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                                      Kalmucks and the Wheel
                                          Dr. H. Klar
  There in no Buddhist symbol better known throughout the whole Buddhist world than the "Wheel of the Doctrine".  In Western countries we see the "Symbol of the Wheel" not only on the covers of Buddhist books, but also on the few Buddhist buildings. What is more interesting although less known even to Buddhist, is the fact that there is living in Central Europe an ethnological group which has been Buddhist for centuries - the Buddhist community of Kalmucks in Belgrade. After the first World War, they emigrated from the steppes of southern Russia to Yugoslavia and brought the Buddhist Symbol of the Wheel from the river Don to the Danube.

In 1944 I visited the Buddhist Temple of the Kalmyks in Belgrade. When I asked the direction, people told me "in the Buddhist street, of course". Already I saw from afar the white temple over the little colony of Kalmyks. Behind the simple exterior I expected no art treasures and over the door of the garden, I saw a plate made of  wood with some lines in Tibetan writing. Over  the entrance was the "Wheel of the Doctrine" and on either side of the Wheel , a gazelle.

In a wing dwelt the Kalmyk priest. He kindly invited me to enter his little lodging and prepared a courteous reception. I had a cordial conversation with that priest who spoke about the adventures of the Kalmyks during the long travel from the Don to the Danube. He showed me some of the small, neat houses of the Kalmucks and an old woman, who was weaving, showed me some of the material she had made.

From the priest's lodging, we entered the Temple by a side door through a meeting hall.
I was astonished to observe many pictures, statues and other articles arranged on the side 
opposite the main entrance, which I may call the altar side, although there is, of course, no
'altar' in a Buddhist temple. From the 'altar' you look through the main entrance to the south as in all Tibetan temples. With spontaneous kindness, the Kalmyk priest demonstrated everything. On the altar side are no less than sixteen Tibetan pictures; the three in the center of the wall can be compared with the best pieces of Tibetan art in the museums of Paris.

In the middle of the wall sits a big Nepalese Buddha and on the left side a Japanese Buddha of the Amida type in the position of meditation. On the other side I recognised Tsongkapa, the reformer of Lamaism (fourteenth century).  Before the Buddha statues, I saw several censers, prayer bells,  a Tibetan Dordje (magic dagger) and a small vessels with the rice, corn and bread exposed for a symbolic purpose. In order to hear the sound of the Tibetan language I asked the priest to read some pages, which he gladly did.

Then I looked round the bright little Temple. The center of the roof is upheld by four pillars painted with Buddhist symbols including the of the 'Wheel of the Doctrine'.  I asked one of the simple Kalmyks about the meaning of the wheel painted on the pillars. His answer was: "The more you are 'turning' the wheel, the sooner you are free from wrong ideas."

 
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TOC > Klar's Collection > Report in English (part 1)