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Ivolginsky Datsan: Centre of Russian Buddhism
November 22, 2010 18:10

Ivolginsky Datsan (lamaist monastery) the main centre of Buddhism in Russia is situated at the bottom of Khamar-Daban mountains, in 30 km from Ulan-Ude. Although its history begun just in 1945, Ivolginsky Datsan is draws attention of numerous tourists, pilgrims and believers from all over the world. Crowds of pilgrims come here to behold one of the main Buddhist shrines - incorruptible relics of lama Dashi Dorzho Itigelov.There is a Bo tree growing here as well. Rumour has it that rites carried out here can work wonders. It is known for certain that talapoins practise Tibetan medicine and cure visitors, believers and non-Buddhists as well. The lamaist monastery consists of temples, stupas, Buddhist University buildings, hotel for guests and museum of Buddhist fine arts monuments. Datsan is protected as a monument of hieratic architecture.


Of course, history of Buddhism in Russia begun a little earlier that in 1945. It was in early 17th century, when Budhism found its way from Mongolia to Trans-Baikal lands. Before that Shamanism dominating belief here. The Buryats worshipped Baikal Lake, Spirit of Big Water, local spirits, spirits of fire, stones, trees and animals. Elements of shemanism are still to be notices in contemporary Buryatia: you can see abo along the roads. Abo is a wooden construction, kind of wooden gates. The local spirits are believed to live in them.

The people usually make stops next to abo and leave something for the spirit: a coin, or a candy, or something. In the late 17th century the cossacks, colonyzing these lands have brought here Orthodox Christianity. But it was not popular among the local public at all: instead of Buddhism, it was very intolerant to the local beliefs. In 1741 Buddhism has obtained an official status by decree of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna. By that time there were 11 datsans in Buryatia. Mongol lamas didn't afflict local beliefs, fitting them under the Buddhism. They told that spirits are also persons like the people guarding these territories for ages. By 1917 there were already 44 in the lands of Trans-Baikalia, and 6, 000 lamas. They were subdivided into lamas-priests, lamas-astrologists and physicians.

All this finished with the Soviets, and in 1930-s all the lamaist monasteries were closed. There is a stupa in Ivolginsky Datsan, constructed in memoriam of lamas repressed in that period. However, in the end of the World War II (in 1945), the believers have gained their right to resume one datsan to commemrate the war dead. The place was given in the village of Ivolga. The first temple was an ordinary house re-constructed for religious purposes. Now the students of Buddhist University learn mantres in Tibetan and Old Mongolian.

What to see and what to do

When the guests arrive to datsan, regardless to their own religion, they are offered to make a ritual of goro: circumambulation of the complex. It is attended by rotating of the prayer wheels. There are rolls with mantras inside them, so rotating a wheel is like reading mantras. The biggest wheel contains a roll, where one of the main mantras is written hundred million times. One turning is equal to one hundred million prayers. But things like this are usual for lamaist monasteries. Unusual thins is mentioned incorruptible relics of lama Dashi Dorzho Itigelov, available 8 times a year on the main Buddhist holidays. It is situated in the Temple of the Pure Land.

The relic is a real body of the real man. 12 Hambo Lama Itigelov died in 1927. The lamas say he left the life knowingly and voluntarily: he went to a meditation sitting in a lotus posture. He made a will that his disciples that they should have a look at his body in 30 years. In 1955 they did it and found the body in absolutely undamaged condition. In 2002 (in 75 years after the funerals) the body was transported to a temple. The autopists examined the body and admired its safe state: no traces of corruption, it warm, flexible, looks like alive. Taking films and photos of the body is strictly prohibited, so you can check it nly having visited Ivolginsky Datsan. The Buddhists believe that his soul is still partly in the body and his condition is meditation.

What about Itigelov, this man headed the Russian Buddhists in 1911 - 1918. Although it was not long ago, his name is covered with legends: the people tell that 12 Pandito Hambo Lama Dashi Dorzho Itigelov used to work wonders in his lifetime: he could instantly shift in space, one day he rode a horse on the expanse of lake.

Other considerable shrine of this place is the Bodhi tree, growing in the special greenhouse: it is rather cold for banyan trees in this region.

This strange place is situated in 30 kilometers from Ulan-Ude . Moreover, there are guided excursions, carried out in Russian and in English as well. It costs 100 - 300 rubles pro person, depending on the size of group. Accommodation is provided in the guest houses in the settlement of Verkhnyaa Ivolga next to it.


Tags: Russian tourism Ivolginsky Datsan Ulan-Ude buddhism Buryatia 

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