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Ustuu Khuree to Be rebuilt by the Method of Public-participation National Construction

The work on the rebuilding the unique monument of Buddhist architecture – the Upper Chadan khuree ( Ustuu-Khuree)- in the Dzun-Khemchik district will be started this summer. The questions of preparation for the early summer season, the attracting of wide public participation to the construction of the future re-established temple were evaluated in Moscow at the meeting of the chairman of the Protection Council Fund “Por-Bazhyn” , Sergei Shoigu, Chairman of the Government of Tuva Sholban Kara-ool, and Kamby-Lama of Tuva, Dmampel Lodoy.

Following the interesting example of the very successful student camp “Por-Bazhyn”, a camp will be set up in the immediate vicinity of the ruins of the temple. As Sholban Kara-ool considers, the opportunity to participate in the beneficial work of the re-establishment of the temple, whether by financial help or by actual direct work on the temple, should be given to every member of the population of the republic.

There will be a designated area for temporary tents for people who will be coming to work on the temple on their days off- Saturdays and Sundays.

In the future, this is where the core teachings of Buddhist philosophy, Tibetan medicine, and eastern practices will be taught.

“ I am very glad that after a long period of empty talk, real work is about to begin again”, admits Villa Khaslavskaya, the architect of the temple-rebuilding project. “ In the 90’s, when Moscow assigned the means for the rebuilding of Ustuu-Khuree as a part of the federal help program, hardly anything was done. But nobody ever came to verify if any of the planned work was ever fulfilled. The work was fully paid in advance. But the four most complicated central pillars of the upper level, 8 meters high and 30 cm in diameter, were never built anyway. Who was responsible for that? Or did they simply write it off ...”

Ustuu-Khuree – the mightiest Buddhist monastery of pre-revolutionary Tuva - was destroyed in the early 30’s , and the priests and monks were subjected to persecution.

“The flame of the lamp of this khuree (Buddhist temple-monastery) has not gone out yet”, said His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV, when he visited Tuva in September 1992.

The festival of live music, Ustuu-Khuree, which takes place in Chadan, is dedicated to the rebuilding of the temple. This year, from 15th to 19th July, this will be a 10th anniversary festival “Ustuu-Khuree”, “TuvaOnline was told by the director of the festival, Igor Dulush.

The details of organization , of participation of every district, were discussed on April 24, at a meeting in the immediate vicinity of the temple ruins, by the administrative heads of each district, leaders of the kozhuun khurals, and heads of every Buddhist community, with Sholban Kara-ool.

“We need, first of all, to build a temple in our souls Rebuilding of Ustuu-Khuree must become our common goal, a national public-participation construction, the possibility for everybody to touch the Buddhist holy place, to purify ourselves,” – Sholban Kara-ool exhorted the gathering.

The discussions about the rebuilding of the temple went on for decades. All these years, the main “disturber of the peace” of the authorities of the republic was Villa Khaslavskaya, the architect of the plans to rebuild the temple. On all levels, the help was always promised, but the work never moved beyond words. The project became reality only after the meeting of the architect with the Premier of Tuva. A native of the Dzun-Khemchik district, Sergei Shoigu, showed personal interest in the project. The Cultural fund “Por-Bazhyn”, whose curator council is headed by the minister of MChS, is now ready to start the work.

“I am glad that after a long period of empty talk, real work is about to begin again”, admits Khaslavskaya – That this will become a project uniting the whole republic is very symbolic. I consider very serious that young people will be participating in the work. But all the direct main work on the rebuilding of the temple should be done by professionals.”

Rebuilding the temple should be the common work of the whole population of the republic, as the Premier emphasized many times. And he was totally supported by all the representatives of all the districts. The kozhuuns are prepared to participate in the common construction. In various forms, - from building a part of the road to the temple, providing supply of nourishment to the workers, to the building of yurts and cabins for the volunteers from their districts. This is how Ustuu-Khuree was built at the beginning of the last century – by the will and participation of the whole nation itself – it should be built again.

“Rebuilding of a temple – that is holy work”, says Alexandr Shelekhov, the head of Kaa-Khemchik district. – It is good that this is going to be a national participation construction. I say this on the basis of personal experience. In Saryg-Sep, a khuree was already built. But it was done by foreign builders, by means attracted from outside. But when there is no direct participation of the population itself, unfortunately one cannot expect longevity for the temple.”

At the meeting a decision was accepted about putting together a co-ordination council, with Igor Dulush, a native of Dzun-Khemchik district, at the head, who is the originator of the Ustuu-Khuree live music festival, for 10 years dedicated to the re-establishment of the temple.

The segments of the road to the temple, to be built by the districts, were assigned by drawing lots. The Kyzyl district won the right to start the work, then Pii-Khem will continue, and the other kozhuuns of Tuva will follow in the set order. A more detailed plan of activities, division of duties, was decided in a meeting on April 29, in Ulug-Khem district.


