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Baldan Bereeven Monastery and its Sacred Surroundings

Date of Submission: 19/12/2014
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Khentii province
Coordinates: N49 26 59 E109 26 44
Ref.: 5949

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The Baldan Bereeven Monastery and its associated landscape is situated in the long and deep valley of the Baruun Jargalant River and within several picturesque sacred mountains such as Munkh Ulziit, Arvan Gurvan Sansar, Bayan Baraat, Bayan Khangai which are mountain branches of The Khentii mountain range. Within this proposed area are located very beautiful Lake of Khangal in front of sacred mountain Bayan Baraat and Jargalant Ovoo (cairn)  worshipped by indigenous nomadic people since ancient time.

The Baldan Bereeven Monastery itself is located in the cul-de-sac of the valley of the Jargalant River backed by steep cliff of sacred Munkh Ulziit Mountain and the valley is well watered by the Jargalant River and has long been renowned for its rich vegetation and pasture for domestic animals and now by famous herdsmen people. Such kind of natural environment has attracted nomadic people since prehistoric times until the present and is the reason for the association of this valley with cultural, religious and worshipping sites. 

The Monastery served as the main religious centre in Eastern Mongolia registered with about 5000-7000 lamas during its higher developed period. The main Tsogchin Temple was built during 1813.

The Baldan Bereeven Monastery was built taking into consideration its distant observation, the direction of wind and the sunshine. The setting of the monastery is unique in that it takes into account the ancient geomancies of shamanistic Central Asian tradition as well those of Vajrayana Buddhism of Tibet to create a Mongolian Buddhist cultural landscape for nomadic people. The phenomenon of Baldan Bereeven Monastery was conceived with the intention of creating in Mongolia the similar Buddhist monastic places as in Lumbini, the birthplace of the Lord Buddha to which access for pilgrims was difficult and far away from Mongolia.

According to the traditional Mongolian planning for buildings and temples, a monastery must to be situated at the most picturesque place, but not defiling its pristine view and environment. In addition to symbolic spiritual and religious values the monastery is skilfully integrated into the surrounding natural landscape of mountains, rocks, forests and lake. It also houses much important artistic material in the form of rock art, paintings and statue.

The Baldan Bereeven Monastery includes now three restored temples and nearly 50 remains of temples, stupas and other religious structures. There are also many cliff carvings, stone carvings with different images of Buddhist gods, inscriptions of religious mantras and Mongolian symbol ‘’Soyombo’’, stone sculptures of gods, and other religious and art works along the over 1000 m of pilgrimage route.  They provide invaluable physical and historical materials for the research of spread of Tibetan Buddhism into Mongolia. They not only form a major religious and sacred landscape but also provide the vivid evidence of traditional affection of Mongolian people for the sacred mountain.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Proposed sacred landscape is an outstanding example of traditional land use and culture of nomadic pastoralism, which is deeply associated with the shamanistic world view and practices and Buddhist principles of the benevolence and respect towards nature and sacred sites. The landscape surrounding the Baldan Bereeven Monastery preserves one of the last surviving evidence of real pastoral management regime of the grasslands and the nomadic way of life with herdsmen moving their flocks in season transhumance which have now become more vulnerable under the adverse impact of development of modern society and irreversible environment changes.

The Baldan Bereeven Monastery is the only monastery which has been served for worshipping ceremonies of main sacred mountains in this region. This  proposed property has own unique traditional worshiping customs, rituals, ceremonies and symbols that were originated in ancient time and developed through shamanism and later often modified and enriched by Buddhist teachings, ideas, symbols and tradition.

Criterion (ii): The Baldan Bereeven Monastery and  its sacred surroundings  represent  a unique fusion between Shamanism and Buddhism that illustrate the important interchange and development of world spiritual and religious cultures in remote part of Central Asian Steppe belt where nomadic pastoralism, life style and culture still exist.

Criterion (iii): Proposed property has most of the main specific characteristics identifying Sacred Site. The Baldan Bereeven and its sacred surroundings together with sacred Burkhan Khaldun and Binder Mountains are exceptional testimony to unique religious tradition and culture of Mongolian form of Buddhism, and specific valuable tradition and practices of the worshiping sacred sites by Mongolian nomadic people within a cultural area of Eurasia. The Baldan Bereeven Monastery is the only monastery which has been served for worshipping ceremonies of main sacred mountains in this region. 

Criterion (v): Proposed Buddhist monastery and its associated nomadic landscape are an outstanding example of traditional land use and specific culture of nomadic pastoralism, which evolved from prehistoric origins in harmony with the natural landscape of the grassland steppes and resulted in developing unique social and cultural environments of the nomadic civilization.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity: With exception of problems arising from the adverse consequences of the 1930s communist victimization of national and religious culture, natural and both tangible and intangible cultural values within this proposed area are in a good state of preservation and conservation. Although Baldan Bereeven Monastery was severely damaged during 1930s deliberate communist victimization and destruction of religious building and monasteries in Mongolia 3 small but very original temples remained standing. Concerning the Main temple of the monastery, although it was almost completely destructed, the structural parts left standing albeit in skeletal form.

But since 1990 Mongolian national culture, tradition and religious practices have started to revive and damaged religious building and temples have been restored gradually. The remained 4 temples of Baldan Bereeven Monastery were restored according to original materials and design and archive photos of the Monastery with confidence that the temple as it  appears today is a restoration near to the original ones and the Main temple have started to perform a traditional religious ritual and worshipping ceremonies.

Integrity: The proposed property includes within its boundary all the elements including pasture land unchanged and unaltered and various cultural, archaeological and religious vestiges necessary to express its Outstanding Universal Value. The completeness of this heritage site is represented by the fact that Baldan Bereeven Monastery exists and revived at the original places and remain temples were restored on the basis of original materials and design and archive photos. Additionally, this nominated property was included in to the Strictly Protected area of Mongolia, providing it with the highest statutory level of protection at national level.

Comparison with other similar properties

Baldan Bereeven Monastery is unique and significant as the place where Tibetan Buddhism introduced and spread among nomadic Mongols in remote places. Comparatively to other similar Buddhist monasteries in the Asia the Baldan Bereeven Monastery is also unique in offering a very specific architectural features and remains attesting to the planning features of fusion of Mongolian national architecture and Tibetan style architecture and monastic structures. Other survived Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia were built on the basis of Mongolian national style and Chinese style of Buddhist architectural traditions.

It is noticeable that, in comparison with others Buddhist the Baldan Bereeven Monastery and its surrounding sacred landscape is clear evidence to the 1930s deliberate communist victimization of national tradition, culture, and worshipping practices of sacred sites and ideological Stalinist destruction of religious buildings and monasteries which were a great tragedy for the Mongols Baldan Bereeven Monastery is also the only Buddhist monastery in the Mongolia the architectural structures of which based on Tibetan style of monastic architecture and monastery to have survived partially that destruction wrought by religious persecutions.

It is not exaggeration to say that the practices of national rituals, ceremonies, specially religious and worshipping traditions were limited or fell in oblivion in that period. But since 1990 Mongolia has opened to the rest of the world and embarked on a new path of development. Mongolian national culture, tradition and religions practices have started to revive. Proposed sacred sites now became a witness to the survival and revival of Mongolian traditional culture and religious practices of worshipping of sacred mountains, and the restoration of religious buildings.