Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ulan-Ude 6/23/09

Tuesday June 23, 2009

While visiting Ulan-Ude we took a day to see the sites and our first stop was the Buddhist monastery about an hour north of the city.
Ivolginsky Dazan is the main Buddhist temple of Russia. Built in 1947, the Dazan is 30 km away from Ulan-Ude and is the main residence of Central Ecclesiastical Directorate of Russian Buddhists. While there we spoke to a lama and a 16 year old novitiate who was learning to be a lama. While we were there we saw the ritual service and mantras readings for people who "phone in" their requests for prayers, a major income source for the Temple.

This monastery was the home of Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, born in 1852, he began his religious education at the age of 16 and eventually earned degrees in medicine and philosophy. In 1911, he was appointed the 12th Pandito Khambo Lama (also spelled Hambo Lama), the head of Buddhism in Russia.

As Khambo Lama, he is credited with inspiring a Buddhist revival among Buryats. He was also closely involved with Tsar Nicholas II. In 1926, Itigilov warned his students about the coming terror of the "red teaching" and advised them to flee to Tibet, but he remained in Siberia.

In 1927 he announced it was time for his passing. He asked the lamas to join him in meditation and begin funeral rites, and he died while meditating in the lotus position at the age of 75. In accordance with his will, his body was buried in a wooden box sitting upright in the lotus position. He requested that monks exhume his body after a period of some years and this was done once in 1955 and again in 1973. Both times they found the body perfectly preserved and still sitting upright.

The body was transferred to the Ivolginksy Dazan and publicly unveiled for the first time in September 2002, 75 years after his death in 1927. His body has decayed slightly since its exhumation but still remains in a state of preservation that baffles scientists and draws believers by the thousands. In November 2004, Professor Viktor Zvyagin of the Federal Center of Forensic Medicine examined Itigilov's body and concluded that the body was in the condition of someone who had died 36 hours ago. A big mystery.

On designated days, the faithful can come to the monastery and view, and even touch, the lama and receive restoration of health, good luck, and improved life. We missed one of those occasions by a day.

The city of Ulan-Ude first appeared in 1666 as a Cossack outpost, where Russian Cossacks moved to the east. Scientific sources indicate that from time immemorial there were migratory path of humanity. Trade with neighboring countries has brought the city fame, and trade fairs were organized here each year, which take place to this day. Originally it was called Verhneudinsk and in 1934 it was renamed Ulan-Ude, which is translated from Buryat language meaning "red river".

The main attraction sights are located along Lenina Street. The Odigitrievsky cathedral is located at the very beginning of the street. It was built in the second half of the 18th century in the name of the icon of the Mother of God Odigitriya. Now there are Holy Trinity Church, Church of the Ascension, and Verhneudinskaya chapel in the name of the prelate Innocent.

A triumphal arch was built in honor of Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich, who visited the town in 1891 and it was restored in 2006. A copy of the kings' gates now adorns the streets of Lenina. It was the coat of arms of Russia and the inscription: "20-21 June 1891 - the date of arrival in Verhneudinsk Tsesarevich Nikolai Alexandrovich" is made.

The largest "Lennin Head" statue in Russia is on Soviet Square at the head of Lenina Street, It is quite imposing and makes a statement, but the only people interested are the tourists.

In the afternoon we visited some potential Humanitarian projects. One was a maternity hospital and here are the Bowdens and our two translators and government officials on the steps ready to go into our appointment.

In this hospital they say that a third of the babies born go into intensive care for a period of time. This is one of two surviving triplets that were born 2 1/2 months premature and will be in this incubator for a long time and weighs less than 3 lbs right now. Hopfully the Bowdens can get them some more monitoring units and a person to train the staff in neo-natal resussitation. There is much to be done here.

This city has a unique mix of ethnic groups that we don't see in the rest of Siberia. I really enjoyed the Temple, the city sites and the hospital visit. This has been a very interesting trip into a part of Russia not well known to westerners.

What a country

1 comment:

Shannon Simmons said...

Fascinating! How cool to have visited the monastery...as always, i love to hear of your adventures!!