The Buddhist Temple is one of the oldest structures in the New Village area. It was built in early 20th century on Esplanade Avenue (91 Primorski Avenue). Gavriil Baranovsky, the temple’s architect, worked together with a prominent Buddhist scholar Agwan-Khamba, who came St. Petersburg from Lhasa expressly for this purpose.
The outcome is a unique example of Tibetan architecture. The walls of the rectangular temple are faced with rough chipped granite of a lilac hue, and topped by an entablature of red and dark blue glazed bricks with white rings. The main facade is decorated with a portico of four square columns, topped with capitals of dark bronze. The design of the portico incorporates traditional religious symbols of Buddhism Decoration - an eight-Curved Circle with figures of gazelles standing on the sides. The abundance and richness of color is characteristic of medieval Tibetan architecture.
Asiatic culture is also represented in St. Petersburg, but not on the Nevsky… In the suburb of Novaia Derevnaia a Lamaist temple has been built , recalling the fact that the eyes of Buriats on the frontiers of Mongolia and Kalmyks in the steppes of the Lower Volga are turned towards St. Petersburg. It is only since the pro mulgation of the Toleration Edict that it has been possible to build in St. Petersburg the mosque and the temple, these emblems of the extension of the Russian power into the world of Islam and into the Buddhist region.
Russia of the Russians, Harold Williams, 1910
Officially Buddhism was recognized in Russia by Empress Elizabeth. This was due to the fact that in the Lower Volga and Trans-Baikal lived many nations who professed the religion: Kalmyks, Tuvans,and Buryats. And today, the Republic of Buryatia is the center of Buddhism.
By the beginning of the XX century there was an increased interest in the culture of Buddhist countries. St. Petersburg was the epicenter of that interest. Leading scientists in Buddhism, such as Sergei Fedorovich Oldenburg, Nicholas Roerich, and Fedor Stcherbatsky studied Buddhist texts and wrote scientific works that received international recognition. This period marks the emergence of the Buddhist community in St. Petersburg, and so it became necessary to build a datsan for believers. Originally Roerich had an idea to build the temple in Bombay and then transport it to Saint Petersburg. This idea was never implemented, because required huge funds.
The Buddhist temple in Saint Petersburg owes its existence to its founder and first abbot, a talented scientist and diplomat Aghvan Dorzhiev. On the wall of the fence, on the inside, in our days, there is a memorial plaque in memory of the man. He received an excellent education in Tibet and was a spiritual mentor and confidant of the Dalai Lama the 13th. As a diplomatic representative of the Dalai Lama, he came in 1908 to St. Petersburg, and a year later appealed to the authorities with a petition on the construction of the temple. After receiving permission, Dorzhiev purchased a plot of land near the Old Village, where in the same year he began to build the temple of the house. A large sum of money was donated for the construction of the datsan by the Dalai Lama 13th.
The selected location was fully consistent with the canons of Buddhism: datsans are always erected in the suburbs, near the water, surrounded by a beautiful garden. According to legend, this place was chosen by Dorjiev during meditation, when he saw a pillar of spiritual light, stretching up and down, connecting higher and lower worlds of the universe, where the temple stands today.
The author of the original draft was a young student of the Institute of Civil Engineers, N. M. Berezovsky, whose plan was used and developed in its architectural solution by the architect Gavriil Baranovsky. There was even a special committee consisting of renowned scholars and orientalists, who supervised the construction work and advised that famous St. Petersburg architect. The famous scientist, explorer and artist Nicholas Roerich participated in the design of the interior decoration. Many home furnishings were made and donated by Tibetan masters.
The design and construction of a Buddhist temple was the last and one of the best creations of Gavriil Baranovsky. The son of a nobleman of Odessa, Baranovsky was expelled from the Academy of Fine Arts for political reasons. After graduating from the Institute of Civil Engineers with a silver medal, he created in St. Petersburg such famous buildings as the trading house for the brothers Eliseev on Nevsky Prospekt, and the building of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society. His life ended tragically in 1920, he died of starvation.
The temple was consecrated in 1915 and received its name which translates from the Tibetan as "the source of the holy teachings of the Buddha, the compassionate to all." The first service was held in February 1913, on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the
The Buddhist temple produces a very unusual experience: despite the fact that it was built in the tradition of Tibetan architecture, there are features of northern modernity and something vaguely St Petersburgian. The datsan is surrounded by a stone wall and a gate from the south facade. These gates, according to Buddhist tradition, opened only for the solemn liturgy. They are decorated with the image of a lotus with the inscribed symbols of wind and flame and a cross.
Unfortunately, the temple was built on borrowed time. The beginning of XX century with its coups, military operations, interventions and "red terror" is one of the bloodiest and saddest chapters in the history of Russia. The buddhist monks, kindenesss being their meaning of life, left the temple, unable to withstand the chaos that reigned around. In 1919 the temple was completely looted. Only many decades later, in 1990, was the temple returned to the community of Buddhists.