The Mongols were originally nomadic herders practicing shamanism until Tibetan Buddhism was accepted as an official religion in the 16th century. The phenomenon of Mongolian shamanism is incredibly complex and not completely understood, because shamanism is not a unified religion but a set of beliefs in the spiritual relationship between nature and people. The Mongols believe in ancestors' spirits, spirits-masters of the land, heavenly beings and variety of nature spirits. The main sites of worship in the shamanistic religion of Mongolia are oboos (ovoos) - sacred piles of rocks and mountain cairns considered to be the dwelling of the master-spirit of a certain geographical area. There are also sacred trees, rocks, and mountains. When passing an oboo, it is common for Mongolians to make an offering of money, candy, or pieces of cloth. Buddhists built monasteries and stupas and adopted the sacred oboos as their own, claiming the spirits were now converted to Buddhism. Some particularly revered spirits, such as the White Old Man, were canonized as Buddhist deities. During the Communist times, most of the monasteries were destroyed, but the ubiquitous oboos still peppered the countryside. The largest monasteries today are Gandan in Ulaanbaatar and Erdene Zuu in Karakorum, and a handful of other monasteries are being built virtually from scratch.

Stupas at the Erdene Zuu
Tasgany Ovoo in Ulaanbaatar
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