Mongolia’s religious roots are bound
up in Shamanism. However this religious phenomena doesn’t match the
conventional description of a religion in the same way as Buddhism or
Christianity. Shamanism has no founder from whom its teachings originate. There
is no collection of sacred sutras or a bible, as it doesn’t possess any
monastic communities to preach or distribute its doctrines. The origins of
Shamanism are still unclear, but historians are certain it emerged at the same
time as the first human artistic concepts of fetishism, tokenism and animism to
name just a few.
Shamanism was the major religion during both the ancient Mongol states and the
Mongol Empire until Tibetan Buddhism (also called Vajrayana Buddhism) gained
more popularity after it was introduced in 13th century. Tibetan Buddhism
shared the common Buddhist goals of individual release from suffering and
reincarnation. Tibet’s Dalai Lama, who lives in India, is the religion’s
spiritual leader, and is highly respected in Mongolia.
Shamanism has continued to be practiced by a few of the ethnic groups living in
northern and western Mongolia, including the Tsaatan, who are more commonly
known as the reindeer people. Mongolians practice ritualistic magic, nature
worship, exorcism, meditation, and natural healing as part of their shamanistic
Buddhism was introduced to Mongolia from Tibet by Kublai Khan during the late
13th century. Kublai Khan invited an eminent Tibetan lama, Pagba, to be
empire’s religious representative. From the late 14th century onwards hudreds
of Buddhist temples were rapidly built across Mongolia. Thousands of Mongolian
males vowed to live as lamas at one point almost one seventh of the male
population has taken robes. Until the beginning of the twentieth century
Buddhism developed and spread across the country, playing an important role on
both religions and intellectual spheres of life.
The 1921 People’s Revolution swiftly installed a socialist regime, which
officially prohibited any religious practice. During the 1930’s political
purges under resulted in the destruction of more than 700 temples and the death
of around 10.000 lamas. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that, as part of the
rise of democracy, Buddhism was revived as Mongolia’s major religion.
Mongolia’s largest monastery- Gandan-is in Ulaanbaatar. In October 1996, Gandan
hosted a massive opening ceremony for its newly installed 25 meter high, 60 ton
Megjid Janraisag statue, which is the symbol of the revival of Buddhism in
Mongolia. The statue’s name translates as "the all seeing Lord”.
Meanwhile Mongolia’s Kazakhs are Muslims. Islam is mainly practiced in Bayan
Olgii, the most westerly province in Mongolia.
Since the mid nineties large number of Christians, Bahais and Mormons have
arrived in Mongolia seeking to convent Mongolians from Buddhism to their
various faiths. There has recently been concern about missionaries working
mainly as English teachers and seeking to convent in and outside of classrooms.
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