Suitcase and World: Erdene Zuu.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Erdene Zuu.

ne of the highlights of my trip to Mongolia was our visit to Erdene Zuu Monastery, located on the site of Chingis Khan’s capital city of Kharkhorin. Kharkhorin is often confused with the "Karakorum" (the mountains and highway between Pakistan and China) but it is actually pronounced "Harhorin" . The city was founded in 1220 by Chingis, and completed by his son, Ogedai, after his death.

The city was abandoned by Kublai Khan when he expanded the empire and moved the capital to present day Beijing. Nothing is left of the former capital except for the rocks and bricks that were used to build the Erdene Zuu Monastery, and three of the four stone tortoise statues that marked the borders of the city.

Today the monastery is still active, although it is nowhere near it’s former glory. In fact, it is the only monastery that was allowed to stay open during the communist era, although it was just allowed to be a museum, and not an active place of worship. In its peak, it had over 1000 monks in residence, and 60 to 100 temples inside its walls.

Today, it's a tourist hot spot. Outside the monastery walls, craftsmen and souvenir vendors have set up stands waiting for the tourists. The only one that caught my interest was the guy with the Golden Eagle.

Erdene Zuu is a huge compound — a square nearly half a kilometre a side. According to the guide I read,
The monastery is surrounded by 108 stupas, joined together by a square stone wall. Each stupa is 3.15-3.17 metres wide at its foundation, and is 7.5 metres in height, including a 3.4 metre base. The main temples of Erdene Zuu – the three Zuu temples, the Dalai Lama temple, and so on – are situated in the nortwest section of the monastery; in the north-central section is located the "Golden Stupa", a 1.6 metre-high stupa is in the Bodhi style surrounded by eight smaller stupas of various types, built on a square foundation. Nearby were formerly located the main Cogchin prayer temple, the "Blue Temple" (also known as the "Old Temple"), and the temples of Bogd Lavrin, Ochirdar' and Zhanraiseg. To the south there were once a compound used by the head lama and an astrology temple. In the southeastern part of the monastery there was a complex of temples built by the White Pilgrim, as well as the temples of Zhanchivlin and Dashchoilin. In the centre of the monastery complex was situated a large pond, next to which Abtai Sain Xan had constructed his palace-yurt (the foundations of which remain visible today), and to the southwest of which were found a library and the Geser temple.

Once I was inside the monastery complex, I could see the 108 stupas and wall.

Figuring out what the other buildings were was a little bit more challenging though it was obvious which buildings were the main Zuu temples. These are three small temples built side-by-side – known as the Central Zuu, Western Zuu, and Eastern Zuu temples.

As described in the guidebook,
Each temple has an interior circumambulation corridor, and a large decorated pinnacle named Ochir Ganzhir on its roof. The Central Zuu temple contains a statue of the Buddha, with statues of Gombogur and the goddess Lxam to his right and left. The Western and Eastern Zuu temples respectively house statues and icons dedicated to the Buddha in his youth and maturity. The ceilings and walls of the temples are decorated with the portraits of various deities.

After the Zuu Temples, the Golden Stupa was one of the two only structure that I could recognize based on the description in the guidebook. Hard to miss it actually :-)

You couldn't go inside the stupa so I just walked aroudn it to see if from all the angles.

Last but not least, there was the chanting hall where I experienced the monks doing their morning chant. I found out later on that this was the Bogd Lavrin temple.

There was a good size ger set up on the complex. Inside, there were a few monks whom you could pay to *consult with*. I really wanted to do chat with a monk but I quickly realized that I was running out of time....I had to be hack at the main entrance in a matter of minutes. With the approval of the monks, I snapped a few photos and left.

As I walked out, I realized that despite the fact that I had spent two hours visiting the monastery complex, that I had actually only seen a portion of it. I wish I had had a couple more hours but for what little time I was there, I really enjoyed the visit. I left with good memories!