Kalmykia is the only region in Europe where Buddhism is the most practiced religion, with Buddhists being the plurality of the population.
Elista, the capital of the republic, has of late, gained an international reputation for international chess competitions.
A unique musical performance was conducted in the Republic of Kalmykia on 27 May, featuring some 700 musicians and 300 vocalists. The musical event was held in front of Kalmykia’s central khurul (temple)—the Golden Abode of Shakyamuni Buddha—as an offering to the Three Jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, and was organized during the holy month of Ur Sar, marking the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Ur Sar, known in Tibetan as Saka Dawa, takes place in the fourth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, which this year began on 16 May and ends on13 June. The main goal of the musical project is to popularize folk instruments among young Kalmykians and to bring together a large number of professional and amateur musicians, united by Buddhist values, to preserve the folklore and religious traditions of the Kalmyk people.
At the beginning of the concert, Telo Tulku Rinpoche, the shadjin (head) lama of Kalmykia and honorary representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Russia, Mongolia, and the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, extended his greetings to the musicians and the audience. Kundeling Tatsak Rinpoche, from Drepung Gomang Monastery in southern India, also participated in the opening ceremony, which included auspicious prayers by Tibetan and Kalmyk monks.
The musical program featured performances by artists from the National Orchestra of Kalmykia, teachers and students of the P. Chonkushev Art School in Elista, and musicians from various amateur groups across the republic. The artists played various traditional instruments, including thedombra (long-necked lute) and khuur (horse-head fiddle), as well as the Saratovskaya garmonika(an accordion named after the Russian city of Saratov), and violin.
The 300 vocalists taking part in the program included artists from the Anatoly Tsebekov State Choir of Kalmykia, headed by artistic director Olga Serdyukova, and more than 60 young singers conducted by choir master Natalia Dukmanova.
Singer Lidji Goryaev performed the sacred Buddhist ceremony of taking refuge, accompanied by a male and female choir who sung powerful words of prayer, symbolizing the purity and sacredness of body, speech, and mind of the Buddha, in the Pali language.
The presiding conductor for the performance was Savr Kataev, who chose the musical pieces, and prepared arrangment and the musicians. The event was organized by the Golden Abode of Shakyamuni Buddha, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the National Orchestra of Kalmykia.
The first such musical offering was initiated by Telo Tulku Rinpoche in 2015 and has since become a regular event drawing thousands Kalmyk people of different ages. The first performance was held in July 2015, marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Golden Abode of Shakyamuni Buddha and the 80th birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Three hundred musicians participated in 2015, rising to 500 in 2016, and to a record 1,000 this year.
After the dissolution of the USSR, Kalmykia kept the status of an autonomous republic within the newly formed Russian Federation (effective March 31, 1992).