3 min read · May 17, 2022
Ancient Buddhist writings precisely dictate how Tangkas should be made. Tangkas are numeric values indicating exact measurements of divine beings when depicted in the form of art. Despite having seemingly definitive dimensions, Buddhist art differs from culture to culture, with Mongolian Buddhist art also having its unique features.
Zanabazar’s works, which set the foundation of Mongolian Buddhist tangkas in 16th century, are especially praised. Particulars of Mongol physical features and mannerisms can be seen in his artwork. Zanabazar’s Green Tara is an ideal example of a Mongol mother’s beauty, elegance and love.
Buddhist wisdom is divided into five greater and five lesser wisdoms. One of the greater wisdoms is craftwork. Crafting is further divided into two: wisdom of creating ordinary beings and wisdom of creating supreme beings. The latter craft wisdom covers physical depictions of gods in all forms of art. This wisdom of creating supreme beings has three branches: Lagshyn Art Idol or creating divine beings, Zarligyn Art Idol or creating books and scriptures, and Tallyn Art Idol or the art of creating architecture and structures.
Lagshyn Art Idol: Due to their preciseness, tangka artworks can be understood and read just like a book. These art idols combine and symbolize Buddhist wisdoms. In short, Buddhist artworks based on tangka are a representation of wisdoms and teachings present in Buddhist books. To an ordinary believer, worshipping a tangka idol is an indication of faith, while to a holy individual these idols are a combination of Buddhist wisdoms, conducted before a meditation.
Zarligyn Art Idol: This is an art of creation. You may have noticed, but Buddhist forms are never depicted on the front of page of Buddhist scripture, as it is seen that highest forms of wisdom are present in books and scrolls. Books and scholarly work are valued by Mongols and always include nine treasures in their creation. This can be done by sewing books with gold or silver thread, ornate every letter in the book with gemstones or carve them out of valuable and rare trees, or even write with ink formulated from precious elements. There are ancient books that depict divine beings via metal castings or copper embossment, with additional gemstone fittings.
Copper, wood and iron printing plates were used for book printing, sometimes with elegant writing fonts. A book written on a 5.5 centimeter square-shaped paper, which can only be read with a magnifying glass, is currently stored in the National Library of Mongolia.
Tallyn Art Idol: Architecture and art of building had progressed steadily. Traditionally, mongol horsemen’s construction knacks are derived from the Huns. Archeologists have identified the largest Mongol Buddhist monastery to be in Karakorum (13th century). Buddhist monasteries and temples took many forms and swiftly spread around Mongol territories during the “third great spread” of the religion in the 16th century.
The Delgerekhyn Temple built by Danzanravjaa had central heating and water supply systems. Mongol Buddhist temple designs had a number of varieties; some resembled a pavilion, while others a Mongol ger. They were specifically made to contain diverse construction materials which include bricks, rocks and wood. Some larger temples had ceramics and brick production facilities beside them, creating a unique building and worship products specific to those temples.
Unfortunately, brutal persecutions by communists in 1939 resulted in the destruction of about a thousand temples and the deaths of thousands of Buddhist monks and clergymen. Invaluable Buddhist buildings and architectures vanished overnight. Even the smallest temples had at least 4 – 5 shrines, a number of idols and libraries. Although the majority of Buddhist landmarks were wiped during this period of meticulous and highly organized destruction, Buddhist legacy still remain to this day, a testament of the advanced craftsmanship of the artisans and how deep-rooted Buddhism was in Mongolia.
Due to tireless efforts by Mongolian artisans beginning in 1990, these artworks are seeing a resurgence. Today, Lama G. Purevbat has an outstanding reputation out of them all – his artisan school MIBA has produced 84 highly trained artisans to date.
G. Purevbat’s 80 tokhoi-tall (a Mongolian measurement meaning “elbow”, measures 33 cm) sculpture of Avolokiteshvara he completed with his disciples in 1996 is another such example. Books compiled by his group of monks are becoming an important sourcebook for creating divine idols.
Today, Aglag Buteelyn Temple in Bornuur sum of Tuv Province has not only become a popular destination among tourists and people of Buddhist faith, it is now seen as the zenith of Mongolia’s accomplishments as artisans.