Ivolginsky Datsan is the center of Buddhist culture in Russia. There people held the Khurals, dedicated to the most important events in the history of Buddhism, and other everyday rituals. There is also a library, a hotel, a museum, a greenhouse and Buddhist University “Dashi Choinkhorling”.
Buddhism came to Buryatia from Mongolia in the middle of the 17th century. More ancient and archaic convictions of Buryat-Mongol determined its distinctive features in accordance with Obo cult and religious traditions for worshipping mountains, lands and trees. In 1741, Buddhism in the Russian Empire was legalized by Elizaveta Petrovna (also known as Elisabeth of Russia). In 1925, after the Bolsheviks came to power the antireligious law was passed. Many ancient values and practically all 47 active datsans and dugans were destroyed. Lamas were cast into exile, sent to prison and penal labor or were simply shot down.
After 1937 there were no official Buddhist religious centers in Transbaikal.
During the Great Patriotic War the restoration of temples, churches and datsans across all the USSR began at the request of numerous believers.
At the end of 1945 the official permission to open Ivolginsky Datsan in Verkhnyaya Ivolga village was given.
The main gates of Ivolginsky Datsan are open only on special holidays. During other days the smaller gates, located on the left side of the temple, are used
We pass through the left gate shutter and take the path to the left. We bypass all constructions of Ivolginsky Datsan clockwise, just like the sun goes. This is called the “goroo” ceremony
To the right of the path the prayer wheel is situated. The common name is khurde
Inside of the prayer wheel there are drahnas. These are prayers written on shits of parchment and rolled up into the cylinder
When we spin the prayer wheel, prayers start to move. That is how the karma’s purification works. It is very convenient
The mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” possesses miracle power and is regarded as the most popular mantra among Buddhists. In the biggest prayer wheels this mantra is written 100 million times. One has only to spin the prayer wheel and it is believed that a person “reads” 100 million prayers.
The prayer wheels with mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” inside them
It is possible to “pray” not only with the help of the prayer wheels but also with the help of prayer flags – dartzags. For example, the Khiimori prayer flag (known as the wind horse) is a cloth rag with a mantra and a prayer’s name written on it. Every person has his or her own Khiimori, corresponding to the birth year. The prayer flags also differ in color. The wind horse is depicted in the flag center. A tiger, a lion, a dragon, a garuda and the king of birds are depicted in the corners of the flag. These animals represent the possession of huge power and energy. People usually fly the flag in the beginning of the New Year. It symbolizes the state of person’s fate for the coming year.
Wind is trembling the Khiimori as you are “praying”
Choyra Dugan is the faculty of Buddhist Philosophy
The temples frontons are decorated with a “Doctrine wheel” and two figures of fallow deer looking at it. This is a symbol of the first sermon of Buddha. According to on legend, during the first sermon two fallow deer came out of underbrush and listened to him till the end of the sermon
The main temple Sockshin-dugan is built up according to the mandala principle. On the altar there is a pantheon of one thousand Buddha figures. The biggest figure of Buddha is called Shakyamuni. It is forbidden to take pictures in the temple not to disturb Buddha. People should not turn their backs at Buddha or wear a bag on their shoulders
The biggest impression is made by the carved and painted like a fairytale temple of Pandido Khambo Lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov XII – “Itigel Khambyn ordon”
This temple keeps the most valued relic of all Buddhists – the imperishable Sacred Body of Pandido Khambo Lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov XII. He died in 1927. In 2002 his body was examined by experts. In all aspects the body showed no sights of decay: his joints did not lose its flexibility, his skin was warm and soft, his eyes were in good condition
Stupas – suburgans serve as the monuments of sacred events. They are also the symbolic models of the universe
The top of stupa is decorated with a soyombo symbol. This special character depicts the image of the burning fire as the source of human’s life. White color symbolizes purity of thoughts, blue color stands for peace and harmony between people, yellow in combination with blue color represents the unity of the Sky and Earth. The stupas are also considered to be the symbol of the Enlightenment Mind of Victorious Buddha
Buddhist University “Dashi Choinkhorling” named after Damba Darzha Zayaev (Tibetan “the land of the blessed doctrine”) was opened in 1991 after it had received the governmental license of a higher educational institution. Nowadays about 100 khuvarak-students attend its four faculties. There are the faculties of Philosophy, Tantrism, Iconography and Medicine. At the end of a five-year educational program only 10 students obtain their diploma. The lack of TV and other worldly blessings is very difficult for them
The goal of Buddhism is to put aside greed and material comforts. This is why clothes of Buddhists are so simple and humble
The full mane of Ivolginsky Datsan is Tuges Bayasgalantay Ulzy nomoi Khurdyn Khiid. It can be translated as the Temple (founded) where the Doctrine Wheel (is spinning), (which brings) Happiness and is full of Joy.
The text and photos by Elena Petrova