The Buddhist monastery Ustuu-Khuree is located in the Khemchik valley, on the right bank of river Chadan, 7 km north of Chadan, by the road leading to the settlement Bazhin-Alaak. A location 3 versts from the station of the Khemchik noyon Khaidyp was chosen for the construction, in the picturesque river valley.

Ustuu-Khuree, literally “upper khuree”, is one of the mightiest temple comounds on the territory of Daa-Kozhuun, which included more than half of the territory of Tuva, and is considered the cradle of Tuvan statehood. The monastery was one of the richest, if not the largest one. The Tsokchin (main temple) was built in 1905 -1907 by the rich, influential, and very ambitious noyon Khaidyp.

The costruction was carried out under the direction of Tibetan lama Kuntan Rimpoche, who was specially invited for the purpose, with participation of Chinese expert craftsmen. The population of the Kozhuun was burdened by additional financial and natural tax duties,( building scaffolding for the construction, supplying the draught cattle) and directly participated in the construction work: every group had to send a certain number of workers on designated days, who prepared the clay mixture, setting up the wooden forms for the bricks of compressed clay, and building scaffoldings, etc.

The plans for the monastery of Tibetan type were brought in 1905 by Kntan Rimpoche, but many assert that this was a typical Mongolian construction, fusing Tibetan and Chinese architectural features. The oblique lower floor was typical for Tibetan buildings, while the light wooden pavilion of the second level was typical of Chinese architecture.

Ustuu-Khuree became the crown of Buddhist building in Tuva. There was nothing else like it not only in Tuva, but on the whole territory of the whole former Soviet Union.

In 1930, Ustuu-Khuree was closed, and in 1937, demolished. There was a prayer-yurt at the location until1956. The last lama brought the Buddhist attributes to the Regional National Museum in Kyzyl, where they are to this day. Only mighty walls of the first level, made of compressed clay, 1.5 meters thick, were left of the temple, which even today tower over a large meadow.

In 1999, the government of Russia, admitting the historical and architectural value of the unique temple, made a decision to rebuild it. A consideration was also given to the fact that these were the clan holdings of Buyan-Badyrgy, who shared the fate of the desecrated temple – he was executed, and only rehabilitated in 2007.

This year, on July 15 -19, the anniversary 10th festival of live music, Ustuu-Khuree, will be held.

In the early May of this year, the area of the temple, usually deserted at this time of year, started teeming with round-the-clock life. There is the noise of axes, road-makers are measuring for building of future roads and bridges, electricians are setting up electric supply, old farming constructions are being made habitable, and new ones are being built.

From day to day, a small yurt-town with delegates from the various districts of Tuva showed up, and the rebuilding is finally coming from the “phase of discussions” , which dragged on for more than a decade, into the practical phase of building, on the principle “by the whole world, by the whole nation”.

As Sholban Kara-ool, the Premier, said: “We need, first of all, to build a temple in our souls. The ebuilding of the temple must become our common goal, a national public-participation project, the opportunity for everybody to touch the Buddhist holy place, to purify ourselves.”

It so happened over the past years, that the fate of the demolished temple bothered the architect Villa Khaslavskaya more than it bothered other architects, and certainly more than it bothered the Ministry of Culture, which was not bothered at all. The Moscow native first heard that in the area of Chadan are the ruins of some kultic structure in 1983, when she was working in Tuva at the orders of the Ministry of Culture of Russia, compiling data on the cultural monuments of the republic – from old Christial structures at the upper Yenisei to the historical buildings of the capital. She spent over a year at the ruins of the temple; in 1984, with a group of young architects, she researched the temple. She worked in the archives, interviewed old lamas. She prepared a document to the minister of culture, Anatoliy Seren, prepared a project, and defended it in Moscow.

“It is not possible to say that this is an absolutely unique architectural monument is not possible,but for Tuva, it is definitely very rare. Besides that, there simply was no other example of temple architecture like this on the whole territory of Russia. All the brick-built Buddhist temples had an indelible imprint of Russian architecture. Tuva is isolated from Russia, and used Tibetan architectural influences directly through Mongolia. The unique features of this temple are based in the fact, that it is representative of Mongolian temples, which combine Tibetan and Chinese architectural features”, explained Villa Yemelyanovna in one of her early interviews. –It was protected under a decree of the council of ministers of Tuva ASSR. It was mandatory to protect it. But in the district, they were never notified of this decree from Kyzyl. That is why for long years, only cattle was kept within the remaining walls. But the specifications were preserved, and from these, the temple can be rebuilt. The base of the temple, and wooden framework, consisting of 49 pillars.

Out of “the bowels” of the ministry of culture, six yellowed tomes of drawings and sketches by Villa Khaslavskaya were dragged out.

