Treasure Hunt

Article by: Dan and Unuruu

On August 1st, 2009, Danzan Ravjaa's treasure chests buried in the Gobi will be unearthed. These treasures were hidden in the Gobi desert seventy years ago, following the socialist purge in the 1930's.

The live Internet Webcast will show on the Treasure-Hunt website and on this page, directly from the Gobi desert. (1, August, 18:00 Mongolian time, 11:00 GMT)

[A painting of Danzan Ravjaa]
The Webcast will reveal the unique story of Danzan Ravjaa (1803 - 1856), a revered figure, little known in the West.
He was one of the greatest and most unusual intellectuals in Mongolian history, a skilled artist, talented composer, leader, educator, play write, reformist, astronomer, architect, healer, and founder of 11 institutions and monasteries across the Gobi. The full scope of Danzan Ravjaa's creativity can be truly appreciated at his home monastery, Khamariin Khiid, where the event will take place. Danzan Ravjaa's charisma and vision influenced the development of Mongolian culture, and continues to inspire it today.

Live Webcast
The 2 hour live webcast will show on this page and on the official site of Treasure Hunt, on August 1st 2009 at 11:00am GMT
(New York 06:00AM, London 11:00AM, Moscow 14:00, Mongolia 18:00)

The Gobi "Treasure Hunt" is a project run by Austrian MediaClan in cooperation with Global Communications and "80+1 - A Journey Around the World" and supported by many generous sponsors. For worldwide public viewing locations see Tresure-Hunt.

Danzan Ravjaa - a Genius is Born
Danzan Ravjaa's mother died shortly after his birth. He was raised by his father, Dulduyitu, a wandering singer, with whom he went begging and singing. One night a pack of wolves attacked and ate their only horse. Danzan Ravjaa's father, in his despair, dedicated his 6 year old son to the monastery of Onggiyin Ghool. At the monastery Danzan Ravjaa displayed a gift for the spontaneous composition of meaningful songs and poems. This gift he acquired from his father during the time they sang and begged to survive.

Shortly after Danzan Ravjaa's arrival at the monastery, the fourth Lama of the Gobi was executed by the Manchurian rulers, following many scandals, including the murder of a member of the Chinese royal family. The Manchu Emperor banned the Lama's reincarnation.

A few years later, when Danzan Ravjaa reached the age of 8, he was recognized as the Fifth Noyon Incarnate Lama of the Gobi, also known as "Lord of the Gobi". He was enthroned, although officially given a different title so as to hide his true identity from the Manchu Emperor. Perhaps his young age aided in saving him from being executed by the Manchurian Emperor.

The Assassination of Danzan Ravjaa
The 19th century was a time of great depression for Mongolia under the control of Manchurian China. The once powerful Mongols were reduced to a nation of petty bureaucrats. A voice was needed to condemn the wrongs of society and Danzan Ravjaa rose to assume this role.

A tense relationship developed between Danzan Ravjaa and the Manchu authorities. Anti-Manchu elements were depicted in his art, drama and teachings. It seems likely that the Manchu rulers sensed his anti-Manchu sentiments and his charismatic hold on the Gobi. As a result, they presumably arranged for his assassination. Danzan Ravjaa was poisoned to death in 1856, at the age of 54.

As Danzan Ravjaa understood that he was being poisoned he wrote his last poem ‘The Way of the World’. The poem criticizes the hypocritical nature of the society in which he lived. The first verse of the poem;

You’ve no right to be sober –
The world doesn’t agree with that.
You’ve no right to be decent –
The world is consumed with pride.

After his death, the Manchus ordered his theatre and art school closed and forbade any activity at Khamariin other than routine lamasery functions of prayer and teaching.

In an effort to preserve Danzan Ravjaa's heritage, his assistant Balshinchoijoo amassed the contents of the temples, Danzan Ravjaa's artworks, books, compositions, sets, costumes, gifts from abroad and all the religious items and his other personal possessions—into 1500 chests and secured them in two temples along with Danzan Ravjaa's body which he had mummified.

