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Religious Fables, Folklore, Legends, and Stories
Russian Mongolia: Religion and Architecture

Submitted by Yuri Klitsenko, Russia

I have visited Tatar-Mongol Steppes at the river Volga (Ra), between Astrakhan and Tsaritsyn (better known as Stalingrad or Volgograd). In Astrakhan my mind was attracted by the Museum of Velimir Khlebnikov.  Stepan Botiev, a modern Kalmyk sculptor and artist, made a monument of Velimir Khlebnikov in the Kalmyk steppes near Malye Derbety, the poet's birth place. The monument is made of bronze; its height is 3.20 meters. There is no pedestal, which creates an impression of the poet walking on the steppe.

I was specially impressed by Kalmykia, which is the true “Russian Mongolia” and “United Nomadic Camps of Eurasia” that Velimir Khlebnikov wrote about. Kalmyks are actually Mongols (Oyrats) from Western Mongolia (Jungaria). In the 16th century, Oyrats joined the Russian state by their own free will (they wanted to get lands in Russia). In the 17th century, Kalmyks made their Exodus from Mongolia to Russia and received land along the Volga river. They brought Buddhism and camels with them.

These Mongols are friendly and polite people. Their religion is Buddhism mixed up with the developed cult of “White Elder” and some other pagan traditions.

White Elder is a God of the Mongols. Mongols recognize White Elder in the Christian St. Nicholas - they think St. Nicholas looks like White Elder, and actually is the White Elder.


A vague haze of delirium
creeps up on me.
All at once a tall stranger I suddenly see.
He's dressed in a silver sparked
Glittering gown
And His golden beard flows
Nearly down to the ground.

Sickness will surely take the mind
Where minds can't usually go.
Come on the amazing journey
And learn all you should know.

His eyes are the eyes that
Transmit all they know.
Sparkle warm crystalline glances to show
That he is your leader
And he is your guide
On the amazing journey together you'll ride.

Historically Kalmyks always had close relations with Tibet, so in post-Soviet Kalmykia Tibetan influence is rather strong. I have met Tibetan missionaries - monks and icon painters – and tried to talk with them. These Tibetan guys can’t speak Kalmyk, Russian or English. However Kalmyk intellectuals study Tibetan language (when they are not busy with chess).

Elista, the capital of “Russian Mongolia” is decorated with Buddhist buildings and many sculptures in Mongol style – sculptures are everywhere, lot of sculptures.

There is a very nice “Chess-City” in Elista, where Mongol children learn wisdom of playing chess.

Mongols are not “barbarians”! At the frontier of Kalmykia my bus from Astrakhan was stopped and checked by Mongol soldiers – Kalmyks don’t need violent warriors in their Buddhist Republic.

I was very pleased to visit Tungus (Evenkis) and Kalmyks (Mongols) this year.

Alexander Pushkin wrote:

A word about me will over Russia scatter.
Its every tongue will be to me a proud chap,
A son of Slavs, a Finn, and presently unlettered
Tungus, a Kalmyk - friend to steppes.

I shall be heard abroad through all great Russia,
Her innumerable tongues shall speak my name:
The tongue of the Slavs' proud grandson, the Finn, and now
The wild Tungus and Kalmyk, the steppes' friend.

Yuri Klitsenko is a Russian living in Moscow.  He works for the Russian Orthodox Church.

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