The nomadic lifestyle requires mobile dwellings and structures. The traditional dwelling of the Kalmyks is called ger or ishkya ger (felt yurt), which is widely used among various nomadic peoples of Central and Inner Asia. Easy to assemble and transport, durable as well as lightweight, the ger consists of four main parts, namely the term (wall), the udn (door), the unin (roof poles), and the kharach (roof ring or crown), all of which are made of wood by Kalmyk carpenters. The wall is an expandable latticework construction consisting of several sections arranged in a circular shape and tied together with a rope. The latticework is made of rods of equal length organized in a crisscross pattern. The size of the yurt depends on the length of the wall and the number of roof poles, which can be between 66 and 146. By adding or reducing the wall and roof poles, one can change the size of the yurt. The roof ring of the Kalmyk yurt is supported by roof poles only, which contrasts with the Mongolian yurt which has additional columns to support the roof ring from the floor. The Kalmyk yurt also differs from those used in Central Asia by its straight roof poles that give the roof a conical shape rather than a rounded, convex one as in the case in Central Asian ones. The whole structure is covered with felt which keeps the inside warm in winter and cool in summer.

The Kalmyks are Buddhists. In the beginning temples were mobile and accommodated in yurts called khurla ger. Over time, temples came to be housed in buildings made of stone or wood. In 1872, for example, in Kalmykia there were 6 stone temples and 151 wooden ones. The early stationery temples showed a characteristically Tibetan influence – square in shape, their walls widening towards the base of the building. The Kalmyk temples were later enriched with Russian architectural solutions, ideas, and materials. Built to commemorate the Russian victory over Napoleon in 1812, the Khosheutovsky temple, for example, was modelled on Kazan Cathedral in St Petersburg constructed in 1811.

Having been the main abode for nomadic Kalmyks until the first half of the 20th century, today the yurt is no longer used as a dwelling but is relegated to museums and tourist camps. It was not only the yurt that suffered during the Soviet period. In the 1930s all Buddhist structures, including temples, a monastery, and stupas, were destroyed. Since the 1990s, the Kalmyk government actively supports the revival of Buddhism and as a result today almost every settlements in Kalmykia, including towns and villages, have temples, prayer houses, and stupas. Designed by Soviet-educated contemporary Kalmyk architects, many modern temples and prayer houses, however, are different from historical ones.

Badma Amulakova, About the Felt Yurt

In this video Badma talks about the felt yurts that the Kalmyks have stopped using since the 1940s.

The wooden carcass of the felt yurt consists of the following parts: term (wall), unin (roof poles), kharach (roof ring), tsagrg, uudn (door), and erg (door step). The wooden carcass is covered with felt, which consists of the following parts: deevr (roof cover), ork (cover for the roof ring), tuurg (wall cover), and irgvch (cover used for the lower part of the wall). Traditionally, the Kalmyk yurt is erected facing south. Its interior is divided into several areas. The right-hand side — as when one enters the yurt – is where the bed of the head of family (i.e. the father) stands. The father sleeps in this bed with his son(s). Underneath on the floor sleeps his wife with their daughter(s). The left-hand side of the yurt belongs to the parents of the husband. Like his son, the grandfather sleeps in a bed while his wife on the floor with grandchildren. The area of the yurt (opposite the door) is called khoomr. It is the most respectable area. Only guests or elders can be seated there. In the past, wealthy people had two chest sets (baran) on either side of their yurts, whereas the poor had only one. A baran usually consists of four pieces put on top of each other, including a small closet with doors, two chests, and a small table for offerings. The closet is used to store saddles, ropes, stirrups, etc., whereas the chest on top of it – for keeping clothes or food. The upper chest, which is smaller in size, is where precious items are stored, including jewellery, hats, etc. The table for offerings (teklin shire) is used to put images and statues of deities, as well as offerings (a cup with tea, candles) for these deities. Statues of different deities are wrapped in clothes of different colour. For example, Maitreya has a reddish-brown gown, White Tara – a white gown, Green Tara – a green robe, etc. Other items displayed or put on the table of offerings are a purse (ketch) to keep prayer beads and incense, a small revolving prayer drum (kurd) which contains mantras, as well as various offerings to gods (coins, cloth) and a boat-shaped vessel for incense.


Badma Amulakova, About the Felt Yurt


Badma Amulakova, Inside a Felt Yurt


Olga Arkhakova, About the Construction of Two Temples in Elista


Yuriy Sangadzhiev, About the Felt Yurt