Choijin Lama Monastery – Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia - Atlas Obscura

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Choijin Lama Monastery

The monastery survived the Communist revolution in Mongolia as a religious museum.  


Choijin Lama Monastery is a compound encompassing five temples, pleasant gardens, and a few meandering footpaths. This historical monastery is dwarfed by the striking modern buildings towering around it. The meeting of the new and the old architecture is conflicting and harmonious at once. Built using blue bricks and topped by a wooden roof, the temples in this monastery are rare specimens of pre-revolution structures exhibiting Chinese architecture in Mongolia

After four years of construction work, the monastery became operative in 1908, but soon after its inauguration, the monastery faced an uncertain future. The advent of the Communist revolution in Mongolia in 1921 brought with it the resolve to erase all manifestations of religious traditions. Very few monasteries and temples survived the purges, and those that did survive were deprived of their religious significance and reconceptualized as museums, buildings of historical importance, or simply used for administrative purposes. Choijin Lama Monastery survived as a museum of religious artifacts.

Each of the five temples in the monastery is dedicated to a deity. The main temple features an 18th-century statue of the Shakyamuni Buddha. On its right is a statue of Choijin Lama, and on its left is the statue of Baldan Choephel (teacher and head monk) with his mummified remains encased. Together, these temples house a vast collection of Buddhist masks, thangkas (Buddhist paintings on fabric), sculptures, and scriptures.

Along the wooden panes covering one of the temples are possibly the most eye-catching paintings in the entire complex. An array of gruesome images portray mangled bodies, severed limbs, and dangling organs. This is the section of the temple dedicated to the Naraka, or Buddhist Hell. This kind of religious art is meant to encourage believers to conduct a virtuous life and remind them to make merits in order to lessen the suffering in Naraka. 

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February 24, 2023

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