Sangiin Dalai

Site introduction

Sangiin Dalai monastery is located in Nomgon sum in Ömnö Gobi aimag, 120km from Dalanzadgad, the administrative center. This was an important town on one of the main trading routes between China and Mongolia. The local community has initiated the project to regain a center for religious activities and practice, and have been supported by their local member of parliament. The Mongolian NGO Consensus, led by a member of the Mongolian parliament, and supported by the local governor and the German donor agency Misereor expressed their interest in the project and invited THF for implementation.

Sangiin Dalai monastery was founded by lama Uizen Rimpoche. Construction of the main temple, Tsogchin dugan, started in 1772. More buildings were added during the 19th century, and the monastery complex was surrounded by a wall with gates to the east, west and south. The six extant buildings correspond to a variety of architectural styles: Chinese, Tibetan and hybrid. They were arranged symmetrically around the central building, the Tsogchin dugan. An important source of information on the monastery's original design was a former monk, Dügerdorj, who had studied here before the repression.

Site condition

Six historic buildings are preserved, and the entire complex has been reduced in size by a new wall separating the surviving buildings from the former main entrance area.

The original south gate is not extant.

The six extant buildings are generally in poor condition, but compared with the destruction inflicted on most other Mongolian monasteries, they still constitute a very important reservoir of historic art and architecture.

During our architectural survey of the site, we found in both Tibetan and Chinese style buildings Chinese writing on timber frame elements. It is common practice among Chinese and Tibetan craftsmen to write in their own language on completed timber elements where these should be placed. We can conclude that many of the builders of Sangiin Dalai were Chinese artisans, who were also versed in Tibetan-style construction.

1 Dooroviin dugan (Chinese style, brick walls with gabled roof)

The building itself still in good condition, but the walls have some cracks and holes. The interior timber frame is damaged and needs restoration. The top floor Chinese style roof structure was destroyed in the 1930s, we have made plans to reconstruct it. All the original window frames and the wooden floor boards are missing. The interior paintings have been damaged by roof leakage. Many roof tiles are missing or broken.

2 Judamiin dugan (Tibetan style, brick walls around timber frame with flat roof)

The north and east side walls are in poor condition due to cracks and erosion. The original doors and window frames are missing. The wooden ceiling structure is heavily damaged by rot, the two beams are broken, and all rafters need to be replaced. The roof is heavily leaking. Many original bricks and decorative tiles are missing. There are still original paintings and carvings on the timber frame elements, especially on the pillar capitals and beams.

3 Duinkhoriin dugan (Mixed Tibetan and Chinese style, brick walls with gabled roof and Tibetan-style interior timber frame)

This is the largest surviving building. The north and west side walls are badly eroded. The building consists of three distinct parts, a Chinese-style porch with gabled roof, a Tibetan-style assembly hall of six pillars (with red decorative frieze and Tibetan windows on the outside) and a Chinese-style sanctum with gabled roof and round Chinese windows.

The central assembly hall has the most interesting decoration, the pillar capitals and beams are carved and painted in Tibetan style Unfortunately, due to leakage, the wooden ceiling structure is heavily damaged by rot and needs extensive replacement. The roof needs a new drainage system. Most of the roof tiles of the porch area and many of those above the sanctum area tiles are missing or damaged.

The historic paintings are damaged by leakage and need cleaning and conservation. The original doors and windows are missing.

4 Taptsang (Tibetan style, brick wall with flat roof)

This building was the former monastic kitchen, serving the main assembly hall to the east of which it is located It escaped destruction in 1974 when the hall, the Tsogchin dugan, burnt down. It has six pillars and a Tibetan-style porch.

The building condition is poor, parts of the roof have collapsed and many bricks and tiles are missing, and so are the original window frames. There have been several structural alterations and previous repair attempts in the past.

5 Khailaniin dugan (Chinese style with gabled roof and Tibetan-style timber frame and paintings)

This building is basically in sound condition, but a roof lantern in Chinese style is missing since it was removed in the 1930s. The original door and window frames are missing. The original paintings on walls and timber frame have been covered with white paint, but most of them can be recovered.

6 Güüregiin dugan (Chinese style with gabled roof and Tibetan-style paintings)

This building corresponds closely to Khailaniin dugan, and is in comparable condition, with additional wall damage on the north side. The roof lantern is missing.

The original door and window frames are missing, the timber frame is well preserved.

Building skills training program

Since 2004, THF has been working in Mongolia, based in Ulaanbaatar as well as in the Ömnö Gobi aimag. Apart from restoring a historic monastery complex, our aim was to revive traditional architectural skills. With the help of Chinese and Tibetan experts, we have conducted vocational training and built up a small work force, as well as a local brick and tile manufacture. In order to restore Sangiin Dalai monastery, we have trained members of the local community to carry out the work.

