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Pilgrimage to Bogdo Uul, 2017



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Terbish, Baasanjav 


This video is shot at the Bogdo Uul Mountain in Astrakhan oblast. The Kalmyk pilgrims perform a ritual for the local spirits, followed by a ceremony of the opening of a statue of Tsagan Aav. The statue has an inscription saying that ‘the Mount Bogdo Uul was a place of worship of Tsagan Aav, who is the Head of the spirits of Earth and locality. This Mount was venerated as a place that cures illnesses, bestows wisdom, faith and bravery on people’. In the beginning, a group of Kalmyk pilgrims get on a mini bus in Elista, and the next morning they arrive at the mountain site. At the foot of the mountain they put out offerings and light a fire. The lama who came with them starts to read prayers. All the people sit down around the fire, and the lama asks them to pray. The offerings to deities include ‘three white’ and ‘three sweet’ foodstuff. The lama asks not to throw the following items into the fire: sheep fat, pork fat, meat, and plastic. The ritual consists of the following rituals: (1) An offering. A woman sprinkles milk with her right hand three times in order to invite luck and happiness. Flour and butter (referred to as ‘white offerings’) are put on the fire. The pilgrims read prayers to their ancestors, Okn Tengri, Tsagan Aav, Makhakala, Ochir Vani, and other gods. Afterwards, biscuits, sweets, honey, nuts and other offerings are put into the fire. Those who include vodka in their offering, should first sprinkle the vodka in the direction of the mountain, and the rest offer to the fire, while calling out the names of their ancestors and thanking the spirits of land and water. (2) Removing obstacles. The lama asks the pilgrims to think about their misfortunes and other negative things, and then mentally destroy these memories and feelings in the fire. Then the pilgrims stand up and clap their hands after the lama utters special words. This is to chase away all the bad from their lives. (3) Blessing and the consecration of ki morn (‘wind horse’) flags and olkts (colorful tapes representing Kalmyk clans). During this ritual, the pilgrims are asked to make a wish. During the consecration, the pilgrims hold the ki morn flags and olkts in their hands. Afterwards, incenses are thrown into the fire, and the pilgrims hold their ki morn flags over the fire. The lama continues reading prayers. After the rituals, the pilgrims walk around the fire three times, while warming up their hands and feeling the blessing coming from their ancestors. While the pilgrims are performing the ritual, another delegation, consisting of local Russians, Kalmyks and a Mongolian lama, prepare for the ceremony of the opening of the statue of Tsagan Aav. After the pilgrims finish their ritual, they join the ceremony.



Bogdo Uul, pilgrimage, rituals, Buddhism, Tsagan Aav, lamas

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Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge

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Sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.