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January, 31, 2018

The Oracle of Olkhon: Khan Budak

Many legends have underlying ancient stories dating back to many centuries ago. Now no one knows for sure if these legends had any real foundations, or they were just some figment of imagination of superstitious people. At the same time, some legends are quite recent: these are spoken of as real facts. “Key to Baikal” will tell you about one of such legends.

Buddhism began to spread in the Baikal region alongside with traditional pagan beliefs more than five centuries ago. This religion was to a great extent promoted by the nomadic Mongols and other peoples of Central Asia. Baikal was gradually becoming one of the new centers of Buddhism.

The Invisible Foreteller

The unparalleled energy and power of Baikal hanging in the air are obvious to everyone who has ever been to the Great Lake. This energy attracted people even in ancient times. The spreading of Buddhism around the “Glorious Sea” and on its islands brought along Buddhist temples, “suburgans” (structures containing relics) and simply sacred places for prayers. The places of power attracted monks and hermits seeking enlightenment among the severe and unique nature of Lake Baikal. A number of recent legends and stories are associated with some of them. Thus, the Buddhist hermit Khan Budak who lived on the island of Olkhon, in the heart of Lake Baikal, became famous at the turn of the 20th century.

This man, who was accidentally discovered by the fishermen-Old Believers, has been an object of worship for people of different faiths for fifteen years. Khan Budak lived in a cave, but no one has ever seen him. Only his unusually high guttural voice speaking from behind a stone partition with a narrow hole was the evidence of his existence. According to the numerous rumors and legends around Khan Budak, this hermit was of either Buryat or Evenki origin and spoke in a very ancient dialect which was once used by all Asian peoples for communication. Local people brought gifts - fish, furs, game - to the cave of the invisible hermit. However, according to the evidence of pilgrims, all the gifts remained untouched and were therefore consumed by people who came to Khan Budak for help. The communication of pilgrims with the mysterious hermit was based on the following principle: if the guest asked about any action or deed and heard no sound in response, then this should not be done. If the question was asked, and the hermit began to mumble something, then the asker was on the right track.

The tradition had ancient roots: many peoples had their own prophets, oracles or priests (Slavs called them “Volkhvy” (“Magi”). The most famous form of foretelling was the prediction voiced by a special priest called “oracle” on behalf of some deity at the believers’ request. The most famous oracle was Delphic one who lived in ancient Greece: he was addressed by the Spartan king Leonid before the battle of Thermopylae. The prophecies of Khan Budak had another form, however, they fit into the general system of beliefs and traditions of antiquity. Being a peculiar Olkhon oracle, Khan Budak produced hundreds of predictions to people of different origin and faith.

The Oracle’s Disappearance and His Last Predictions

On the Christmas night of 1914 the hermit suddenly became numb. As it turned out later, this was forever. The old people began to assure that the disappearance of Khan Budak was an omen of terrible disasters. A stone partition separating the speaking hermit from people was opened. The researchers found wooden shoes of very small size in a small stone grotto without any passes. Nothing else evidenced of the recent presence of a mysterious foreteller in this dark chamber... No one ever had a chance to know where he was gone...

The predictions of the old people with regard to the disappearance of the oracle proved to be true: millions of people died in the First World War which had already begun by that time, and Russia was soon plunged into the civil war that became one of the main tragedies of the 20th century.

There is another mystery that cannot be solved by the legend’s narrators: exactly which cave was inhabited by Khan Budak. Some say that these were the caves of the Shamanka rock, the most famous place of power at Baikal where it was prohibited to move on wheels and where the entrance to women was banned. Others say that this was a cave in the Gykhte Bay right next to the “Olkhon Gate” Strait where the researchers found small fish-shaped baits typical for Evenki fishermen (which explains the version of Evenki origin of the foreteller). No one gives an decisive answer to this question. Maybe someone who is reading this article now will be able to find that very cave and solve the mystery of the Olkhon oracle… You never know...

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