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Why do Mongolians worship mountains?

Updated: Feb 23


It has two peaks, its highest peak "Tsast jul has an elevation of 4, 193 meters and another peak same named Tsambagaraw 48.655196,90.847063
The massive of eternally snow caped-Tsambagaraw mountain located in between Khowd and Bayanulgii province in western Mongolia.

Worshipping sacred mountains at the state level might sound eccentric to foreigners.

Mongolian nomads ride into the mountains by way of horseback where they will make offerings and pray, while some people worship at a visible distance from their localities or households. They offer libation by pouring or sprinkling milk, tea, or any type of dairy product as an offering. The female head of the household conducts a milk libation for the sacred mountains every morning.


However, this ritual is passed down from ancient times. Mongolians have been practicing a culture and tradition of protecting, loving, and worshipping mother nature while harmonizing them with their way of living in high awareness of essential bonds between nature and human beings.


Mongolians have a view that earth is not only a living place of humans and animals but there are also countless non-visible supernatural inhabitants surrounding them. Mountains and waters are seen as the homes of these benevolent and malignant spirits, and local inhabitants frequently have negotiations with them through different kinds of offerings and rituals in order to delight them and to ask for their protection.


Historically, the lives of ancient people were completely dependent on nature, and their thinking was based on awareness rather than abstraction, the sensory properties of things were imagined as supernatural forces and hidden powers.

For example, ancient people considered strangely shaped rocks, trees and stones, vividly colored objects, animals, and plants to have a mysterious power inside.


Locals people believe this human-shaped mountain has a spirit that is located in Terelj National Park.


Also, mountain caves are the first dwellings of mankind, and traces of ancient people who lived in Mongolia can also be found in mountain caves. Ancient people imagined and believed that the mountain has a magical power because it protects them from the dangers, of wind, heat, cold, rain, snow, and wild animals. On the other hand, when they find food or a cave to hide, they used to leave a sign in the mountain which is why the owoo shrine might have started. You will see owoo shrines everywhere in the Mongolian countryside.


One of the main sources that can be used to clarify the fetishistic view of Mongolians “Mountain- Uul Khairkhan- is the respectful way of saying mountain” is used in folklore. There is an element of fetishism in every religion. The main feature of folklore is related to the mentality of ancient people.


According to the Mongolian people’s beliefs, the god created this world so he visits the world to see things. From this religious belief point of view, the mountain is like a God or Deity.


The legend about "mountains and water

Once upon a time, a female deity sat down crying while breastfeeding her son, and her tears flowed like a river. Another deity was going by around this world, and the female deity’s tears were difficult to walk, so he turned her into a mountain by sitting. So, the plants and trees that are on the mountains are God's hair, and the rivers are God's tears.


In addition to being able to see, the content and scope of mountain worship have been expanded by opening up the opportunity for the worshipers of God's religion to view the mountain as a manifestation of God.


Mongolians built their sacred mounds mainly in mountains. However, the places where Mongols built mounds were not only limited to mountains but were widely used for the purpose of marking large rivers, springs, lakes, and ponds, as well as boundaries of different regions.


A vivid historical example of this is that Presidents of Mongolia have decreed to worship at the state level overall 10 mountains so far. These are the Altai Tavan Bogd, Altan Khokhii, Burkhan Khaldun, Gobi Gurvan Saikhan, Dari Ovoo, Otgontenger, Sutai, Suvarga Khairkhan, and Khan Khokhii mountains which have unique natural formation and conserve historical and cultural tracks.


Being under special state protection these sites are visited by the President of Mongolia once in four years for worshipping along with the locals. The tradition of respecting and protecting nature has been relayed from generation to generation. Today it has been developed into a ceremony staged by the state in association with the locals and non-governmental organizations.


In 1994, the law on specially protected areas of Mongolia was approved with the aim to regulate the proper use and protection of natural heritage properties and safeguard biological diversity in protected areas. According to clauses and legal provisions of the natural and cultural heritage laws, the proposed sacred mountains are all protected within designated boundaries under one of the classifications of the state-protected areas of Mongolia. The properties are also protected under their existing provincial and local protection according to the law on the Protection of the Cultural Heritage of Mongolia.


During the communist time in Mongolia, the worship of sacred sites was banned which severely threatened its validity, but Mongolians have been actively reviving this unique tradition and teaching the young generation how to practice, respect, and behave in the ceremony.


Mongolians kept their culture and history by worshipping nature such as the mountains and rivers. Ancient Mongolians did believe in the spirit of nature, and its power and ask for protection and good luck by worshipping and giving offerings at the peak of the mountain which is considered the holiest part. This unique and ancient ritual of Mongols is listed on the list of Intangible Culture of UNESCO in 2017.


Mongolian tour itineraries involve a lot of activities which are hiking and visiting temples that are always located near the sacred mountains. Normally your guide explains to you about the sacred mountains and rivers and you can see how they show respect for the sacred sites.


During our trip, if we pass the sacred mountains, the driver normally stops for tea and coffee breaks while he shows respect.


This photo was taken during our driving break when we see the beautiful mountain.


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