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A role of Buddhism in formation of Central Asian mythologies

A role of Buddhism in formation of Central Asian mythologies - e-history.kz

In his work “The Mongolian legend about Geser Khan” Grigory Potanin cited various variations of the name Geser, which were found in Central Asia along with his epithets. In the Tibetan version, this hero is called Lang-Geser-chzhavu (zhavu means “King” in Tibetan). In Mongolian books, it has such definitions as “Arban ju-gen edzen bogdo Geser-khan”, i.e. “Lord of the Ten Countries of the World Saint Geser Khan”. In Buryat stories, the form “Abai Geser Khan” is used as well.

Another “Geger Khan” can be added to these variants, though only Buryats of the Alar parish, west part of Irkutsk, were said to exist at the end of the 19th century. Examples of such a replacement for the Orientalist were easily quoted from ordinary speech, while Potanin had only one example from the stock of epic names. He meant the names of two dogs, which are often the companions of a bogeyman in Central Asian epics and fairy tales. In Mongolian tales they are called Asir and Basyr, Hasyr and Basyr, in Turkic-Kazar and Pazar, in Buryat-Agyr and Bagyr. These variations are also indicative of the fluctuations in the name of Gesir. The rapprochement of the names Gesir and Kazar leads to the new rapprochement of the name Gesir-khan with the title of Khazar-hagan, because the second members are unambiguous in both complicated cases. Both Khan and Hagan mean the same thing — “Tsar”. At first glance, it seems strange to establish this connection between the legendary rich man and the tsar, but comparing what the monuments about the administration of the Khazars say with the beliefs of the Mongol people and the embarrassment departs. Here is what is said about Khazar-hagan Bestuzhev-Ryumin in his “Russian history”:

“The majority of Eastern writers testify that although the supreme authority belonged to Hagan, it was actually ruled by another person, called Pech; the relationship between Hagan and this vicegerent of Hagan Hwolson is comparable with the relationship between Shogun and Mikado. That Hagan had a religious significance is seen in particular from the following story of Massoudi: when the land of the Khazars is visited by famine or some other calamity or is crowded with foreign troops, nobles and ignorant to the king of the Khazars gather and say to him: "This Hagan and his life bring us unhappiness; we consider it a bad sign; kill him or give him to us that we kill him". Therefore, the special grace of God must be manifested in Hagan”.

The Khazar Khan was shown to the people only once every four months. The people could not see him at that time because when the khan appeared, he had to fall on his face and lie down until the khan passed by. Only three dignitaries had the right to enter the palace of the khan. It is clear that this was not a secular sovereign, but a living fetish or living ongon (shamanic fetishes, wooden or patchwork dolls) of the Khazar people. He did not govern the people at all, but his presence was necessary because he removed various kinds of misfortunes from their lives. Such an idea takes us to Mongolia with its Gegens or Khubilgans.

Just like the Khazars, the Mongols looked at their Gegens. Potanin said that in one of the monasteries of Mongolia he took it into his head to challenge the possibility of overthrowing Chinese rule in Mongolia, referring to the fact that the Mongols had neither troops, nor cannons, nor gunpowder, nor arsenals for this. The Mongols answered him that none of this was necessary, that instead they had many gegens, and that when the hour struck, the gegens would only have to wish, and whole armies of heavenly iron warriors with heavenly weapons would descend from the sky. In 1888, in Urga, Potanin, in a conversation with lamas, expressed the opinion that the wooden Urga was built too closely and that it was very dangerous in case of fire. The lamas answered him that they were completely calm about this, because they knew that they had a Bogdo-gegen who would not allow fire to devastate the city.

Potanin wrote that the gegens, or khubilgans, were considered incarnations of divine personalities. In Mongolia, khubilgans, or gegens, were people who were revered as the incarnations of gods or holy people. Gegen did not die, but only changed his shell. The soul of the deceased man entered the womb of a woman, and a new incarnation of the same man was born from it. The Gegens enjoyed great respect among the people. During solemn services and processions, they were given divine honors, but the management of church affairs did not depend on them. There were few Gegens in northern Mongolia; they were much more common in southern Mongolia and Tibet. The most famous opponents in Tibet are the Dalai Lama, who lived in Lhasa, Banchen-erdeni, and Zhayang-zhanna. In northern Mongolia, the most important der is the Bogdo-gegen, whose residence was in Urga. He was known under the special name of Undur-gegen. For this Undur-gegen, legends have been preserved among the people that are of a mythical nature, and therefore it can be assumed that they were transferred to the first Bogdo-gegen by some deity. Biographical information about the subsequent Bogdo-gegens, although it is in the records of the lamas, was little known to the people. The people, according to Potanin, knew only the legends about Undur-gegen and only passed them off as the lives of subsequent gegens. The same could have taken place among the Khazar people. The Khazar Khan was the same khubilgan of the Khazar people as the Bogdo Gegen of the Mongols. The later khans lived and died without leaving any legends, but they could be considered the incarnation of the original Khazar Khan, about whom legends could live among the people, like the legends about Undur-gegen lived among the Mongolian people.

