July 31, 2009

Bogd Khaan Palace Museum

Tsetsgee and I spent an afternoon touring The Bogd Khaan Palace Museum.

Built between 1893 and 1903, the Winter Palace of Bogd Khaan is where Mongolia's eighth Living Buddha, and last king, Jebtzun Damba Hutagt VIII, lived for 20 years. For reasons that are unclear, the palace was spared destruction by the Russians and turned into a museum. The summer palace, on the banks of the Tuul Gol, was completely destroyed.

Jebtsundamba VIII, 1869-1924

Bogd Khan, born 1869, a son of Gonchigtseren, Tibet's treasurer of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Lhasa. He was announced as a reincarnation of Mongolian Bogd Jebtsundamba Khutugtu, the spiritual leader of Mongolia's Tibetan Buddhism and officially welcomed as religious leader in Mongolia 1874. Jebtsundamba VIII uas crowned as the Bogd Khan (emperor) and outright religious and political leader of Mongolia, from 1911 to 1921. Mongols crowned him as Bogd Khan of Mongolia in 1911 because no other nominee could gain such wide and public support that time. He was wealthy with many followers and although he was born a Tibetan, he devoted himself to Mongolia. After the final expulsion of the Chinese from Mongolia in 1921 he assumed the title Bogd Khan and ruled as the nominal head of a theocracy much like the one that existed in Tibet under the Dalai Lamas until his death at the age of 55 in 1924. After his death, the Mongolian government declared there was no more reincarnations found and established the Mongolian People's Republic. In 1925, many of the Bogd Khan’s personal possessions were auctioned off at a sale organized by Choibalsan, the future dictator of communist Mongolia, and the following year his Winter Palace was turned into a museum.

Bogd Khan’s role in urban development of Mongolia was vital and he has been attributed with the introduction of telecommunications in Mongolia from 1915. He founded a zoo in Mongolia with many species of birds and an elephant. He was a supporter of arts. Many songs have been written about him.

Following Bogd Khan's death, his Palace was turned into the 'Bogd Khan`s Palace Museum.' to exhibit his possessions and gifts. The Museum has more than 8000 exhibits with 72 state certified irreplaceable. The museum was Mongolia's first with a large collection of items from the life and times of the Eighth Bogd Gegeen and is in a complex of Summer Prayer Temples and the Winter Palace.

The Museum has abundant displays including unique historical and cultural heritage related to the 17th century to the early period of the 20th century. It includes bronze castings, silk paintings, mineral paintings and paper icons made by well-known artists and artisans of the period, among others, the first Bogdo Javzundamba Zanabazar and his school, as well as objects owned and used by the VIII Bogdo Javzundamba and his wife. Queen Dondogdulam. It includes royal clothing and equipment, gifts from domestic and foreign guests or representatives and items purchased by the king for his own interests. The museum caters for about 20.000 visitors annually.

The current complex of seven temples, located in a walled compound just to the west of the Winter Palace, was constructed between 1893 and 1906. In front of the complex is a wall of blue bricks known as the Yampai, or Spirit Shield, a standard feature of Tibeto-Mongolian temples which is supposed to deter malignant influences from entering the temple grounds.

Center Gate

Just behind this wall is the Three Open Gates, three wooden gateways which remained permanently open in order to allow all good influences to enter the temple compound. The Bogd Gegen and his advisers always entered the compound via the central gate, nobles and foreign guests via the East Gate, and guards, musicians, and commoners through the West Gate.

The Peace Gate

The Andimen, or Peace Gate is elaborate wooden structure was built for the Bogd Gegen between 1912 and 1919 to commemorate his ascension to Monarch of Mongolia following the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and the declaration of Mongolian independence. The gate was designed by the famous Mongolian architect Baajar and built at a cost of over 385 pounds of silver donated by the Bogd Gegen’s followers. The wooden structure does not contain a single nail but was instead constructed with 108 different kinds of interlocking wooden joints. Topped by a seven-tiered canopy, the gate was lavishly decorated with depictions of Buddhist legends and scenes from the life of Gesar Khan.

Vaisravana guards the northern direction

The walled Summer Prayer Temples compound is entered via the Makhranz Temple, which contains the traditional four temple guardians. For example, Vaisravana or Namthose (Tibetan) is the guardian of the northern direction. He is often portrayed with a yellow face, carries an umbrella or parasol (chatra) as a symbol of his sovereignty. He is also sometimes displayed with a mongoose. The mongoose is the enemy of the snake, a symbol of greed or hatred.

One of the many thangkas on d1splay

The first two temples to the left and right after passing through the Makhranz were once used once used by the Bogd Khan’s staff and advisers and by artists engaged in making embroidered silk thangkas and clothes for the Bogd and his consort. They now contain a collection of embroidered silk thangkas and other artwork.

The Green Lavrin Temple

The Green Lavrin Temple, the main temple of the complex, was used during the summer by the 8th Bogd Gegen as a meditation retreat. It now hosts Zanabazar’s thirty-inch high Green Tara, one of his great works, and twenty other manifestations of Tara, each about 16 inches high.


This set of twenty-one Taras was originally made by Zanabazar for the monastery at Tsetserligun-erdemi-tologoi. Each of the Tara embodies a different quality, as described in prayers like “Praises to the Twenty-one Taras."

"Meditations of the Bodg Gegeens" thangka

Of special interest here is the visually intricate thangka ”Meditations of the Bogd Gegeens”. In the center of this thangka is a depiction of dark blue thirty-four armed Yamataka in the yab-yum position with his consort. Just above Yamataka is depicted Zanabazar wearing a hat surmounted by a dorje, and just below is shown the 8th Bogd Gegeen. Just above Zanabazar’s shoulders are White Tara and Green Tara, and above them the Buddhas of the Three Times (Past, Present, and Future), Kashvapa, Shakyamuni, and Maitreya. Below the 8th and to the right the Bogd Gegeen (Zanabazar?) is shown making obeisance to Jamsran, the protector deity of Mongolia. Various events from the life of Zanabazar are also shown, including his meeting with the 5th Dalai Lama and his bestowal of blessings on Emperor Kangxi and his mother the Dowager Empress. Numerous other historical events are also portrayed, including the meeting of the 3rd Dalai Lama and the Mongolian Altan Khan. It was of course Altan Khan who first bestowed the title of “Dalai Lama” on the Tibetan monk Sonam Gyatso in 1578. In fact, this thangka may be viewed as a visual summary of the history of Buddhism in Mongolia.

A queen's del, vest and boots

The two-story wood-framed Winter Palace was constructed in 1905 according to the designs of a Russian architect working under direct orders of the Russian Czar Nicholas II, who was apparently trying to curry favor with the Bogd Gegen at this time. The Qing Emperor, nominal ruler of Mongolia, took exception to the palace being built on European lines, since Europeans were Christians, not Buddhists, and to placate him lotus patterns were painted on the walls and Buddhist ornaments added to the roof. The Bogd Gegeen and his consort Dondogdulam lived in the Palace for almost twenty winters.

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