In 1580, The Prince Avtai sain Khan and his brother Tumenkhan met with the 3rd Dalai Lama and planned to establish a monastery on the ruins of Karkhorum, and the Tibetan Buddhism was declared religion of state in Mongolia. At its prime time, Erdene Zuu monastery used to be not only the center of Buddhism of Mongolia but also was a centre of intelligence and culture, where sages and academics from different countries used to gather. During the political purge, only three temples and the outer wall with the stupas remained intact. The temples were transformed in museums in 1947. After the fall of communism in 1990, the monastery became a place of worship again, where many pilgrims come to walk and gather their thoughts. Today Erdenezuu Monastery is famous for its ancient temple architecture, unique museum with rare exhibits. It’s certainly the first and oldest Buddhist monastery of Mongolia. Erdene Zuu Khiid is considered by many to be the most important monastery in the country, though no doubt it’s a shadow of what it once was. Not much is left of the fabled city But monastery is still ancient. The local souvenir shopping across from the parking would be interesting and enjoyable.
Abtai Sain Khan, ruler of the Khalkha Mongols and grandfather of Zanabazar, the first Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, ordered construction of the Erdene Zuu monastery in 1585 after his meeting with the 3rd Dalai Lama and the declaration of Tibetan Buddhism as the state religion of Mongolia. Stones from the nearby ruins of the ancient Mongol capital of Karakorum were used in its construction. Planners attempted to create a surrounding wall that resembled a Tibetan Buddhist rosary featuring 108 stupas (108 being a sacred number in Buddhism), but this objective was probably never achieved. The monastery’s temple walls were painted, and the Chinese-style roof covered with green tiles.
The monastery was damaged in 1688 during one of the many wars between Dzungars and Khalkha Mongols. Locals dismantled the wooden fortifications of the abandoned monastery. It was rebuilt in the 18th century and by 1872 had a full 62 temples and housed up to 1000 monks.
According to tradition, in 1745 a local Buddhist disciple named Bunia made several unsuccessful attempts to fly with a device he invented similar to parachute.
In 1939 the Communist leader Khorloogiin Choibalsan ordered the monastery destroyed, as part of a purge that obliterated hundreds of monasteries in Mongolia and killed over ten thousand monks. Three small temples and the external wall with the stupas survived the initial onslaught and by 1944 Joseph Stalin pressured Choibalsan to maintain the monastery along with Gandantegchinlen Monastery in Ulaanbaatar as a showpiece for international visitors, such as U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace, to prove that the communist regime allowed freedom of religion. In 1947 the temples were converted into museums and for the four decades that followed Gandantegchinlen Khiid Monastery became Mongolia’s only functioning monastery.
After the fall of Communism in Mongolia in 1990, the monastery was turned over to the lamas and Erdene Zuu again became a place of worship. Today Erdene Zuu remains an active Buddhist monastery as well as a museum that is open to tourists.
On a hill outside the monastery sits a stone phallus called Kharkhorin Rock. The phallus is said to restrain the sexual impulses of the monks and ensure their good behavior.