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Erdene Zuu monastery, Kharakorum, Karakorum, Harhorin, Khara-khorin, Kharakhorum, Khara Khorum, Kharakhorum, Mongolias ancient capital, Mongolian monasteries

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ERDENE ZUU KHIID (MONASTERY)


Erdene Zuu (Hundred Treasures) was the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. The monastery was started in 1586 by Abtai Khaan, but wasn't entirely finished until about 300 years later. It had between 60 and 100 temples, about 300 gers were set up inside the walls and, at its height, up to 1000 monks were in residence.

Like Karakorum, the monastery was abandoned and then vandalized by invading Manchus. Attempts at restoration were made in about 1760 and, again, in 1808 under the direction of the famous architect Manzshir, but then came the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. All but three of the temples in Erdene Zuu were destroyed and an unknown number of monks were either killed or shipped off to Siberia and never heard from again.

However, a surprising number of statues, tsam masks and scroll paintings were saved from the monastery at the time of the purges - possibly with the help of a few sympathetic military officers. These were buried in nearby mountains, or stored in local homes (at great risk to the residents). Sadly the statues are still not safe: a security system was installed in the monastery halls in early 2000 after several statues were stolen.

The monastery remained closed until 1965 when it was permitted to reopen as a museum, but not as a place of worship. It was only with the collapse of communism in 1990 that religious freedom was restored and the monastery became active again. Today, Erdene Zuu Khiid still retains much of its former glory, though no doubt it's a shadow of what it once was. Restoration of the monastery is one of Mongolia's top cultural projects, but few funds are available from the government or international agencies.
 

Temples. The monastery is enclosed in an immense walled compound. Spaced evenly along each wall, about every 15m, are 108 stupas (108 is a sacred number to Buddhists). The three temples in the compound which were not destroyed in the 1930s, are dedicated to the three stages of Buddha's life: childhood, adolescence and adulthood. See the boxed text 'Important Figures of Tibetan Buddhism' in the Facts about Mongolia chapter for a brief description of some of the gods you will see in the monastery.

Dalai Lama Sum was built to commemorate the visit by Abtai Khaan's son, Altan, to the Dalai Lama in Tibet in 1675. The room is bare save for a statue of Zanabazar and some fine 17th-century scroll paintings depicting the dalai lamas and various protector deities.
 

Inside the courtyard, the temple to the west, built by Abtai Khaan and his son, is dedicated to the adult Buddha. Inside, on either side of Sakyamuni (the historical Buddha), are statues of Sanjaa (Sanskrit: Dipamkara), the past Buddha, to the left; and Maidar (Sanskrit: Maitreya), the future Buddha, to the right. Other items on display include some golden 'wheels of eternity', naimin takhel (the eight auspicious symbols), figurines from the 17th and 18th centuries, and balm (wheat dough cakes, decorated with colored medallions of goat or mutton fat), made in 1965 and still well preserved. Look out for the inner circumambulation path leading off to the left, just by the entrance.
 

The main and central temple is called the Zuu of Buddha. The entrance is flanked by the gods Gonggor on the left and Bandal Lham (Sanskrit: Palden Lhamo) on the right. Inside, on either side of the statues of the child Buddha, are (to the right) Otoch Manal, the Medicine Buddha and (to the left) Holy Abida, the god of justice. The temple also contains statues of Niam and Dabaa, the sun and moon gods respectively, a few of the tsam masks that survived the purges, some carved, aggressive looking guards from the 16th and 17th centuries, and some displays of the work of the revered sculptor and Buddhist, Zanabazar.
 

In the temple to the east, there's a statue depicting the adolescent Buddha. The statue on the right is Tsongkhapa, who founded the yellow Hat sect of Buddhism in Tibet. The figure on the left is Janraisig (Tibetan: Chenresig; Sanskrit: Avalokitesvara), the bodhisattva of compassion.
 

As you walk north you will pass the Golden Prayer Stupa, built in 1799. The temple next to this is said to be the first temple built at Erdene Zuu. Look out for the mandala on the ceiling.

The large white temple at the far end is the Tibetan-style Lavrin Sum, where ceremonies are held every morning.
 

Apart from the main temples, there are several other interesting things to see. The gravestones of Abtai Khaan (1554-1588) and his grandson Tushet Khaan Gombodorj (the father of Zanabazar) stand in front of the Dalai Lama Sum and are inscribed in Mongol, Chinese, Tibetan and Arabic scripts. In the north-east of the monastery are the base stones of a gigantic ger (now called the Square of Happiness and Prosperity), set up in 1639 to commemorate Zanabazar's birthday. The ger was reported to be 15m high and 45m in diameter, with 35 concertina-style walls, and could seat 300 during the annual assemblies of the local khaans. The hollow of what was once an artificial lake can be seen next to the foundations.

Entrance to the monastery grounds is free. If you want to see inside the temples, however, you'll have to go to the administration office on your left as you enter the grounds from the south and buy a ticket for T3000, which includes a guided tour of the site. The museum is open from 9 am to 6 pm daily. The monastery is an easy 2km walk from the center of Kharkhorin.
 

Ceremonies in Lavrin Slim usually start at around 11 am, though the times vary so ask at the office. Visitors are welcome, but photographs during ceremonies are not. A shop next to the administration office sells some good but expensive souvenirs.

There is a US$5 charge to take photographs inside the temple, while using a video camera costs US$10. Outside of the temples, you may take as many photos as you wish.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
PAGES OF THE PICTURE ALBUM. KHARAKHORUM
Photo. Erdene Zuu monastery (Hundred Treasures) was the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Kharkhorin. Uvurkhangai Province in Mongolia.

Photo. Erdene Zuu monastery (Hundred Treasures) was the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Kharkhorin. Uvurkhangai Province in Mongolia.

Photo. Erdene Zuu monastery (Hundred Treasures) was the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Kharkhorin. Uvurkhangai Province in Mongolia.

Photo. Erdene Zuu monastery (Hundred Treasures) was the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Kharkhorin. Uvurkhangai Province in Mongolia.

Photo. Erdene Zuu monastery (Hundred Treasures) was the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Kharkhorin. Uvurkhangai Province in Mongolia.

Photo. Erdene Zuu monastery (Hundred Treasures) was the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Kharkhorin. Uvurkhangai Province in Mongolia.

Photo. Erdene Zuu monastery (Hundred Treasures) was the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Kharkhorin. Uvurkhangai Province in Mongolia.

Photo. Erdene Zuu monastery (Hundred Treasures) was the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Kharkhorin. Uvurkhangai Province in Mongolia.

 
Other photos you can see on pages of our photo album. Kharakhorum (Karakorum)

 

 

- Uvurkhangai aimag.

- Uvurkhangai aimag map.

- Arvaikheer.
 

- Kharkhorin (Mongolian: ).

- Erdene Zuu monastery.

- Karakorum.
 The ruins of the ancient capital of Mongolia.

- Kharakhorum Museum.
 

- Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape.

- Orkhon river.

- Orkhon Waterfall (Ulaan Tsutgalan).

- Deer stone monuments and square
 graves of Temeen Chuluu.

- Tuvkhun monastery.

- Shankh Monastery.
 

- Arvaikheer. Pages of the pictures album.

 
 

- Regins of Mongolia

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- General map of Mongolia

- Administrative map of Mongolia

 

 

- Ulaanbaatar 
 

 

 

- Darkhan uul

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- Orkhon 
 

 

 

- Tuv Aimag

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