|Photo by Simon Matzinger|
The Republic of Buryatia is home of the Buryats, a people of Northern Mongols. The republic is located in the south-central region of Siberia along the eastern shore of Lake Baikal. Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake by volume in the world, containing roughly 20% of the world's unfrozen surface fresh water. For Buryat Shamanists and Buddhists, Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal is a sacred and holy place. Along Cape Burkhan on Olkhon Island there is a very important pilgrimage site -- Shamanka (shaman) Rock, one of the nine holy places of Asia. If you walk along Cape Burkhan, you will come across serges -- ritual poles swaddled in cloth and ribbons left by pilgrims. It is custom to tie a ribbon to a serge and make a prayer to promote peace, compassion, and wisdom. Pilgrims believe the prayers will be blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all pervading space. Different elements are associated with different colors -- a blue ribbon symbolizes the sky and space, white symbolizes the air and wind, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth. According to Buddhist tradition, health and harmony are produced through the balance of the five elements.