Mongolia. The name conjures up violence and brutality, a long history of barbaric hordes dealing death and destruction wherever they went. Yet a careful study of the country’s entire history reveals this to be a distorted picture painted by early European writers. Even the word “barbarian” didn’t become a negative connotation until the 1200s—for ancient Greeks, “barbaros” simply meant “foreigner.”
To A.C. Bhaktivabihava Swami, ISKCON guru and GBC for the East-Siberian region, Mongolians are—and have always been—simple, rural people, many of whom are also highly educated. “But most of all,” he says, “My impression is that they are a very kind people.”
Further proof that Mongolia is a special nation, is the specific prediction in the ancient scripture Srimad Bhagavatam that its people will take up Krishna consciousness: “Members of the Khasa races,” reads 2.4.18, “”¦Can be purified by taking shelter of the devotees of the Lord, due to His being the supreme power.” In the verse’s word-for-word meaning, ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada translates the Sanskrit “Khasa Adayah” as “The Mongolian province.”
And sure enough, today Mongolian devotees of Krishna chant his holy name, spread it amongst their countrymen, and are planning to build their first ever temple.
It all began in 1999 when Lakshmi Narayana, a senior ISKCON devotee from East-Siberia, traveled to Mongolia to hold his “Timeless Culture” series of public programs. Immediately, Mongolians showed their eagerness to receive Vedic knowledge and be educated in the Vedic culture. Enthused, Lakshmi Narayana invited Bhaktivaibhava Swami to visit the country, which the Swami has continued to do annually ever since.
Soon the first Mongolian devotees began to hold Sunday programs in a rented flat. They later relocated to a traditional Mongolian housing, called a Ger or Yurt, on the outskirts of capital Ulan Baatar. Still serving as the temple today, the Yurt is simple and free of trimmings, with only an Indian-style altar inside for deities of Gaura-Nitai.
More public programs followed, these organized by the local devotees themselves. But it wasn’t until they started to enthusiastically translate and print Srila Prabhupada's books, that Krishna consciousness in Mongolia begin to attract a wider, more educated audience.
“Mongolians are primarily attracted to three elements of Krishna consciousness,” explains Bhaktivaibhava Swami. “First off is the philosophy, which they see has many similarities to their state religion of Buddhism. Second is the culture—although coming from a tradition of silent meditation it is not easy for them to chant japa, they love singing kirtan and dancing. And the third is the food. Prasadam is so delicious that they find it easy to become vegetarian, although this is usually so difficult a feat that any Mongolian who does it is considered a saint.”
Today, there are twenty-five active Mongolian devotees, and more currently taking further training and education in Pune, India. Prominent devotees instrumental in maintaining the Mongolian Hare Krishna Movement include Chandra Bhavana, the president; Bhaktin Tungalag, an official Mongolian tourist guide who has been very helpful in government relationships; and Balabhadra, top student of the National University of Mongolia and maintainer of ISKCON Mongolia’s website www.veda.mn. There are also a number of students who practice Krishna consciousness, as well as about thirty congregational members from all walks of life.
This growing congregation of devotees is working hard to create facilities for practicing Krishna Consciousness in Mongolia. As well translating and printing thirteen of Srila Prabhupada's books, including Bhagavad-gita As It Is and Krishna, they have also recently opened the first Govinda’s vegetarian restaurant in Ulan Baatar to great success. They’ve even performed miracles.
“No, really,” says Bhaktivaibhava Swami, explaining: “Recently some of our devotees held kirtan at Khamriin khiid, a Buddhist holy place in the Gobi desert which is considered locally to be one of the energy centers of the earth. It had been predicted that for a long time that there would be no rain in the area. However, shortly after the devotees began to chant Hare Krishna, it started to rain profusely—to the amazement of the local people, who considered it very auspicious.”
As a result of all these progressive activities, the government have finally granted devotees permission to register ISKCON in Mongolia. But there’s one condition—they must build a temple first.
It’s a serious challenge for the Mongolian congregation. Mongolia is a very poor country and the living standard of the average person is extremely low—partly owing to the fact that forty per cent of the population continue to live the traditional nomadic lifestyle.
And right now, so do the devotees, whose Yurt temple is collapsible and often moved, in true nomadic style. “Since we got it we have moved three times to different locations in Ulan Baatar,” says Mongolian devotee Onol Chimiddorj. “To do this, we usually need a truck which makes two trips with all the temple paraphernalia. It takes seven to nine people a full day to collapse our Yurt temple, load it, and rebuild it in our new location. Male devotees do all the heavy jobs; female devotees help to pack. It is probably the only temple in the world that moves about, changing its site.”
Despite their difficult financial condition, the Mongolian devotees still intend to cover the purchase of the land for their new temple. They are, however, reaching out for the help and support of the worldwide ISKCON community in the temple’s construction.
“I strongly feel that the devotees in Mongolia deserve our heartfelt encouragement and contribution,” says Bhaktivaibhava Swami. “All donations are needed and appreciated, regardless of size. Kindly consider how important the work of the Mongolian congregation really is, and what positive impact a larger facility will have on those in our community who presently live with less than the bare necessities of life.”
The Mongolian devotees already have options lined up for their temple’s location, although the date they will begin building depends on fund-raising progress. They expect the temple to be ready one year after building commences, however.
“All the signs are encouraging,” says Bhaktivaibhava Swami. “Especially the Mongolian people’s vital interest in the philosophy and life style of Krishna consciousness. And we strongly believe that the construction of a Vedic temple will be of great service to the citizens of Mongolia.”
Bhaktivaibhava Swami’s future plans are for more devotees to join, more books to be translated, and proper living and educational facilities to be given to the Mongolian devotees. “When all these programs begin extending, I am sure that Srila Prabhupada will be very pleased,” he says. “This is my biggest dream.”
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