chapel replica school officials opened with the dedication of the new $22 million Centennial Plaza Saturday is a cultural exhibit unlike any other they’ll find in the U.S.
The “Lhakhang,” which translates to “house of god,” is like those found in Bhutanese villages high in the Himalayas as places for prayer.
Intricately hand-carved and hand-painted, “…the people of Bhutan gave (it) to the people of the United States in 2008 with the request that it be permanently installed at UTEP,” according to a UTEP press release.
The unique UTEP-Bhutan friendship goes back to the early 1900s and is responsible for the Bhutanese style architecture found on all the university’s campus buildings — an architectural style a Bhutanese prince once described as “…so harmonious with the Franklin Mountains which surround El Paso.”
The Lhakhang itself was part of Bhutan’s presentation during the Smithsonian Institution’s 2008 Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. An El Paso gift ultimately, it was kept at the Smithsonian until ready for transport and installation at UTEP.
Spiritually related figure exhibits and other visuals tell the story of the life and death of Buddha — Buddhism’s founder who was born a Kshatriya warrior prince in ancient India in the early 6th Century BC.
Officially a cultural exhibit now, the chapel replica sits adjacent an 11-acre piece of central campus land that was re-designed and re-constructed into an open, pedestrian friendly Centennial Plaza.
Marking the transformation of a major university campus too long known for its motoring access features to one more passionately made for pedestrians was a major milestone in the school’s history.
The plaza dedication service officially was a continuation of last year’s centennial celebration at the school. Construction delays were caused by having to tear up and basically reconfigure so many old utility lines, however.
Remarks from University President Diana Natalicio and the Honorable Kunzang C. Namgyel, Bhutanese ambassador to the United Nations, highlighted the ceremony Saturday.
Lhakhang tours will be by appointment only now.
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