A Mongolian Buddhist monastery

The Amarbayasgalant monastery, northern Mongolia. Photograph: Willem Vogelsang, August 2014

The Amarbayasgalant monastery, northern Mongolia. Photograph: Willem Vogelsang, August 2014

Well, I am back in Holland, but only a few days ago I had the chance to visit a Buddhist monastery in the north of Mongolia. It is the Amarbayasgalant khiid (monastery), in Selenge Province. It was founded in the early 18th century, and to some degree survived the destruction of almost all Buddhist centres in the Stalinist era. What I particularly liked were the many prayer flags hung along ropes between the various pinnacles of the buildings, a very Tibetan spectacle! And then there were the blue khatags, or prayer scarves, that were attached everywhere. The Tibetan prayer scarves are generally white, and seem to be used differently. Here in Mongolia they are attached to trees, cairns, stakes, stupas, etc. You see them everywhere. In fact, I was graciously presented with one at the end of the conference we had organised (now of course being absorbed into the TRC collection). They are generally blue, and are of course very reminiscent of comparable pieces of textiles that pilgrims in many countries leave behind. I know the custom so well from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India, but there they are used to confirm certain wishes, as for instance by women who pray for children. In Mongolia the blue khatags represent heaven and the blue skies of Mongolia (see the photograph), and thus seem to reflect the old shamanistic belief system of Tengri ('heaven'). Perhaps a new research area for the TRC: the use of textiles in religious rituals?

Willem Vogelsang, 16 August 2014

Blue prayer scarves attached to the Amarbayasgalant Khiid (Buddhist monastery), northern Mongolia. Photograph: Willem Vogelsang, August 2014.

Blue prayer scarves attached to the Amarbayasgalant Khiid (Buddhist monastery), northern Mongolia. Photograph: Willem Vogelsang, August 2014.

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