Autobiographies and Family Trees

In Kalmykia, autobiographies are not only stories about one's life but they often include details about the narrator's kinsfolk, ancestors, and native home. Convergence of personal and tribal identities can be seen not only from autobiographies but also from daily activities and interactions such as greetings. Traditionally, a Kalmyk greeting between strangers begins with a standard question kenyahnyavt? 'which clan/family do you belong to?' to which a usual reply includes information about one's clan, its name, attributes, and merits. Here is an example: Kokshn Chakchi sekuste, manla gidg gurmte, Nogan Derk hurlta, Eej Avgatan gidg urata, Ik Bagud gidg uls bidn 'Our spirit protector is the ancient Chakchi, our mantra is manla, our temple is that of Green Tara, our totem is Eedzh Avgatan and I am from the clan of Iki Bagud'. Only after that the respondent provides his/her proper name and other personal information. As knowledge of kinship is considered very valuable, from an early age the Kalmyks are encouraged to memorize their family trees - which include the names of male relatives only - and their clan affiliation.

Agvan Eshey, Autobiography

Lama Agvan Eshey grew up in Elista where he finished secondary school and afterwards served in the army. During perestroika, he actively participated in the work of the first Buddhist community which was established in 1988 and had its first meeting in the building of the Russian Theatre in Elista. In 1989 Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, who was the reincarnation of one of the 16 disciples of Buddha and India’s ambassador to Mongolia, paid a visit to Kalmykia. It was during his visit that the first group of Kalmyk students was sent to Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to pursue religious education. Due to personal circumstances, Agvan Eshey did not join the first cohort but remained to work as an assistant in a temple on Lermontov street in Elista. At that time lamas from Buryatia taught basic Tibetan grammar and Buddhist texts at that temple. From them Agvan Eshey learnt some prayers and basic Tibetan.

Tuvan Dordzhi, the Shajin Lama (Head Lama) of Kalmykia at that time, decided that Agvan Eshey should receive a proper religious education. Along with another boy Agvan Eshey was sent to Aginskiy Monastery in Buryatia where he received his first spiritual name of Lobsang Tsodnam. Upon his return to Kalmykia, Agvan Eshey worked in a local temple.

The second visit of Kushok Bakula Rinpoche to Kalmykia took place in 1990. From the high Rinpoche he received his current name of Agvan Eshey.


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