A Journey to Elista (3)

by Frederic Friedel
11/8/2020 – Boris Grebenshchikov is a cult figure in the Russian rock scene, revered by millions (including a super-GM friend from Saint Petersburg). Telo Tulku Rinpoche is a Philadelphia-born Buddhist Lama, the highest religious authority in Kalmykia. On the final day of the FIDE Candidates Finals 2007 the former gave a concert and the latter a gala dinner. Big pictorial report.

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Rock Concert in the Park

On the evening of the last round of the Candidates Finals in Elista we were taken to a rock concert in the central park, and then to a gala dinner, which is shown in the second part of this report.

Elista, like all of Russia, has fairly strict security controls. We were able to enter the park expediently because of our chess event badges, but my camera bag was checked by the guards at the entrance, like the bag of the lady in the above picture.

The concert on an elevated stage with thousands of people attending

The band with guitars, keyboards, a violin and a sax

Rock star Boris Grebenshchikov, with a Sanskrit inscription on his guitar reading
"OM Namah Shivaaya" ("I bow to Lord Shiva"), a popular Yoga chant.

Boris Grebenshchikov is considered one of the "founding fathers" of Russian rock music and, together with his band Åquarium, a household name in Russia. As a school boy he was enamored with the Beatles, and then moved on to a deep appreciation of Bob Dylan, whose influence could be felt in the rock concert we visited in Elista. His style is hard to define: "rock" is too crude and noisy, "folk" too bland, "electric blues" comes closer. At the gala dinner (see below) I asked him, and he replied with a wry smile: "Why don't we just call it jazz?"

Our group, with Jorge Saggiante (second from left) entranced by the music

Jorge became the organiser and main sponsor of the September World Championship in Mexico City. He said, and later told Boris Grebenshchikov, that this music was about the most beautiful he had ever heard. Here's a sample – see if you concur.

Город золотой

Под небом голубым
Еcть город золотой
С прозрачными воротами
И яркою звездой.

А в городе том сад
Всё травы да цветы
Гуляют там животные
Невиданной красы.

Одно - как жёлтый огнегривый лев
Другое - вол исполненных очей.
С ними золотой орёл небесный
Чей так светел взор незабываемый.

А в небе голубом
Горит одна звезда.
Она твоя, о ангел мой,
Она твоя всегда.

Кто любит, тот любим
Кто светел, тот и свят
Пускай ведёт звезда тебя
Дорогой в дивный сад.

Тебя там встретит огнегривый лев
И синий вол, исполненый очей
С ними золотой орёл небесный,
Чей так светел взор незабываемый.


Golden City

Under the clear blue sky
A golden city lies
With crystal-clear gates
And a single star so bright.

There is a garden there
With flowers and herbs
And strange exotic animals
That no one's seen or heard.

With a majestic mane
There strolls a yellow lion,
An ox with deep blue eyes,
And an eagle so divine.

And in the sky of blue
A solitary star--
This star, my love, is you--
'Twas always what you are.

Whoever loves is loved,
Whoever's blessed is bright,
So let the star point the way
To that magic place tonight.

With a majestic mane
You'll be greeted by a lion,
An ox with deep blue eyes
And an eagle so divine.

Lyrics translated by Alexander Shaumyan.

Fan enjoying the concert – both young and old

The Gala Dinner

After the concert we were taking to a gala dinner in a very luxurious restaurant on the outskirts of Elista. 

We were greeted by a bevy (a clutch?) of waitresses dressed in colorful Kalmykian costumes, as well as Buddhist monks and nuns who conversed cheerfully with the guests

Our host, the Šajin Lama Telo Tulku Rinpoche, with Boris Grebenshchikovis 

After speaking to Telo Tulko, who is the highest ranked Buddhist Lama in Russia,  I said: "Come on, you are American!" (I could tell by the accent in his fluent English). Indeed, he was born Erdne Ombadykow, to Kalmykian parents, in 1972 in Philadelphia, USA. When he was seven he was sent to a monastery in India to be trained as a Buddhist monk. In India the Dalai Lama recognized him as the current reincarnation of a Buddhist saint, Telo Rinpoche, who had lived many centuries earlier. In 1991, under his new name, he joined the Dalai Lama on his first visit to Kalmykia, and became the country's spiritual leader, the Šajin Lama (Supreme Lama). At the time, he did not speak the Kalmyk language, nor was he familiar with the nation's culture. Frustrated, he left Kalmykia and the monkhood. He had met his future wife, an ethnic Tibetan, in 1990 in India. They married in 1995 and moved to the United States.

He then decided to resume serving as Kalmykia's spiritual head ("I renounced my monkhood but retained my title of Šajin Lama," he told me cheerfully. "They can't take that away from you."). Since then Telo has overseen the construction of several Buddhist temples and sent several students to India to be trained as monks. His wife and son continue to live in the US, where he periodically visits them.

Boris the Rockstar receives gifts from Telo, the Šajin Lama

After Boris Grebenshchikov and his entourage had left, Telo and his Tibetan advisor (on the left in the picture above) waved me over to their table, and I spent a very interesting hour discussing their backgrounds, beliefs, rituals and religion in general. The great thing about Buddhists is that they are cheerfully open to skeptical discourse. Nothing is blasphemous, as I discovered at this memorable dinner with the top Lama. He even told me which of his hundreds of priestly vows he had broken. The only thing slightly weird was his explanation that the planet Venus, shining brighter in the dark Kalmyk skies than I have ever seen it do elsewhere, was "made by human beings." The thing is over four billion years old, Talo. Maybe I did not understand his point on this matter.

World Championship organiser Jorge Saggiante with Telo Tulku Rinpoche

Final group photo, with his holiness the Šajin Lama imitating the rock star


Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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