After conducting extensive site surveys, including social and environmental studies, we made a plan for the restoration of the monastic buildings, and a list of necessary materials and skills. We also identified which skills were not locally available.

Our findings led to three important conclusions:

i People were leaving the area looking for jobs in the capital city because there are no jobs in the area. The area was structurally deficient.

ii Local people’s skills were very poor.

iii Nothing was produced in the area, which is after all part of the Gobi desert. Everything except for coal from a nearby mine needed to be brought from the capital (700km) or from China (200km, this being a border crossing point only infrequently open).

Setting up local manufacturing of brick and tiles

Building a kiln

A key point was to be the manufacturing of Chinese-style grey baked bricks and roof tiles. We found the ruins of an old kiln, indicating that probably until the mid-20th century, these bricks and tiles had been made on site. We also found some local people were still producing some bricks, but these were of very poor quality as no proper kiln was used.

We planned to build a proper kiln, and train Mongolian brick makers. Only local materials should be used, and the Gobi's environment not compromised in any way.

To start the building of the kiln four families were identified as participants (Mongolian life is centered around the family and it is hard to have people from different families working together). Each family sent two members. We brought in Chinese brick makers from Tianjin to help building the kiln and teach the local Mongolian participants step by step how to make bricks and tiles.

The location of the kiln needs to be near a source of water supply, usually a well. Then we decided on the size of the oven. There are three standard sizes: large (8m in diameter), medium (3m in diameter) and small (about 1.5 meter in diameter). The oven that we built in Sangiin Dalai is about medium size, 2.80m in diameter, 4m high, with the capacity to burn between 6.000 to 10.000 bricks at a time. Sun-baked mud bricks, old fired blue bricks and earth were used to build the walls. To get the necessary amount of bricks, we used only some of the locally manufactured bricks of poor quality, we also 'borrowed' blue bricks that local families had collected from the destroyed temple that was burnt down in the 70’s. After the first successful brick production, the new bricks were given to those families that had lent us bricks.

We erected a ger (Mongolian tent) to provide accommodation for the Chinese brick makers and the local trainees, and built a storeroom out of rammed earth for tools and coal.

local Mongolian team finishing the decoration of one of the restored temple buildingsIn 2005-2006, in the first phase of year, the kiln was completed. The Chinese expert taught how to find the different soils and clays to make the different kinds of products, how to mix it and how to get the best results from each. After the first bricks, tiles and decorative roof tiles were made, the kiln was fired for the first time. Bricks and tiles were successfully baked during eight days and seven nights.
In total 94 dragon and phoenix tiles, 56 handmade flower tiles, 76 flower tiles cast by mould, 15332 roof tiles of 4 different kinds and 11500 bricks were made.
Restoration of Judamiin duganIn 2004, wood was purchased for carpentry work and left to dry. In the first phase of the carpentry-training program in 2005, rafters for two buildings were prepared. More wood was bought, especially for beams and boards for the floors and ceilings.
Restoration of Tibetan-style window at Judamiin duganThe carpentry work at the Taptsang building has been completed: a new roof structure was made and the wooden floor was restored. In the porch, the old Tibetan-style pillars were repaired, straightend and used again.
In Duinkhoriin dugan, the damaged timber elements (eg. rafters and boards) were replaced. Pillars and beams were straightened, and in some cases replaced. Timber elements with stylized dragons and flowers for the porch were carved on site. 100 rafters were planed, and the Gyapi (canopy-style) missing roof-structure was reconstructed.
An artist from the county seat, Dalanzagad, documented the old paintings in Sangiin Dalai.
28 local people participated in finishing the kiln and collecting necessary local materials.
17 people participated in the manufacturing of bricks and tiles and decorative dragons, 10 have picked up basic skills for running the brick manufacture in the future.
Seven local people participated in the carpentry project, three were successfully trained.
The project was implemented in cooperation with the Ulaanbaatar-based local NGO Consensus, and their president Mr. Oyunbaatar (who is from the region).

Panoramic view of the completed Sangiin Dalai monastery in Mongolia, restored by THF
On September 9th 2007, the local government, the local community and THF jointly celebrated the completion of the 4-year-long rehabilitation of the monastery.
THF successfully completed the goals established at the beginning of the project that were: training of a local Mongolian team in the skills of building a kiln, burning and making bricks and tiles, tiles and bricks masonry, carpentry structural and decorative workshop, traditional painting workshop, and rehabilitate the six historical buildings of Sangiin Dalai monastery and promoting income to this rural area and create job opportunities for the local people and help them integrate in the new socials and political changing.