“In this khuree, my grandfather Sorzhu received his spiritual education, and worked here”, relates the speaker of the upper floor of the Parliament, Khonuk-ool Mongush. – Rebuilding of this temple is a matter of honor of the nation. These ruins – this is all that remains of the 28 buddhist temples of Tuva. WE welcomed the Dalai lama XIV in this place. And he emphasized, that the flame of the lamp of this temple has not gone out yet. In Ustuu-Khuree, to this day, is invested tremendous power, such a spiritual force, which is comparable only to monasteries of Tibet itself. Rebuilding of this temple has a tremendous historical and spiritual meaning.”

The shares of the work on building the road to the temple were decided by drawing lots in the immediate vicinity of the temple. Together with the 19 municipalities, the government of Tuva will also participate. They won the most complicated task – the first segment, which includes building of bridges across the small rivers, from the fork to the neighboring settlement of Bazhin-Alaak.

Igor Dulush, a native of Dzun-Khemchik district , who, 10 years ago, initiated the live music festival, Ustuu-Khuree, dedicated to the rebuilding of the temple, was appinted as the main curator of the construction. A skeleton crew of enthusiasts has long been gathered around him, ready to participate in the rebuilding of the demolished temple.

Igor has his theory about Ustuu-Khuree. “ One cannot go about demolishing temples. Any temples – Russian orthodox, Buddhist, Moslem. Demolition of the people comes with it. A demolished temple must be rebuilt. One cannot wait until the winds level it with the ground. The lamas say that once the walls are only 4 bricks height, the protector spirits leave. And they also leave the nation of that location. Shag bagy tongen, as we say. The bad times are over. With the rebuilding of the temple, hope will grow in our souls, and the old people, the witnesses of those times, will grow wings. Not everybody has such a fate, the possibility to rebuild a demolished temple. A simple Tibetan structure, but mighty in spirit and power. We have this chance. A chnce to purify ourselves, to open the road of light for the future generations of Tuva.”

The building site of the rebuilding of the unique temple officially opens today, May 23, at 10:00 AM. The preliminary work has been going on round-the-clock schedule. By now, the electric and water supply is established, a tent town is built, and the roadmakers are startingto pave the leveled road, bringing paving stones from the districts. The builders from Ak-Dovurak ( brigadier- R. Shagaalan), have finished the renovation of one of the two wooden yurts. The interior utilities are all latest technology, but the outside is fully in harmony with the style of the temple . Expert craftsmen from Kyzyl-Dag, led by Sergei Kochaa, have been working on formulating the optimal composition of the compressed clay walls.

The first stones for the road to the temple were brought by volunteers from Sut-Khol. The reddish paving stone stands out by its reddish color among the stones brought from other districts. Stones are being brought around the cloc, explained Igor Dulush, the main curator of the construction, to the head of the republic, Sholban Kara-ool, visiting the site.

In Tandy, all the summons responded to the call of their administration. They prepared a schedule.. The first group of Tandy volunteers is already working on the Ustuu-Khuree. Ak-Dovurak delegated a team from the local pedagogic school.

The most responsible working front has a GUP “Yurta”. The workers have built a spatious storage area, where now artists and carvers are working. Under the supervision of Baybek Mongush, they are creating the main South gate to the temple.

A combined brigade of builders from Tere-Khol, Dzun-Khem, and Sut-Khol districts are finishing up building a bath.

Unfortunately, the results of testing of the compressed clay mixture by Kyzyl-Dag experts, so far have not had good results.

The first variant, suggested in the project by architect Villa Khaslavskaya, of “grafting” the walls of the temple on the pre-existing remaining walls, does not work. The areas of fusion between the old walls and the new graft layers are not durable. Even though the mixture is made exactly in accordance with the original specifications used at the beginning of the last century,, all the attempts to get the old and the new fuse together have failed, and end in cracks; the “pop off like a bad tooth filling”, summarizes the situation the minister of construction, Alexandr Grishelenok. Even if at first the fusion appears successful, with time, deformation is unavoidable. It is necessary to find a new technologic solution, considers Aleksei Ulanov, a specialist of the “Por-Bazhyn” fund.

Let us be reminded that the decision about the rebuilding of the temple, and building the whole monastic complex in this location, by the method of national public-participation, was accepted by the decisions of the conference between the head of the republic, Sholban Kara-ool, and the leaders of the municipalities of Tuva at the end of April.

Compiled and translated from the articles by Dina Oyun, published on Tuva Online:

  1. April18, 2008, Khram Ustuu-Khuree budut vosstanavlivat metodom marodnoi stroiki.
  2. April 25, 2008, Vosstanovlenie khrama Ustuu-Khuree stanet narodnym proektom Tuvy.
  3. May 6, 2008, Doroga k khramu
  4. May 22, 2008, Rassmatrivayutsa razlichnye varianty vosstanovleniya karma Ustuu-Khuree.

By Dina Oyun, translated by Heda Jindrak
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