This year marks the 380th birth anniversary of Ondor Gegeen Zanabazar, Mongolia’s first theocrat ruler. He was not only a pre-eminent public figure and scholar, but a talented architect and a gifted sculptor. He was a remarkable poet, painter and philosopher. Ondor Gegeen Zanabazar, which translates as High Saint Zanabazar, takes his lineage directly from Chinggis Khan’s AltanUrag or the Golden Clan.
His diverse talents, philanthropic views and powerful artistic creativity rank him amongst the icons of the Western Renaissance. Indeed his masterpieces – the Five Dhayani Buddhas, Vajradhara, Maitreya, Manjushri, and the Goddess Taras are still widely admired.
Zanabazar was annointed the leader of Khalkha Mongolia’s Gelugpa Buddhism, and enthroned as the first Bogdo Jebzundamba Khutugtu at the age of 5. He created the Mongol lamaist costume, the tone of chanting, innovations in Buddhist architecture and the Buddhist masked dance – the Tsam. These were all adapted to the nomadic way of life and mentality of the Mongols.
In 1686 he invented the Soyombo script, which now appears of the national flag and the coat of arms of Mongolia. He also invented another script called the Horizontal Square script.
Nicholas Roerich, a famous 19th century Russian painter, write, archaeologist and theosophist, said about Zanaz- abar’s works as presenting “the nomads’ aesthetic views on art, their world view and mentality.”
This ‘aesthetic view on art’ is today being studied and enriched by many Mongolian scholars. One of them is lama Ts. Monkherdene, a professor at the “Zuun Khuree” college at the Dash- choilin Buddhist Monastery in Ulaan- baatar. Apart from researching into the Soyombo and the Horizontal Square scripts, he has been callygraphying some excellent works of art in both the scripts including also using the ancient Indian Lantsha, Vartu and Devangari scripts. As a sculptor, some of the outstanding masterpieces by Ondor Gegeen Zanabazar include the statue of White Chakrasamvara (photo top right), which is preserved at the Temple of Secret Tantra of the Choijin Lama Temple Museum in the Mongolian capital. The statue of White Chakrasamvara, 6 cm tall, in gilt bronze was made by Zanabazar in the late 1600s and early 1700s. It shows the peak of beauty of a young person. The dress and ornaments of the statue, although of solid metal, are made to perfection.
Zanabazar’s self-portrait is of particular interest. It portrays him holding a knife in his hand, cutting from the rump of a boiled sheep. It expresses his solid view on the strong sense of freedom and respect for traditions by the nomads.
History has noted him as having been born to “become the light in the dark realm of the Khalkha land… ” and indeed he has through his works of religion and art brought light, harmony and freedom to the people of Mongolia in the 17th-18th centuries.