Chamanes et Lama Mongolie (Various Artists) Ocora C 560059 (recorded 1991/2/3)

This CD does not feature any Mongolian Khőőmii. However it is one of the only releases where you can here some actual shamanic ritual. The vocal imitations, connections to nature and the spirit world link it to Khőőmii and this is where its value lies. There are also two Mongolian Buddhist Rituals recorded at the dawn of the revival of Buddhist in Mongolia after many years oppression and persecution.


1. “Shamanic voyage"  19’01’’by Mrs. Balzir a Darqad Mongol, 81 years old.

Object of the trance: to obtain the good‑will of the spirits towards a favourable trip for our expedition. The séance takes place in the middle of the night, by the light of two candles in the shaman's hut. The family, parents and children, is present and stay completely silent. The eldest daughter helps her mother put on the shaman's costume and then brings her drum on a wide frame, decorated on the inside with a wealth of multicoloured fragments of material. Balzir stays on her knees for the entire séance, in the northern part of the hut. The séance begins with the invocation of the spirits of her ancestors. The latter show their contentment through melodious songs (In a pentatonic mode) sung several times, and laughter. Imitations of animals (mainly the bear) and bird (the cuckoo) cries can be heard, the shaman's allies, along with heavy breathing symbolic manifestations of the souls. At the end of the séance the eldest daughter intervenes to help her mother stand up. (Recorded on August 1992)


2. ”Shananic voyage" 19’36’’by Mr Tseren a Buriat Mongol, 70 years old.

Object of the trance to obtain the healing of a sick child from the spirits.

Parents, worried about the health of their daughter just admitted to hospital, come to Shaman Tseren to ask him for a “therapeutic séance”. The shaman officiates in a little one‑roomed wood and clay house. Facing north, an altar with Buddhist statuettes and silver cups. Two assistant, are around him. One helps him to prepare himself, pouring holy water on his hands and preparing the juniper incense. The other heats the drum‑skin over the central stove. A membranophone on a flat frame, its skin is painted green and decorated with numerous little metallic accessories, with fragments of multicoloured material on each side and on the internal handle. To start, the shaman takes an alcoholic libation (vodka) over his drum, then strikes the drum with a stick fitted with metallic rings, while one of his assistants arranges his hair, masking his face. Prayers and invocations are recited in a mono-chordal voice with all inflection towards the low register at the beginning of each verse. A melodic refrain intervenes regularly, repeated by the people attending. (Recorded on August 1991; extract


3. Office of "Tchogtchin Qural", Erdeni Zuu Monastery. 13’30’’

First to be heard on the recording is a call on conches, opening the ceremony. This is quite a common office, called “Tchogthin Qural”, or thirty‑two prayers. Recitation is regularly accentuated by the ringing of bells qonq and the beating of sand‑drumss damaru, and, with more time in between, by oboes, bishguur. (Recorded July1992 )


4. Office of "Qailangiyn Qural", Gandan Monastery. 17’32

This is an annual ceremony of offerings, marking, for the Mongols, the passing from summer to autumn. In Tibetan it is called "Bskang‑bsktul" (“Satisfaction and Exhortation"). The office is here presented as an ensemble of fifteen bodies of prayers, after which is announced a series of forty‑five ordinary offices in honour of the terrible god Beg‑tse [Sanskrit], or Dhamsran or yet Ulan Saqius [Mong. spoken], a defender of religion and formidable slaughterer of evil powers. Of a red colour, he is bedecked with a breastplate and jewels. A diadem of five human skulls on his head, he wears a necklace of human heads and a solar disc on his breast, and is armed with a sabre, a bow and arrows. Then this office announces a succession of forty‑five ordinary offices.

The assembled faithful comprise, about eighty monks with the full ritual orchestra: qong (dril‑bu in Tibetan) and damaru sand‑druma whipped with little balls: gandon short horns, formerly made out of human femur, but now out of copper and silver, tsagaan buree conches; kengerek two‑skinned drums on a frarne, tsam mamelon cymbals and tselnim large cymbals; gongs: bishguur oboes and urt buree (dim‑chen) long horns.

(Recorded on Seplember 1993; extract from the t 41h body of prayers made up of the Invocations to the Protectors: White Mahakala, Dharmaraja, Lhamo,


Alain DESJACQUES Paris, September 1994


Shamans and Lamas

The religious music of Mongolia is relatively unknown in the West. Musicians, specialists, along with music-lovers and oral tradition music fans, are unable to hear and become acquainted with aspects of a religious musical culture of great singularity and diversity, simply through the lack of discographical material in the field. Yet the importance of shamanism and lamaism in this country's religious history is well‑known as are the close links of Mongol Buddhism with Tibet.