[Ten Thousand Knives Statue. Photo: Unuruu]
"Ten Thousand Knives" Statue
The story of the "Ten Thousand Knives" statue, as told by Monk Konchog Norbu, emphasizes Danzan Ravjaa's charisma and leadership. Norbu explains that the Khamariin Khiid, Danzan Ravjaa's home monastery was known for it's harmonious community. The unexpected stabbing to death of a Chinese person in 1825 following a dispute, came as a great surprise and shattered the peaceful community. Danzan Ravjaa grasped the opportunity. He asked that all knives that might be used as weapons from the surrounding area to be brought to him. The response was outstanding - 10,000 knives were brought to the Monastery doorstep.

Danzan Ravjaa had all the knives melted down and forged into an exquisite statue of Guru Rinpoche, founder of the Nyingma lineage, known as the Red Hat school of Buddhist thought. Although Khamariin Khiid was associated with the Tibetan Red Hat, Danzan Ravjaa built temples to honor both the Red Hat and the rivalry Yellow Hat lineage, resulting in conflict with the spiritual hierarchy of his time. Once displayed, the statue became an object of pilgrimage known as the Statue of "Ten Thousand Knives" and peace prevailed at Khamariin Khiid for the rest of Danzan Ravjaa's life.

[Sharavdorj and Altangerel, present the new crown
Photo by Konchog Norbu]

Replacement of the lost Crown
While the re-installation of the Statue of "Ten Thousand Knives" at Khamariin Khiid provided deep satisfaction for the people of the Gobi, it was incomplete. Somewhere on its journey through time, the statue lost its metal crown. A search in all major museums holding Mongolian art did not reveal anything. Since no image of the crown was available, a design was made based on a similar statue found in India. A few knives where collected - one from a Gobi prison which had been confiscated after its use in fights; and one from a military base near the Chinese border where there had been violent conflicts among the soldiers. The knives were melted down and blended with silver. The silver was plated in gold and studded with precious and semi-precious stones from India, Tibet, and the Gobi, including some taken from Danzan Ravjaa's own collection. Many faithful Gobi residents contributed small pieces of silver and gold to be used in the crown. The ceremony replacing the missing crown on the statue took place on August of 2005.

[Mongolian Crown, found in Sweden
photo by Rose-Marie Westling]

A recent twist to the story appeared on a Swedish news website on July 5th 2009 (Swedish, and English).
The news item tells of a precious Mongolian silver crown stolen in 1984 from a Stockholm museum that was recently found on the premises of the Swedish Police Service, where it had been accidentally stored for more than twenty years.

Is this the original lost crown? We do not know. Further investigation is needed.

[Khamariin Khiid - Monastery. Photo: Unuruu]
School, Library, Theatre.
The activities at the Khamariin Khiid monastery were not limited to religious rituals. Danzan Ravjaa turned the monastery into a vital cultural and academic center. In a valley near the temple complex, Danzan Ravjaa built Mongolia’s first theater and set up its first theater company. He designed the sets and costumes, wrote the scripts and music and supervised and taught the actors how to perform. His best known drama, "The Moon Cuckoo", took 120 performers several weeks to stage. The story, "Moon Cuckoo" was originally written in 1737 by Dagpu Lobsan Danbi Djalcan, a Tibetan monk from the Drepung monastery. Danzan Ravjaa created an extravagant opera based on this story. The performances were not only presented to those living and visiting the monastery, Danzan Ravjaa traveled with his acting troupe to the periphery on camel caravans.

He was also an enthusiastic collector of valuable objects and opened Mongolia's first museum at his main monastery, Khamariin Khiid. In addition, he had knowledge of medicinal plants and treated his disciples as well as the Bogd Gegeen of Khuree.

At the peak of this period, the monastery housed 500 permanent residents. The compound consisted of four colleges, which taught general studies, astronomy, art, and theater. He opened a popular children’s school training children as artists, sculptors, singers and dancers as well as giving basic and vocational training.

Danzan Ravjaa established a large library in the monastery with books he collected during his extensive travels across Mongolia, China and Tibet.

[Danzan Ravjaa personal note book. Photo: Guido]
"Pretty Woman" - Danzan Ravjaa Poet, Lover and Reformist

Danzan Ravjaa followed the Red Hat school of Buddhist thought which was more liberal than others were and permitted marriage for priests. Men and women are permitted to pray together in the temple. Ravjaa's erotic drawings, which were drawn using live models, often depict men and women bathing naked together displaying a humanistic touch.

