Mongolia’s Sacred Stone Ovoos

Zavkhan and Uvs Provinces in Mongolia
November 8, 2013
Wild Flowers of Mongolia’s Khangai Mountains – Tuesday’s Snapshot
November 19, 2013

Tuesday’s Snapshots – highlighting images from the EL team and our guests based on a Mongolia theme. This week…introducing Mongolia’s sacred stone shrines known as ‘ovoos’

Travel across the landscapes of Mongolia and you will frequently come across small mounds made up of rocks and stones. In the forest steppe regions, these mounds often consist of branches of trees. The stone shrines are known as ovoos – erected by local families and travellers to show gratitude and respect, and to honour the spirits of the surrounding land.

A combination of shamanistic and Buddhist belief remains to this day as an easy and unselfconscious part of Mongolian life. The creation of ovoos are an expression of this. However, visit the far western provinces of Mongolia and you will notice that ovoos do not dot the landscape…this is as the main minority group here are Kazakhs and they practise Islam. 

Look more closely at an ovoo and you will see steering wheel covers, plaster casts, crutches, empty bottles of vodka, sweets, small pieces of dairy products such as cheese as well as many ‘khadag’ (Mongolia’s sacred blue scarf that represents the ‘eternal blue sky’). The discarded casts, crutches, steering wheel covers and food offerings are people’s ways of giving thanks for better health, a safe journey or maybe thanking the spirits for the much-needed rain. Don’t be alarmed if you see a horse’s head. The horse is a symbol of strength of spirit, freedom and independence – an honoured animal for a Mongolian herder and often when a herder’s best horse dies, the spirit of the animal is honoured by the head being placed on an ovoo.

Ovoos are circled three times in a clockwise direction and a small offering made in order to ensure the safety of the trip or to ensure good fortune in life. 

 ‘Creating them remains an easy, unselfconscious part of travel, a ritual by which Mongolians assert their heritage and the network that binds them’.

John Man

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