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Mongolian Religion

Buddhist Lamaism
In 1578, the Tibetan monk Sonam Gyatsho, recognized as a reincarnation of Khubilai, received the title Dalai (Ocean) Lama by the Mongol Altan Khan. This was the date of the reconversion of Mongolia to Tibetan Buddhism.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Mongolia had 583 monasteries and temple complexes and Buddhism has penetrated deeply into Mongolian culture. In 1930, the power of the Buddhist church had to face to the Soviet party in a political struggle.
The monasteries were closed and the Buddhist church removed from public administration. In 197o, the Gandan monastery in Ulaanbaatar, was opened with 100 monks it was the only one functioning monastery, in the country. Erdene Zuu, which has been a museum since1941,has been re-opened to service since 1991. Other monasteries serve as museums and tourist attractions.

Mongolian Shamanism  derives from worshipping nature. The Mongolians considered the earth Mother Earth and the sky Father. The shaman acts as intemerdiary between the man and the spirits. Shamanism determined the behavior of nomads towards nature. Nowadays, shamanism is still practiced especially in the northern region (Lake Khovsgol).
This respects for nature is still alive in the ritual of the “ovoo”. Before going up a mountain, Mongolian people throw a handful of stones to a cairn-like pile (called ovoo) and walk three times around this pile of stones. To honour the spirits Bottles of vodka and pieces of blue silk are also added to the stones. A driver will certainly stop without notice at the top of a hill to make this ritual. Ovoos are abundant in the countryside on mountains peaks or passes.
Shamanism and Lamaism have both contributed to nomadic customs.
The interest of Buddhism in Mongolia has to be considered as an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism for novice in that matter.
The most interesting monasteries to visit are Gandan monastery in Ulaanbaatar (see a picture), Erdene Zuu in Kharakhorum (see a picture), Manzushirand Amarbayasgalant in Tov aimag (see a picture).

Ancient Religious Beliefs
Mongolian scholars classify the religious beliefs of the early Mongols as fetishism, totemism, and animism. Fetishism involved the belief that objects possessed magical powers or were inhabited by spirits, in connection with the belief that the outward appearance and internal, basic characteristics of any object were inevitably interrelated. Thus the color, odor, texture, and sound of objects and animals were believed to express important characteristics; the color white, for example, came to be associated with purity; a property attributed to all objects of that coloi Likewise unusually-shaped trees, mountains, animals and so on were considered to be sacred, as their form was thought to express special (or magical) internal features. The worship of unusual trees, animals, geological formations and so on persists to this day; similarly the symbolism of form and color continues to be respected by traditional Mongolians.

Totemism involves a perceived connection between the origin of a group or clan and a defined totem, most often an animal. The wolf and deer are perhaps the most familiar of totems, according to the Secret History, Chingges Khaan's lineage was descended from a union of these two creatures. The deer is represented prominently on the bronze-age 'deer stone1 monuments found throughout the north of the country, as well as in artworks such as the famous Hun-period felt embroidery excavated from the Noyon Uul grave, indicating an almost certain early religious symbolism of the deer figure. The wolf is less persisted to this day. It is considered in good luck to encounter a wolf, especially when traveling or searching for lost animals. Although wolf populations are nowadays often culled to prevent their killing of livestock, traditionally it was considered a taboo to kill wolf. Ancient Mongolians would worship the bear by tying a figure of the bear's head to the posts of their home and dancing around this figure.
Animism is the belief that everything has a particular spirit. Mongolians today still worship the spirits of the sky, mountains, water, and the ground, making offerings of dairy products, vodka, biscuits, and tea hoping that the mountain spirit will bring help to them. The main ceremonial form of sacrifice was the ovoo-worship, while routine sacrifice of milk or alrag (fermented mare milk) would be made wide, the Isatsal, a wooden 'offering spoon1 used in sprinkling the best portion of each portion of fresh milk info the wind, as an offering to the spirits of nature. Both of these traditions are still followed today; many Mongolians continue to believe in the existence of natural spirits, in particular mountain spirits.
Shamanism originated in prehistoric times and likely grew out of the tradition of nature-worship. It continues to be practiced amongst a few Mongolian ethnic groups-the Darkhad, Buryat, Khotgoid, Urainkhai and Tsaatan. A Shaman is one who represents a clan or tribe in communicating with the spirits of ancestors and of nature. The Shaman typically communicates with the other world by entering into a trance, achieved through the performance of a rhythmic dance accompanied by the beating of a skin drum, and sometimes assisted with the use of alcohol upon emerging from this trance the shaman communicates the messages of the spirits to the community.
The Shaman is not only a religious figure but a healer and protector of the clan's customs and art, and intermediary with the symbolic universe. The selection of an individual choice, but by a process known as the touch of the spirit1 believed to be an indication from the spirit of a former Shaman-which is revealed by the candidate going onto a trance. This state is usually accompanied by illness, which may last from two or three days to several years, and which can only be explained by another Shaman. If one who has suffered from this Shamanic sickness or who has experienced the touch of spirit does not become a Shaman, it is believed that he or she will die.
The first Buddhist temples in Mongolia were constructed during the Hun period, which began in the third century BC. In the Mongol-Nirun Empire period (330-550 AD) Buddhism became the official religion, and more than ten kings were given honorary Buddhist titles; yet Buddhism did not come to be practiced by the common people, who continued to follow ancestral shamanist beliefs. Buddhism became the state religion of Mongolia for the second time during the period of the Yuan Empire, wher Kubllai Khaan made Pagva Lama the 'national teacher1 of Mongolia. After the collapse of the Yuan Empire, however, Shamanism was again revived as the most popular religion.
In the 16th century, Buddhism became Mongolia's state religion for the third time. In 1587 Altan Khaan first conferred the title of 'Dalai Lama', which means 'ocean /of wisdom/, or Sodnomjamts, leader of the Yellow Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Yet Buddhism came to be practiced by the common people only in the 19th century.

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