Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Mongolian Buddhist monk

Lkham: The Guardian Goddess of Buddhism

In Buddhism, deities and gods are imagined as either male or female. They can appear either calm and peaceful or fierce and frantic. Generally, the more peaceful gods are the deities of harmony, aesthetics, kindness, diligence, and so on whereas the fierce ones are the guardians whose role is to threaten and daunt the demons.

Some of the most well-known goddesses in Buddhism are Tsagaan Dar Ekh (White Tara), Nogoon Dar Ekh (Green Tara), Yanjinlkham (goddess of the arts), and Baldanlkham (guardian goddess). In Mongolia, there are special rites and customs for each god and deity that are performed by religious practitioners as well as ordinary people. The following is an introduction to a unique rite for the deity Baldanlkham. This ritual dates back hundreds of years and is practiced annually with great enthusiasm and respectfulness.

Baldanlkham or Lkham is the sole female deity among the ten guardian deities who protect both Buddhism and the people by fighting against demons and evil spirits. Lkham is considered the strongest guardian deity and the only one able to vanquish the undefeatable demon. According to legend, Lkham turned herself into an evil spirit and married the demon to kill him. After getting married, she succeeded in annihilating the demon along with his son.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, religious practitioners carry out a special rite for Lkham. During the rite, monks read the dharma sutra named Tsedor Lkham all night until dawn the following day and make an offering of a tsedor, an elaborately decorated ceremonial cake. The cake offered is made of flour, butter, and sugar with beautiful, delicate shapes and colors.

Outside of the temples, most families also provide an offering to Lkham at their homes as a gesture of hospitality because it is believed that Lkham pays a visit to each family on New Year’s Eve. Each family puts three pieces of ice or snow on the doorjamb of their home, which symbolizes a drink for Lkham’s mule. A lamp is also set outside the ger (traditional Mongolian dwelling) to guide the deity’s way to visit. Inside the home, sweets, dairy products, and other food delicacies are placed in front of icons of the deity.

If these provisions are not fully prepared, it is said that Lkham will not visit, thus denying the family of her blessings. For instance, if there is no lamp outside, Lkham would not be able to find the family because she comes down to earth precisely at dusk. If there is no food prepared or an offering is incomplete, the family would not receive her full blessing or protection for the entire year. Hence, there is an emphasis on faithfully carrying out the customs.