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Religious Objects

Many Kalmyk families have domestic altars that are laid with religious objects, both new (that they purchased in shops or received from lamas, friends or relatives) and old (that they inherited from ancestors). Many of these old objects, which would have survived the Russian Civil War, the anti-religious campaigns of the 1930s, World War Two, the deportation of the Kalmyk people in 1943-1963, and the subsequent years of the atheist regime, have a special sentimental value for their owners.

This video collection hosts interviews with people, both lamas and laypersons, talking about various religious objects, including thangkas (Buddhist paintings on cotton or silk), statues, talismans and amulets (bu, mird), rosaries (erkn), as well as instruments used by the clergy such as bells, vajras, and others.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 20 of 22
  • ItemOpen Access
    Vitaliy Mankirov, About a rosary
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-07-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Okonova, Altana; Koldaev, Tseren; Churyumov, Anton
  • ItemOpen Access
    Vera Bembeeva, the altar
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2018-01-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Bembeev, Aleksandr; Korneev, Gennadiy; Bembeev, Aleksandr
  • ItemOpen Access
    Badma Koldaev, Ki morn (horse wind) flags
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2018-04-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Koldaev, Tseren; Korneev, Gennadiy; Churyumov, Anton
  • ItemOpen Access
    Anna Azvanova, About My Altar
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2018-07-19) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Bembeev, Aleksandr
    This is Anna’s story:I did not have (images and statues of) gods before because my parents were orphans. In Siberia it was forbidden to have gods at home. After returning home from Siberia I have bought images and statues of buddhas. There are three days of fasting in each month. On such day I light a zul (a candle) on the altar and pray by uttering a well-wish ‘Let all people be in prosperity! Let all people be healthy and children grow up healthy!’ If someone is going on a long journey, then I pray for them by saying ‘Let all wishes be fulfilled!’ One can’t make food offerings from pork and poultry to the altar, but mutton can be offered. One can always put a bowl of Kalmyk tea, candies and biscuits. For example, today is 29th lunar day and tomorrow is the 30th lunar day, which is the day of fasting. The day after tomorrow is the 1st lunar day, that is a new month starts. I pray to deities - protectors of my clan, to Green Tara. I have (images of) Tsongkapa, Manjushri, Mahakala, White Tara. I also have books about religion, I read prayers from them. It is forbidden to light a zul at night or after sunset. One should light a zul in the morning, make Kalmyk tea and put the first bowl of tea on the altar as an offering to gods. After sunset it is also forbidden to take milk out of the house, as well as money (should not be loaned). After the lighting of a zul, seven days later there is day when gods migrate. Three days after that, it is forbidden to take rubbish out of the house.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Yuriy Sangadzhiev, About Altars
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumova, Elvira; Koldaev, Tseren; Koldaev, Tseren
    In this video Yuriy explains the altar in his yurt-museum in Elista. This is his story: Every yurt has an altar where people put candles (zul), statues of gods such as Buddha Shakyamuni, Green Tara, etc. Green Tara helps people who are in a precarious situation. One of her legs is lowered, which symbolizes her readiness to quickly come to one’s help. On this altar is a picture of Chingis Khan. Each Mongolian family has one. Offerings to gods include a cup with water, flowers, a shell, incense, fruits, dairy products and sweets. There is a rosary and the Diamond Sutra on this altar. The altar also has an image of Tsagan Aav, who is a pre-Buddhist deity. Kalmyks widely respect Tsagan Aav who is believed to bestow wellbeing and longevity on both humans and animals, as well as to protect nature. There is also a picture of lama Tsongkapa, who was born in Amdo, near Kukunor. Before his birth a rainbow appeared in the sky and the water raised, which were signs that a great teacher was coming to this world. Lama Tsongkapa reformed Buddhism and founded Gelugpa school, which spread among various Mongol groups. Another person that is revered among Kalmyks is Zaya Pandita. Baibagas Khan adopted Zaya from the Khoshuds and sent him to study in Tibet. Upon his return to Kalmykia, Zaya Pandita created the Todo bichig or ‘Clear script’ based on the Mongolian script and translated many Buddhist texts into Kalmyk. He also reconciled various warring nobles. In Kalmykia it was compulsory to educate boys. Those families that did not comply had to pay fines.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Viktoria Mukobenova, Two Amulets
