“Heavy Curtains and Deep Sleep Within Darkness”
My Jowo Buddha sat
cross-legged in the seething
and ardent chaos of fire.
No time to write a poem, cry,
or even allow me to search for the countless treasures
behind those hurriedly hung curtains,
even though the ultimate truth
is actually impermanence
as personally manifested by Jowo Rinpoche.
Those heavy curtains are a metaphor.
On the second day after the fire
they took a piece of yellow silk
covered with red flowers,
almost without a wrinkle,
cut without a trace,
and draped it behind what was reportedly
the “completely intact” body
of Jowo Shakyamuni.
It seemed like a dense and seamless wall.
Who knew what was behind it?
Or what could still be there?
Those who persevere, you actually know
that invisible fire has been burning unabated,
and those heavy curtains
concealed the world
Deep sleep within darkness.
One cannot but sleep deeply within darkness.
One cannot but rely on a dream
in deep sleep within the darkness….
But isn’t darkness also diverse?
It’s like these words (was it me who said them?):
“You may think there is darkness in this world,
but in fact, darkness does not exist.”
And so, you can try and describe
different forms of brightness--
glimmering light, dim light, brilliant light…
soft light, warm light, intense light…
as well as the flash of light,
that time the light extinguished
more quickly than lightning,
did you see it?
as well as the flaming light,
that time the unquenched light
burned longer than fireworks,
did you see it?
Suppose there is no eternal light, then what?
Suppose there is not a single ray of light, then what?
Slowly entering sleep? Gradually dying?
And how, in this endless bardo,
can one be spared
the invisible temptations of every wrong turn?
A single drop of water falls on the eyelid
of the one who is fast asleep.
A single teardrop in the darkness laments
the death of the soul that lost its mind.
But some people say, as if in the whisper
of a country a lifetime ago:
“If you want to know how much
darkness there is around you,
you must sharpen your eyes,
peering at the faint lights in the distance…”
- Woeser, Beijing 2018  -
translated by Ian Boyden
Three days later, relying on more detailed information from new sources, the CTA stated that the extent of the damage was far greater than initially reported. Its sources found that the Jowo Rinpoche Chapel had been affected and, although the status of the Jowo Shakyamuni was unclear, the wall behind the statue and the murals in the chapel had sustained fire damage, along with the roof of the building. It also reaffirmed that there had been extensive damage to other buildings, listing four chapels that had been damaged: the Palden Lhamo Yum Drakmo Chapel, the Songtsen Chapel, the Mani Chapel and the Namsey Chapel.
Although the Jokhang reopened on Sunday 18 February, before closing again for the following three days, there was limited public access that Sunday. The second floor of the temple compound was closed and devotees were not given access to the Jowo Rinpoche.  Tourists attempting to find out about damage from the travel website TripAdvisor were met with responses that the Jokhang had not been damaged, save for some monks’ dormitories.
In order to clarify the location of the fire, Free Tibet worked with satellite mapping organisation Apollo Mapping. This image of the Jokhang, taken on 24 February, one week after the fire, clearly shows that it was the Jowo Rinpoche Chapel that was affected. The imagery shows an expanse of black where the roof would usually be, covering an area of around 150 square metres. If the roof has been removed, as some reports claim, then this image implies significant charring to the upper level of the building as a result of the fire. If the roof has not been removed then this image suggests significant charring and extensive damage to the roof itself.
While satellite imagery from above can pinpoint the location of the fire, there are also questions of how far down the fire extended and whether the ground floor, containing the Jowo statue and several other statues, carvings and murals, were significantly affected.
Damage to the Jowo statue
Since the fire, a number of photos of the Jowo statue, and the rest of the temple, have emerged which, if taken at face value, appear to support the authorities’ claim that the temple’s relics have remained intact.
There are several reasons for concern. Firstly, the date of the photos has not been verified. Secondly, and of greater concern to Tibetans, the picture of the room is unfamiliar. When the pictures released by Chinese news sources are compared to photos taken before the fire, one can see that the Jowo statue is wearing a different type of crown and that the intricately detailed background, consisting of other statues, carvings and jewels, is now covered with yellow drapes. In one photo a pillar previously bejewelled appears to be bare.
The drapes were unrecognisable to Tibetans familiar with the Jokhang and heightened concerns that part of the chapel had been lost to the fire. These concerns were reflected in a poem, Heavy Curtains and Deep Sleep Within Darkness, written by Tsering Woeser and released three weeks after the fire.  In accompanying comments, Woeser added: “After the fire of 17th, I wonder what’s behind the yellow drapery behind the sacred Jowo…Traditionally the Jowo has never had such hangings. I’ve been to the Jokhang many times since March 1990 and haven’t ever seen a veil around it like this.” 
Writing on social media, Tibetologist Robert Barnett, citing an eyewitness, said the Jowo statue’s crown had melted and its robes been destroyed, while surrounding images and objects were badly damaged.  The eyewitness also said the monks in the Jokhang had worked all night after the fire to clean up the Jowo and prepare it for photographs by the morning, replacing its robes and putting up fabric to hide surrounding damage.  Barnett added that the statue’s crown had been replaced weeks before the fire, a common occurrence. He compared two photos, one from recently before the fire, in which the statue was wearing a crown with a blue trim, and the official photo released on 19 February, in which the statue had reverted to wearing the old crown. He summarised the release of the images as being “part of a ‘drip-feed’ strategy to reassure people that the Jowo is intact and divert attention from other damage.”