The Temple With The Difficult Name

Inside the compound.
Inside the compound.

Amarbayasgalant is its name.

I visited there one rainy summer day with the other trainees at my site, as well as our language teachers. The name of the temple always eluded me, and I referred to it as “The temple that starts with an A,” eventually progressing to “Amar-something.”

The temple gets its name, I am told, from an event that happened a long time ago. At the temple, they needed to sacrifice some lives. Why this was, I am not sure. To appease the gods? An offering to the divine? It was never explained to me, but what was explained was that two young boys were picked to undertake the grim ritual. Their lives were given, and, presumably, whatever the expected outcome was came to be. The names of the two boys were “Amar” and “Bayasgalan.” From thereon, the temple was referred to as Amarbayasgalant. Wikipedia tells me that the two boys were playing at the site of the temple, and that caused inspiration for the name. The human sacrifice story sounds more interesting to me.

Getting there is quite bumpy: Rocky dirty “roads” through mountain valleys. The temple itself rests comfortably in a sprawling field, its borders denoted by crumbling walls and faded tiles. Inside its buildings you can see colorful prayer flags, and outside you find aged prayer wheels. Both, when spun or flown respectively, send prayers out into the ether. This is more of a Tibetan Buddhist tradition, as Mongolia shares strong ties in its history with Tibet.

Gold statues on a rainy day.
Gold statues on a rainy day.

On the hill outside the temple grounds, there is a stairway to a massive stupa. Inside, supposedly, are the remains of Zanabazar, a famous Mongolian monk and artist, recognized as the first reincarnate lama in Mongolia. His image and likeness are everywhere in the temple. Entering the main building, having come from the Theravada tradition, I expected to find a large Buddha in the center-back of the room to give recognition to upon entering. Instead, there was Zanabazar. The temple was build to recognize him, and recognize him it does.

During the socialist era, there were mass exterminations of monks, and many historical temples were burned to the ground. Luckily, Amarbayasgalant escaped this fate. It has sat quietly in the mountains for almost 400 years now, and I imagine it will sit there quietly for another 400 more.

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