The Mongolian Pilgrimages to Wutai Shan
When Did the Pilgrimage Start?
We don’t know exactly when the pilgrimage started. Wutai Shan does not seem to have been an important place for Mongols to visit during the late sixteenth century renaissance of Buddhism in Mongolia. In the early Qing dynasty (Shunzhi [顺治, r. 1644-61] and Kangxi [康熙, r. 1662-1722] reigns), Mongols started to finance the restoration of temples on the mountain. We can assume that pilgrimages of lay Mongols may have become popular when the population of Tibetan and Mongol monks living in Wutai Shan increased significantly, that is, under the Qianlong (乾隆, r. 1736-95) emperor and particularly when the Zhangjia Qutuγtu Rölpé DorjéRol pa’i rdo rje lived on the mountain. The rise of religious poetry at that period reveal the strong attraction Wutai Shan exerted over Tibetan and Mongol clerics at that time.36 But sources suggest that the pilgrimage reached its peak of popularity among the lay Mongols from the nineteenth century up to the 1930s.37 Stone inscriptions reveal that the patronage of Mongol donors replaced the declining imperial patronage in the second half of the nineteenth century: of the 340 stone inscriptions in Mongolian or multilingual including Mongolian, 135 date from the Republican period, 147 from the 1880-1911 and only thirty-four are dated before 1880 (on twenty-four inscriptions the date is illegible).38
Even if we can assume that maps of Wutai Shan were made before the nineteenth century, the making of the Cifu Si map in 1846 by a Mongolian monk, and its circulation again show Wutai Shan to have been a very lively place in the nineteenth century.
Who Were the Pilgrims?
The Mongol pilgrims were common people as well as the Borjigid aristocracy, laymen and lamabla mas, coming from Outer Mongolia, Inner Mongolia and China.39 The main Mongol group represented by the stone inscriptions are the Sünid of Inner Mongolia (fifty inscriptions),40 then come the Caqar, Dariγangγa, Abaγa, Kesigten from Inner Mongolia, and pilgrims from Secen Qan Ayimaγ in Outer Mongolia. According to the stone inscriptions of Shifang Tang,41 the clerics (from novices to abbots and reincarnations) represent one-third of the donors. However, since this monastery was founded to accommodate Tibetan, Mongol and Manchu lamabla mas coming from afar, the monks were probably over-represented in Shifang Tang, and the general proportion of lamabla mas among pilgrims was probably less.
Antoine Mostaert noted that generally only the wealthy, and the itinerant begging monks, could undertake long journeys such as going to Lhasa.42 However, it seems that a pilgrimage to Wutai Shan was affordable to ordinary Mongolian families because it was close to the Mongol border and herders were able to bring along their flocks and herds more easily. Although there were no regulations concerning the pilgrims in the Lifanyuan zeli, Mongol pilgrims did have to obtain a travel permit from the administration of their banner.
The Mongol noblemen and important reincarnations would take it in turns (modeled on the New Year “pilgrimage to the emperor” [chaojin, 朝覲], every six years) to make the pilgrimage to Wutai Shan. For instance, each year twelve of [page 284] the Inner Mongolian Ruling princes and their families went on pilgrimage to Wutai Shan, which means that each of the ruling families of the forty-eight banners of Inner Mongolia would go to Wutai Shan every four years. Mongol nobles and high-ranking monks were sometimes invited to accompany the emperor on his pilgrimage. The First Jebcündamba Qutuγtu made a pilgrimage to the mountain with the Kangxi emperor in 1698.43 In 1811 the Jiaqing emperor took Mongol nobles to pray at Wutai Shan; they visited temples “in the spirit of a unique family of interior (China) and exterior (outside China).”44
Worship and Fairs: The Motivations of the Mongol Pilgrims