Since the 5th century, one after another, nomadic hordes of Huns, Avars, Ugrians, Bulgarians, and others have come to Europe from Central Asia. They brought with them those beliefs and legends with which they lived in the Central Asian region. From the western entrance to stagnant China to the rise from the east to the Turkestan Pamir, an uninterrupted series of cities stretched from Langzhou to Yarkand. It was the main route from China to Western countries. The famous Venetian Marco Polo traveled along this road in the 13th century and found three religions in these cities: Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist. Of course, the Buddhist one was the most ancient, but Marco Polo's was not the most ancient source about these places. In the VI century, during the era of the great migration of peoples, the Chinese Buddhist monk Xuan-ts'an traveled back and forth along the same road. Cities were already flourishing at this time. The inhabitants were engaged in gardening and weaving silk fabrics. Everywhere Buddhism prospered, or, as Xuan-ts'an expressed it, the veneration of the three jewels. The monasteries were rich and crowded, which led to the admiration of the Chinese, who were fond of Buddhism. Petty kings patronized the religion of the three jewels and tried to enrich the monasteries with rare Buddhist writings. But Xuan-ts'an was not the most ancient monument either. In the 4th century, two hundred years before Xuan-ts'an and nine hundred years before the invasion of the Mongols, the Chinese monk Fa-Hsiang travelled along the same road and described the state of affairs in the country with the same features as Xuan-ts'an. If Buddhism appeared and flourished so early in southern Mongolia, it is unlikely that northern Mongolia could remain untouched by its influence.

The oldest evidence of Buddhism in northern Mongolia dates back to the 13th century. The Catholic monk Rubrukvis, who travelled to the capital of the Mongol emperor, had already seen Buddhist monasteries in northern Mongolia. Yadrintsev found the ruins of a monastery on the Kharukha River in northern Mongolia, which he mistook for a Buddhist one. He also believed that these were the very ruins that a Chinese traveller of the 13th century had already seen. Consequently, Buddhism existed in northern Mongolia before Genghis Khan, and some of its shrines had been already in ruins at that time.

The Khitans, the forerunners of the Mongols who ruled Mongolia in the 10th and 11th centuries, already practiced Buddhism, as evidenced by Chinese sources. In a word, Buddhism existed in northern Mongolia for several centuries before Genghis Khan. To the west of Mongolia, in western Turkestan, Buddhism existed already in the time of Xuan-ts'an. Chokan Valikhanov told Potanin that he noticed traces of Buddhism among the Kazakhs, as if the Kazakhs were Buddhists before the adoption of the Muslim faith, and the western part of the Kazakh steppe was already part of the Khazar kingdom.

Northern Buddhism in Mongolia and Tibet had its own set of beliefs as well as sacred legends. In ancient times, this difference was even greater. These features of Mongol-Tibetan Buddhism constituted the legacy of the ancient, pre-Buddhist religious life of Central Asia, which later became part of the content of Mongol-Tibetan Buddhism. One of the special beliefs of this Buddhism was the belief in the Khubilgans, and from the sacred legends of Mongol-Tibetan Buddhism, one should point to the legend about the introduction of Buddhism into the northern countries.

The Tibetan version of this legend was dated to Lhasa, the Mongolian-to the Erdeni-zu monastery, which was located on the banks of the Orkhon, 400 versts south of Kyakhta. Erdeni-zu is considered the oldest Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. At 30 versts from it, traces of a vast city were found, which are considered the ruins of Karakorum. The monastery itself was also surrounded by ruins or traces of another vast city. The general legends associated with this monastery also indicate that the area occupied by it is historical. The Karakorum was the residence of the Uighur khans, whose kingdom existed in this country in the 8th and 9th centuries, and it is possible that the legends that lived in the mouths of the people date back in origin to the time of this kingdom.

