Russian Buddhists mark new year

by Olga Lipich, RIA Novosti, Feb 9, 2005

MOSCOW, Russia -- On Wednesday, Russian Buddhists will be celebrating New Year - the Year of the Hen. "February 9 is the first day in the new year according to the lunar calendar that we stick to," said Sanjey Lama, a representative of the Buddhist traditional school (sangha) of Moscow.

He added that according to the 12-year cycle of the Oriental tradition, this will be the year of Hen (last year was the year of Monkey).

"It is believed that the New Year begins at 6 am. On New Year's night, Buddhists gather in their temples and monasteries, and pray for welfare, good harvest, peace and calm in the coming year. Besides, believers order prayer for the entire year. This is the religious meaning of the holiday," said Sanjey-Lama.

After the sunset, pieces of fabric are ritually burnt to take away the whole evil of the outgoing year.

"At 6 am, Buddhists who gather in temples greet each other with white scarves (hadags) made of silk or cotton. This is a symbol of pure thoughts and good wishes," stressed Sanjey-Lama.

Besides, Buddhists go to see each other in the morning. The New Year table is served with fruit and vegetables as well as "white" (milk) food and meat (lamb or beef). Chicken, Sanjey-Lama says, is not popular in Buddhist regions.

The most widespread New Year presents are Buddha images and various souvenirs.

According to the Buddhist traditional sangha, about a million Russian people are Buddhists. They live mostly in Kalmykia (to the northwest of the Caspian), Buryatia, Tuva, Altai, the Ust-Ordynsky autonomous area and the Chita region on the border with Mongolia and northern China.

According to sources, the holiday of the White Moon - Sagaalgan - has been celebrated by Mongolian people since the 13th century on the order of Genghiz Khan's grandson, Kublai Khan, and marks the end of the hard winter season for the cattle and the advent of spring.

In Soviet times of militant atheism, this holiday was banned.