Secrets of Kent Mountains (3). Sowing Seeds of Good Deeds

Who and when built Kyzyl-Kent? No one knows that for sure, because the written sources are lacking. You can only make guesses and suggestions. To understand the situation, it should be mentioned that this is not the only construction of its kind in Kazakhstan. 

There was a complex of seven buildings, called Dorzhinkit, near Semey. It gave the city its old name - Semipalatinsk. There are ruins of the Buddhist complex called Ablaykit on the left bank of the Irtysh River, 70 km to the South of Ust-Kamenogorsk city. It is known for sure, that it was built by khoshout Ablai Taishi in 1654. The distance between Kyzyl-Kent and Ablaykit is about 450 km, and to Dorzhinkit is 350 km. This is one of regions where Ablai and Ochirtu Taishi brothers and their uncle Kundulen Taishi (the likely father-in-law of Kazakh Zhangir Khan) were travelling as nomads. Together with the sons and relatives, it was the influential khoshout clan, which choross khuntayshi had to consider with. Ablaykit is also built in a mountain gorge (Kalbinsky mountains), has several buildings, a pond and fenced territory in form of a pentagon. There are sketches of the constructions made by the Russians in 19th century. It seems that both complexes were built at the same period, under the similar projects, and, most likely, by Tibetan masters.

In 1639 a famous Dzungar Buddhist Lama Zia Pandita arrived to Dzungaria from Tibet "to sow the seeds of good deeds and water them with rain of Buddha's teachings".  It is known from his biography that he travelled in Dzungaria, Mongolia, and Kalmykia, teaching the Buddhist rites, contributing to the building of temples and suburgans, sanctifying them with his blessings. Moreover, he also invented a new Oirat alphabet, translated the Buddhist books into Mongolian language and sent hundreds of young men to study in Tibet. 

In 1640, a set of Oirat laws, Ike Tsaadzh, was adopted with his participation at the All-Mongolian Kurultai in Tarbagatai. According to his anonymous biographer: "He used to take (away) horses from the doubters, who invited shamans for the rites, and fumigated them with dog faeces. After such measures all the Oirats started to venerate Buddhism and everyone did the best for it”.

After the death of Zia Pandita in 1662, young Galdan khutukhta, the youngest son of  Erdeni Batur khuntayshi, became the representative of the Dalai Lama. He also started energetically planting Buddhism among Oirats and even tried to introduce Kazakhs to the "yellow faith". After the death of his brother Senge in 1670, Galdan became the new khuntayshi, subsequently took the title of Galdan Boshoktu Khan. The period from 1639 to 1670 was the time of the highest rise of Buddhism among the Oirats, the time of their greatest cultural achievements, and, accordingly, most likely the time of construction of the monasteries, datsans, and suburgans, existing on the territory of Kazakhstan.

Zia, Ablai and Ochirtu were the stepbrothers of khoshout Taishi Baybagas, the ally and co-regent of Erdeni Batur, the father of Dzungar khuntayshi. Ochirtu and Ablai were the brothers-in-law of Erdeni Batur, both took part in his campaigns, in particular, in the campaign against the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz in 1643. At the same time, they were constant rivals for the inheritance, for influence on the khuntayshi, in the division of booty. There are lots of references to the affairs of influential brothers and their conflicts in the Kalmyk-Dzungarian legends.

During the lifetime of Erdeni Batur, he controlled the situation and did not escalate the rivalry of brothers to the armed phase. However, brothers stood on different sides of the conflict after the death of khuntayshi in 1653, in the infighting for power between his sons. Ochirtu supported the legitimate heir, the middle son of Batur, Senge, while Ablai sided with the older sons of Batur. Apparently, it was only the outer side of the conflict. The sources did not say anything about it, but the logic of the struggle for power tells us that they had to rule on behalf of young heirs of Erdeni Batur.

Their rivalry (not the dispute among the sons of Erdeni Batur) formed the basis of Dzungaria partition. Ochirtu and Ablai were the actual regent-rulers of the Southern and Northern Dzungaria, respectively, in that time of troubles. Anyway, they took and sent ambassadors, were engaged in mutual military conflicts, reconciled later, while Zia Pandita carried out the soul-searching conversations with them. Their names are mentioned in the biography of Zia Pandita and in Russian documents of that time much more often than the names of Senge and his brothers.

During the lifetime of Erdeni Batur, he controlled the situation and did not escalate the rivalry of brothers to the armed phase. However, brothers stood on different sides of the conflict after the death of khuntayshi in 1653, in the infighting for power between his sons. Ochirtu supported the legitimate heir, the middle son of Batur, Senge, while Ablai sided with the older sons of Batur. Apparently, it was only the outer side of the conflict. The sources did not say anything about it, but the logic of the struggle for power tells us that they had to rule on behalf of young heirs of Erdeni Batur.

Perhaps, Ochirtu was the first to build a Buddhist monastery, named Kyzyl-Kent, to the west of his possessions in the late 40's under the influence of Zia Pandita sermons (or maybe it was Kundulen Taishi). He wanted to turn the Kazakhs to Buddhism with the eagerness of a new convert. Perhaps, he received his title of Tsetsen (wise) Khan from the Dalai Lama for this reason. However, it did not work.

Kyzyl-Kent stood a short time and was destroyed at the beginning of XVIII century, when the Kazakhs returned to their territories. Ablai also began construction of a Buddhist monastery, wanting to keep up with his older brother (or uncle). One of the Russian ambassadors to China, Fedor Baykov, visited Ablai during his travel in 1654 and left the memories on building of Ablaykit. However, this monastery  had the same fate.

Galdan finally put an end to the power of the khoshout influential clan. He became a new khuntayshi after the murder of Senge by the elder brothers in 1670. Evidently, Galdan saw the role of brothers, Ochirtu and Ablai, during the life of Senge, so as soon as his power grew, he defeated the brothers’ uluses and forced them to flee to the Kalmyk Khanate (according to other sources, Ochirtu was killed).

Thus, the era of "sowing the seeds of good deeds and watering them with rain of Buddha’s teachings" was over. The new times of the power centralization and the army modernization began for Dzungaria, as well as the times of permanent wars with the Chinese, Kazakhs, Bukharians, and Russians. The tasks of building weapons factories became more relevant, rather than erecting the monasteries.

Text and photos: Murat Uali and Maral Tompiev

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