Shagdaryn Bira was born on 3 September 1927 in UlaanBaatar, Mongolia. He graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations from 1946 to 1951. At that time, studying at this prestigious institute of the USSR was an extraordinary opportunity for the young Bira, the son of “the enemy of the people” – his father who was shot in 1937. However, Bira’s good fortune was determined by the personal decision of Marshal H. Choybalsan himself, the party and state leader of Mongolia, who decided to prepare future diplomats in the USSR.
Bira’s father, Bulguugiin Shagdar (Shagdarjav), had been a rich pastoralist. He participated in the national independence revolutionary movement in Mongolia. It is known from archival materials that he organized the import from Russia of 30,000 barrels of weapons and 1.5 million cartridges for the needs of the state in the struggle for independence. After this he was honored as “Ruler of Mongolia” (Bogdo Gegen) and was awarded the title of “Gun” for his service. He also participated in the subsequent revolutionary movement in Mongolia and in 1921 was awarded the title of “Van”. However, in 1937, during the purge, Bira’s father was arrested and shot as an “enemy of the people”.
After the successfully graduating from the Institute, Sh. Bira began working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ulaanbaatar and a year later was sent back to graduate school at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations where he began to work with great enthusiasm. However, his academic dream was not to be realized after receiving notification from the Mongolian Embassy in Moscow that him must urgently return to Mongolia.
Upon his return, he was told by the Central Committee of the MPRP that he should give up his studies and begin work. No specific reason was given.
In 1957, Sh. Bira was offered the opportunity to resume graduate studies. The Central Committee of the MPRP decided to send him to the postgraduate course at the Academy of Social Sciences under the CPSU Central Committee. Bira asked to be sent to the graduate school at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR because he wanted to study the medieval history of Mongolia as well as the eastern languages.
This move proved to be extremely fortunate. Fate had brought him into contact with legendary orientalist Yuri Roerich who in the same year of 1957 had returned from India (thanks to the permission of NS Khrushchev) one month before Bira’s arrival of Moscow. So began his apprenticeship with Yuri Roerich, who taught him not only languages but also gave him the opportunity to use the great scientific literature from his multi-lingual library on the history of Buddhism and the cultures of Mongolia, Tibet and India. In his library, there were rare books which were not even to be found in the Lenin Library in Moscow. When Shagdaryn Bira said that he was unfamiliar with many European languages, Yuri Nikolaevich advised him to simply try to understand, because European languages are quite similar. “You know Russian, English and French, so simply respecting the other languages will take you far.” Bira and his teacher Yuri Nikolaevich worked closely on languages: Yuri taught Bira Tibet and Sanskrit, Bira helped Yuri improve his Mongolian. Thanks to this arrangement, Sh. Bira, got acquainted with a wide range of literature on various subjects published in many languages. This approach gave Bira confidence in his abilities and fueled his desire to master as many languages as possible.
Yuri Roerich traveled to Mongolia in 1958 to organize the First International Congress of Mongolists. In 1959, Yuri returned to Mongolia to participate in the above-mentioned Congress delivering a paper on the theme: “Mongolian words borrowed from Tibetan language.” And the article was written and read at the Congress in Mongolian. The great teacher was also one of the founders of the International Association of Mongolian Studies. This was undoubtedly an important stage in the development of Mongolian studies.
In 1960, Sh. Bira defended his candidate work in the historical sciences. The title of his dissertation was “Ser-gi Deptera” was devoted to Mongolian Tibetan – language historical literature.
In 1972 Shagdaryn Bira defended his doctoral dissertation at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. His thesis: “Mongolian historiography in the 13th-17th centuries.”
During this period, he held various important positions: research officer, Vice-President of the Academy of Sciences of Mongolia, Secretary-General of the International Association of Mongolian Studies (1987-2012).
For many years of fruitful scientific and scientific management work, he was awarded the title “Hero of Labor of Mongolia”.
In 1972, he was elected Academician of the Academy of Mongolian Science.
Sh. Bira was awarded an honorable UNESCO medal for writing the history of Central Asia and Mongolia. In 2002, the Royal Asiatic Society of the Great Britain was awarded him the Denis Sinor Medal for the study of Central Asia. In 2006, he received the international Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize for outstanding scientific works on the history and culture of Mongolia.
Sh. Bira has also been awarded the title of Honorary Doctor of MGIMO (2001); Honorary Doctor of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (2007); and Honorary Professor of the University of Inner Mongolia (PRC).