Amarbayasgalant monastery

"Monastery of Tranquil Felicity", is one of the three largest Buddhist monastic centers in Mongolia. The monastery complex is located in the Iven Valley near the Selenge River, at the foot of Mount Büren-Khaan in Baruunbüren sum (district) of Selenge Province in northern Mongolia. The nearest town is Erdenet which is about 60 km to the southwest.

The monastery was established and funded by order of Manchu emperor Kang Xi or Enkh-Amgalan Khan to serve as a final resting place for Zanabazar (1635–1723), the first Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, or spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism for the Khalkha in Outer Mongolia. According to tradition, while searching for an appropriate site to build the monastery, the exploratory group came across two young boys, Amur and Bayasgalant, playing in a field on the steppe. They were inspired to build the monastery on that very spot and to name it after the two children, Amur-Bayasgalant. Construction took place between 1727 and 1736 and Zanabazar's remains were transferred to a newly created temple in 1788.

Amarbayasgalant Monastery and its Surrounding Sacred Cultural Landscape

The valley is covered throughout its extent with Turkic-era graves of various geometric shapes marked out in large boulders. These important archaeological features which date from the 3rd-7th centuries are the indication that the valley has long-standing sacred associations for the people of Mongolia, associations which continued and uninterrupted into the Buddhist era when they were re-validated by the construction of Amarbayasgalant Monastery on this historic site.

Originally, Amarbayasgalant Monastery consisted of over 40 temples built on the special terrace, surrounded by a wall, measuring 207x175 m. Only 28 temples now remain, they have been under State protection since 1944. The monastery has a symmetrical construction. According to which the buildings are hierarchically arranged along the central axis so that all the important buildings run down the centre to north and south. This layout of the Monastery is similar to the general layout of Manchu-style spatial planning of Imperial Palace but stylistically its art has tributary Chinese architectural influences. The size of its Tsogchin (Main) temple is 32x32 m. Its construction expresses the planning features of the Mongolian national architecture and engineering solutions are very original. One of the interesting solutions is routing of roof water through the inside of four columns, under the floor, through stone grooves and away from the Tsogchin temple.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Amarbayasgalant Monastery and its surrounding sacred landscape has a unique cultural area within which nomads inhabited since long time ago and had experienced traditional land use and culture of nomadic pastoralism and long-standing worshipping practices of natural sacred sites and mountains.  

Since its establishment, the Amarbayasgalant Monastery has always been a place of high religious and spiritual significance for nomadic herders who are living within and around of this sacred landscape.

Thus, proposed cultural property is not only a unique testimony to religious tradition of Buddhism, but also outstanding illustration of an interchange on developments of religious architecture.

Criterion (ii): Amarbayasgalant Monastery and its surrounding cultural landscape represents an important interchange of creative human values on developments in religious architectural construction of Buddhist Monastery within Central and North-east Asian cultural area, in remote place in northern Mongolia. The architectural complex of the Monastery embodies Manchu-style spatial arrangement in construction planning, Chinese architectural arts, and vernacular architectural elements and knowledge of Mongolian people.

Criterion (iii): Amarbayasgalant Monastery and its surrounding cultural landscape is exceptional testimony to a unique tradition and culture of Mongolian form of Buddhism, and specific worshipping tradition and practices of sacred sites by nomadic people.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity: All cultural elements including pastureland, location, settings, sacred sites and temples within the Monastery, burial sites and graves are an entirely authentic testimony to the Buddhist religious and sacred associations of the proposed property. Amarbayasgalant Monastery is the most authentic of the Buddhist monasteries that have been preserved in Mongolia after the 1930s political upheavals. Although, it has been damaged during these political victimization of national and religious culture, 28 temples were survived and protected by the State since 1944. The work of measuring and restoring this monastery began in 1972 with international assistance of UNESCO and has been continued until today. The restorations of the Temple were performed with Monastery’s original materials and design archive photos.

Integrity: There is a long history of protection of this landscape as sacred places, and therefore, most of the nominated property remains in its natural state and with full integrity. All the elements necessary to express the outstanding universal value of the proposed property are included in its boundary: unchanged pastureland, various cultural, religious and sacred objects and sites.

There are no significant pressures and threats to the OUV or attributed of the property. Dedicated to the Undur Gegeen Zanabazar, the Monastery houses the original Temples and tablets bearing the inscriptions of history of the Monastery and outstanding collections of Buddhist manuscripts, and icons.

Over many years, the Monastery has conserved the authenticity and integrity through a protection plan that has been developed in a scientific approaches and manner.  

Comparison with other similar properties

The Property “Amarbayasgalant Monastery and its Surrounding Cultural Landscape” would be compared with other similar properties that were already inscribed in the World Heritage List.

There are many monastic architectural heritage buildings and complexes that are inscribed in the World Heritage List and Tentative Lists under various names and titles: church, temple, cathedral, shrine, monastery and so on. Among them there are Buddhist monastery and temples with very specific monastic architectural type which exist in Asian countries in various forms and styles. For example, one can name the following: “Temple Cemetery of Confucius…” (China), “Prambanan Temple Components” (Indonesia), “Itsukushima Shinto Shrine” (Japan), “Jongmyo Shrine” (South Korea), “Shrines and Temples of Nikko” (Japan), “Golden Temple of Dambulla” (Sri-Lanka), “Sun Temple Kongrak”, “Great Living Chola Temples” (India) and others.

In comparison with Amarbayasgalant, most above-mentioned monasteries, temples, and shrines and their surroundings have evolved within urban, settled societies with connections to an agrarian landscape. In the case of the nominated property, it has a distinctive combination of its sacred mountain grassland environment with a longstanding shamanistic and Buddhist religious tradition and customs of nomadic people. None of the other compared monasteries; temples and shrines practice around them the nomadic way of life such as in and around the Amarbayasgalant Monastery.

Amarbayasgalant Monastery is located far from the densely populated areas and purposed for conducting religious services and rituals in response to religious and spiritual demands of local herdsmen. The proposed landscape surrounding the monastery is still an essential resource for nomadic pastoralism and nomadic culture of local nomads.

Comparatively to other similar monastic architectural complexes in Asia, Amarbayasgalant Monastery is also unique in offering a very specific architectural features attesting to the setting and planning principles of fusion of Mongolian national elements and Manchu and Chinese Buddhist architectural features.

The setting of the proposed monastery is notable in that it takes into account the ancient geomancies of shamanistic cultures as well as those of Vajrayana Buddhism of Tibet and Manchuri to create a unique Mongolian sacred cultural landscape. In relation to the Monastery’s architecture, The Amarbayasgalant is characterized by a mixture of Manchu-style spatial arrangements and Chinese Buddhist architectural arts, and lively and unique Mongolian local elements of architecture.

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