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumov, Anton; Kovaeva, Bair; Churyumov, Anton
    Viktoria relays a story about two amulets called mird. She says that in the past Kalmyk households kept mird amulets. When men left for war their family members would put a mird amulet around their neck as protection. It was believed that men carrying such amulets were invincible to bullets. Viktoria’s maternal great-grandfather had mird amulets. When his son and that of his neighbor were called to war, the great-grandfather gave them a mird each. Both boys survived the war but when the Kalmyks were exiled to Siberia they were called back and sent to Shiroklag (Soviet labour camp for soldiers). There Viktoria’s grandfather got his amulet stolen, since Kalmyks practiced stealing amulets and prayer beads from each other. He was terribly upset and worried that he would not survive. Soon he died. The neighbor’s son who managed to keep his amulet survived everything and returned home safe and sound. He returned the amulet to its owner, which is today kept at Viktoria’s maternal uncle’s house.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Viktoria Mukobenova, Gandzhur and Dandzhur in Chilgir
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumov, Anton; Kovaeva, Bair; Churyumov, Anton
    Viktoria relays a story about Gandzhur and Dandzhur texts that were kept in a temple in Chilgir. She says that the ancestors of the people who live today in Tsatkhl used to move from one place to another. At one point in time they stayed in Chilgir where the majority of the population were Russians. There was an Orthodox church there. Before World War Two in the vicinity of Chilgir there was also a Buddhist temple that housed Gandzhur and Dandzhur texts. These sacred texts were taken out of the temple once a year and carried around the settlement three times to protect the land from wars and misfortunes. But when the war broke out the texts were put into a chest and buried. Later when the Kalmyks returned from Siberia, they tried to locate the place but could not. Some people even used machinery to find the chest, but to no avail. The old people say that the time has probably not arrived for the chest to be found.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Tatyana Boskhomdzhieva, Bu
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumova, Elvira; Boskhomdzhiev, Mergen
    Tatyana talks about the purpose of talismans called bu. She shows a talisman and says that people hang such talismans over the entrance to their houses as protection from jealous tongues and accidents. The talisman that Tatyana holds in her hands was brought by her male relative from Mongolia when he travelled there.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Polina Fedorova, About Talismans and My Family Relics
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Terbish, Baasanjav; Babaev, Andrei
    Polina talks about talismans and her family relics. She says that in the past mird was a talisman that only men could wear. Each such amulet was consecrated by up to 9 lamas who read mantras on the new moon. Polina relays a story of an amulet made from glass. This glass amulet belonged to her mother’s older brother who was called Nyamn. His descendants are known today under the surname of Naminov. People who had glass amulets were not supposed to lie, steal, or kill, but to lead a righteous life. In 1937 when Nyamn was arrested, his prosecutors asked him to hand over his precious amulet. When he refused, soldiers fired at him to kill him, but to no avail. It was Nyamn himself who in the end took off the amulet from his neck and asked the soldiers to deliver it to his family. Later he was exiled to Kazakhstan. Polina says that she is from the clan of Bagud, originally from Astrakhan. She travels sometimes to her native place to perform a ritual to worship the land. Her natal house was in the village of Shar Luuzn which, as she recalls, was surrounded by water. The water level would go up and down depending on lunar phases. In 1956 there was a camel farm in her village. In the end Polina talks about her family relics, about who among her relatives keeps which relics, including a silver candle holder and various statues and thangkas of Buddha.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Larisa Shoglyaeva, My Altar and Dreams
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumov, Anton; Okonova, Altana; Babaev, Andrei
