About the Author: Marissa Maurer serves as Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia.
The crowd of several hundred hushed as the younger monks carried in their eldest patriarch, 103 year old Lama Davaakhuu. He was a young monk at Amarbayasgalant Monastery in 1937 at the beginning of the communist purges in Mongolia, when tens of thousands of his fellow monks were arrested, executed, or forced into hiding. Lama Davaakhuu himself was forced to leave the Monastery and religious life for more than 50 years. By the end of the purges, hundreds and perhaps thousands of monasteries throughout the country had been destroyed and only a handful were left standing. Finally, in 1989 the beginning of the democratic movement opened the door for the re-emergence of Buddhism as well as free religious expression across Mongolia. On July 26, Ambassador Jonathan Addleton and others from the U.S. Embassy joined several hundred Mongolians at Amarbayasgalant Monastery to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the reopening of this 300 year-old cultural treasure, and the dedication of a brand new stupa overlooking this remote and beautiful mountain valley.
The U.S. Embassy has long standing ties with Amarbayasgalant, which is one of the most intact remaining historical structures in Mongolia and which holds a special place as one of its most important cultural heritage sites. The entire celebration, or "Naadam," was to last four days, and included the traditional Mongolian sports of horse racing, wresting, and archery. The most moving parts, however, came from the opening ceremony which included the special dedication of a large new “wish granting” stupa on the hillside. During his remarks, the head of the Monastery thanked the U.S. Government for past support under the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation and especially for the just-awarded $575,000 cultural preservation grant to provide fire and theft protection for the all wooden complex, and a new roof for the main temple building. To our surprise, they even called Ambassador Addleton up to the podium to accept a token of their appreciation and to say a few words.
At the end of the ceremony, the younger monks once again carried out Lama Davaakhuu. We wondered what he must have been thinking as he perhaps recalled the day more than sixty years ago when troops arrived to arrest and in some cases execute the monks and lamas at Amarbayasgalant -- after a lifetime of having to hide his religion, it was now on full display and he was being accorded a position of honor and respect. Perhaps the "wish granting" stupa had already done its job.