The Mongols used to go to Wutai Shan for three main reasons: worship, burial, and trade. Their major motivation, as in any Buddhist pilgrimage, was to accumulate merit and gain a better reincarnation for themselves or for living or dead relatives (by transfer of merit). As the meaning of the Mongolian word for the Buddhist notion of merit (buyan punya), which also means good luck, fortune and prosperity,45 reflects, they were also seeking happiness and prosperity in this life and their future lives. Some Mongols used to go to Wutai Shan often, sometimes as much as once a year, hoping that each new visit would ensure happiness in a new life.46 Some had specific goals such as to ask for an heir, to look for a vision, to do penance, or to cure an illness; but many were just fulfilling their vow to go to the mountain. It was sometimes the most important vow of their life and [page 285] also their most risky and difficult venture ever.47 All this fits well with the standard definition of a pilgrimage, “a journey to a sanctified place, undertaken with the expectation of future spiritual and/or worldly benefit.”48
In addition to the ordinary pilgrims, many Mongols traveled to Wutai Shan carrying the bones of their deceased parents and ashes of monks in order to be able to bury them in the holy land of Mañjuśrī, so that they could acquire religious merit and have a better reincarnation.49 They carried gold to buy several square chi (尺)50 of land and then erected small funerary stūpa on the plot. So many Mongols asked to be buried there that an edict restricted burials at Wutai Shan to the resident monks.51 But the urns carrying the cremated remains of many reincarnations and abbots from Mongol monasteries continued to be sent there in the early twentieth century to be buried in stūpa.52 For instance several reincarnations of the Caγan Diyanci Qutuγtu from the Caγan Diyanci-yin Keyid in Eastern Inner Mongolia (present-day Fuxin Autonomous District, Liaoning) had their relic stūpa (stūpa śarīra) built in Fenglin Valley (Fenglin Gu, 風林谷) on Wutai Shan. Nowadays many old white stūpa and tombs can still be seen on the hillsides and even near the monasteries.
A third reason why Mongol pilgrims were attracted to Wutai Shan was trade, which appears to have been – as with many pilgrimages the world over – a very important part of pilgrimages to Wutai Shan, especially for the Mongols who came every year. Wutai Shan became an important Sino-Mongol trade center in the late Qing dynasty. The pilgrims brought with them cattle, camels, mules, horses, hides, leather, wool, gold and silver to give in offerings to the monasteries, but also to sell; the wealthiest came with dozens of animals.53 Of all the Mongol social classes – princes, dukes, nobles (tayiji), monks, and common people – the wealthiest of all were the monks.54 During the sixth month of the Lunar year, an important horse and mule fair (luoma dahui, 騾馬大會 – but also for cattle and donkeys) was organized, attracting traders from Zhili, Shandong, Henan, and southwest Shanxi.55 It was started in the Qianlong period and is still held today.56 The cool climate allowed for the gathering of horses, and the pastures on Wutai Shan were said to be excellent for horses and cattle; the grass and water quickly fattened, strengthened and cured animals.57
The two main trading centers in the late Qing dynasty were Taihuai Zhen (two li south of Xiantong Si [顯通寺, Гayiqamsiγtu tegüs süme], see the Rubin Museum Cifu Si map) where twenty Chinese shops sold flour and other food products, and Yanglin Street (Yanglin Jie, 楊林街), Xiantong Si’s main street. The Yanglin Street market, stretching out from Xiantong Si to either side of the 108 steps [page 287] leading to Pusa Ding,58 had narrow lanes that were densely crowded with thirty or forty Chinese merchant families. These shops belonged to the monasteries and were rented to the Chinese.59 They sold all sorts of Tibetan-style ritual objects – wooden bowls,60 wooden rosaries, metal objects, statues, lacquer dishes, books, bells, amulets, prayer-wheels, vajra, glass, precious stones, seeds, tangkathang ka, banners, charms in one, two, or three languages, oil paintings representing Buddha, Bodhisattva, Dharmapāla, Chinese gods, three-dimensional maṇḑala, but also furniture and cooking utensils for the yurt – everything that a Mongolian family needed could be bought there.61 Other merchants sold silk, antiques and leather objects.62 Two other markets were held at Yingfang Street (Yingfang Jie, 營坊街) and Taiping Street (Taiping Jie, 太平街).63 In the late Qing and the Republican period, the Chinese traders mostly came from Daizhou (Fanzhi District [Fanzhi Xian, 繁峙縣], Wutai District [Wutai Xian, 五臺縣], and Guo District [Guo Xian, 崞縣]), and Xinding.64
Figure 9: Large appliqué of TsongkhapaTsong kha pa containing a letter in Mongolian sewn inside dated 1805. Newark Museum.
