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The Dark Old Man
Spirit of Songgina
Da Khuree style
19th century
Papier-mache, polychrome, and horsehair
H: 12 1/4 in. (31 cm) W: 13 in. (33 cm) D: 12 5/8 in. (32 cm)

Choijin-Lama Temple Museum, Ulaanbaatar

Tibetan Buddhism, and the tsam in particular, became the repository for many of Mongolian shamanism's spirits and concepts. Most significant was the Mongols' reverence for heaven and high places, given expression in ceremonies of sacrifice to heaven, to heavenly beings (tngri), and to the spirits of mountains, and in rituals of the oboo, the sacred pile of rocks (see p. 00). All of these rituals were eventually incorporated into Buddhist practice in Mongolia.

While this process of syncretization was a carefully planned effort, promoted by the Manchu government of China and Mongolia, it is described in traditional literature in mythic terms. Thus, Sonam Gyatsho, the Third Dalai Lama, did battle with Begtse, the Mongolian war god, and brought him into the church as a major protector. He also burned the shamanist ancestral figures (ongghot) using the fire mandala of Mahakala, purged the shamans, and forced their conversion to Buddhism in what is described as a holy crusade (cat. no. 18)

Begun by the Third Dalai Lama and promoted by Altan Khan and other early converts to Buddhism, the campaign to eliminate the influence of the shamans continued well into the twentieth century, when the crafters of Mongolia's first constitution still felt a need to ban them officially. The shamans resisted conversion from the sixteenth century on, continuing their ancient practices surreptitiously and battling openly with the forces of the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy. One such was the Dark Old Man, a powerful shaman who was eventually defeated and buried in the Songgina Mountain, one of Outer Mongolia's greatest and most sacred peaks. His spirit thereafter came to personify the spirit of the mountain.

The Dark Old Man played a prominent role in the Outer Mongolian tsam as one of the Lords of the Four Mountains (Songgina, Bogdo Ula, enggelt,, Bayan irke), who appear near the beginning of the sacred dance. This Dark Old Man is one of the greatest extant masks of this shamanistic figure, made for use in the Da Khree tsam. His black, bleary-eyed face with its long, white fangs and unkempt black hair, tinged with a sorrowful ferocity, successfully captures, and tames, the memory of pre Buddhist Mongolia. --P.B.

Published: Tsultem, Mongolian Sculpture, pl. 205; Rintschen, "Urgaer Pantomimen," fig. 4

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