We're a bit overdue for a blog post, but I wanted to make sure we got all the photos we wanted for this post before writing. Though photos inside the temple are not allowed, we've walked around and photographed the outside multiple times, and we're hoping to negotiate an indoor photo session before the end of our trip. Ted plans to write a book about his research here, and it sure would be nice to have photos of the amazing interior of this building, including the giant gold Buddha statue.
Elista is built in a sloping valley, so from most places in the city you can either see the temple on the horizon or nestled into the heart of the city from afar. It was constructed in 2005 as part of the post-Soviet Buddhist revival here in Kalmykia.
The Dalai Lama blessed the construction site in 2004 and gave the temple its official name - The Golden Abode. The Kalmyk word for temple is khurul [hoo-rool], which is the name this temple goes by around town. There is a smaller, earlier temple built on the outskirts of the city, which we will blog about at a later time, but this larger temple is much more accessible as we can get here on foot or by marshrutka.
|"Site blessed by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama"|
The temple grounds are pretty bare right now, as Spring has yet to bring the rose bushes and tulip bulbs out of dormancy. However, there are plenty of colorful prayer flags strung up to give a pop of color, in addition to the bright red prayer wheels and colorfully painted pagodas.
As you approach the temple, you will see a wrought-iron fence built around the perimeter, topped with 108 miniature stupas [STOO-pa], containers for holy relics. 108 is a significant number in the Buddhist faith, and we have been told several stories about locals and their relatives who had some good fortune after visiting the temple 108 times, or praying 108 times, etc.
|The decorated stupas have relics inside of them. |
The undecorated stupas are empty, and I assume they will be filled as more holy relics appear.
|It's difficult to see, but there is a little Buddha statue inside the cavity framed in red.|
On each side of the perimeter fence there is a large, ornate gate, though only the front and back gates are kept open. As you can see in the photos, the fence and gates are always heavily strung with prayer flags flapping in the seemingly constant wind here.
|ceiling of gated entrance|
The grounds of the khurul are meant to resemble a mandala, and the common practice is to walk clockwise around the perimeter, paying respects to the 17 Pandit statues (teachers of Buddhism) and turning the prayer wheels.
|One of the seventeen Pandits|
|Looking out toward the city with the temple at my back|
Every time we visit the temple, we see people bowing to the Pandits and spinning the prayer wheels. The temple is not just for show; it gets a lot of use and is treated as an everyday part of life by many. There is a little bell attached to the larger prayer wheels, which you can hear in the videos if you turn your volume up.
|Prayer wheel detail|
The temple sits atop a 7 meter artificial hill. On the tier level with the temple, there are smaller prayer wheels. The temple sides face the four cardinal directions, with the main entrance facing the south.
|West-facing temple face with prayer wheels|
Also on the temple grounds, and included in the Kalmyk version of Buddhism, is the White Elder statue. The White Elder is the traditional protector of the steppe and the Kalmyk people, from the time they were nomads. He is usually depicted with a steppe animal by his side - here it is the saiga, or steppe antelope, which looks like a very strange cross between an antelope and an elephant.
|People leave offerings of bortsigi |
(Kalmyk fried bread), fruit, and candy.
Until next time! Do svidanya!