Here is the legend in the nutshell: The Mongolian Khan Abatai goes to Tibet to see the Dalai Lama to ask for a living god for Mongolia. The Dalai Lama invites him to distinguish the living God from the rest. Abatey can't do that. The secret of how to recognize a living god is given to him by a woman. Abatey is taking God to Mongolia. On the way, the horse stops under the sacred burden and cannot go further. I had to cut off half of the statue and leave it in this place. This god means a monastery.

In the Tibetan version, this is a female deity (Nogon-daraeke). Arriving in Mongolia, Abatai begins to build a monastery and also intends to restore the statue. But this last fails until he gives his underwear from the lower part of the body instead of a measure. When everything was ready, the teacher lama promised by the Dalai Lama arrived on the banks of the Orkhon from Tibet. His arrival was heralded by the rain of wheat grains falling from the sky. In one version, this lama is called Undurgegen. In the Mongolian legend, Abatai does not bring the bride along with the shrine, but there is a bride in the Tibetan version. In the latter, along with the shrine of Dzhu-rembuchi (translated into Mongolian-Erdeni-zu), a bride (Nogondara-eke) was also brought, who in the legend is identified with the shrine itself. The Tibetan variant supplements the legend about the introduction of a cult with two more themes: the theme of blinding and the theme of building a palace (temple), which falls apart up to three times.

The happiness of the Mongolian people was connected to this shrine. The Chinese married off a Mongol princess to their emperor and demanded this "mountain of happiness" as a dowry for the bride. They broke the mountain into pieces and took it to Beijing. At the same time, happiness and wealth left Mongolia and moved to China. It would seem that this legend has no connection with Abatai Khan, except for the fact that it was localized near the monastery of Erdeni-zu. But this doubt is eliminated by the Uriankhai tale, recorded on the banks of the Buren-gol River, 1,000 miles from Erdeni-zu to the northwest. The Uriankhai tale tells how the bogatyr Ertene-mergen (here the name of the shrine was transferred to the purveyor of the shrine), like Abatai, "pulled out the living god." Like in the Tibetan version, here, too, a bride is brought along with the shrine. Following the "living god" being taken away, Ertene-mergen is followed by all the father-in-law's cattle. In a word, Ertene-mergen takes away all his happiness.

So, the themes connected with the Central Asian legend about the introduction of a cult are: a hidden shrine; giving it away by a woman; stopping a horse carrying a shrine in a certain place and its unwillingness to continue the journey; a construction that fails until a girdle is used instead of a measure; and heavenly rain, which is a sign.

Potanin cited two Orkhon legends: one about the trip of Abatai, the other about the mountain of happiness. He also had a third legend, also dated to the Orkhon Valley. This is the invasion of the Erdeni-zu monastery by the Olet Khan Galdan. Galdan crossed the Orkhon, attacked the monastery, entered the temple, and began picking out the jewels from the statue of the god that Abatai had once brought. At that point, God took on a menacing face, and Galdan, frightened, ran after Orkhon, who at that moment raised his waters and sank his army. The plot of this legend is similar to the Crimean legend about the invasion of the Russian prince Bravlin of the city of Surozh, with some differences. So, in the Surozh legend, Bravlin suffered for the robbery of a shrine: he turned his head to the side, which is not in the Orkhon legend. This turning of the head to the side is an epic theme, which is also, in other cases, next to the theme of kidnapping.

There is no doubt that no conclusions can be drawn based solely on plot similarities, but if legends exist in such far-flung places as the Crimea and Orkhon, they are similar in their selection and composition. Then the investigation should stop at this similarity. Potanin considered it useful to draw up a set of comparable plots for each of these points. In these considerations, he cited another legend from the Galician-Volyn chronicle. Vladimir Monomakh destroyed the Polovtsian land. Some “Lads” who survived the pogrom fled to Obez, and only Srchan remained in the devastated Don steppes. When Vladimir died, Srchan sent a “Gudtsa” to Obez to tell the youth that his enemy had died, and if he refused to return, then evshan grass (wormwood) was brought to him, so that its smell would remind him of his native steppes. The Mongols have legends about Undur-gegen, who retired from Mongolia from the persecution of the Chinese. A hero was sent to find him. This legend is probably an epic transmission of the rites of the search for a new incarnation of the Gegen, and this is usually done with the help of the demonstration of objects from the homeland of the Gegen.