The local community and media from Ulaan-Bataar joined the celebration of the completion of THF's restoration of Sangiin Dalai monastery in MongoliaIn 2007, the last tiles and bricks were produced by the local team: 6000 roof tiles of different designs, 300 decorative flower bricks and 10000 blue bricks. The Guuregiin dugan roof was re-tiled, the porches, foundations and walls of all 6 buildings were repaired. The inner floor of Dooroviin dugan was paved with blue bricks exclusively by local trainees. The Duinkhoriin dugan floor, the central path and the backside hall were paved with blue bricks. The damaged interior wall was plastered and smoothed by local masons, and flat roofs were waterproofed with lime plaster.
Carpentry workshops were active in all six buildings; mostly interiors and decorative woodwork, wooden floorings, replacing missing missing doors and windows.
All historic paintings on timber frames were cleaned and preserved or restored
THF Mongolia project manager Pimpim de Azevedo being honored by the governor of Nomgun Sum for the restoration of Sangiin Dalai monasteryOver 80 local people participated directly in various training programs to learn sufficient skills to perform their trade. The six historical buildings were fully restored and are ready to be used by the local community. The local community organized by Mr. Bayan Saikhan and Mrs. Byampasuren contributed volunteer work, we are grateful to the local doctors and hospital team, the mayor’s staff, the school teachers and the director, the kindergarten workers, the army and the electricity team, post office and private individuals.

Choijin Lama performed the re-consecration of Sangiin Dalai monasteryThe Nomgon Sum Mayor Mr. Bayan Saikhan organized a special Naadam festival on the 15th of August to celebrate the important event. Later he and the director of Consensus (our NGO counterpart in Mongolia) organized an official finishing celebration on 1st of September 2007. Choijin Lama, currently the highest-ranking lama in Mongolia, was invited to perform the consecration together with monks from Dalanzagdad. Many people from Nomgon Sum and other areas of Mongolia came for the celebration. Representatives of the South Gobi province government were present and gave speeches; MISEREOR was represented by Mr. Jan Felgentreu and Mr. Bold. THF colleagues Yutaka Hirako & André Alexander visited, Yutaka participated in the celebration.

In 2007, most of the local participants in the training program were women, among which the following became the most qualified: Mrs. Boldma became a skilled mason in wall construction and tile roofing, Mrs. Tsetsegma skilled in all steps of making brick and tiles, Mrs. Nergui with skills on roofing and wall plastering, Mrs. Byampasuren (a trained economist) is a qualified project manager that THF hopes can be in charge of running the bricks and tiles manufactory with the team trained by THF. Mr. Ankha has learned basic skills as traditional painter, learning traditional patterns and how to mix colours for interior painting decoration.

THF team
THF Mongolia Sangiin Dalai team 2007
THF Mongolia Sangiin Dalai restoration team 2007
THF’s co-director Ms. Pimpim de Azevedo (Portugal) project management and restoration plan; Mrs. Byampasuren (Nomgun Sum, local project coordinator); Mr. Danilo Thiedemann (German carpenter), with assistance of Mr. Yutaka Hirako (China project manager), Mr. Nyima Tsering (assitant project coordinator) and Mr. Lundrup Dorje (Beijing office manager).

For finalizing the crafts and training program, THF invited experts from different fields:
Mr. Zhao Cang and Mr. Chen Bingtai from Qinghai Province China for burning kiln.
Mr. Danilo Thiedemann (Germany), Mr. Ziba, Mr. Shawo Tsering, Mr. Lengbao and Mr. Laxia (Tibetans) from Qinghai Province China for carpentry workshop.
Mr. Xu Changshou, Mr. Tseden from Qinghai Province China and Mr. Yang Shunli from Tianjin China, for masonry training program.
Mr. La Riben and Mr. Lajia (Tibetans) from Qinghai Province China, for the traditional painting program.
Mr. Amuritegusi from Inner Mongolia for translator and project coordinator.
Volunteers: Ms. Yayoi Takada (architect/Japan) and Ms. Rei Takahashi (painter/Japan) participated in site documentation and in the painting program.

Mongolian team
THF team visits Naadam festival held in honor the completed restoration
Carpenters: Jargal, Migmar and Ulan Bataar.
Bricks manufacturing, firing the kiln and masonry work: Mrs. Tsetsegmaa, Mrs, Nergui, Mrs. Solongo, Mrs. Ogtonchuluun, Mrs. Erdene Chimeg, Mrs. Boldma, Mrs. Enkhtuya, Mrs. Suger, Mrs. Munkhchimeg, Mr. Munkhbat and, Mr. Boldo, Mrs. Enkhjargal , Mr. Ganbold and Mr.Batsuren, Ms. Wanden Dulma, Ms. Sarantsetseg, and Mr. Naranbat and Mrs. Undrakchimeg, Mr. Saganchuluun and Khoohtoi.
Traditional Painting program: Ankha and Munkhod participated in the painting program together with 2 Tibetan teachers.

This project was supported by MISEREOR (Germany), the Rattray-Kimura Foundation (USA) and Ms Jane Huang.

More details can be found in our book about Traditional Mongolian Architecture on the publications page and our Sangiin Dalai Restoration report.

Copyright, Tibet Heritage Fund