Wutai Shan was certainly an important place for Mongols to buy small statues and tangkathang ka. Some of the tangkathang ka and bronze images that were sold to the pilgrims were apparently made in Wutai Shan’s workshops, located in the shops of Yanglin Street. The pilgrims could also commission a specific tangkathang ka: this was the case of the large appliqué of TsongkhapaTsong kha pa in the Newark Museum, probably commissioned by an Ongniγud Mongolian woman to a Chinese artist at Wutai Shan, and containing a letter in Mongolian sewn inside, dated 1805.65 The pilgrimage to Wutai Shan was therefore an opportunity for major economic exchanges for both Mongolian herders and Chinese merchants.66
The Road to Wutai Shan: Bringing a Nomad Lifestyle to the Mountain
Wutai Shan was far less risky, dangerous and expensive for Mongols than going to Lhasa. However, it was still a difficult adventure.67 The Mongol pilgrims spent at least ten days crossing a part of Shanxi,68 and up to five years away from their homes for those who advanced by doing full prostrations.69 They sometimes went in caravans of thirty to forty pilgrims, walking or riding up to ninety li a day. They [page 289] probably visited the mountain on foot as they still do today.70 Pokotilov noticed in 1889 that they generally traveled with their own yurts and their herds.71 Yet they could not live completely self-sufficiently: they had to buy fodder and fuel, pay taxes, and organize for their cattle (except for the animals destined to be offered or sold) to be looked after at the foot of the mountain.72 Others stopped at inns established every forty-five li and paid for room and board.73 Many Shanxi traders and shopkeepers learned to speak Mongolian and opened shops and inns for the Mongols, with notices written in Mongolian in front of their inns, such as: “The men of this inn are honest and mild, everything is ready and cheap, therefore, O ye Mongols, our brothers, you could not do better than rest here.”74 Some even married Mongols.75
Therefore, contrary to the idea of pilgrims undergoing a transformative and equalizing experience freed from the structure of ordinary society, wearing special clothing or other markers distinguishing them from ordinary worshipers, respecting particular taboos and carrying out distinctive actions,76 the Mongol pilgrims who traveled with their herds, and especially those who went every year and sold their beasts at the market, just seem to have adopted a particular kind of nomadization little different to their daily life. If pilgrimage was probably not a liminal experience of the religious life releasing the devotees from mundane structure in a spirit of [page 290] “communitas” as described by Victor and Edith Turner,77 this does not mean that the pilgrims did not enter into a deeper level of existence and, at the end of their journey, had not been transformed through the exposure to powerful religious sacra and the practices of circumambulating and prostrating.
The Pilgrimage Season
Western and Chinese travelers and pilgrims described the crowds of Mongol pilgrims, who were particularly noticeable among the other visitors because of the spectacular and sumptuous headdresses and ornaments (especially the Qalqa headdress) the women wore, their colorful garments, and their complete devotion. The Mongol pilgrims came continuously from the fourth to the tenth month,78 thus the year on the mountain was divided between a winter of isolation – a period of religious practice and contemplation for the monks, and a pilgrimage season, with trade and fairs. The population of the mountain doubled in summer, from one to two thousand because of the Mongol, Tibetan, and Chinese pilgrims.79 The sixth lunar month was the busiest period on the mountain: in addition to the above mentioned horse fair, the great Tibetan festival was organized, attended by thousands of Mongol pilgrims. The climax of the festival, which started on the first day of the sixth month, was the Cham’Cham dances with 180 participants in Pusa Ding (fourteenth day of the sixth month, Mañjuśrī’s birthday) and the Monastery of Rāhu(la) (Luohou Si, 羅睺寺, raqu-yin süme; fifteenth day of the sixth month), followed by a grand two-mile-long procession of the image of Mañjuśrī in a palanquin led by dancers and musicians followed by the head ruling lama in a sedan chair and four hundred to five hundred participants. Blofeld’s detailed description matches well with the representation of the procession on the Cifu Si map.80 He talked of imperial processions, with stops at small altars on the way, triple prostrations performed by the various abbots paying their respects to the palanquin and to the head ruling lama. At the end, the head ruling lama made full prostrations in front of the White Pagoda, went through Xiantong Si and returned to Pusa Ding.81
