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We examine the sculpture made using the lost wax technique, get acquainted with the tsam ritual and study the temple panel of the late 19th century.

The collection of Mongolian art at the State Museum of the East has about 1,500 items of the 12th – 20th centuries. Sculptures, paintings, masks, musical instruments and household items give an idea of ​​the life of the Mongols of the past and Tibetan Buddhism, which from the 16th century to the present day is the main religion of Mongolia in terms of the number of believers. Nonna Alfonso, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Art of the Near and Middle East, South and Central Asia, chose five interesting items from the collection and talked about them.

Green Tara (first half – mid-18th century)

An important role in the development of Mongolian painting and sculpture was played by the sculptor and artist, political and religious figure Gombodorzhiin Dzanabadzar (1635–1724). Having studied the art of Nepal, Tibet and China, Zanabadzar, in the traditions of the Buddhist pictorial canon, created images that are amazing in their living beauty and attractiveness. His works, recognized all over the world as masterpieces, were the shrines of the largest Mongolian monasteries and temples, an object of study and repetition for subsequent generations of masters. Thus, a special school of sculpting appeared – the Zanabadzar school.

In the collection of the Museum of the East there are no sculptures of the master himself, but there are works of his followers. Among them is the image of the goddess Green Tara, created in the first half – mid-18th century. It is made of a copper alloy using the lost wax technique. The process is very painstaking: first, a model of the future sculpture with all the detailed details is cut or molded from wax, then covered with several layers of clay. Each new layer is applied only when the previous one is dry. Thus, a strong frame is obtained, into which molten metal is poured, thereby displacing the wax. After that, the upper clay mold is broken.

The sculpture is decorated with gilded plating and inlays of semi-precious stones. The image of the goddess complies with all the rules of the Buddhist canon: Green Tara sits on a high throne made of a double row of lotus petals, her right leg rests on a flower, symbolizing her readiness to instantly come to the rescue, her right hand is lowered, her palm is turned outward as a sign of the bestowal of mercy, and the gesture of the left hands means instruction in Buddhist teaching.

On the icons, Green Tara is depicted with a green body surrounded by a shining halo. She is considered a merciful deity who helps people in their everyday problems. There is a belief: during the time when a person blinks, Green Tara flies around the world a thousand times, managing to help anyone who asks.

Temple panel (late 19th century)

A panel with embroidery and applique work is a unique, very rare exhibit. This is one of five canvases that were created at the end of the 19th century by craftsmen from Urga (now the capital of Mongolia, the city of Ulan Bator), with images of sacrificial offerings to the characters of the Buddhist pantheon. Details on a satin basis are made of pieces of brocade, silk and cotton fabric, the pattern is complemented by silk embroidery, gold and silver threads. The panel is quite large: 130 centimeters wide and 250 centimeters long.

Such canvases used to decorate interiors and facades of temples, walls of palaces. They were intended to decorate ritual ceremonies. Up to several dozen masters could work on one such panel under the guidance of the chief artist – the creator of the sketch for the future work. Parts of the applique were cut out using a silk or brocade stencil, then the fragments were collected and sewn on a special base fabric, constantly checking the sketch.

The painting consists of several tiers. In the center of the upper one there is a pedestal made of lotus petals, on which rests the magical scepter of vajra – the main symbol of Vajrayana Buddhism, widespread in Mongolia. Everything that surrounds the throne is considered symbols of the wealth and treasures of the Universe (both material and spiritual), for example, a vessel with a drink of immortality, a white lotus – a symbol of purity and innocence, an endless knot of happiness, an eight-radius wheel – an emblem of the Buddha’s teachings.

Presented here are the treasures of the chakravartin, in Buddhism – the ruler of the Universe, who raises the world from chaos to the highest level of order, as well as jewels placed in skull cups, mystical ritual attributes. The lowest row is a variety of animals: elephants, camels, lions, cows, sheep, goats, yaks. In a word, everything that exists in the world of the most valuable is offered in the form of a symbolic gift to the deity in exchange for patronage and guidance in Buddhist teachings.

