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Tuvkhun Monastery


The religions in Mongolia are varied, since the creation of the great Turco-Mongol empires and during their more than 1500 years of existence, due to the diversity of the confessions of the dominated populations. Under the term Mongolia, we can group together several territorial entities: Mongolia as it was at the time of the Mongol Empire, covering most of Asia and beyond, or the different parts of Greater Mongolia , what is today the Mongol State (Mongolian Cyrillic: монгол улс, Mongol uls), semi-independent under the Mongolian Khanate of Bogd (1912-1924) and officially independent since 1921; Inner Mongolia, which remained in Chinese territory; and the various other regions of the world of Mongolian culture. Tengrism (a form of shamanism), already present among the Xiongnu, remains the basis of the organization in the steppes of Central Asia, opposed or mixed by syncretism with different major religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam). In the independent Mongolian state, Buddhism is the majority, practiced by just over 53% of the population. It is followed by irreligion, claimed by approximately 38% of the population. Finally, Islam and shamanism, with 3% of practitioners each, slightly ahead of Christianity with 2.1% of practitioners. The school of yellow caps (gelugpa) is the majority Buddhist doctrine in Mongolian country. Buddhism and shamanism are actually intertwined in what is called yellow shamanism where shamanic practices are linked to Buddhist rites. In certain regions of the former Mongol Empire where strong Mongol populations remain, the majority practice is Islam. Currently, in Mongolia as in Inner Mongolia, Buddhism, Islam (mainly in the regions inhabited by the Khazaks) and Christianity are still practiced, with however other local religions, with additions by syncretism of elements of Tengrism , an ancient religion linked to the foundations of the Empire and the power of Genghis Khan.

The communists accepted under the banner of the Mongolian People's Party, during the last years of autonomous Mongolia (1911-1924), Buddhism between 1921 and 1924, putting the theocrat Bogdo Khan back on the throne. On the latter's death, the establishment of the Mongolian People's Republic (1924-1992) was declared and the country officially became secular. Tengrism has however always remained present, at least as a superstition, in the minds of the populations and mainly among the nomads. In November 1993, one year after the proclamation of the Republic of Mongolia, a law on religions imposes Buddhism as the state religion and prohibits any religious activity organized from outside without government invitation. Despite decades of state atheism, Tibetan Buddhism remains the main religion of the Mongols in Inner Mongolia and Mongolia: practitioners consider the 14th Dalai Lama to be one of their spiritual leaders.

Erdenezuu Monastery - Mongolia


From the first Turco-Mongol empires, Indian Buddhist missionaries came to teach their faith. Under Taspar Qaghan (reign 752 - 781) Jinagupta (stay 574 - 584), later, Prabhakaramistra (626), then Chinese as Xuanzang, (sometimes transcribed Hiuan Thsang, 626 - 645), but this will not have an influence only very limited. A Sogdian inscription written in Bugut, in Upper Mongolia after 851 to the glory of Mughan Qaghan states on the other hand that Bumin Qaghan, founder of the Turkish Khaganate in 552 would have been a Buddhist and would have ordered the construction of a new samgha. The Gelugpa school, founded by Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), son of a Mongolian Darughachi and a Tibetan, in Xining, in the Mongolian province of Kokonor (now Qinghai), on the Tibetan plateau, is inherited from Buddhism Tibetan, variant of the Vajrayana Buddhist current. Tibetan Buddhism is not only practiced in Tibet, but also in the Mongolian, Manchu and Han regions of China, as well as in the Republic of Buryatia, the Republic of Tuva and the Republic of Kalmykia.

Monastery of Erdene-zuu in Kharkhorin

Altan Khan (1502-1582), wishing to dethrone the line of descendants of Genghis Khan, seeks to impose Tibetan Buddhism to take power. He invited Sonam Gyatso, chief of the gelugpa and abbot of the monastery of Drepung, who went to Mongolia in 1578. Altan Khan created the title of Dalai Lama (далай) meaning ocean in Mongolian) which he offered to Sonam Gyatso, a title which is applied in absentia to his two predecessors (Gedun Drub and Gedun Gyatso). Buddhism also influenced shamanism, with deities like Sagaan Ubgen (the old white man), which is found in white shamanism, a subdivision of yellow shamanism (the shamanism of the yellow caps). This deity is typically Mongolian. Despite decades of state atheism, Tibetan Buddhism remains, in Inner Mongolia and Mongolia, the religion of the Mongols who regard the 14th Dalai Lama as one of their spiritual leaders. He has visited Mongolia 8 times since 1979.


Shamanism - Tengrism

Shamanism is already practiced in the Turco-Mongol regions of Central Asia. From the Huns and the Xiongnus, the sky (Tengri) is posited as a divinity, and religion is made up of shamanist, animist and totemist beliefs. The term shaman is originally an Evenk Tungus term, given as a title to the priests of Tengrism. This religion seems inherited from the primitive religions of the nomads, which are found all around the globe with a cult of the sky, and in particular of the sun and the moon. During treaties with the subjected States, the Huns and the Mongols make reference to a unique and eternal god, to the sky, and, to describe the totality of the world, it is question of the sun, from rising to setting. The Huns then also define themselves as "Kun", "kun djono", the "people of the people of the sun". They worship the sky, the sun and the moon. Tengrism was particularly prevalent among the Turko-Mongols in the 7th and 8th centuries. It lost intensity in the 8th century under the influence of Manichaeism, the official religion of the Uyghur khanate. Genghis Khan calls himself the heir of the Tengri. Under the Yuan Empire, he was nicknamed son of the sky and he governed by following different principles of life of wolves, divine animals of Tengrism. Tungus populations such as the Evenki attach more importance to reindeer.

Church in Ulaanbaatar

Church in Ulaanbaatar


In the 13th century, among the descendants of Genghis Khan, Tuluy, his favorite son, married Princess Soyughaqtani and kept a Nestorian church with her. Their sons Möngke and Kublai both succeed to the title of Khaganet and are brought up with their brothers Houlagou Ariq Boqa in the spirit of the Christian faith, but the Mongolian yassa forbids them to be baptized. Under the reigns of Ögödei, Güyük and Möngke, Christianity continues to develop according to the rites of the Nestorian church. The Nestorians were still active during the Yuan Dynasty in Inner Mongolia, especially in Wulan-Chabu. Today, there are also Orthodox churches in Mongolia. In Ulaanbaatar, there is the Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity (Гэгээн-Троицкийн үнэн).

mosque in mongolia.jpg

Mosque in Bayan-ulgii


Islam in Mongolia has been attested since at least 1254, in the writings of the Franciscan Guillaume de Rubrouck, when he went to the court of Möngke, grandson of Genghis Khan in Karakorum. Ghazan Khan, great-grandson of Houlagou Khan, founder of the Ilkhanid dynasty in Iran, reigned from 1256 to his death, converted to Islam in 1295. Tamerlane (1336-1405), who conquered Persia, khan, emir and founder of the Timurid dynasty (1369–1507), converted to Islam. Islam is today mainly practiced by the Kazakhs, in the western aimag of Bayan-Ölgiy.

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