Kalmyk version of the “Prayer for Rebirth in Sukhāvatī”, the paradise of Buddha Amitābha

Kalmyk version of the “Prayer for Rebirth in Sukhāvatī”, the paradise of Buddha Amitābha

Gilyana Nidyulina-Honikel

(53rd Annual Meeting of the PIAC, St. Petersburg 2010)

Our lecture presents the project and its outcomes as well as some case studies basing on the archive materials.The paper deals with a Kalmyk version of the “Prayer for Rebirth in Sukhāvatī”, the paradise of Buddha Amitābha. It belongs to a collection of prayers recited by Kalmyk lay women during a ceremony commonly called “Reciting Mani”. Here mani does not mean the mantra of Avalokitśvara, oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ, but simply “prayer”.

This ceremony is typical for the Buzawa Don Kalmyks. It is still alive in Elista, although only a few old women still practice it as a consequence of religious persecution during Soviet times. It is also known to the Kalmyk emigrants in the USA, but there its practice came to an end.

In 2008 I went to Elista in order to collect materials about the Mani prayer ceremony. There I succeeded in finding one printed and one type-written text book and I was even lucky enough to attend a performance of the ceremony and to have it filmed. In 2009 I visited the Kalmyk communities in Howell, New Jersey, and in Philadelphia, where I could collect additional information from people who still had some knowledge of the Mani ceremony. In Howell I found a third version of the Mani prayer texts. Both in Elista and in the States I was helped by learned Tibetan lamas to identify the prayers and to solve textual problems.

The three collections, consisting of altogether 54 texts, are basically identical, although some of the prayers are present in one collection and missing in the other. They are, for the most part, hymns of praise of Buddhist deities and saints and pleas for protection and help. The majority of the texts are in Tibetan, written in Cyrillic transcription, but there are also some in Kalmyk or both in Kalmyk and Tibetan. The Tibetan wording and writing is understandably very much distorted, since the texts were obviously written down by laymen who did not know Tibetan. There exist collections of prayers particularly meant for the needs of laymen also in other Mongol areas. They obviously have a long tradition. This is, for instance, proved by the archaeological finds of Olon Süme in Inner Mongolia and Xarbuxyn Balgas in Outer Mongolia, both dating back to about 1600.

The “Prayer for Rebirth in Sukhāvatī”, which in included in all the three Mani Prayer collections, is a good example for this Pan-Mongolian text tradition. It is also represented in the finds of Xarbuxyn Balgas. The Kalmyk editions have both the Tibetan and the Kalmyk texts, whereas the fragmentary Xarbuxyn Balgas text is only in Mongolian. In the present paper I want to compare the modern Kalmyk and Tibetan versions with the old Mongolian text from Xarbuxyn Balgas. I shall also briefly deal with the Cyrillic rendering of the Tibetan text und with the peculiarities of the Kalmyk translation of the prayer.