Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Pagan Sites of Asia (1): Burkhan Khaldun


This is the most sacred mountain of Mongolia. Since the time of Genghis Khan (1162-1227) it has been associated with his legend, but its religious significance appears to date back much further. The religious myths connected to it have roots in the beliefs of earlier peoples, like those of the Khitans, a Mongol or Tungus people who ruled Northern China from 907 to 1125.

The Secret History of the Mongols describes the mythic origins of the Mongols:
"There came into the world Borte Chono (blue-gray wolf) whose destiny was Heaven's will. His wife was a Gua Maral (beautiful fallow doe). They traveled across the inland sea and when they were camped near the source of the Onon River in sight of Burkhan Khaldun, their first son was born, named Bat Tsagaan."
Through Bat Tsagaan the "blue-gray wolf" and the "beautiful fallow doe" were ancestors of Genghis Khan, so the mountain that oversaw their union became a symbol of Genghis Khan's 'divine right' to conquer and rule the world.

The origin myth of the Khitans has several similarities. Their religious customs, which included various beliefs and animal sacrifice, are written about in The Records of the Khitan State (1247). They had a shamanistic religion that derived many of its customs from a culture of hunting and a belief in an afterlife. Like the mythical origins of the Mongols, their myth involved a river confluence below a sacred mountain and an unlikely pairing. The place was reportedly the confluence of the Xar Moron and the Laoha rivers beneath Mount Muye in Eastern Inner Mongolia, and the divine parents were Qishou Khagan and Kudun.

The latter appears to have been a male sky god whose symbol was an arrow and who rode a white horse. Kudun appears to have been a female earth goddess, who sometimes appeared in the form of an old woman on a cart drawn by a grey bovine.

Burkhan Khaldun, which is 7,724 feet high, is still considered sacred by the Mongolians, unlike Mount Muye, which is not. According to The Rosary of White Lotuses, a history of Mongolian Buddhism, Genghis, although not a Buddhist himself, was considered to be an emanation of Vajrapani, one of the earliest bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism. For this reason a Buddhist temple was built at the bottom of the mountain, but this was later destroyed. There has been talk of building a new temple on the summit.

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