Memorial Ritual to Chinggis Khan – Alive and Well in America
(A tribute to Gombojab Hangin, Tsorj Lama and Lobsang Khiyod)
The Mongol-American Cultural Association (MACA), founded by Gombojab Hangin,
Tsorj Lama and Lobsang Khiyod, held its first Chinggis Khan memorial ceremony in 1988.
The three original founders have since passed away, but the annual memorial has continued
through their students. MACA’s 24th annual memorial was held on September 17, 2011 in
The ceremony is an adapted version of the Ezen Khoroo commemoration held in Southern
(Övur) Mongolia honoring the memory of the Great Khan Chinggis. The American ceremony
began with a shamanist invocation to the spirit of Chinggis Khan followed by the Nine Yamutan
(Paladins) conducting a ritual process consisting of 17 steps of offerings and recitation of
ritual texts (“Ezen Sang”, “Sarqud”, “Ocig”, “Tugel” and “Dalalga”). The texts were created
by Gombojab Hangin based on the Ezen Khoroo recitations.
After a 40-year separation from his homeland, Gombojab visited Southern Mongolia in
1986 and witnessed the Ezen Khoroo rituals, then under communist control. That experience
inspired him to make the Chinggis Khan commemoration part of the American cultural landscape. Gombojab believed that having a group of Mongols and Americans honor the memory of the Great Khan Chinggis in an open political environment was a way to preserve this important tradition free of foreign influence.
The Nine Paladins (ritual officiants) of the 24th annual celebration were for the first time
comprised of Mongols from the six major regions of Northern and Southern Mongolia, Hazara
Afghanistan, Tuva, Buryatia and Kalmykia. This gathering of individuals from the different
areas of significant Mongolian populations fulfills Gombojab’s dream of a pan-Mongol ritual.
His spirit must surely be bursting with pride in the symbolic unity of Mongols being manifested
through their cultural traditions and historical connections to Chinggis Khan.
Gombojab’s adaptation of the ritual texts was more than a simple cut-and-paste. In a desire
to return to the original shamanist roots, he removed all Buddhist references. He also modified
and added language acknowledging a diverse Mongol community consisting of people from
all the Mongol communities, anticipating that one day a celebration such as this would come
to pass. Equally important, Gombojab was mindful of the forces of assimilation confronting
a Mongol-American community living in the greatest melting pot of modern times. He conceived the ceremony as a force of preservation. In his adaptation of the ritual texts, Gombojab expressed in the purest of cultural terms his love for his adopted country, as well as his abiding love for his Mongol roots and homeland.
In honoring the memory of Chinggis Khan, MACA pays homage to the three founders of
this American commemoration. Together they led the first ceremony and shared it with us to
continue a tradition that arose from their hearts and souls. They could not have made a greater
contribution to their community or to their adopted country.
The 25th Annual Chinggis Khan Ceremony will be held Saturday, November 10, 2012 in
Princeton, New Jersey.
(Sanj Altan, President, Mongol-American Cultural Association)