How, and why did a ger (yurt) develop into the largest and most important monastery in Mongolia, and how did it support the authority of its main resident, the Jebtsundampa Khutugtu? These are the questions that Uranchimeg Tsultemin answers about the mobile encampment of Ikh Khüree and the Jebtsundampa reincarnation lineage in A Monastery on the Move: Art and Politics in Later Buddhist Mongolia (University of Hawaii Press, 2020).
This monastery on the move is referred to as Ikh Khüree in textual sources, meaning "great encampment." It is also commonly known as Urga and Bogdiin Khüree (Bogd's Khüree). Initially built in 1639 by Khalkha Mongolian nobles for the First Jebtsundampa reincarnate ruler, Zanabazar (1635-1723), Ikh Khüree was first the ger-residence of the lama, but it gradually became Mongolia's political, social, and cultural center. Between 1639 and 1855, it migrated across Inner Asia while expanding in its size, functions, architecture, arts, and population before settling permanently. In 1924, Ikh Khüree was transformed into a Soviet-style city and renamed Ulaanbaatar ("Red Hero").
Although Ikh Khüree is central to the history of Buddhism in Mongolia and is an incredibly unique case for being an entire Buddhist monastery on the move, it has only recently begun attracting scholarly interest. In this book, Uranchimeg Tsultemin consults visual, architectural, and oral traditions in addition to texts to reveal that Ikh Khüree was indeed created as the political center in northern Mongolia, and Zanabazar as the new Buddhist ruler of the Khalkha Mongols.
Tracing surviving art and architecture of Ikh Khüree, the oeuvre of Zanabazar, the portraits of Jebtsunadampa reincarnations, and the double cityscapes of the mobile monastery, Uranchimeg discovers that Zanabazar's own architectural and artistic endeavors were based on traditional Mongol perceptions of political authority derived from understandings of Chinggisid lineages. She points out that the architectural spaces of Ikh Khüree and the widely proliferated portraits of the Jebtsundampa lamas show that the Khalkha Mongols envisioned Zanabazar as a theocrat comparable and equal to the contemporaneous Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) of Tibet. Uranchimeg argues that this Khalkha vision of the "Buddhist government" as its own theocracy did not conform with the Qing narrative, but was eventually realized with the Eighth Jebtsundampa (1869-1924) in 1911 when he became Bogd Khan.
Daigengna Duoer is a Ph.D. student at the Religious Studies Department, University of California, Santa Barbara.