Sunday, February 1, 2015

Winter Palace of Bogd Khan

Winter Palace of Bogd Khan

So who was Bogd Khan.

            Born in 1869 his parents were officials in the Tibetan Government.  A year later he was recognized by the 13th Dali Lama as the latest incarnation of Bogd Gegen.  This means he was the Lama of the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism.  Basically this means he became the Enlightened Leader of Mongolia.  The young ruler moved to Urga (Ulaanbaatar) in 1874, and grew up under the Quin Dynasty with the goal of eventually restoring Mongolia.  He succeeded in 1911 after the Xinhai revolution in China. The revolution only granted him Outer Mongolia and his attempted invasion of Inner Mongolia was initially successful when his cavalry liberated most it from China in 1913.  The success didn't last and his forces had to retreat a year later due to lack of weapons, brought on by the Russians refusing to sell anything to him.  (Due to WWI) That wasn't the only troubles brought on by what was essentially a theocratic state (Buddhism).

            The theocratic government was ill equipped to deal with economic matters, as its main goal was continuing to develop Buddhism in Mongolia.  On the international side, there was a bit of political wrangling over Mongolia by Japan, China, and Russia.  China stated with no room for negotiation that Mongolia was part of China and not an independent state.  On the surface Russia agreed with the Chinese, but they said that Mongolia should be some degree of independence inside China.  (Wow does this remind anyone, of anything).  The Russians also secretly agreed with Japan that Outer Mongolia was in their sphere of influence, and Inner Mongolia was in the Japanese sphere of influence.

            Things didn't work out as planned and as the Russian influence weakened the Chinese invaded effectively conquering Mongolia 1919.  He regained power in 1921 when friendly forces freed the country and he remained in power as a limited monarch until his death in 1924.  His successor was found in 1932 despite the Russians claiming otherwise, forcing him to live in secret until 1990 and he was enshrined as the next Bogd Gegen in 1992.  (Much to the chagrin of the Chinese, who decry Tibetan Buddhism for various reasons, but they let it slide to keep the Mongolians happy.) He was granted Mongolian citizenship in 2010 and died in 2012.

            OK, history lesson over. (sorry the teacher in me couldn't resist)  Also FYI no pictures were allowed unless you paid 26 USD and that just wasn't going to happen.  The complex itself was built from 1893 – 1903, and later turned into the countries first museum in 1924.

            Before I continue I must confess I wasn't quite sure what to expect and my expectations were completely blow away by the complex.  When you say Mongolian on the streets back home, most people will think of war, conquest, horses, and nomads, at no point does artistry enter the conversation.  This is completely false, as the level of craftsmanship is evident even in the less than stellar condition of the palace.

Outside the Palace (these are mine)

            This is reminiscent of the Gates I’ve seen at Chinese and Japanese temple complexes.
            I just wish that pole was in the way.


            Mongolians favorite colors must be red, gold, green, and blue, and this continues on the inside of the buildings as well.  There is clearly a Chinese influence, but it’s not as flamboyant as what I saw down in Thailand.  Whether that is due to the condition of the building, or the actual style I can’t say, but my own opinion is the style.  I like the style of the roof tiles, probably because it is similar to some of the styles used in Japan.  The Buddhist gate guardians on the doors is a nice touch to.

Ceiling Tile

            This is what I was referring to earlier, the level of craftsmanship is clearly evident in the painting, even if it needs some TLC.  I simply didn't expect to see anything like it.  Most of what I am exposed to in contemporary Mongolia is Soviet Era Russia, or one of the few more modern skyscrapers.  You can see it a little bit in the windows, but they all have some sort of geometric design, which continues on the archways inside the buildings.  On an interesting note the wall below is wood, and is much thinner than the opposite side which is wood with a thick layer of brick layered on top of it.  I don’t know why this was done only on one side, but my guess is that it has something to do with winds in the winter and maybe they only came from one direction in the past before the rest of the city was built up.

            The interior was just as impressive, with hues of red and gold.  Several of the buildings were used as Buddhist temples or other related activities.  While still very nice, and a pleasure to see, I wouldn’t want to stay in any of them for a long time as they were not any warmer than the outside temperature -8F.  The major motifs on the roof, walls, and doors, were Chinese dragons, geometric designs, or some kind of flower.  The dragon paintings on the ceiling were exquisite and I found my eyes wandering to the ceiling in every room I entered.

Buddhist gate guarding statues.

Museum of the Bogd Khans personal effects

            When I saw the extensive collection of stuffed animals, my first thought was I should bring my students here for a classification and diversity lesson.

The obligatory Buddha.

            You know for a monk this guy lived really well.  Rumor has it that his victims would be invited to Urga for a visit and would never be heard from again.