This album is a modest presentation of the two fundamental aspects of contemporary religious music, Shamanism on the one hand, in its diverse forms and the, Buddhist ritual on the other.

            A very ancient Popular religion of Mongolia, Shamanism, repressed over a long period of time, and often violently by Lamaism, then condemned by the communists has Succeeded in not being wiped out completely. Today shamans number only half a dozen elderly men and women for the most Part. But on the decease of one of them, their succession is not always assured.

The term Shaman comes from the Tungus šaman meaning a person or who intermediates between the human world and the spirit world. On Mongol he is called either bőő (man) or utgan (woman), and officiates during what is called a “shamanic séance” in which he goes into a trance. To the sound of the drum which he strikes regularly, a kind of symbolic support, his soul begins to “travel, incarnating in turn spirits familiar to him: this will be his allies in defending himself and/or fighting evil Spirits in the supernatural, both in the superior sphere (heaven) and in the inferior one (hell). The object of all this is generally a magic healing, aiming at a re established, just social order functioning well again, after having been disturbed by the bad influence of evil supernatural spirits on the human world. But the shaman can also intervene in the magical therapeutic healing of a sick person. Such are the various contexts of this “voyage” which the shaman "relates" as he strikes his drum, changing rhythms to evoke different sequences.  

In today's Mongolia there are two styles of shamanic performance. One, which could be called the "Siberian type', seems to have been sheltered from other religious influences, most probably due to the impenetrable nature of this part of the world. This style springs from a dramatic source and is not without a scenic dimension. Able to be compared with descriptions; known mainly since the19th century, of similar séances in Siberia, the "Siberian genre" is found in the northern most region of Mongolia, among the Darqad and the Tsaatan. The shaman sings in a manner generally incomprehensible to his listeners, using his voice in registers, expressions and styles as contrasting as they are unexpected. Imitations of animal noises, laughter, rattling in the throat, heavy breathing, invocations, recitatives and melodic refrains are blended together and then alternation is the framework for the unfolding of the séance. This genre is illustrated in Track a shaman  (utgan) of darqad origins.

The other form of Shamanism, which could be called the "Lama genre", is found in the East of the country, with the Buriat Mongols. This is more of a syncretism between Shamanism and Lamaisrn. It is based on a selection of prayers, most of which are written. Although the language used is at times hard to understand, the texts are structured and show all the aspects of Mongol prosody and poetic style: initial alliteration, phonetic and semantic parallelism, etc. This type of shamanic séance is presented in Track no 2 by a shaman (bőő) of Buriat origins.

Although their religions heritage was Shamanism, the peoples of Mongolia were very soon brought into contact with their neighbouring countries adhering to Sino‑Indian Buddhism, especially during the real conquests of Genhis Khan in the 13th century. Buit the definitive conversion of Mongols to Buddhism was to occur only in the 16th century. Under the influence of their sovereign Altan Khan (1543‑1582), Tibetan Buddhism, in its Lama form, reformed by Tsong‑Kha‑Pa (1356‑1419), a sect called the “Yellow Bonnets” (Dge‑lugs‑pa) was to become a real spiritual force of Mongolia, and at the same time a theocratic power which governed the country until the turn of the 20th century. Mongolian culture was "tibetized” and Mongolia governed by a religious head, the Jebtsundamba Qutugtu of Urga, himself aTibetan, whose reincarnation was found each time in Tibet.

Buddhism considerably influenced traditional Mongol culture and left rich architectural evidence of this in its temples and monasteries (the two most famous monasterial complexes of Gandan and Erdeni Zuu for example), along with masterworks of literature and manuscripts of Tibetan inspiration. Right up until the thirties, Mongolia had about 750 religious edifices of which only twenty or so have survived, more or less well preserved. Throughout the Communist regime only the Gandan monastery was kept in use.

Given these conditions, the usefulness of these recordings can be gauged better. The first example of liturgical music, proposed in Track no.3. was collected at the Erdeni Zuu monastery in Karakorum, the former Mongol capital. This monastic complex is the second, after Gandan, to still be in working order. Recently opened for worship, it has forty‑odd monks, most or who had to renounce their vocation for nearly sixty years.

The second ceremony (Track no. 4), recorded in the Gandan monastery, demonstrates the vivacity of this ancient tradition. Indeed, the “Mongol interpretation" of the Tibetan ritual is of great relevance to those interested in the religious music of this part of the world.


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