Monday, November 28, 2011

Mongolia | Ulaanbaatar | Bogd Khan Winter Palace | Taranantha

Last weekend I wandered out to Erdene Zuu for the Celebration of Zanabazar’s 376 Birthday and to take photos of the First Sixteen Incarnations of Javsandamba. This weekend I wandered over to the Bogd Khan Winter Palace Museum, not far from my hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi to see the statue of Taranatha, the sixteenth incarnation of Javsandamba. As you know, Taranatha, the founder of Takten Damcho Ling Monastery in Tibet, eventually moved to Mongolia and died here in 1634. What is less known is that at least part of his bodily remains (his head according to some versions of the story) are inside the statue in the Lavrin Temple of the Bogd Khan Palace Complex.
 The Lavrin Temple of the Bogd Khan Palace Complex three weeks ago, before the last big snowfall
 Taranatha (1575–1634)
 Taranatha
Taranatha
Taranatha
Well-known scholar Nyamochir paying his respects to Taranatha
Ruins of Takten Damcho Ling, monastery in Tibet founded by Taranatha
The Twenty-fifth incarnation of Javsandamba and the Ninth Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia, currently living in Ulaanbaatar. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mongolia | Övörkhangai Aimag | Erdene Zuu | Laviran Temple | Statues of Javsandamba

In addition to attending the Puja at the Larivan Temple at Erdene Zuu I also wanted to photograph the statues of the first sixteen incarnations of Javsandamba located on the second floor of the temple. As you probably know, Zanabazar (1635–1723) was the seventeenth incarnation of Javsandamba and the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia. The day I visited the temple was of course Zanabazar’s 376th birthday. 
Laviran Temple
Historical Consultant Saka and Davaa, who drove us to Kharkhorin. 
Saka with eight of the statues
The first incarnation of Javsandamba reportedly lived during the time of the Buddha Sakyamuni. Up to and including Taranatha, who died in 1634, there were sixteen incarnations of Javsandamba. Tarantha announced before he died that he would not be returning to Takten Damcho Ling, the monastery he had founded in Tibet, but would instead be reborn in a different land where he could do more to spread the Dharma. This turned out to be Mongolia. Zanabazar, the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia, was born in 1635. The Ninth Bogd Gegeen, who was born in Tibet, now lives in Ulaanbaatar and was recently recognized as the head of Buddhism in Mongolia. 
1. Taameddov
2. Lodoinamdag
3. Barbizobo

 4. Narbojodva
5. Radenchenbo
6. Ronsomchoison
7. Darmavanchig
8. Odserbal
 9. Brügdeijantsan
10. Sanjaaraichin
11. Sanrabadra
 12. Jamyam Tsorj. One of the more notable incarnations. He was born in Tibet near Samye Monastery. A close disciple of Zonkhov (Tsongkapa), founder of the Gelug Sect, Jamyam Tsorj established Drepung Monastery in Lhasa in 1416 and also built hundreds of temples and hermitages all over Tibet. He is shown here wearing the yellow hat of the Gelug Sect. 
13. Choijininjed
14. Gungaadolchog
15. Gajedsajon
16. Jonan Darnata (Taranatha)
Taranatha was a staggeringly prolific writer whose collected works amounted to sixteen hefty volumes. One of his most influential works was The Tara Tantra, perhaps the best-known text of the Tara Cult. His interest in Tara was passed on to his next incarnation, Zanabazar, whose Statues of Tara are among the greatest works of Buddhist art ever produced. Taranatha also claimed in his autobiography that he visited Shambhala in a dream state. Unlike other visitors, he reported that the fabled kingdom was inhabited mainly by women. 
Monk at Laviran Temple

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mongolia | Övörkhangai Aimag | Erdene Zuu | Zanabazar’s Birthday

