Gandan monastery - Guide Mongolia - Horseback Mongolia

Gandan monastery

Gandan Monastery is a Tibetan-style Buddhist Monastery. Its name means ”the big place of complete joy”. Nowadays, many hundreds of monks live there. It houses a 26,5-metres (87 feet) high statue of Megjid-Janraiseg. Megjid-Janraiseg is a bodhisattva, a sage who leads the men on the way of Truth. He represents compassion.


The fifth Javzandamba, who was the highest lama in the hierarchy of the Mongolian clergy, created this monastery in 1809 under the name of Shar sum (“the yellow monastery”). It was located in the centre of Ulan-Bator. In 1838, it was moved at his current location on Dalkha Hill, and took its current name. Then it became the main religious centre of Tantric Buddhism in Mongolia, and many schools (Buddhism, astrology, medicine) were created as the time went by.

In the 1930s, the communist system of Mongolia, under the insistent pressure of Staline, led to the destruction of more than 900 monasteries and to the slaughter of more than 10.000 Buddhist lamas, but Gandantegchinlen monastery was one of the few monasteries that avoided its own destruction. It was closed in 1938 and five temples of the monastery were destroyed. The other ones were used as places for welcoming the Russian officials or as cowsheds. In 1944, after a petition signed by many lamas, the monastery opened again and was even allowed to work as a Buddhist monastery, but with a small number of lamas and under the strict control of the communists.

The fall of the communist system in 1990 in Mongolia led to the end of the restrictions of cult and allowed the monastery resuming its activity. Gandan Monastery started an ambitious program of restoration of the cult all across the country. Today, there are ten active datsans and temples inside the monastery, where about 900 lamas live.

About the statue of Megjid-Janraiseg

The original statue is made of gold and bronze and was erected in 1913 thanks to donations that Mongolian people gave for the Bogdo Khan (the eighth Javzandamba who had become Emperor of Mongolia) to recover his eyesight. The statue was 32 metres (105 feet) high and was the symbol of Mongolian independence towards the Manchu system. 24 years later, in 1937, the Soviet troops demolished the statue. The debris is supposed to have been used to make bullets during the siege of Leningrad.

After the democratic revolution of 1990, the government guaranteed the liberty of cult. The reconstruction of the statue symbolized the goodness of the government and its wish to guarantee security, freedom, and independence. The government and the Mongolian people attached great importance to the reconstruction of the statue.

The Dalai Lama inaugurated the statue of Megjid-Janraiseg (which means ”the Lord who watches in every direction”) in 1996, after five years of work. This 25-metres (82 feet) high statue, weighing more than 20 tons, is made of copper coming from the mines of Erdenet. It’s covered with gold that was offered to Mongolia by Nepal and Japan, and is covered with brocade embroidered with gold, and with more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of silk. The statue contains 2286 precious stones, 27 tons of medicinal plants, 334 sutras and 2 millions mantras !

One thousand statuettes of God Amitabha (Ayush) surround it. Two stone statues of lions are placed near it, according to the codes of Buddhist sculpture.

The temples that compose the monastery

The first temple of the monastery was built on Luvsanchultimjigmed Dambiijantsan’s initiative. He was a living Mongolian Buddha, the fifth incarnation of the Bogd. Made by the best Mongolian architects, this temple is essentially made with wood and soil, according to Mongolian architectural concepts of that period, with ceilings covered with gold. It also housed very precious symbolic Buddhist decorations. Many statues and pictures of the Bodhisattva that are placed in Gandan are very important. We can also see :

  • A bronze statue of Zanabazar, the first incarnation of living Buddha, sculpted by himself on request of his mother ;
  • Buddhas’ basic instruction in 108 volumes, the Tripitaka (Gangiur) ;
  • The silver statue of the famous Tsongkhapa from Amdo, made during the 16th century in Western Mongolia.

The Vajradhara Temple was built between 1840 and 1841. It’s made of stones and bricks, with ceilings in ceramic and gold-plated decorations. On the main altar of Dzu Temple, we can see a statue of Buddha standing with his two disciples, which was made in Dolon Nuur, Inner Mongolia, at the beginning of the 19th century. There is a religious service every day.

