4. CULTURAL & HISTORICAL HERITAGES

THE SACRIFICE TO BOGD KHAAN MOUNTAIN

There are over 600 natural sacred sites in Mongolia. You can recognize many sacred sites by the ovoos, a cairn of stones and other objects on the mountain’s peak, which mark them. Sacred natural sites are treated with utmost respect. Within the vicinity of these sites, the cutting of trees, polluting rivers, hunting of wild animals or digging of the land is prohibited. Dating back to pre-Buddhist animist beliefs, these taboos serve the double purpose of worship and protecting the surrounding environment. Later incorporated into Buddhism, people continue to practice these traditions nowadays.




The Bogd Khan Mountain Strictly Protected Area is Mongolia’s and perhaps the oldest officially and continuously protected site in the world. Officially, declared a sacred mountain reserve in 1778, evidence of its protected status dates back to the 13th century, predating the establishment of the United States’ Yellowstone National Park by nearly 100 years.


The entire massif, extending some 32km east to west, up to 16 km north to south, and topped by 2252m Tsetsee-Gun Peak. The mountain landscape features dense coniferous forests and bare rock on the upper slopes, and open grassland, including wildflower meadows, at lower elevations. Each site is believed to be owned by a spirit. The form of spiritual masters varies according to the shape of the mountain. The spiritual master of the Bogd Khan Mountain is the shape of a Garuda, a huge and powerful bird.


During the communist era, from 1924 to 1989, Buddhism was suppressed, ovoo worship was outlawed, monasteries were destroyed, Buddhist texts disappeared, and many monks were killed. However, following the election of democratic government in 1990, Mongolia has worked to restore its spiritual, cultural and conservation traditions.  Buddhist monasteries and ovoo worship have been revived, and some thought-to-be extinct texts have resurfaced. On the Bogd Khan Mountain, ceremonies led by local Buddhist Lamas honoring the deities of the mountain are again taking place.


Bogd Khan Mountain’s significance as a holy mountain stretches back to the time when shamanism — with its focus on the worship of natural sites — was dominant, and its reverence continued as shamanism was integrated into Buddhism, which became a Mongolia’s state religion in the 13th century. The mountain is associated with the Mongolian shamanistic deity Dunjingarav, who rides 33 grey horses. “Bogd” and “Khan” are terms of reverence used frequently in the names of Mongolian mountains. Khan, meaning “king,” was commonly used during shamanistic times, while Bogd, sometimes translated as “living” or “holy,” originated in India and Tibet and became the more traditional name once Buddhism was accepted in Mongolia.


One important ceremony was the mountain sacrifice-worship at Bogd Khan Mountain. On the peak, there are 2 ovoos, right one is sacrificed by statesmen and left one is by religious leaders. The Bogd Khan Mountain ritual was done every six months, once in the spring and once in the fall. The Manchu Amban of Ikh Khuree presided at the spring one, the Mongol Amban at the autumn ceremony. The mountain was treated as nobility, with its own salary in silver and goods from the emperor, during the ceremony, one of the Amban’s offerings were the mountain’s salary. Various Buddhist prayers are chanted at the ovoo, symbolic sacrificial items are buried in the ovoo, and the offering ritual is led by the leaders of the social-political group – in the Qing era, by the Amban. The sacrifice to Bogd Khan Mountain, south of Ikh Khuree (present Ulaanbaatar), began in 1778 and had an accompany Naadam. Many items – pearls, coral, khadag, scented woods which were customarily offered to the Mountain. Similar items were part of the offering to the Bogd Khan during the Naadam, suggesting a long-persisting of symbolic offerings which were considered appropriate as recompense for aid and protection. Otherwise, the mountain sacrifice has only an occasional similarity of form to the Naadam. The Naadam of the Sacrifice alluding to the conjoined mountain sacrifice. In contrast to the Bogd Khaan Mountain sacrifice, where the Qing emperor’s representative bestowed salary and offerings to his subject mountain-lord.


In 1995, the government designated Bogd Khan Uul a “Strictly Protected Area,” one of several conservation categories established by Mongolian law. This precipitated UNESCO’s awarding of “Biosphere Reserve” status to the mountain in 1996. Mongolia also submitted Bogd Khan Mountain and two other sacred mountains for tentative inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as a mixed cultural-natural site. In addition, Bogd Khan Mountain is one of three sites recognized by Mongolian presidential decree as a natural sacred site.