Arts & culture

A monumental project in the making

The Maitreya statue being assembled, compare the size of the statue with the tall building on the background. Photo: courtesy Dashchoiling Monastery

A predominantly Buddhist country – Mongolia had more than 700 Buddhist temples and monasteries at the beginning of the 20th century. Only a handful of them were spared, including the Gandan, Dashchoiling monasteries in Ulaanbaatar, which are active today, while some, such as a Choijin Lama temple in Ulaanbaatar and the Erdene Zuu monastery in Arkhangai aimags were turned into museums.
Historical records show that the political repressions that began in 1992 peaked in 1939 and continued thereafter. During this period, it is estimated that 45,000 to 55,000 Mongolians were killed on political grounds of whom some 18,000 were Buddhist lamas.

Ven. Ch. Dambajav, Khambo Lama of Dashchoiling Monastery with a replica of the statue

This was during the years after the People’s Revolution triumphed in the country in 1921 bringing the country into the fold of the so-called, now non-existent socialist system. During this time, the country had only one functioning Buddhist monastery – the Gandantegchinleng Monastery, which is today also the Center of Mongolian Buddhists.
The democratic transformations in the 1990 brought about radical changes in the society, with human rights, including the right to belief was guaranteed in the new Constitution adopted in 1992.
Thereafter, the country also witnessed a rapid revival of not only Buddhism, but also the inroad of foreign religions including Christianity, Catholicism and Bahai’sm, with Muslim, practiced by the Kazakh minority, growing and thriving.

An artists’ portrayal of the final layout of the statue of Maitreya

Prior to 1990 parts of property of the Dashchoiling Buddhist monastery, which initially was called Züün Khüree were taken by the state and some of them were turned into a circus. The few remaining Mongolian ger-shaped temples and monasteries of Dashchoiling became active centers of Buddhism and today, Dashchoiling is one of the most active Buddhist centers in the country, thanks in particular to a venerable Buddhist lama Choijiljav Dambajav, the present abbot of the monastery, who initiated and restored the day-to-day religious ceremony activities in July, 1990, which was blessed by the late former Indian Ambassador Kushok Bakula Rinpoche who had given a new name to the monastery – Dashchoiling, literally meaning “The Auspicious Land of the Dharma Land”.
The Dashchoiling Monastery today has about 100 lamas, and its religious institute facility in engaged in the day-to-day ceremonial, training and humanitarian activities as well as nature preservation efforts, returning to its pre-20th century glory.
One such history-making development at the monastery is the effort to rebuild the Maidar (Maitreya) Temple which was demolished in 1943.
According to earlier foreign visitors and explorers a giant statue of the future Buddha – Lord Maitreya (Maidar in Mongolian), which is predicted to arrive in Ikh Khüree or the current capital of Mongolia somewhere in the future stood at the present site of Dashchoiling Monastery.

The worked and consecrated tree which has been placed within the statue

Tree for the sacred pillar in the statue being carried by lamas and followers from the forest

The statue was made by Dharma King Luvsankhaidav, also better known as “Jadar Abbot Agvaankhaidav” at the initiation of Luvsanchültimjigmed – the 5th Jebzundamba Khutugtu in 1834.
Khamba Lama Ch. Dambajav and other senior monks of Dashchoiling Monastery initiated and commenced a monumental project of rebuilding the Khüree Maidar statue with its temple as part of renovation of the Dashchoiling Monastery to preserve religious and traditional cultural heritages of the Mongolians. This work started in 1990.
In order to ensure the success of this monumental project, numerous researches were conducted on Khüree Maidar statue and its temple. In 2005, Khüree Maidar reconstruction project was public announced and since believers and supporters have been making contribution in cash and kind.
In 2007, the prototype of the Khüree Maidar statue, 1.6-meter-tall, was developed by N. Orgil, a sculptor with the Art Council of Mongolia, using reproduction and enlargement methods applied on Maitreya statue crafted according to school of the first Bogdo Jebzundamba Khutugtu Zanabazar, the original of which is currently preserved at Choijin Lama Temple Museum in Ulaanbaatar.

Photo of the original Khüree Maitreya temple, which was taken by a French Stéphane Passet in July 1913. Below, an artists’ vision of the temple at Dashchoiling Monastery, which will house the state of Maitreya. Photos courtesy of Dashchoiling Monastery

    The peculiarity of this statue is that it is has distinct features of traditional Mongolian characteristics based on Öndör Gegeen Zanabazar’s school in terms of appearance and finesse, which makes it different from similar Maitreya statues created in Tibet, China and other Asian Buddhist countries.
The statue of the Khüree Maidar, 23 meter tall, is made of copper by Tibetan and Nepalese sculptors based on sculptor N. Orgil’s prototype and it was made by the “Sichuan Karma Bisno-Tibetan Art and Culture Development Co., LTD” in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China in 2013.
The temple that is planned to house the Maitreya statue is almost similar to the original temple with slight modifications. The architectural blueprints of the temple were made by two Mongolian architect D. Baldan and G. Nyamtsogt.
The temple will be a five-storey glass structure. Each of its floor is designed to accommodate cultural and ceremonial functions. It will also have meeting halls, training and meditation facilities.
The foundation of the temple was laid in a traditional way in the presence of monks, devotees and distinguished guests from both within and outside Mongolia in July 2012. The construction work began in May 2017 and is expected to be completed in 2019.
This monumental project is expected to become one of the favorite destinations for locals and foreigners alike.

An artists’ vision of the temple at Dashchoiling Monastery, which will house the state of Maitreya. Photos courtesy of Dashchoiling Monastery

Anyone wishing to contribute or make donation to the restoration of this cultural heritage can contact the Dashchoiling Monastery on +976 11 352007, or contact Lama Altankhüü on +976 99073466 or write to: zuunkhuree@dashichoiling.mn

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