The building “Dedanprovan” was built at the beginning of the 20th century on two floors, to become the library of the fifth incarnation of the living Buddha Luvsanchultimjigmed Dambiijantsan. Its ceilings are in ceramic and it also has very high valued golden-plated decorations. In 1904, the 13th Dalai Lama lived there. Today, the fifth building, called "Library", is used as a library for Gandantegchinlen Monastery and has more than 50.000 books, and 1 million sutras written in Mongolian, Tibetan, and Sanskrit. We also find surgical instruments dating from the 16th century.

Moreover, the temples house the ”Eight Noble Decorations”, ”Damdin Choijil”, some representations of the Mahayana, of the lord Hinayana, and of the Bodhisattva, and also sixteen representations of Arhat made by Mongolian, Tibetan and Indian artists. Embroideries and paintings representing the Bodhisattva made by a Mongolian artist, and a large number of satirical designs and cartoons, are also housed in the monastery.

The teaching centre ”datsan” Dechingalav was located in the centre of Ulan Bator before being rebuilt inside the monastery in 1992. Each spring, this school performs the Kalachakra ritual. The construction of this datsan began in 1800 after the fourth Bogd Jevzundamba had visited Kalachakra Monastery Zuu Baruun in Tibet. At that time, Lkhokh Jalsrai Gegeen initiated him into Kalachakra philosophy, temporal cycle. The Bogd inaugurated the Dechen Gelpa Datsan in 1801 and it worked until he closed, in 1937. In 1961, a Kalachakra ceremony took place in one of the temples of Gandantegchinlen Monastery, for the first time since the school had closed.

When His Holiness Dalai Lama made a Kalachakra initiation at Varanesi, India, in 1990, he announced that the next initiation would take place in Mongolia, at Gandantegchinlen Monastery. So the Mongolians immediately started the preparations and the reconstruction of the datsan. The initiation took place in 1995, but before it, Tibetan teachers visited the place and taught the lamas living there how to make a sand mandala. During summer 1995, His Holiness Dalai Lama visited the place and made the initiation. Since that day, the datsan performs each year a Kalachakra ritual, on the 15th of the last month of spring (lunar calendar).

The 8th Bogd Jevzundamba created the teaching centre Idgachoinzinlin. Its practices are based on the works of the Tibetan scholar Sera Jebzunpa. The datsan was destroyed in 1938. The old disciples Tserendemchig and Naidan wanted to restore their datsan, so this reopened in 1990. A new temple was inaugurated in 2004.

The 2nd Bogd Jebzundamba and Manjusri Khutagtu created the teaching centre Tashchoimphel in 1756. It was destroyed in 1938. The datsan was restored in 1990 and the temple was completed in 1994.

The 4th Bogd Jetsundamba created the teaching centre Gungaachoiling in 1809. It taught the works of the Tibetan scholar Panchen Sonamdagva. The datsan trained more than 3000 lamas, including the Mongolian masters Agvanrinchen, Darp Pandita and Zava Damdin Gavju. The datsan resumed its activity in 1990 and began to train new disciples. Nowadays, many lamas study there.

The Buddhist University of Mongolia was created in 1970. The University mixes modern education and traditional teaching methods. It has a program after A-levels (high school diploma) in four years. Nowadays, there are two sections :

  • internal science section, that includes lessons of Buddhist philosophy and of singing ;

  • common knowledge section, that includes Tibetan language, Sanskrit language and English language lessons, and also traditional medicine and astrology lessons.

The second Bogd Jebzundamba built in 1745 the teaching centre Badam Yoga, where the cult of singing and recitation of prayers take place. The activity of the datsan was stopped in 1938 and resumed in 2002. Now it’s located in the Geser Temple, in the Eastern part of Gandan.

The main aim of the school of traditional medicine and astrology is to make predictions. Are determined the positive and negative months and days to organize an event. The doctors diagnose the diseases and treat their patients.

The second Bogd Jebzundamba created in 1739 the teaching centre Lud. Like the other ones, the datsan closed in 1938, and only 50 years later, in 1998, it resumed its activities. Tantric services and ritual songs are performed here.


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