    In this interview Larisa shows her domestic altar and talks about her dreams. Larisa: Yurda Rinpoche gave me this statue. The lama Baatr Kondratevich gave me 21 Spells. When we opened a prayer house in our village, we read long prayers and the 21 Spells. All the Buddhas that I have were given to me by people and lamas alike. This Buddha Shakyamuni is from Nepal. At the back, it has an inscription that reads ‘Om mani padme khum’. Now you see Amitayus, the Buddha of Longevity. This is Maitreya (Buddha of the future) who is on his way to us. Maitreya’s time has not arrived yet, but will soon. The lama Baatr Kondratevich gave us the Green Tara, White Tara and Otch Manla as well. Now you see Manjushri, who is my protector. I also respect this god (i.e. the Buryat lama Itigelov) whom I also accepted (as my protector). My friend brought this image (from Buryatia) where she saw the body of the lama. This picture of him was taken when he was alive. I also want to go there (i.e. Buryatia) one day. This is Tsagan Aav, which I received from my children when I got interested (in religion). He is the Master of Universe. I have three images of Tsagan Aav. One was given to me by my friend at my 70th birthday on 9 November 2009. This is the goddess Okn Tengri, which I received from the lama Baatr Kondratevich. This is Kalachakra, which I received from a French lama. In France, they have a Buddhist temple. When we had the celebration of Kalachakra at our school, people from France, Germany, Hungary and St Petersburg came. This is Makhakala. That one is Ochir Dokya Drugma, and that one is Bayn Namsr. I have these gods. Question: You have 17 gods in total, is that right? Larisa: I don’t know, I don’t count them. I read prayers for the sake of other people. You cannot approach the (images of) these gods in trousers. Before going to the altar, I put on a long skirt, rinse my mouth and wash my hands. I light candles. Only after that I read prayers for the sake of all living beings so that all people in the world, including my children, daughters-in-law and grandchildren, live well. I ask nothing for myself. Gods will give me whatever I need. The lama Baatr Kondratevich told us that Satkhana Chinrezi and White Tara are gods of compassion. Whenever I read (the prayer of) Bayn Namsr, I ask for help for people who are in need. I read Manjushri to direct people to the true path. For sick people and livestock of Orgakin, I read Otch Manla. Finally, I pray for my children, grandchildren and daughters-in-law. If people are well, I am well too. Question: Please tell me, what do you see in your dreams? Larisa: In the Soviet times, I had a dream. Some dreams never leave the mind. This particular dream is one of them: ‘The sky divides into two. On both sides there are white buildings, Kalmyk tents, flowers and people in white dresses. Music plays’. When I had this dream, I got afraid and woke up. Afterwards, my aunt Galya said to me: ‘You had a good dream. This is rare. In your dream you saw paradise. Your place is there’. In the beginning, I did not believe her, and went to see another woman who was an astrologist. I became relaxed when she affirmed what my aunt had said to me. Later, I saw another dream: ‘The Dalai Lama descends from the sky with his legs crossed and says to me that in three days’ time a woman will come to see me. He descends on a bakery’. I wake up. It was summer time, and I went to buy bread at the local bakery. A woman approached me: ‘Are you Larisa? Our son Sanan got ill. Could you have a look at him?’ I said: ‘I know nothing.’ She begged me. I agreed. Sanan, who was a former student of mine, was lying in a hall. I looked at him, read prayers and did what was required. By the evening he stood up and walked. The next day he was already drinking vodka. I had another dream about Green Tara after which I went to see my aunt again to talk about it. She lived in Yashkul. In Yashkul, upon hearing about my dream, some old men told me that I had to find an old thangka that belonged to Orgakin. That thangka (of the god Ochir Vani), according to my aunt, was lost when we were in Siberia. So, we (i.e. my family) had to re-accept Ochir Vani who is the protector of the Orgakin land. At that time, some Kalmyk lamas had brought a statue of Ochir Vani from Tibet. We purchased that statue and performed a ritual of accepting gods.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Khargchin Koldzhieva, About Amulets and Talismans
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumova, Elvira; Khabunova, Evdokia
    Khargchin says that amulets are empowered with mantras. People carry amulets around their neck. It is okay to take off one’s amulet and put it at the head of one’s bed. Amulets have powerful mantras inside them. When a temple was built in her village of Tsagan-Aman, Khargchin says she was given amulets to sell. She also says that she has a sacred ribbon that protects her from jealous eyes and accidents.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Agvan Eshey, My Family Rosary and 'Wind Horse' Flags
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Bembeev, Aleksandr; Bembeev, Aleksandr
    Lama Agvan Eshey says that he inherited his rosary, or prayer beads, from his grandfather’s brother who was a lama of the Merkit clan in Rostovskaya oblast. In the past, many Kalmyk lamas in the Don were from this clan, including lama Menke Bormandzhinov and lama Sharap Tepkin. Agvan Eshey also says ‘wind horse’ flags (ki morn) symbolize a harmony with the wind, and bring luck and success. Based on their year of birth, people choose ‘wind horse’ flags of different colors and put them up in certain directions (west, east, south-west, etc.).
