Nomadic lifestyle requires that dwellings and structures be mobile. The traditional dwelling, or yurt, of the Kalmyks is called ger, which is also widely used among various nomadic peoples in Central and Inner Asia. Easy to assemble and transport, durable as well as lightweight, the ger consists of four main parts, namely term (wall), uudn (door), unin (roof poles), and kharach (roof ring or crown), all of which are made of wood. 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. By adding or reducing the wall sections 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. Because of its structural peculiarity, the Kalmyk yurt has the roof of a conical shape rather than a rounded, convex one as in the case in the Mongolian yurt. 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 also mobile and accommodated in yurts called khurla ger. Each monastic complex, called kure, consisted of a khurla ger and several other yurts put around it that housed the clergy. 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. One such example is the Khosheutovskiy Temple, which was built in 1817-1818 by Kalmyk Prince Tundutov to commemorate the Russian victory over Napoleon and which was modelled on Kazan Cathedral in St Petersburg.
Having been the main adobe 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, monasteries, and stupas, were destroyed. The only building that survived the Great Purge is part of the Khosheutovskiy Temple situated in the village of Rechnoe in Astrakhan oblast. Since the 1990s, the Kalmyk government has actively supported the revival of Buddhism, and as a result today many settlements in Kalmykia have temples, prayer houses, and stupas. Designed by Soviet-educated Kalmyk architects, many modern temples and prayer houses 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.