Around the middle of the week a big snow storm hit Ulaanbaatar, leaving as much as four inches on the ground at places—a lot for UB. I had planned to go to Erdene Zuu Khiid on the outskirts of the town of Kharkhorin in Övörkhangai Aimag over the weekend, but the weather was definitely putting a crimp on my plans. Kharkhorin is 240 miles by road from Ulaanbaatar and there was no telling what road conditions would be like farther on out west. I kept a close eye on the weather forecasts, and skies were supposed to clear by Saturday morning in both Ulaanbaatar and in Avaikheer, the capital of Övörkhangai Aimag. So it looked like the trip was on. Then Friday afternoon the driver who was supposed to take us backed out. He did not give a reason, but I suspected he was a bit leery of the road to Kharkhorin, which was likely to be covered with fresh snow for much of the way. Early Friday evening I got a call from Saka, who had agreed to go along with me on the trip as an historical consultant. Although she works full time as an accountant for one of the big mining companies in Ulaanbaatar she also serves as accountant for my company, Polar Star Books, and is an expert calligrapher in Uighuro-Mongolian vertical script and a keen student of Mongolian history. She had managed to find another driver so it looked like the trip was back on. We planned to leave at 9:30 Saturday morning. At 8:00 Saturday morning the weather did not look promising. The clear skies had not materialized and fresh snow was drifting down from the leaden skies. At 9:30 Saka and the driver, a man in his sixties named Davaa, arrived at my hovel. Davaa, who said he had worked all his life as a professional truck driver, said he was not worried about the road to Kharkhorin. So the trip was on. 

I was eager to visit Erdene Zuu this weekend because Sunday, November 20  by the Gregorian Calendar, was the 25th day of the month according to the lunar calendar and thus an auspicious day for Buddhists. Usually on the 25th of the Buddhist lunar calendar a big puja is held at the Laviran Temple at Erdene Zuu. This month the puja was of special significance because it marked the celebration of the 376th birthday of Zanabazar, The First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia. Zanabazar was born at a place called Yëson Züil in what is now Övörkhangai Aimag in 1635, right after the rivers had frozen over solid, according to traditional accounts (see Yëson Züil Chapter from Travels in Northern Mongolia).

The road to Kharkhorin was snow-covered in places, but other stretches had been swept clean by high winds and we were able to barrel along at sixty miles an hour. Only the last forty-two miles, on the cutoff to Kharkhorin from the main highway, were completely snow-covered. Still, we arrived at Kharkhorin in good time, at 3:30 in the afternoon. We immediately went to the home of an old classmate of Saka’s who now works at the new Kharkhorin Museum. This museum only opened last year and I have never had an opportunity to visit it. Unfortunately it is closed over the weekends in wintertime, when very few tourists come to Erdene Zuu, so I will have to come back again to Kharkhorin to visit it. Saka’s friend has two young children of her own, a boy and girl, and two adopted children, and these kids romped around the room as we drank airag (fermented mare’s milk). Opinions do differ, but some people (including myself) maintain the airag from Övörkhangai Aimag is the best in Mongolia and that Kharkhorin qualifies as the Airag Capital of the World. 

Eventually her husband, who is a monk at Erdene Zuu Khiid, and a friend of his, who is also a monk, arrived. He informed us that chanting would begin at the Laviran Temple at Erdene Zuu at 9:00 the next morning and the puja would start at 1:00 pm. Saka’s friend had a lot to say about the early Turkic People of the Orkhon Valley (the fabled Orkhon River runs through Kharkhorin), a subject which I hope to write more about soon. I had already been to the old Uighur Capital of Khar Balgas a couple times before, and had even considered visiting it again on this trip, to get photos with snow on the ground, but now it appeared there might be too much snow to even reach the place. So I cancelled that part of the trip until next time. Perhaps it was good I did, since after visiting Saka’s friend we took a shortcut to our hotel just outside of Kharkhorin and soon got hung up in a two foot-high snow drift, even though we had a four-wheel drive vehicle. It took us over an hour to shovel our way out. This may have been a harbinger of what would have happened had we taken the trail across the steppe to Khar Balgas. 

