April 24, 2012

A Cemetery in Mongolia

Traditionally, Mongolians did not bury their dead. Rather, the body of the departed soul was “cast out” in an open air burial after a ceremony led by a Buddhist lama - or more lamas, depending on the social status of the departed. It’s an intricate process that ends in the corpse being left in the clan’s sacred burial place to be devoured by predatory animals and is well described in a paper here.

After the 1921 Revolution that turned Mongolia into a Communist nation, open air burials were strongly discouraged and European-style burials were gradually adopted.

These are photos of a cemetery on a hill we saw about an hour’s drive outside the capital Ulaanbaatar.  The images will have to tell you the story, as I have no further information about it.

I marvel at the many styles, shapes and materials used. As you can see, a few markers were enclosed in a fence; most were not.

Mongolia, 2007





To the front of the burial grounds is an expansive vista of a small town in the valley and the mountains beyond.


Joining the Taphophile Tragics community.

20 comments:

Kay L. Davies said...

So interesting, Francisca.
In theory, I can see the wisdom of the old open air burials, leaving bodies to be devoured by wild animals, but when I think of that happening to the body of a loved one, I cringe.
K

Dimple said...

I am conflicted about cemeteries: as a family historian, I appreciate the history they preserve. As a Christian, I acknowledge the long tradition which burial has and that it is the only method of dealing with the dead sanctioned in the Bible. Nevertheless, exposing the dead seems to be both sanitary and efficient, if the culture puts no importance on the physical remains.

This burial ground would look perfectly normal to me, except for the cultural notes you provide. I am still conflicted!

VioletSky said...

Burial grounds do take up a lot of useful land - though from these photos it looks like it might be a long time before Mongolia runs out of land.

FrankandMary said...

My father always felt this was the way to go. I'd have never been able to do that(even if it had been legal here). ~Mary

NixBlog said...

Very interesting post, Francisca. Quite amazing to see how changes in regime will alter a country's customs and traditions...

Julie said...

What I really admire about this particular burial ground, is that it is low rise. Having just come from Sanna's post about Steve Stavro, where ego reigned supreme, to see most people here treating themselves a equal to every other, is refreshing.

I sympathise with Dimple and her inner conflict. I just leave it to the individual culture. I recall from the murky past a film, 'A Man called Horse' what started someone whom I cannot recall but was in Harry Potter somehow. Anyways, in AMcH they put their dead on a platform for the raptors to take. I think it was about Native Americans.

I think I may have digressed ...

Sondra said...

open air burials are more natural for sure, the Navajo here in the USA, have an old belief that if someone dies INSIDE the CHINDI, or spirit is now trapped inside that dwelling and it is not usable until a special ceremony is done to purify the home...IF the Chindi is set free outside it is allowed to go reside in the spirit realm.
ALthough I dont think I would want to be driving to town and see dead bodies laying in the open at the cemetery I pass everyday!!

Ann said...

Is it the Tibetans who have "sky burial" where the body is dismembered and left for the carrion eating birds? Very practical in a land where the ground is frozen. This sounds similar, I would image the ground would be frozen there much of the time.

Francisca said...

Yes, Ann, you are correct. Sky burials in Tibet are similar to the Mongolian air burial. Both stem from the Buddhist belief that once the spirit has departed, the corpse is just an empty shell to be discarded. The spirit will reincarnate. (This is, of course, an over-simplification of a complex philosophy and belief system.) And yes, in Tibet, the sky burial is practical, since there isn't a lot of soft earth to bury anything - it's either frozen or rock.

Herding Cats said...

What an interesting cememtery. Fantastic pictures!

Vicki/Jake said...

Wow Cisca, another informative post on dead things:) I'm a mishmash of beliefs, a little of everything works for me. I do believe that the body is just where the spirit hangs out for awhile. When it's not needed, let the feast begin...either by fire or critter:) (I can just hear some people cringing) Course nowdays the stench might not be so good..
Stay safe...

Andrea said...

Hi Francisca, glad you really find time to post a few! I've read in the past the details of burial ceremony in Tibet, which i agree with you that is practical because they only got rocks, no trees and soil. But i am awed at the order of the birds in getting the particular body organs, as they wait for the leader bird to get the major-favored organ, the heart, and the rest will follow with the other parts, liver, lungs, etc, etc. It might be good in frozen climates, but i can't imagine the scene if it is in the tropics. How morbid and unsanitary!

Oakland Daily Photo said...

Both town and cemetery seem to just appear on the landscape.Perhaps because they are both relatively new?

Halcyon said...

I love seeing cemeteries in different countries. This one is very interesting.

CaT said...

somehow it looks a bit messy! i always wonder why people put a cage around the grave.
i certainly would not want to be eaten by predators, not even after death. somehow that seems weird to me. and i wouldnt want to see that either!!

H said...

If we all did things the same way, the world would be a much duller place. My concern is that western culture will eventually swamp the entire planet and wipe out many of our intriguing differences.

Pat Tillett said...

Nice photos and very interesting information. I really enjoy all the things you expose me/us to. I'll probably not ever go to these places, so thanks!

JM said...

Pretty amazing!

Owen said...

Am sure I've never seen a Mongolian cemetery before, fascinating... many thanks for sharing these images.

As you are apparently interested in cemeteries, please feel free if you have a moment to take a look at some cemetery postings here :

http://magiclanternshowen.blogspot.fr/search/label/Cemeteries

And there is even an entire book of cemetery photos that can be viewed here :

http://www.e-center.fr/pdfviewer_alias/pdfviewer/megazine/megazine.php?swf=qQ6UDEUN%2BsRuNDqtZfErPQ%3D%3D&code=abc#/0

Don't mean to intrude, just thought you might enjoy...

Dina said...

This is very very interesting. Thanks for showing us a different world.