Mongolian Major Festivals and Events
The biggest festival of the Mongolian year is the Naadam Festival celebrated in Mongolia nationwide on July 11-13. Naadam is properly known as “Eryn Gurvan Naadam”, after the three manly games of wrestling, horse racing, and archery making up the core activities of the National Festival. Mongolians love to dress in their best traditional costumes and riding on their most beautiful horses during Naadam.
Mongolian wrestling has no weight divisions, so mostly the biggest wrestlers are often the best. The wrestlers are divided into 2 sides and it begins with zasuul honoring the gloriously titled wrestlers to each other by their unique sounded speech and while wrestlers do short eagle dance by putting a hand at the shoulder of the zasuul. Wrestler wears gutul heavy big boots, shuudag tight unflattering pants and zodog open-fronted and long-sleeved small vest across the shoulders. Winners are bestowed glorious titles depending on how many rounds they win. There are nachin (falcon) – 5 rounds; khartsaga (hawk) – 6 rounds; zaan (elephant) – 7 rounds; garid (the Garuda) – 8 rounds and arslan (lion) – given to the winner of the tournament. When an arslan wins 2 years in a row he becomes an avarga or titan. One renowned wrestler was given the most prestigious and lengthy title of the ‘Eye-Pleasing Nationally Famous Mighty and Invincible Giant’. All titles signify strength and are given during the national festival Naadam. There is a variety of wrestling methods and some elders say there are hundreds of them. Mongolians are really excellent at wrestling, riding, and archery.
Mongolians loved horse racing for over 21 centuries. In modern times, horse racing is mainly held during Naadam Festival and Lunar New Year. Riders are kids from ages five to 12. There are six categories of horse racing, depending on the age of the horses; shudlen a two-year-old horse will race for 15km while six-year-old azarga and ikh nas horses race for up to 30km. There is no special track but just open countryside. Before a race, the riders sing an ancient song –Gyngoo for the horses wishing for strength and speed and audience all decked out in traditional finery. Some riders prefer saddle and some not. The winner is declared tumnii ekh, or ‘leader of 10 thousand’ and the five winning horses are admired and the riders drink some special airag and sprinkles on the horse’s back. After the races, praise-singer extols the best riders and their horses and 5 winning horses and their owners would be talked about in reverence by the crowd.
Five lines engraved on an ancient Mongolian target immortalizing the phenomenal record of Yesuhei- Baatar, saying that his arrow hit the target at a distance of 536 meters. The bow is an ancient invention dating back to the Mesolithic Period. Ancient Mongolians contributed to the design of the bow as a combat weapon. Today, Mongolians use a less complicated form of archery than in ancient times; targeting cork cylinders braided together with leather straps. It is four meters in line and 50cm high. The target is placed on the ground at a distance of 75 meters for men and 60 meters for women. In the past, Mongolians used three types of bows; “big hand” (165-170cm),” average hand” (160cm), “small hand' (150cm). Today Mongolians mostly use the average hand bow, which requires a force of 22 to 38kg to draw.
Arrows are made of pinewood and feather fins allowing it to reach a distance of 900 meters. Naadam archery also attracts individual archers as well as a team of 8-12 persons. The male archer shoots forty arrows at each target. Traditionally dressed judges stand by the targets raising their hands in the air to indicate the quality of the shot with uukhai sound but surprisingly never get injured. They praise the best shot in a traditional drawing recitative voice.
Tsagaan Sar - Lunar New Year
A number of Asian countries follow the lunar calendar with its 12 animals of the zodiac since ancient times. According to the lunar calendar, New Year is called Tsagaan Sar (White Moon) in Mongolia. There are a few descriptions about the origin of this name. One is that the Mongols symbolizes white as happiness, purity, and abundance of milk products. Tsagaan Sar occurs in accordance with the phases of the moon, mostly between the end of January and early March. Mongolian families prepare for the holiday almost a month ahead. They greet the New Year with new clothes, clean dwellings, full of food such as buuz, bansh, boiled lamb, milk products and prepare gifts for the visitors.
Tsagaan sar symbolizes wealth and prosperity in the family. The New Year eve in Mongolia is called Bituun – the last dinner of the passing year full of foods on the table. There must be several dishes; big flat dish with the boiled sheep's back and tail, a dish with boov (traditional bread biscuit), a dish with the berees (rice cooked with butter, sugar and raisins) and dish with traditional milk products; aaruul, byaslag (unsalted cheese), cream, airag, etc. One must taste every dish for the evening; boiled lamb and beef, huge variety of milk products, buzes, and dessert. Some families have the tradition of placing coins inside the banshes. Whoever bites bansh with coin in it would have good luck. At the end of the evening, everyone's full. The following morning everyone rises bright and early morning at about 6-7 o’clock. In the morning, there are many customs to follow. The first is to greet the sun; everyone watches the sunrise. Secondly for good health and happiness, one takes the first steps of the year in a specific direction. The direction is dependent upon what lunar calendar year one was born in. And then all family members greet each other traditionally. On this day all family members show their respect and love through this greeting. During this period it is expected that all relatives, friends, and neighbors visit one another. This period lasts for about 15 days.