Danzan Ravjaa respected women and made love to many. Against the advice of his superiors, he gave women equal rights and meaningful roles during Buddhist ceremonies. Danzan Ravjaa was the first to enroll women in his school, preaching that women are entitled to an equal education. He gave women central roles in the plays he wrote and performed.

One of the most loved songs by Mongolians today is Ulemjiin Chanar translated as "Your Perfect Qualities" meaning "Pretty Woman", written and composed by Danzan Ravjaa.

[Inscription at Shambhala 2km form Khamariin Khiid]

Your perfect qualities,
are like colors reflected in a mirror.

I see your shining face, my dear,
and truly you have captured
my entire mind and body.

Like the cuckoo’s song,
you relieve the stress in my mind.

Your kind words are gentle, my dear,
with such kindness you sit
and offer comfort.

Your elegant body,
borne upon the breeze,
is beyond words, my dear.

Like the scent of red sandalwood,
you more and more entrance my thoughts.

Like the taste of honey
flowing from the heart of the lotus,
joy in you, my dear,
makes me ever happier,
Happier beyond belief.

In this human age,
to do what you wish
is to wish for the things of heaven.

afloat upon the ocean of deep enjoyment,
Let us be joyful together.

Video Clip Ulemjiin Chanar dedicated by this woman monk to Danzan Ravjaa

[One of the Chests dug out of the Gobi sand]

The Treasure - Ravja's Heritage
Following Danzan Ravjaa's death his treasures were collected. Some artifacts were put on display and some were put into chests. Over a thousand chests where stored in Khamariin Khiid for many years. The treasures included statues, hundreds of poems and plays written on paper by Danzan Ravjaa, coated images on paper, documents, prayer books and ritual objects, His private library, opera costumes (predominantly silk and cotton) including masks, hats, boots, metal and wood artifacts, precious glass, silver and gold presents Danzan Ravjaa received from noble visiting leaders were also amassed.

The Socialist Purge in the 1930's
After the communist revolution in Russia, Mongolia became a satellite socialist country under the influence of Russia. The Buddhists were organized, wealthy and powerful, and their elimination as a political counter force was thought necessary in order to build a socialist society. The Soviet-directed purges began in the 1930's and culminated in 1938 with the Mongolian and Soviet armies ransacking and destroying more than 700 monasteries, killing 27,000 people including 17,000 Buddhist monks. In 1938 the army set up camp near Khamariin Khiid, which was at the time one of the most powerful monasteries in Mongolia.

[Tudev painting and photo. From photos by: Unuruu]
Saving Danzan Ravjaa's Heritage
Tudev, the caretaker (Takhilch) of the monastery treasures, knew that it was his duty to save the treasures. Night after night he loaded one chest at a time on his horse and disappeared into the Gobi desert where he buried the chests in locations only he knew. He managed to bury 64 chests. On the sixty-fifth night, the troops came to the monastery and destroyed all the remaining chests. The temples', theatre, and other buildings were completely destroyed, and even the trees planted by Danzan Ravjaa were cut down because they believed Danzan Ravjaa’s hold on local people was so strong that every vestige of his presence had to be obliterated. Three hundred monks were arrested and never seen again. Only a few managed to disappear into the countryside.

[Altangerel Zundui, founder of Danzan Ravjaa's Museum]

Passing on the Secrete Location
The location of the hidden chests was kept in secrecy for many years. Tudev did not tell anyone about his secret and kept no notes of their location. He was the only one who knew exactly where he had dug the holes to bury the treasure chests. When a nomadic herder stumbled by chance on a cavern where two chests were hidden, he dutifully turned them over to the authorities. They were burned by members of the socialist regime. Tudev himself was arrested for some time on the accusation of secretly practicing Buddhist rituals, after he was found wondering in the Gobi desert. He was actually on his way to check the safety of the treasures.

Tudev understood that he must revile to someone his secret. In 1960 Tudev's daughter in Ulaanbaatar gave birth to Altangerel (Mongolian for “Golden Light”). The mother noticed a birthmark on the child in the shape of a moon crescent; Special significant was attributed to this shape. Tudev, the grandfather, had the same significant birthmark. Tudev understood that his grandson must be the one to be carry on the secret, as to the site of the hidden treasure chests. Tudev trained Altangerel for his future role as the next Takhilch.