  • ItemOpen Access
    Telo Tulku Rinpoche, About Altars
    (2017-02-25) Churyumova, Elvira; Terbish, Baasanjav
    Telo Tulku: In my belief system there are many deities. On my altar, in the middle, is the image or statue of Buddha. Then I have Manjushri, Amitayus – Buddha of longevity, then Green Tara – Bodhisattva of activity. I do not expect everybody to have many statues or images, though I would highly recommend at least an image or a statue of Buddha. This is a minimal requirement. Depending on your situation you can acquire other images. Baasanjav: Is it OK to put amulets on your altar? TT: Yes, it is. Any holy object can be placed on the altar. B: Many Kalmyks put deezh on their altars, is that alright? TT: Yes, because it is an offering of your food to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. B: Many people put photos of their deceased relatives or parents. TT: I do not think it is properly done. Then again if the intention is to pray for their good rebirth, it is a reminder to have their image there. But worshipping them as you would worship Buddha is wrong, since they are not enlightened beings. Therefore, they should not be worshipped. B: Is it alright to put zul or candles? TT: In the form of an offering yes, it is. B: In Kalmykia I met so-called medlegchi people. On their altars I saw images pertaining to Christianity. Is it alright on a Buddhist altar to have images from other religions?
  • ItemOpen Access
    Sangadzhi Kononov, Buddhist Prayer Beads
    (2016-12-25) Churyumov, Anton; Kovaeva, Bair; Terbish, Baasanjav
    Prayer beads have special dividers that divide the beads into 7, 21 and 33. Apart from using in prayers, the Kalmyks also keep beads as amulets that are believed to have strong energy. After prayers, old people often bless their children and grandchildren with their beads. Such beads are also kept in families from one generation to the next. Sangadzhi believes that prayer beads store inside them the energy of mantras that have been read with them. There is an interesting story about the prayer beads that Sangadzhi uses. He first saw his beads in his dreams and decided to get hold of them. After searching for some time, he found them in a shop and purchased them.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Sangadzhi Kononov, About a Home Altar
    (2016-12-23) Churyumov, Anton; Kovaeva, Bair; Terbish, Baasanjav
    There are many arguments as to how to correctly organize domestic altars. Since different people have different living conditions, there cannot be a single rule regarding altars. In principal, an altar should be in the right front corner of a building. Altars cannot be in a bedroom, in the kitchen, or in the corridor, and they should not be reflected in a mirror. It is important not to set up an altar in the wrong place. At night people can close their altars with a curtain if they live in a one-bedroom flat. Ideally, an altar should be placed in a specially designated room.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Sanan Matvenov, How to Organize a Home Altar
    (2016-07-19) Churyumov, Anton; Terbish, Baasanjav
    Sanan is an administrator at the Central Temple in Elista. He gives the following advice to the pious. Traditionally, an altar should face south. The altar at the Central Temple also faces south. This tradition originated in Tibet, because the place where Buddha attained enlightenment is situated south of Tibet. Should there be a possibility to do so, altars should face the direction of India. An altar should be set up in a respectable place in the house with its height being at the level of the chest of a grown-up person. Also, one should not sleep with his/her feet facing the altar. If there are furious deities, such as Mahakala, Okn Tengr, or Yamantaka, on the altar, people should avoid showing their naked bodies to these deities. If one lives in a one-bedroom flat, the altar could be separated with a curtain. The altar should be far from the toilet or the outer door. About the arrangement of statues. Today some people display statues of different Buddhas that belong to different members of their family. This is not a Kalmyk tradition but a Mongolian one. There should not be a distinction among Buddhas in terms of their suitability to certain individuals, because all Buddhas are suitable to all people irrespective of their year of birth etc. Some people contend that they have problems after having found statues or amulets. This assertion is also wrong, because no Buddha or a sacred text or an amulet can harm people. Such holy objects only bring positivity to those who find them. There is a myriad of Buddhas in the Buddhist pantheon responsible for health, wisdom etc. The Buddha Shakyamuni should be in the middle of any altar. If someone is ill, that person can have Amitayus on his/her altar. If someone is in a financial need, he/she can put Namsr on the altar. If people experience a lot of conflict and emotional problems, Green Tara is the answer. There are three Buddhas of health and longevity, including White Tara, Amitayus and Ushnishavidjaya that people can