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Datsan History

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The Buddhistic Temple in St. Petersburg (Datsan Gunzechoinei)
Primorsky pr. 91

The Buddhistic temple was erected in St. Petersburg (in Staraya Derevnya on the bank of the Bolshaya Nevka river) in 1909-1915. As the initiators of the construction came out His Holiness The XIII Dalai Lama Thupten Gyatso and his closest advisor and favourite Buryat lama Agvan Dorzhiev (1853/54-1938). Simultaneously with the temple in 1910-1916 there was erected a four floor dormitory for monks and pilgrim Buddhists and housekeeping wing (unsaved). The architectural design of the temple was made by the student of the Institute of Civil Engineers N.M. Berezovsky and the architect G.V. Baranovsky (1909), who took as a sample Tibetan cathedral temple («tsogchen-dugan»), which, however, was incurred a sufficient europeanization in the Northern Modern style. The construction works were conducted by architects G.V. Baranovsky and R.A. Berzen (on the final stage), along with the special committee, which comprised prominent Russian orientalists and Buddhism experts V.V.Radlov and S.F. Oldenburg, F.I. Shcherbatskoy, V.L. Kotvich, A.D. Rudnev, duke E.E. Ukhtomsky, artists N.K. Rerikh and V.P. Shneider, as well as the author of the approved project G.V. Baranovsky. Funds for the construction were partly donated by Dorzhiev and The XIII Dalai Lama, partly gathered amongst religious people in Buryatia и Kalmykia.

The temple was sanctified on the 10th of August 1915; after the sanctification the temple was given the Tibetan name: Kun la brtse mdzad thub dbang mchhos ‘byung ba’i gnas (The Well of Holy Teaching of All-Compassive Master-Hermit). The main worship objects were the Burkhan of the Great Buddha, sculpted from clay by Buryat craftsmen, and two alabaster statues brought from Siam – The Sitting Buddha (Shakyamuni) and The Standing Buddha Maytreya, which were located in the lower and upper altars respectively. During the Civil War (1919) the temple suffered a pogrom and lost the major part of its relics and hieratic utensils.

For the period of 1922-1937 the templar homestead belonged to Tibetan-Mongolian mission in the USSR, which was patronized by the People's commissariat for Foreign Affairs. The head of mission was plenipotentiary representative of Tibet in the USSR Agvan Dorzhiev. In 1938 (after the lamas’ arrest and the liquidation of the mission) the building of the temple and two domestic houses around it were municipalized, items of cult were delivered to the Museum of History of Religion and Atheism. During subsequent years (until the end of 1980s) the temple was occupied by a physical culture base, a military radio communications set, laboratories of the Zoological Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. In 1987 His Holiness Dalai Lama The XIV Tenzin Gyatso, who is traditionally considered to be the Protector of the temple, visited it.

On the 9th of July 1990 according to the resolution of the executive committee of the City council of Leningrad the Temple was given to the hands of the Leningrad Buddhists Association. In 1991 the Temple assumed its present name – Datsan Gunzechoinei – which was an abbreviation of its original name.

In 1994 the statue of the Great Buddha made by Mongolian craftsmen in traditional Mongolian style was set in the main altar (the statue of the religious teacher made of papier-mache plated with golf leaf). The height of the Buddha’s body is 2,5 m, and with the nimbus and the pedestal – approximately 5 m. In 2003 after the restoration the statue of the Siam “Standing Buddha” was brought back to the Temple (presented in 1914 by the Russian Consul in Bangkok G.A. Planson).

A.I. Andreyev
Senior researcher of the St Petersburg branch of The Institute of Natural History and Technics of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Translated by Pavel Petrovsky


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