If you travel to Russia from the West, you most probably won’t expect to see any other religious institutions other than Orthodox churches. However, territories such as Altaisky and Zabaikalsky Krays and Republics of Kalmykia, Tyva and Buryatia are also home to some Buddhist temples known as datsans. It should not surprise you as Russia is a culturally diverse country. For centuries, it has bordered with the countries where Buddhism was a dominant religion. Nowadays, such an inter-influence finds its reflection in more than 200 Buddhist organisations throughout the country. The one that is most visited today and is also a residency to Khambo lama Pandido, a spiritual leader of all lamas spread across Russia, is the Ivolginsky datsan. Keep reading to find out what you can do there in one day.
You should firstly keep in mind that datsans are holy places. There are some specific rules of conduct, shaped by the Buddhist etiquette every visitor should follow. As a general rule, you should not turn your back on Buddha’s statues and point them with your fingers, as well as to smoke, swear, and speak loudly.
Besides that, there is a special ritual of how to go around the datsan. Known as “goroo”, this so-called acquaintance implies the clockwise movement around all the sacred places. It is usually done the odd number of times and follows a marked path, so that the new visitor would not get lost at the vast datsan’s territory. You can either take a detailed excursion with the lama or discover the place on your own.
The Buddhist astrology is an ancient science. Still today, it is an obligatory part of the official studies of every lama. The main purpose of Buddhist astrology or “zurkhay” (in Buryat language) is to introduce and maintain the life harmony. For this reason, every day of the lunar calendar is defined as fortunate or oppositely unfortunate for various deeds. For instance, nomadic civilizations paid much attention to the day when you do a haircut. It’s believed that, depending on the day, you can either find happiness and longevity or lose your soul.
The Ivolginsky datsan even publishes its own lunar calendar. Every year, this is done by Sadbo Aysuev, a chief lama-astrologer of the Buddhist Traditional Sangha of Russia. Not only this calendar defines all the days of the year, but also it indicates the schedule of big and small “khurals”. The word “khural” derives from the Mongolian and means a Buddhist prayer service. You can easily buy such a calendar at the datsan’s souvenir shop or in any other bookstore around Ulan-Ude. Alternatively, you can also get a personal visit to one of the lamas, who will tell you your fortune.
The absolute highlight of the Ivolginsky datsan is the imperishable body of the lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov. The great teacher was born in 1852 and went through a challenging life path to become a lama. But as he ran into nirvana in 1927, he gave a commandment to his flock to first burry him and later to draw him out in 70 years. To everyone’s surprise and particularly to scientists’ who were present at his exhumation, the lama’s body was not deformed, both tissues and nails remained imperishable.
Today, the Itigilov’s body still remains one of the greatest mysteries of the last century. If scientists consider it an incomprehensible phenomenon, for the Buryat Buddhists it’s a pure miracle. Usually, anyone can see the sacred remains, but only during the big Buddhist festivities, one of which is Sagaalgan, the Buryat New Year. Saying that, if you plan a trip to Siberia, a land of the unknown and want to evidence at least two great phenomena, choose February. Not only you will be able to experience the Ivolginsky datsan in one day with all its wonders but also photograph a legendary frozen Baikal Lake.
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