pray to both for themselves and others. But the optimal arrangement of one’s altar is as follows: the Buddha Shakyamuni in the middle, with Manjushri and Green Tara on either side. Another deity that should also be displayed on any altar is Tsagan Aav. In contrast to Buddhas who are enlightened beings, Tsagan Aav is not, but nonetheless he helps people. He should be placed below Buddhas or on their sides. Different Buddha require different rituals. A mantra is the shortest form of a prayer. There are short, medium and long texts dedicated to different Buddhas. For example, there is a special mantra, a short text, and a text of middle length (50 pages) dedicated to the Buddha of Medicine. The short text is read by lamas during individual appointments, and the longer one is chanted in extreme cases as when someone is about to have surgery. The Central Temple in Elista regularly carries out rituals for the Buddha of Medicine. Some lay people in Kalmykia keep religious texts (nom) at home, the most common being Khar Keln or Dorzh Dzhodva. Statues and depictions of Buddha represent the Buddha himself. By bowing to his images one can accumulate as much merit (buyan) as one would have done so by actually bowing to the Buddha himself. It is believed that the Buddha Shakyamuni gave his first teachings orally. Kindness that people feel when listening to his teachings is what Buddhism is all about. The Buddha should be perceived as a doctor. Imperfections (such as anger, greed, lust, stupidity etc.) that affect people are like illnesses. Buddha’s teachings are like medicine and the monks are medical personnel. With regard to offerings, there are 7 cups for this purpose that could be filled with water. According to Buddhism, giving away to the needy brings one material prosperity. Different Buddhas require different kinds of offerings. The offerings for the Buddha Shakyamuni, for example, include the following: 2 cups of water, a flower…
  • ItemOpen Access
    Ekaterina Boldyreva, About My Domestic Altar
    (2017-01-16) Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumov, Anton; Terbish, Baasanjav
    Ekaterina says that she has the following objects on her domestic altar: candles, statues of Buddha, Manjushri, Tsagan Aav and Green Tara, a picture of the Dalai Lama XIV, a picture of Itigelov (Buryat lama, best known for the lifelike state of his dead body), and a photo of a lama who gave teachings in Kalmykia. Ekaterina says that she lights candles on the 15th and 30th days of the lunar calendar. Ekaterina also has an Orthodox Christian altar in her house. She brings consecrated water and butter from the church and puts them on her altar.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Ekaterina Boldyreva, About an Old Thangka
    (2017-01-16) Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumov, Anton; Terbish, Baasanjav
    In 2015 the National Museum of Kalmykia in Elista displayed an old tangka of Green Tara that had been borrowed from the Stavropol’ Museum. Ekaterina says that when she went to see the tangka she felt energy emanating from this Buddhist relic. Ekaterina spent hours looking at the tangka.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Ekaterina Boldyreva, About Amulets
    (2017-01-16) Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumov, Anton; Terbish, Baasanjav
    Ekaterina says that amulets should be worn around neck. She herself has an amulet from Tibet. She contends that her amulet protects her well and that when she does not wear it she feels emptiness. Ekaterina shows several other amulets.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Batyr Elistaev, About the Bell and the Vajra
    (2015-06-15) Okonov, Andzhur; Seleeva, Tsagan; Terbish, Baasanjav
    Batyr says that the bell is a symbol of compassion and love of all Buddhas, whereas the vajra is that of their wisdom. The unity of love, compassion and wisdom symbolizes the attainment of enlightenment. In the center of the vajra is a ball which symbolizes a primordial space from where everything emerged, including our world. The bell symbolizes emptiness. Our mind can comprehend the emptiness of all phenomena and that the material world around us is not the only reality. It is through this realization that one can attain enlightenment. The aim of Buddhist practices is to awaken and develop consciousness. When consciousness sets free from the confines of our intellect (with which we perceive the material world around us), people realize the subjectivity of ‘I’. Buddhahood awakens inside us as soon as we comprehend this and understand emptiness. According to Buddha, there are three ways to attain Buddhahood. There is one way for people with inferior capabilities, one for individuals with mediocre capabilities, and one for those with high capabilities. For people from the first group, their main aim is to get reborn in the world of humans or half-gods. For people from the second group, their main aim is to become saints. And those from the last group, their aim is to become bodhisattvas. All beings that have not attained Buddhahood live in six different worlds.