Overnight the temperature dropped to 20 below 0 Fº. Sunday dawned clear, however, without so much as a whisker of a cloud in the sky. We headed over to Erdene Zuu and I walked about the perimeter of the complex while Saka and Davaa went in for the chanting. The wall around Erdene Zuu measures about 1315 feet on all four sides and is studded with 108 stupas.
Erdene Zuu. The three Zuu Temples are to the left, bottom; the Laviran Temple is at the left, top. See Erdene Zuu from Guidebook to Locales Connected with the Life of Zanabazar)
 Bottom left corner of Erdene Zuu
  Bottom left corner of Erdene Zuu looking east

  Bottom left corner of Erdene Zuu looking north
Bottom right corner of Erdene Zuu
 Bottom right corner of Erdene Zuu
Eastern Wall of Erdene Zuu
Eastern entrance to Erdene Zuu
Southern Wall
 Historical Consultant and Gazarchin Saka at the wall
 The three Zuu temples inside the compound
Center and Left Zuu Temple; the white structure in the foreground is the tomb of Gombodorj, the father of Zanabazar.
 Central Zuu Temple
Central Zuu Temple 
 Past Buddha in the Right Zuu Temple
Current Buddha (Sakyamuni) in the Right Zuu Temple
Future Buddha (Maidar) in the Right Zuu Temple 

Wall painting in the Right Zuu Temple
Wall painting in the Right Zuu Temple 
Statue in the Central Zuu Temple
Closeup of Statue in the Central Zuu Temple
Statue in Zuu Temple 
 Statue in Zuu Temple
 Statue of Zonkhov (Tsongkapa) founder of the Gelug Sect, in the Right Zuu Temple
  Wall Painting in the Right Zuu Temple
 Stupa between the Zuu Temples and the Laviran Temple
While the Zuu Temples are now part of Erdene Zuu Museum, the Laviran Temple, above, is an active temple of the Erdene Zuu monastery. It is one of the few temples in Mongolia featuring purelyTibetan-style architecture. This is where the Puja was held.
Historical consultant and Gazarchin Saka with statue of Taranatha (1675-1634), the sixteenth incarnation of Javzandamba and the incarnation previous to Zanabazar. I have already visited Takten Damcho Ling, the monastery in Tibet founded by Taranatha. As you no doubt know, the current incarnation of Javzandamba, the Ninth Bogd Gegeen, is currently living in Ulaanbaatar.
Perhaps two or three hundred local people piled into the Laviran Temple for the Puja. This was a three hour ceremony with chanting, singing, and offerings interspersed with teachings by Basaansüren Lama, the abbot of Erdene Zuu Monastery. Outside the temperature had risen to about 0 Fº and it was fairly cozy inside. I was soon entranced by the mantras accompanied by the slow but incessant pounding of drums and the punctuation of crashing cymbals:

Makha zala raljig dodkhan maa
Khodjin yavyuum budra badra srin
Senge sigden donded don ma shii
Jüdsüm degtsog jishin rolbar zad
Makha zala raljig dodkhan maa
Khodjin yavyuum budra badra srin
Senge sigden donded don ma shii
Jüdsüm degtsog jishin rolbar zad
Makha zala raljig dodkhan maa
Khodjin yavyuum budra badra srin
Senge sigden donded don ma shii
Jüdsüm degtsog jishin rolbar zad . . . 

We stayed for the “Um aa shri makha gala ee khum pad suukhai” mantra, a particular haunting invocation which was also half-chanted-half-sung by the attendees, but as soon as that was over we left, since we had a five to six hour drive on snowy roads ahead of us, partly in the dark. I did however feel very lucky to take part in at least part of the Puja on this extremely auspicious day. 

Um aa shri makha gala ee khum pad suukhai
Um aa shri makha gala ee khum pad suukhai
Um aa shri makha gala ee khum pad suukhai
Um aa shri makha gala ee khum pad suukhai
Um aa shri makha gala ee khum pad suukhai
Um aa shri makha gala ee khum pad suukhai