Shankh Monastery, ”Shankh Khiid”, is located in the province of Övörkhangai, 25 kilometres (15,53 miles) southeast of Kharkhorin. It’s one of the oldest and most important monasteries of Mongolia. It was founded in 1647 by Zanabazar who was the first Tibetan Buddhism’s religious leader ”Bogdo Gegen”. It was built at the same time as the Tovkhon monastery.
The monastery belongs to the Yellow Hat Sect, “Gelugpa”, which is a school of Tibetan Buddhism. Its main temple is famous for its seven Kalachakras mandalas that represent the 722 Kalachakra divinities, absolutely unique in Mongolia.
The meaning of the word Shankh is not clear. Some say that this word refers to the small mountains range between the monastery and Erdene Zuu monastery, whereas others say that the word refers to a “combination of objects placed in a particular order”.
Zanabazar founded Shankh Monastery in 1647, when he was only 12 years old. During several years, it was known as the Western monastery, ”Baruun Khuree”. Originally, it was composed of yurts, and it was shifted many times before being set in its present location and being called Shankh in 1787. Nevertheless, many lamas went on maintaining the yurts camp until the end of the 19th century. According to the Russian ethnographer Aleksei M. Pozdneev who visited the monastery in 1892, there were, in addition to the main temple, built between 1710 and 1790, five large yurts nicely decorated and able to welcome almost 200 persons.
At its height, the monastery had several schools that practised Tantric rituals, particularly the Kalachakra school that practised Buddhist philosophy and astrology. In 1921, year of the popular Revolution of Mongolia, it was composed of about twenty edifices and housed more than 1500 lamas.
As most of the religious centres of Mongolia, Shankh Monastery was closed in 1937 and the communists destroyed most of its permanent edifices within the context of violent Stalinist purges. Many lamas were executed or sent in work camps in Siberia ; only five novices were allowed to go back to their families’. The main temple, which had escaped from important damages, was then used as a warehouse. Fortunately, most of the precious religious relics of the monastery had been removed and hid by one of the novices, Gombo, and survived to the destruction of the monastery.
After the People Revolution of 1990, the surviving novices came back to Shankh and began to restore the main temple. In 1993, the Dalai Lama sent three Tibetan lamas to Shankh in order to bring Buddhism to light in the country.