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  • In Search of the Khutugtu's Monastery:The Site and Its Heritage
  • Sampildondovin Chuluun (bio)


About 70 kilometers northeast of Mongolia's capital of Ulaanbaatar, in the Saridag Mountains of Khan Khentii, a range that includes Chinggis Khan's sacred Burkhan Khaldun,1 lie the ruins of a seventeenth-century monastery (figure 1). The site was first reported by Russian scholars in the early twentieth century, and in 1915 a Russian expedition conducting the first Mongolian population census visited this site; however, they did not explore it. Since then, no excavations have been made at this site due to the inaccessible nature of the landscape that requires substantial technical and human resources. In addition to being discouraged by the size and physical difficulties of the terrain, scholars generally were not much interested in the research of seventeenth-century city planning and architecture of Mongolia.

Since 2010, despite scarce funding, I have excavated and studied this site, and for the past two years I have also collected and studied the oral history of the area, which credits Öndör Gegeen Zanabazar (1635–1723) as the founder of the complex.2 Discovering the timeline of this site became my primary goal. Thus, we began our project titled "A Seventeenth-Century City" in 2013 and made a record of about ten sites of city ruins from this time period. On October 15, 2013, we decided to start off with the first, and most difficult, site on the list, Saridag Monastery (khiitiin Saridag).3 Since that decision, we have conducted three excavations, each ranging from two weeks to three [End Page 287] months, and we will continue this work for another year or two. In this essay, I report the initial findings from our excavations.4

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Figure 1.

The excavation site of the Khutugtu's Monastery located about 70 kilometers northeast of Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, in the Saridag Mountains of Khan Khentii. All images in this essay have been provided by the author and are used with permission of the Institute of History and Archeology at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences.


We find information about this monastery in a manuscript titled Bogd Jivzundambyn ankhny törliin new oshivoi (Cl. Mo. Oġda jibjundamba blama-yin anġqan töröl-ün ner-e orusibai) (Bogda Jebtsundampa's first incarnation): "The eleventh year of the Blue Horse Year of the Shunzhi Emperor (1654), Bogd Jebtsundampa established his Dharma Ikh Khüree Ribogejai-Gandanshaddublin [ribogejaiγangdanšaddubling] to proliferate the Yellow Faith in the land of Khalkha in the Khentii Mountains."5 [End Page 288]

In Ikh Khüree's 1925 bca 'yig (monastic regulations), the year 1654 is also mentioned as the foundation of the First Jebtsundampa Öndör Gegeen Zanabazar's monastery, which was built with stone, bricks, and wood in the Khentii Mountains. In his construction work, Zanabazar had assistance from the Tibetan Dalai and Panchen Lamas. Zaya Paṇḍita Luvsanprinlei's hagiography of Zanabazar contains several pieces of information pertaining to this monastery. This hagiography states (original spelling):

Later from the main [office] [an order was issued] that the Namgyel College's preceptor (slob dpon) was made the [Jetsundampa's] college lama. He was [the one who was] bestowed [the title] of abbot of [the monastery of] Jayul, the Sharkhang Kukye.

The manager responsible for the common funds of Drepung [Monastery] was made the [Jetsundampa's] college treasurer. And a chant master from the main assembly hall of Drepung was made a cantor of this college.

And His Highest Honor's chamberlain Kharnag Chodze [was made] a general manager.

The reincarnation of Jampa Lingpa as a household official (gsol dpon) [and] a lama physician Dagpo Drungtsoba [were sent].

[And] a painter from Chenye and others, altogether as many as fifty Tibetan monks, were ready to offer themselves in service. [When] this was noticed by the great lama, he paid them back with unsurpassed rewards.

He was invited to nominate the throne master of the Lord [Tsongkhapa's] chief spiritual advisor (chos rje) Dondub Rinchen's monastery Jakhung Drag.

In winter of the Hare...


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pp. 287-305
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Archived 2020
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