Danzanravjaa was born in 1803 in the Gobi Mergen district of Tusheet Khan province, in what is nowadays the Khuvsgul district of Dorno-Gobi. His mother died when he was very young, leaving him to be brought up by his father as an only child. Being extremely poor, father and son lived by begging until 1809, when Ravjaa became a disciple of the religious master Ishdoniilkhundev of Ongiin River. It soon became apparent that the boy was extremely precocious; it is said that Danzanravjaa earned considerable respect for the literary genius exemplified by his early poems and songs. In 1811, in recognition of his extraordinary intellectual and artistic abilities, local religious authorities bestowed on him the title of fifth reincarnation of the Gobi Noyon Khutagt,
Danzanravjaa completed his basic training in Buddhist literature, art, religion and philosophy by the early 1820s. Thereafter he established the three monasteries of Galbyn Uul, all of which became local centres of culture, art, and education. Danzanravjaa gave considerable attention to the development of Khamar Monastery in particular, where he established a professional theatre and touring company, public library, museum, and primary school-all of which reflected his serious commitment to the cause of public education.
Danzanravjaa's primary school ('children's datsan') was unique in pre-revolutionary
Mongolia as it offered talented children a free general, non religious education-consisting
of instruction in Mongolian and Tibetan literacy, mathematics, natural science,
and history - without discrimination as to social class or gender. Successful
graduates of the
primary school were invited to undertake further vocational artistic training, preparing them to work as actors, singers, orators, set decorators, costume designers, and stage assistants in the Saran Khukhuu theatre company, or as teachers in schools, as well as the seal used in certifying qualified graduates.
The Saran Khukhuu Company also has a significant role in history as Mongolia's first professional public theatre. A three-level outdoor theatre was constructed specially for the performance of Danzanravjaa's festival-dramas. Which included a mixture of song, dance, oration, comedy, and melodrama presented by a company of approximately 300 actors travelled and performed for local audiences in other regions of the Gobi. Some of the costumes and other objects originally used in the theatre are on display at the Museum today.
In the 1840s Danzanravjaa also established what is considered to be the first museum in Mongolia. As many as ten thousand objects were stored and exhibited at the 'exhibition temple' at Khamar Monastery, including personal works and possessions, gifts from the public or from high-ranking religious and political authorities, and unusual objects collected during Danzanravjaa's extensive travels. Alongside this museum was a public library, where visitors could have books read aloud or translated by library staff.
Danzanravjaa's known literary output included more than 300 poetic works, over 100 songs, a philosophical treatise, the ten-volume Saran Khukhuu operetta, and numerous religious tracts written in both Mongolian and Tibetan. Several of Danzanravjaa's songs and poems remain popular to this day, with songs such as 'Ulemjiin Chanar' being commonly sung at holidays and celebrations. In addition Danzanravjaa created several dozen paintings on religious themes.
Danzanravjaa's poems, songs, and teachings are remarkable for their outspoken criticism of 18m-century Mongolian society. Greatly disturbed by the hypocrisy he saw in others, Danzanravjaa denounced those whom he perceived as helping themselves without helping others, criticizing others without criticizing themselves, or displaying various other forms of foolish or duplicitous behaviour. His sense of irony was well-developed even as a young child; he is reputed to have gained considerable attention for an improvised verse composed at the rear of the home became wet from rain blowing in through the smoke-hole, while the commoners at the entrance remained dry: 'When clouds come and it is time for rain / What difference between the door and the rear? / When death comes and it is time to pass on / What difference between the old and the young?' In his later life Danzanravjaa spared no criticism even of high-ranking lamas and political figures; his later poem `Ichig Ichig' (shame, shame'), for instance, is direct in its attack on hypocritical doctors, lamas, and other 'wise' men, in sharp contrast to the cautious reverence displayed by most contemporaries. Similarly the great festival music drama of Saran Khukhuu contains frequent references to the 'terrible dishonest times' in which Ravjaa saw himself as living, and which he considered to be the source of the evil and corruption prevalent even amongst the high-ranking officials he satirized on stage. Indeed Ravjaa earned many enemies as a result of his iconoclasm and general irreverence for authority, notably due to his opposition to Manchu rule of Mongolia, which he saw as being corrupt and exploitative. Danzanravjaa's pessimism became increasingly evident in his later writings, culminating in the poem ' Yertunts avgain jam' (the way of the world'), composed as he became aware that he had been poisoned and about to die.