Temples, Stupas and Sacred Places

All temples in Kalmykia, around 100 in the pre-revolutionary period, were destroyed by the Soviet state during the anti-religious purges of the 1930s. It was not until 1989 that the first prayer house was opened following the establishment of a Buddhist community in Elista. The first Buddhist temple Sakyusn Sume was built in 1997 on the outskirts of Elista. In 2006 the temple of Burkhan Bugshin Altan Sume, the biggest temple not only in Kalmykia but in Europe, was opened in the centre of the capital city. As a result of almost three decades of religious revival, today the Republic is dotted with Buddhist temples, Dharma centres, and prayer houses. The majority of the temples are affiliated with Gelug, the dominant school in Kalmykia. Other schools, including Kagyu, Sakya, and Nyingma, also run a temple each. Another major development in the Buddhist architectural landscape are stupas which have been built in large numbers near temples, in villages, and in the countryside. The growing number of stupas is partly related to the fact that many clans wish to build stupas dedicated to their clan and ancestors. Also, a number of stupas are dedicated to various historical events and historical figures. As a rule, many sacred places are marked by stupas or a temple or both. In this collection, you can see videos and listen to stories about religious buildings of the past and the present.

About the Bogdakhin Temple

The video features two narrators, Lyudmila Sarangova and Al’mira Erendzhenova who talk about the Bogdakhin temple. Destroyed in 1929, the temple was rebuilt in 1991. It is situated in the village of Khar-Buluk in Tselinnyi rayon of Kalmykia.

Lyudmila Sarangova: The temple was given to the Kalmyks as a present by the Dalai Lama V and the Panchen Lama IV in 1681. In the beginning, the nomadically organized temple, which was housed in a yurt and moved along the banks of the Manych river, was called Bogdo Dalai Lamyn Ik Khurul Rashil Khumbo. Later it was housed in a permanent building. When it was destroyed in 1929 its last abbot was Ochir-Purdash Dzhungruev – also known as Purdash bagsh – who became a gelyung (monastic title) in 1904. He was born in 1856 into the clan of Shabiner. He went on pilgrimage to Tibet twice, in 1898-1900 and in 1902-1904 respectively. In Tibet Purdash bagsh was received by the Dalai Lama V. Purdash bagsh described his pilgrimages in his diaries that were later translated into Russian by the St Petersburg Geographical Society that presented him with a silver medal.

One day during his trip to Tibet, Purdash bagsh was resting under a big tree and decided to take seeds from that tree back to Kalmykia. Upon his arrival home, he sowed the seeds, one of which grew into a tall tree known today as Odinokoe Derevo (Lonely Tree). This tree is more than 100 years old and is regarded as sacred. Children are banned from climbing and playing on it. In 2013 eight Buddhist stupas were erected near the tree. Today it is a site where people perform rituals.

Al’mira Erendzhenova: Before its destruction in 1929, the Bogdakhin Temple was situated in the village of Yarta. Today only parts of its former foundation can be seen there. In 1991 the temple was rebuilt in another village called Khar-Buluk. The temple houses the following relics: a statue of the Panchen Lama IV, a statue of Vajrasattva, the horn of a rhino, a small stupa, old Kalmyk texts about the future, two copies of Dorzh dzhodva (Diamond sutras), a sutra of Okn Tengrin magtal in Tibetan, and a sutra of Khar kelnya sudr in Todo script.

The statue of the Panchen Lama, which is about 380 years old, was restored by specialists at the Central Temple in Elista in 2009. In the beginning, people thought that it was a statue of Bogdo Gegyan, hence it was referred to as such. But later it was established that the statue was actually that of the Panchen Lama. This statue is believed to have magical power. The horn of a rhino, which is about 180 years old, is wrapped in a cloth with inscriptions in Todo script and Tibetan. The cloth is kept inside a bag. The temple also possesses an original photo of Purdash bagsh.


About the Bogdakhin Temple


Batyr Elistaev, About the Bogdo Dalai Lamyn Rashi Lunpo Temple


Batyr Elistaev, Stupas


Keemia Orlova, About Clan Temples and Rituals


Sangadzhi Kononov, Dund Khurul


Telo Tulku Rinpoche, About Stupas in Kalmykia