Mongol pilgrims also seem to have been numerous during the fall, when horses were fat and healthy; and they left when snow began to fall, closing off the mountain.82 We can assume that the majority of pilgrims probably stayed in their own yurts, with their sheep and cattle in the pastures of Wutai Shan such as Dailuo Ding and the South Terrace (Nanshan, 南山). Those who did not have their own tent could stay in inns or rented houses at or near Taihuai.83 The Tibeto-Mongol monasteries offered a very limited number of beds, and their hostelries were often reserved for wealthy pilgrims. Some halls of the Tayuan Si, for instance, were reserved for Mongol princes,84 and occasionally welcomed Western travelers.85 For the Tibetan and Mongol monastic pilgrims, two main lodging centers were founded in 1822 and 1831 respectively, Cifu Si86 and Shifang Tang, the branch monastery of Luohou Si (and adjacent to it).87 These were apparently founded because the monasteries could not accommodate the lamabla mas undertaking the pilgrimage in ever greater numbers.
The Circuits of Mongol Pilgrims
Several oral accounts, travelogues and stone inscriptions about donations (as well as modern practices) inform us about the most-visited places, considered most sacred by Mongol pilgrims. These objects of worship are of three kinds: the monasteries and the holy relics of monks and Buddha they enshrine, the living reincarnations, and the sacred natural features of the mountain.
The steles tell us about the most visible objects of worship: the monasteries. The inscriptions are mostly concentrated in Shifang Tang (182 inscriptions), Tayuan Si (sixty-one), and Luohou Si (forty-seven), but also record donations to the other Tibeto-Mongol monasteries (Pusa Ding, Luohou Si, Yuanzhao Si [圓照寺, Küntu Khyappé Lhakhangkun tu khyab pa’i lha khang, tegüs geyigülügci süme], Cifu Si, Zhenhai Si, Avalokiteśvara Cave [Guanyin Dong, 觀音洞 qomsim bodisadua-yin aγui], and so on), and to Chinese monasteries (Shuxiang Si, Xiantong Si, Dailuo Ding, Cave of the Mother of Buddhas [Fomu Dong, 佛母洞 eke-yin aγui], and so on).88 The Mongol pilgrims donated livestock and products made from livestock, but also gave gold and silver, and the altars were covered with Mongol women’s jewelry.89 Some participated in person in building temples at Wutai Shan to gain merit;90 others financed the rebuilding of ruined temples, such as Pushou Si, an old Jin dynasty monastery rebuilt in the Guangxu period by a lamabla ma from Outer Mongolia, Yonden (Yundeng, 雲登, nineteenth century).91
The first and most important destination of Mongol pilgrims was the fifty-meter-high White Pagoda of Tayuan Si, built in 1301 by the Nepalese artist Arniko (Anige) to enshrine Aśoka’s (ca 332-304 BCE) original stūpa that sheltered one of the eighty-four thousand relics of the Buddha, the holiest of Wutai Shan’s relics.92 The White stūpa was enlarged during the fifteenth century and restored many times. Among the nine major restorations of the pagoda recorded during the Qing dynasty, five were carried out by Mongols. In 1703 a Mongol abbot of the Qaracin called Chahan Deliji (察漢得力吉, eighteenth century) financed some restoration. In 1869 while visiting Wutai Shan, Prince Namjilvangcuγ (Namujiliwangqingge, 納木吉力王慶哥), ruler of the Sünid Left Banner, made a vow to restore the pagoda, gave two thousand taels for its restoration and then asked all the princes (beyile), nobles, and commoners to contribute.93 In 1887, the corji da lama (Quji da lama, 曲記大喇嘛) Lobsang DondrubΓalsangdondub of the ecclesiastical estate (šabi) of the Qalqa Jaya bandida [page 295] from Mongolia came on pilgrimage, stayed at Tayuan Si and saw miraculous lights with five colors playing around the pagoda at night; he gave five hundred taels of white silver, four camels, and one yurt to restore the main hall and to add thirty prayer-wheels.94 In 1895 a Qalqa donor named Longdanjamsu donated 1,800 taels.95 In 1905, a donor from Urga named “Qilengbutimuji” (乞楞補踢木濟, twentieth century) gave one thousand taels of white silver to restore the pagoda.96
