Amarbayasgalant Monastery, also known as the “Monastery of Tranquil Felicity” is one of the three largest monastic Buddhist centres in Mongolia. The monastery complex is located in the Iven Valley near the Selenge River, at the foot of Mount Büren-Khaan in the Baruunbüren Sum (district) of Selenge Province in northern Mongolia. The nearest town is Erdenet which is about 60 km to the southwest.
Amarbayasgalant Monastery is considered to be the second most important monastery in Outer Mongolia. It is traditionally the retreat place of the Bogd Khaans or Jetsun Dhampas, the heads of Tibetan Buddhism within Mongolia.
Amarbayasgalant Monastery was established and funded by order of Manchu Emperor Yongzheng (and completed under his successor the Qianlong Emperor) to serve as the final resting place for Zanabazar (1635–1723), the first Jetsun Dampa Khutuktu or spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism in Outer Mongolia. He was a spiritual mentor to both emperors’ ancestor, the Kangxi Emperor.
Tradition holds that while searching for an appropriate site to build the monastery, the exploratory group came across two young boys, Amur and Bayasqulangtu, playing on the steppe. They were inspired to build the monastery on that very spot and to name it after the two children, Amur-Bayasqulangtu. However it is more probable that the location was chosen because it stood at the place where the Lama’s traveling Da Khuree (his mobile monastery and prime residence) was encamped at the moment of his death. Construction took place between 1727 and 1736 and Zanabazar’s remains were transferred there in 1779.
Amarbayasgalant Monastery is one of the very few monasteries to have partly escaped destruction during the Stalinist purges of 1937, after which only the buildings of the central section remained. Many of the monks were executed by the country’s Communist regime and the monastery’s artefacts, including thangkas, statues and manuscripts were looted, although some were hidden until more fortunate times.
Amarbayasgalant Monastery is dedicated to Zanabazar’s main tutelary deity, Maitreya. Unlike Erdene Zuu Monastery, which is an ensemble of temple halls in different styles, Amarbayasgalant shows great stylistic unity. The overriding style is Chinese, with some Mongol and Tibetan influences. The architectural complex of the monastery embodies Manchu-style spatial arrangement in construction planning, Chinese architectural arts, and vernacular architectural elements and knowledge of the Mongolian people.
The architecture of this monastery is in perfect harmony with nature and the environment. It is situated in the cul-de-sac of a long, deep valley backed by the sheer cliffs of Burenkhan Mountain against which the monastery is built. The valley is well-watered by the Ivin River and has long been renowned for its rich vegetation and pasture land. In particular, thick groves of native Mongolian cherries have attracted people since ancient times up until the present and are the reason for the association of this valley with theologies of fertility, rebirth and gardens of paradise.
The valley is covered throughout its extent with Turkic-era graves of various geometric shapes marked out in large boulders. These important archaeological features which date from the 3rd – 7th Centuries are an indication that the valley has had long-standing sacred associations for the people of Mongolia. These associations continued uninterrupted into the Buddhist era, when they were once again validated with the construction of Amarbayasgalant Monastery.
Amarbayasgalant Monastery and its surrounding landscape also have a unique cultural relationship with the nomadic people, who have used the land for pastoral purposes and the long-standing practices of worshipping natural sacred sites and mountains. Since its establishment, the monastery has always been a place of high religious and spiritual significance for the nomadic herders who live within and around the area.
As such, the monastery represents an important interchange of creative human values on developments in religious architectural construction of Buddhist monasteries within Central and North-east Asia. The monastery is also an exceptional testament to the unique tradition of the Mongolian form of Buddhism and the traditional practices related to sacred sites as held by the nomadic peoples of the area.
Amarbayasgalant Monastery is one of the most authentic Buddhist monasteries that has flourished after the political upheavals of the 1930s. Originally, the monastery consisted of over 40 temples built on a special terrace, surrounded by a wall. Only 28 temples now remain and have been under State protection since 1944. Over many years, the monastery has conserved authenticity and integrity through a protection plan that has been developed in a scientific manner.
The work of measuring and restoring the monastery began in 1972 with international assistance from UNESCO and with the help of His Eminence Sokpu Rinpoche. The restoration of the Temple was based on the monastery’s available original materials and archive photographs, and has continued until today.
The monastery has a symmetrical construction. Accordingly, the buildings are hierarchically arranged along the central axis so that all the important buildings run down the centre from north and south. The layout of the monastery is similar to the general layout of the Imperial Palace.
The construction of its Tsogchin (Main) Temple expresses the planning features of Mongolian national architecture. One of its most interesting facets is the routing of roof water through the inside of four columns, under the floor, through strong grooves and away from the temple itself.
The newly constructed Dorje Shugden Temple lies two miles to the west of the monastery, on the hillside on the opposite side of the Iven River. Previously, there were three temples here dedicated to Zanabazar, Dorje Shugden and the 8th Bogd Gegen but these temples were destroyed in the late 1930s.
The Dorje Shugden Temple was rebuilt and two large stupas were constructed in place of the temples of Zanabazar and the 8th Bogd Gegen. Between these stupas, eight slightly smaller stupas were recently constructed. The lone stupa higher on the hill is an original dating from 1868.
There is a large statue of Buddha Shakyamuni flanked by hundreds of clay statues of Zanabazar fashioned by local monks within the temple itself. There is also a thangka of Dorje Shugden. According to the caretaker, devotees of Dorje Shugden from many foreign countries have come here in recent years to engage in meditation retreats.
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