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Ivolginsky Datsan

Ivolginsky Datsan is center of Buddhism in Russia. 

It is a monastery university in Buddhist tradition. Includes several temples, an educational institution, and even a greenhouse with plants sacred to Buddhists.

Datsan History

Unexpectedly for many local people, after the end of World War II, the authorities made small concessions. And although the Buddhist community was denied the restoration of the ancient datsans of the 18th century, the authorities allocated some land in a swampy area near the village of Verkhnyaya Ivolga, 30 kilometers from the capital of Buryatia, Ulan-Ude. One of the wealthy Buryat families donated their own small house to the temple. With the help of volunteers and lamas it was from this building that the Ivolginsky datsan subsequently grew from.

datsan opening ritual.JPG

“... It was built when Stalin was at the top of power, I did not understand how this could happen, but this fact helped me realize that spirituality is so deeply rooted in the human mind that it is very difficult, if not impossible uproot it ... ”- wrote the Dalai Lama XIV about the datsan.

ivolginsky datsan.JPG

Full name of the datsan in Buryat is translated as “a monastery where the wheel of learning is full of joy and bringing happiness.” In the Tibetan tradition, datsans are called “departments” of Buddhist universities, where they study philosophy and medicine at monasteries. However, in Russia - probably because of the long periods of isolation of Buddhism from external influences - the significance of not only the university but also the monastery was entrenched in the datsan. Today in Russia, about 3 million Buddhists are the third-largest denomination in our country.

Buddhist ritual.JPG

Today, many decades later, Ivolginsky datsan is a monastic complex of eight structures, including temples, a library, and the only Buddhist university in Russia that studies philosophy and traditional Tibetan medicine. Its fame spread far beyond Russia. And this is connected not only with modern spiritual education but also with the name of Dasha-Dorzho Itigelov, the leader of Buddhists of Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, an associate of the Dalai Lama XIV.

Before his death in 1927, Itigelov turned to the monks with two requests: to read a special prayer for him and "to visit his body in 30 years." The monks did not dare to read such a prayer with the teacher still alive. Then Itigelov, taking the lotus position, began to read it himself and so went into a better world. Without changing his body position, he was buried in a cedar sarcophagus in Huhe-Zurhen, near Ulan-Ude. In 1957, by the time the deceased was examined for the first time, a small sumy temple and several houses for lamas already stood on the territory of the present Ivolginsky datsan. There were no signs of decay on Itigelov’s body. After rituals and changing attires, the body was again buried. The next time, Itigelov’s imperishable body was raised in 1973 and buried again.

Itigilov was born in 1852 and began his religious education at the age of sixteen years. He studied at the Anninsky Datsan (a Buddhist teaching monastery in Buryatia, of which only ruins remain), earning diplomas in medicine and philosophy. At that time he wrote an encyclopedia of pharmacology.

Datsan grew up. New temples appeared, the number of monks and lamas grew. Buddhism in Russia began to revive. In September 2002, the sarcophagus was dug up. Scientists who are always skeptical of such stories have suggested an examination of the body. It showed that Itigelov’s joints remained mobile and his skin was soft. Experts could not explain this phenomenon. And the monks knew the answer even so. They transferred Itigelov’s body to the datsan and, together with the volunteers, erected a special building for him, the most beautiful in the whole datsan complex.

itigelov's residence.JPG

Today, pilgrims from nearby regions and other countries come specially to see the imperishable body of the twelfth Pandito Khambo Lama. Itigelov is believed to help those who ask him. And the datsan continues to evolve, turning over several decades from a small blue house into a monastery complex - with its bodhi grove and lively roe deer, that daily listen to the prayers of the monks repeating the words of Buddha said 2500 years ago.

What needs to be done in Ivolginsky datsan

- Go around the temple clockwise and spin the Khurde drums.


According to tradition, before entering a Buddhist temple, it should be circled. Along the way, you will see Khurde drums with mantras (prayers) scrolling inside. Buddhists believe that spinning these reels is tantamount to prayers.

- Put a candle (Zula).

candles in datsan.JPG

Buddhist temples specially place candles. Inside a large spiral of incense, a note with a name is fixed, after which it is set on fire and hung from the ceiling. When a piece of paper sways from smoke or wind - this is equivalent to prayer.

- Talk to a lama.

buddhist ritual.JPG

Lamas are very friendly and can answer any question that you would ask them. You should know in advance that after a conversation it is customary to make a small donation.

- Go see a doctor. The doctor will diagnose the disease by pulse and then make some herb medicine for you.

lamas hands.JPG

- See Itigelov.

Itigilov was born in 1852 and began his religious education at the age of sixteen years. He studied at the Anninsky Datsan (a Buddhist teaching monastery in Buryatia, of which only ruins remain), earning diplomas in medicine and philosophy. At that time he wrote an encyclopedia of pharmacology.

The imperishable body of Pandito Khambo Lama Itigelov is located in a separate building of the datsan. They say that if you touch him, ailments disappear and desires come true.

How to behave in datsan

A lama or monk is unlikely to comment on your behavior or appearance. Patience is one of the foundations of Buddhism. Nevertheless, there are wishes, the implementation of which will make you feel comfortable in a datsan and not to bother anyone.

Bags should be removed from the shoulders. Hands and feet are covered.

within datsan.JPG

Do not turn your back on the statues and point your finger at them

At the exit of datsans there is some arshan - a vessel or a pot with water. You need to scoop water out of it with your right hand and pour it into your left one, take three sips, and pour the rest on your head. This ritual symbolizes purification.

Buddhism Symbols:

Stupas (in Buryat - suburgan)

They symbolize episodes from the life of Buddha. They can have eight different forms, symbolizing the birth, stages of enlightenment and miracles that Buddha performed.

Buddhist Stupa.JPG

Saffron color

It symbolizes wisdom, purity and divine revelation. According to legend, in ancient times Buddhist monks dressed in white. However, after the next bath, their clothing itself became the color of saffron.

lamas praing.JPG

Bodhi Tree

It is believed that this is a real type of tree, which is now called the - sacred ficus. Now it can be seen in any Buddhist monastery or temple. Under such a tree, according to legend, that Siddhartha Gautama achieved complete enlightenment.

Bodhi tree at Ivolginsky Datsan.JPG

Fallow deer

Legend has it that when the Buddha read to the five ascetics in the forest his first sermon, Turning the Wheel of the Doctrine, two fallow deers appeared from behind the trees. They listened to the Teacher, and after the sermon was finished, they hid in the forest. Since then, the doe symbolizes - acceptance of the doctrine. Its sculptural image can be found on the territory of Buddhist monasteries.

Beautiful buryat woman.JPG


A Buddhist monk with an umbrella may be simply trying to protect himself from heat or rain. However, the umbrella in Buddhism also symbolizes good deeds aimed at protecting against the blows of fate.

lamas with umbrellas.JPG


Lotus symbolizes purity. This flower is the metaphor of Buddhism. Lotus grows in muddy and dirty water, however, it always remains clean.


If you ever going to visit  the Center of Buddhism of Russia or have any questions on how to visit it please contact us and we'll do our best to open it for you!

Photo materials are kindly provided by Ministry of Tourism of Buryatia

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