Altangerel acquired his academic degree and returned to Sainshand in 1989 to work as a school teacher. When the communist government fell in 1990, he decided it was time to reveal some of the secrets of Danzan Ravjaa. The two restored temples at Khamariin were reconstructed and in 1991 he dug up eight chests of religious objects, Also in 1991 local officials gave him a building in Sainshand to set up the Danzan Ravjaa Museum, in which are displayed objects from another twenty-four chests. Included in the exhibits, are the best drawings, paintings, costumes and other beautiful items. Since then he has continued his Takhilch responsibilities as Museum Director. Tudev died on December 9, 1990, without seeing the new temples or the museum.

Buddhist Rituals Related to Danzan Ravjaa
[Danzan Ravjaa statue. Photo: Unuruu]
I asked Unuruu, the research manager of ToMongolia to explain the various rituals related to Danzan Ravjaa at Khamariin Khiid. Unuruu is a devoted Buddhist and visited Khamariin Khiid in July 2009 during Naadam the national festival of Mongolia.

She expressed her feelings towards Danzan Ravjaa:

I am very proud of him as a Mongolian; he influenced the change of attitude towards women in Mongolian society. Before the time of Danzan Ravjaa women did not have a significant role in society, Danzan Ravjaa enrolled women for the first time into the educational system. He insisted that women receive the same education as men. Today Mongolian women are educated and have an important role in society.

What about the allegations that he was obsessed in making love to many women, I asked.

It is very simple to explain, she said, he missed his mother's love. His mother died shortly after he was born; consequently, his poor father had to take care of him, and eventually placed him in a monastery. His unsatisfied love to women was just trying to compensate for the love of a mother he never had.

[Woman's breast Ovoo. Photo: Unuruu]
Danzan Ravjaa created a large Ovoo one passes before entering the monastery. This Ovoo is an unusual one, it is in the shape of a large woman's breast. Only women are allowed to participate in the ceremony around the breast Ovoo. The ceremony takes place at sunrise, as the sun rises the women spray milk at the Ovoo breast, and surround it three times. This ceremony is believed to bring feminine energy to women, enabling them to carry out their feminine roles.

After the Ovoo I went to the bell, says Unuruu. The bell is on a small mount where Danzan Ravjaa used to meditate and pray for a peaceful society. To emphasize Danzan Ravjaa's prayer, you are supposed to ring the bell as loud as you can to let the world know of Danzan Ravjaa's prayers. After I rang the bell, I circled the bell three times.

[Entrance to Shambhala. Photo: Unuruu]
Then I went to Shambhala. At the entrance, you will see the eyes of Buddha with a third eye in the center this is the energy eye. I stood in the stone circle in front of the eyes. I stared at the center energy eye for some time until I felt the energy crawling into me, only then could I enter Shambhala.

Danzan Ravjaa taught his disciples the "burning of the sins" ritual an idea I like very much, said Unuruu. You write all your sins on paper, and burn the paper in a hole in the rocks, at the entrance to Shambhala. Danzan Ravjaa educated his monks to get rid of pride, jealousy and greed, through this ritual, before entering the holy Shambhala which is a place of peace/tranquility/happiness.

After burning my sins I went to the rock of "Ulemjin Chaanar" ("Your Perfect Qualities"). The words and lyrics of this famous song are inscribed in a rock. Mongolians come with offerings to this place and sing together this wonderful song, admiring the perfect qualities of women.

[Meditation caves. Photo: Unuruu]
From there I went to the meditation caves where Danzan Ravjaa used to meditate for 108 days at a time; 108 is a holy number in Buddhism. Monks meditate in complete isolation, with little food, in an effort to ignore hunger, as did Danzan Ravjaa. Visitors to these caves go through what is known as the birth hole. To go through one must hold the hands of other visitors, and go through without letting go, thereby expressing the unity of humanity.

Map of Treasure Hunt location
Zoom in (click +) and switch to Sat (Satellite mode) to see details.

