Throughout decades of Soviet repression of religion and into modern times, groups of Buddhist women known as babushki matsik, or “group of old women precept holders” have covertly engaged in Buddhist practices in Kalmykia, following the Tibetan tantric tradition. Located to the northwest of the Caspian Sea, the Kalmyk Republic of the Russian Federation is the only region of Europe with a predominantly Buddhist population. For centuries, the region has been the site of repeated migrations, shifting political and military alliances, and Russian Orthodox conversion efforts. The devastating period of forced relocation and exile in Siberia between 1943 and 1957 cost the lives of nearly half the Kalmyk population. During that period, devoted groups of religious women secretly continued their Buddhist practices and played a key role in perpetuating Kalmyk Buddhist traditions and rituals. Their contributions to lay Buddhist society and to preserving the Kalmyk heritage continue to the present day and, while overshadowed by male-dominated Buddhist institutions, are increasingly recognized.
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