Elista is one of modern Russia’s cultural and spiritual centres

“I am proud of my fellow countrymen for their creative hard work and love for their native land. We made Elista one of the important cultural and spiritual centres of modern Russia,” wrote Kirsan Ilyumzhinov on his Instagram page today.

Recently, Forbes published an article, which included the capital of Kalmykia, Elista in the list of uunderestimated cities in Russia. Jared Ranahan, a journalist for one of the world's most respected business magazines, recalled that Elista is the only city in Europe with a predominance of Buddhism. “The city is replete with richly decorated Buddhist temples and is famous for its love of chess,” the author writes.
I must say that Buddhist temples appeared in Elista relatively recently, at the beginning of the 2000s, and the world learned about the enormous love of chess for Kalmyk residents thanks to the 33rd World Chess Olympiad. It is impossible to overestimate the contribution of the first president of Kalmykia, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, to the development of culture, religion and sport in the steppe republic.


After the Stalinist repressions and the eviction of Kalmyks in 1943, the revival of Buddhism in Kalmykia began in the early 90s, when Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was elected president.

A significant event in the religious life of Kalmykia was the first visit of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, which took place in the summer of 1991 and gave a powerful impetus to the development of Buddhism in the republic. Due to the constant support of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov – both financial and organizational - over forty Buddhist religious buildings were built.
In the autumn of 1992, the Dalai Lama visited the republic again. A significant event for the Buddhists of Kalmykia was the opening in 1996 of the Syakusn-Sume Khurul in Elista. The new temple became the centre of the spiritual life of the republic. The most important event of recent years was the third visit to Kalmykia of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in 2004, also organized by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.
Another major event in the life of the Buddhists of Kalmykia was the opening at the end of 2005 of a new temple in Elista The Golden Abode of Shakyamuni Buddha, which is the largest Buddhist temple in Europe today.
It is important to note that the Golden Shakyamuni Buddha Monastery was built with the blessing of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (the Dalai Lama consecrated a place for construction during the visit in 2004). Khurul was built in record time, in just nine months.
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov contributed personal funds for its construction, and made many efforts to attract additional funds. Residents of all regions of Kalmykia, regardless of religious affiliation or belief, made donations for the construction of the shrine. On 19 September 2011, by the decision of the highest hierarchs of Amarapur Mahanikai of Sri Lanka, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov became the keeper of the relics of the founder of Buddhism, Buddha Shakyamuni. The relics were deposited in the Central Khurul of Kalmykia.
Thus, under Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Elista acquired a Buddhist flavour, which attracted tourists. The Golden Gate Arch - a masterpiece of Buddhist architecture - was built in citizens’ favourite resting place. The ‘sacred lotus’ fountain based on the Kalachakra mandala is a hexagonal rotunda with a white marble Buddha statue. ‘The Pagoda of Seven Days’ is one of the most picturesque constructions of Elista. The guests of Kalmykia instantly see that they are in the capital of the Buddhist republic.
But, of course, it was the 33rd World Chess Olympiad in 1998 that brought world fame to Kalmykia and, in particular, Elista. It was made possible owing to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who at that time was the head of Kalmykia and president of International Chess Federation FIDE.
Such a grand competition, which was attended by about two thousand chess players arrived from nearly 120 countries of the world, was held on Kalmyk land for the first time. Chess lovers of Kalmykia have never seen so many players, who included 171 grandmasters and 132 international masters.
Never before has the steppe republic been in the focus of such attention. For almost three weeks, the attention of the entire world was riveted to a small steppe republic. In the Russian Federation, except Kalmykia, only Moscow was honoured with the right to be the mistress of such epoch-making competitions.
City Chess was built especially for the Olympics in a record short time, in just a year and a half. Today it is one of the main attractions and a hallmark of Elista. In addition, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov organized another six Russian championships for men and eight Russian championships for women.
FIDE programme “Chess in Schools”, developed and implemented by Kirsan Nikolayevich, which includes chess in the programme of secondary schools, has shown the positive experience of Kalmykia. It is being adopted in the USA, China and EU countries today.

Saglara Ubusheeva