View Danzan Ravjaa treasure hunt in a larger map

Time Line

1803 Danzan Ravjaa is born.
1804 His mother dies, Danzan Ravjaa and his father live of begging.
1807 At the age of 4 DZ composed and sang his own songs.
1809 At the age of 6 Danzan Ravjaa was given away to a monastery.
1809 The fourth Gobi Lord was executed by the Manchus rulers.
1811 At the age of 8, Danzan Ravjaa is proclaimed Lord of the Gobi.
1821 Danzan Ravjaa founded the Kamar monastery.
1825 The Statue of Ten Thousand Knives is erected.
1830 Mongolia's first theatre is built by Danzan Ravjaa.
1831 Performance of the "Moon Cuckoo" opera at the theatre.
1854 Shamballa was founded near the Khmar monastery.
1856 At the age of 53 Danzan Ravjaa poisoned to death by his rivals.
1857 Balchinchoijoo caretaker (takhilch) of Danzan Ravjaa's treasures.
1857 1,500 boxes are packed with Danzan Ravjaa's treasures.

1911 End of the Manchurian rule over Mongolia.
1920 Communist rulers take power in Mongolia.
1937 500 monks serve in the Khamar monastery.
1938 Todev buries 64 crates out of 1,500 in the Gobi desert.
1938 Khamar monastery and 700 monasteries destroyed.
1968 A nomad finds 2 crates turned them in they were burnt.
1969 A few of Danzan Ravjaa's artifacts stolen from Tudev's Ger.
1989 Tudev's grandson Altangerel returns to Sayanshand.
1989 The collapse of the Soviet Union.
1989 A local Gobi community rebuilds the first temple amariin Khiid.
1989 Tudev and Altangerel open a few crates and rebury them.
1990 Tudev dies, December 9.
1990 End of Communism in Mongolia. A few crates put on display.
1991 Opening of the Danzan Ravjaa Museum in Sainshand.

2003 Reconstruction of 108 stupa shambala.
2004 Reconstruction of Ten Thousand Knives statue.
2004 Dr. Hamid Sardar scannes all Danzad Ravjaa writings.
2005 New crown for Ten Thousand Knives statue put in place.
2008 Opening of the new building of Danzan Ravjaa Museum.
2009 Live Treasure Hunt webcast excavating crates in the Gobi.

Video: Theatrical Opera Of Ulemjiin Chanar (Your Perfect Qualities meaning Pretty Woman), the most popular poem written and composed by Danzan Ravjaa.

Video: Trip to Shambhala at the Kamariin Khiid (Monastery) narrated by Glenn Mullin.

Getting There
Train from Ulaanbaatar (Ulan Bator) to Sainshand: every day.
Train leaves Ulaanbaatar 9:50am and arrives 8:00pm the same day.
Cost: Cabin 21,500Tg, Sleeper 13,200Tg, Public 8,000Tg

External Links

Gobi Treasure Hunt 2009 Official Webcast Site.
Danzan Ravjaa Official Danzan Ravjaa Museum.

The Creators of "Treasure Hunt" Project
Global Communications
80+1 A jurney Arround the World

Danzan Ravjaa - on American Mongolian Studies.
Danzanravzhaa - on Mandal.

A Lonely Battle in Mongolia - New York Times - by Michael Kohn.
Valuable Sacred Tibetan Text The Story of Moon Cuckoo.
Sixth Guard of Priest's Spirit - on Mongolia Today.
Shambhala Rising - by Monk Konchog Norbu.
"Treasures of the Sand" - by Monk Konchog Norbu.
The way of the World by Simon Wickham-Smith.

Dr. Hamid Sardar - Text-Scanning Project - on the Glenn Mullin site.

Virtual Gobi Treasure Hunt - Monk Konchog Norbu.
Shambhala - Don Corner.
Khamariin Khiid - Don Corner.
Shambhala at Khamariin Khiid - Don Corner.
A Mystical Gobi Adventure - Rachel.
Sainshand Town - Under Mongolian Blue Sky.
Sainshand - Brian Watmough.
Jurney to Shamballa Land - Bruce Lyon.

Ferocious Saint Lord of Gobi - N.Y. Times Movie Review.

Photos of Khamariin Khiid - by Haroldo Castro.

Lama of the Gobi by Michael Kohn

Alternate Name Spellings
Hamred Hrid, Khamriin Khiid, Khamaryn Khiid hamarin Khamar
Danzan Ravjaa, Danzan Rabja, Danzanravjaa Данзанравжаа
Tudev Tutob Tudov todev
Sainshand, Saynshand

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