Tsam mystery mask (early twentieth century)

Such a mask was used during the Tsam mystery – this is how special ritual dances and masked pantomime were called in Mongolia, which were performed once a year in large Buddhist monasteries. The fulfillment of the mystery pursued several goals at once, and each monastery had its own priorities: intimidation of the enemies of Buddhism, demonstration of the triumph of true teaching over all false teachings, a way to pacify evil forces so that the coming year was prosperous.

Specially trained monks who were ordained took part in the tsam. Ritual costumes and masks were made of papier-mâché or wood, painted, varnished, gilded, sometimes even inlaid with precious stones. The mask could weigh up to 30 kilograms. Their production is equated to high art.

This mask represents Yama, in Buddhism and Hinduism – the deity of death, the judge of human souls. He is usually depicted with the horned head of a bull. Why? The Tibetan legend answers this. Once, two robbers with a stolen bull climbed into a cave where a hermit had been meditating for a long time. The villains immediately killed the animal, cutting off its head. Noticing the witness, they decided to deal with him as well. When consciousness returned to the ascetic, he found that his head was missing. Coming into a rage, the unfortunate man began to rush around the cave in search of his head, but all he managed to find was the head of a bull killed by thieves. The unfortunate man put it on his shoulders and, experiencing terrible anger, killed the robbers and threatened to destroy all the inhabitants of Tibet. The merciful deities were able to tame him, and for his high spiritual merits they gave him power over the underworld.

Morinhur (1950)

In the country of riders, the image of a horse is one of the most popular, and an example of this is the most famous Mongolian musical instrument morinhur. This is a two-stringed bowed instrument, it consists of a trapezoidal box-body and a rather long and narrow neck. The bow slightly resembles a curved Mongolian bow in shape and is made of a flexible birch twig, on which the hair of a ponytail is pulled. The long vultures of the Morinhurs are certainly adorned with sculpted horse heads. This animal gave the name to the instrument: “sea”, or “morin”, translated from Mongolian means “horse”. In addition, the sound made by the instrument resembles the neigh of a horse.

In Mongolia, there are many touching legends about how the Morinhur appeared. One of them tells about the simultaneous birth of not only the instrument, but also the Mongolian music itself: more than a thousand years ago there lived a poor shepherd who had his only true friend – the black horse Kara Mor. When he died, the shepherd became sad. The good spirits took pity and advised him to pull a few hairs out of the horse’s tail, make a box out of a piece of wood, cover it with leather, attach a deck to it, and crown the neck with a carved horse’s head. This is how the morinhur turned out, in the sound of which the shepherd recognized the voice of his friend.

The exhibit presented in the museum was made by the famous Mongolian master D. Gund in the middle of the twentieth century. He decorated the body with a carved plant pattern and traditional ornament Alkhan khee. At the bottom of the neck, he depicted a dynamic scene of the battle of two horses.

There are several morinhurs in the collection of the Museum of the Orient. One of them was donated by Marshal Kliment Voroshilov, who received the instrument as a gift during his visit to Mongolia in the 1950s.

Belt set (1949)

Previously, no Mongol could do without such a belt set. Traditional Mongolian clothing – the deel robe – has no pockets, so all small items necessary for constant wanderings were attached with the help of special pendants to the belt. The set included a knife in a scabbard, often with chopsticks, and a flint-chaise.

The belt accessories were the pride of the owner and therefore they were made soundly and decorated with taste. The decor most often consisted of silver plates covered with embossed ornaments. The pattern could be complemented by engraving and inlaid with colored stones.

Often these sets are genuine works of art. As, for example, a belt set made by the Mongolian master B. Tozhil in 1949. B. Tozhil – Honored Art Worker of the Mongolian People’s Republic. In this set, he very skillfully combines steel, silver, mahogany, bone and leather. The master decorated the blade on both sides with grooves with light chased curls of floral ornament, and covered the leather case for the flint with carved and silver plates. The shine of the lace silver pendants is accentuated by the appliqué on the leather straps with red, orange and white inserts. These straps connected the pendants to the belt.

The collection of the museum also contains bowls of ayagas. This is another must-have attribute of a nomad Mongol. They were made of wood or burl, polished to a mirror shine and decorated with silver overlays. They drank both tea and meat broths.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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