The crowds of Mongol pilgrims making numerous circumambulations and prostrations, turning the 108 prayer wheels, touching the Buddha’s feet with their forehead and giving offerings to the stūpa are described by all the travelers.97 It was the “central place of worship where even the most illiterate pilgrims to this mountain may consummate their pilgrimage.”98 The Chinese lay Buddhist Jiang Weiqiao, famous for having popularized meditation practices, describes the great piety of Mongol pilgrims who prostrate without interruption on wooden planks, their hands protected by rags.99
The pilgrims visited the central complex of monasteries located near the great pagoda – Xiantong Si, Yuanzhao Si, Guangzong Si, and Pusa Ding. A major site of devotion for Mongol pilgrims was the blooming lotus revealing the Buddha (kaihua xianfo, 開花現佛) at Luohou Si,100 which was said to attract pilgrims like a magnet.101 On each of the eight petals of the great wooden lotus a Buddha is engraved that appears as the lotus blooms, activated by a hidden mechanism.102 The Mongols called Luohou Si the “monastery of the revolving lotus.”103 Back home, they said they saw the Buddha appear at Wutai Shan. The pilgrims therefore thought the lotus especially opened for them, though the monks revealed the mechanism to learned visitors such as Gao Henian.104 Luohou Si was restored in 1658 by the First Caqar Diyanci (d. 1671) of Kökeqota who had received thirty thousand taels of white silver from the Shunzhi emperor.105 Yuanzhao Si106 with the stele of the begging Mañjuśrī (Wenshu taofan), also received numerous Mongol donations.
Up the hill, the pilgrims crawled on their knees up the 108 steps of Pusa Ding, and visited the monastery which, after the decrease of Manchu patronage in the mid-nineteenth century, was heavily dependent on Mongols’ donations.107 The Shuxiang Si108 statue of Mañjuśrī was particularly worshipped by pilgrims from Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, and Tibet.109
The most important monastery outside of the central complex for Mongols to visit was the holy stūpa of Rölpé DorjéRol pa’i rdo rje enshrined in a courtyard of Zhenhai Si,110 the main monastery of the Zhangjia Qutuγtu, surrounded by woods. Before the Cultural Revolution, the stūpa of two other reincarnations of the Zhangjia could be seen in a courtyard above the monastery. The Mongolian pilgrims also came to pay their respects to a stūpa allegedly enshrining the hat and robe of Pakpa Lama’Phags pa bla ma (1235-1280) at Puen Si (also called Xitian Si), north of Taihuai. Many of the Mongol pilgrims did the great pilgrimage (dachao, 大朝), visiting the monasteries of the five terraces, weather permitting,111 the classic spots and holy monasteries recorded in the gazetteers, the “ten remarkable things to see”;112 the ancient Chinese monasteries – Qingliang Si, Zhulin Si, Jin’ge Si, Mimo Cliff (Mimo Yan, 秘魔岩), and so on. In addition to all the sacred places on the mountain, pilgrims also came especially [page 299] to visit a high reincarnation, such as Rölpé DorjéRol pa’i rdo rje, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, or the Ninth Panchen Lama. The Commandant d’Ollone describes many Mongol princes accompanied by their numerous retinues visiting the Thirteenth Dalai Lama in 1908.113
Note Citation for Page
Isabelle Charleux, “Mongol Pilgrimages to Wutai Shan in the Late Qing Dynasty,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): , http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5712 (accessed ).
Note Citation for Whole Article
Isabelle Charleux, “Mongol Pilgrimages to Wutai Shan in the Late Qing Dynasty,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 275-326, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5712 (accessed ).
Charleux, Isabelle. “Mongol Pilgrimages to Wutai Shan in the Late Qing Dynasty.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 275-326. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5712 (accessed ).
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