Mongolia is a country in the heart of Asia, with a rich culture spanning thousands of years.
Naadam FestivalOne of the best ways to soak up the country’s history and culture is to visit during the annual Naadam festival, which takes place every July. It combines some of the most important and traditional aspects of Mongolian culture, from wrestling competitions, archery and horse races to cultural performances and culinary offerings.
Naadam is the biggest national festivals in Mongolia. The festival is a test of courage, strength, daring, horsemanship, and marksmanship, all necessary for nomadic people and warriors.
Mongolian people started celebrating it around 3rd to 2nd centuries B.C. The origins of the Naadam Festival go long way back into times primordial when the horse was domesticated and first hunters learned how to ride them. The holiday becomes a regular national event when all the nomad tribes would come together to show the best of their physical strength, riding and shooting skills, qualities vital for the survival of nomad herders and hunters. This tradition of annual festival survived throughout the centuries of the turbulent history of Central Asian nomads.
Nowadays, it is simply the Naadam Festival. The largest celebration is held in Ulaanbaatar on July 11-12 every year. It is called the State Naadam. Naadam is celebrated across the country and every province and sum will hold its own wrestling, horse racing and archery contests. Usually, the sum’s Naadam is celebrated before the Province’s Naadam and the State Naadam.
Mongolians spent naadam days watching wrestling, horseracing and archery, going to the countryside, making khorkhog or boodog. During naadam festival, the most favourite dish is khuushuur and beverage is airag for Mongols.
The festival consists of three main parts which are horse racing, wrestling and archery. Horseracing is organized in Khui Doloon Hudag, about 70 km from Ulaanbaatar. Wrestling takes place in the main Naadam Stadium in UB. Archery competitions are outside the stadium.
The festival begins with a ceremonious ride by medieval warriors bearing the Nine Banners of Chinggis Khaan. It has replaced the seven decades long tradition of military parades.
Archery contest continues a tradition dating from the time of Chinggis Khaan when they were intended to sharpen military skills. The bow is an ancient invention going back to Mesolithic Period. Ancient Mongols made their contributed to the design of the bow as a combat weapon.
Mongols are almost born with archery skills, an integral part of the nomadic lifestyle. From the very childhood, such qualities as perfect eyesight, measurement, patience and strength are nourished to develop a good archer. Mongolian bows are very tight ones, so that it requires a pure strength to stretch it out.
Today Mongolians use a less complicated form of archery. The target is a ‘wall’ made of cork cylinders braided together with leather sharps. It is four meters long and 50 cm high. The target is placed on the ground. Contestants use compound bows fashioned from sinew, wood, horn and bamboo. Men fire 40 arrows made from willow branches and griffin vulture feathers from a distance of 75 meters and women shoot 20 arrows from 60 meters at a target consisting of 360 small leather rings to a wall. In accordance with the ancient custom, several men stand on either side of the target singing a folk song (uukhai) to cheer the contestants and then use hand signals to indicate the results.
This song is a very old one. Until recently the shooting range was three times as long or about 200 meters. Therefore it was easier to convey information through a song rather than dispatching a messenger to inform about the result.
Bow: In the past Mongolians used three types of bows: “big hand” -165 – 170 cm long; “average hand” -160 cm and “small hand” -150 cm long. Today Mongolians mostly use the average hand bow which requires a force of 22 to 38 kg to draw it.
Arrow: Arrows are usually made from pine wood and had feather fins which help the arrow to reach the distance of 900 meters. The hexahedral point of the arrow is made from the three-year-old bull’s thigh bone.
Mongolian people have loved horseracing since time immemorial. They bring their best horses from great distances. There are normally six categories of horse racing, depending on the age of the horses: for example, a two-year-old horse called a daaga, will race for 12-15 km, a three-year-old horse called a shudlen, will race for 12- 15 km, a four-year-old horse called a hyazaalan, will race for 15- 18 km, a five-year-old horse called a soyolon, will race for 22- 25 km and six- and seven-year-old azraga and ikh nas horses go for up to 30km. There are no tracks or courses; it is just open countryside.
The horses in each category are taken from the starting line to some designated landmark a suitable distance away, and then race back. Jockeys boys and girls aged between 5 and 13 years old prepare for months for special races, particularly at Naadam, and horses are fed a special diet for weeks beforehand.
Before a race, the audience, all decked out in traditional finery, often sings traditional songs. The young riders sing a traditional anthem called a giingoo before the race, and scream Goog at the horses during the race.
The winner is declared tumnii ekh, or leader of ten thousand. The five winning horses are admired and talked about in reverence by the crowd, and traditional poems are read out extolling the virtues of riders and trainers. The five winning riders must drink some special airag, which is then often sprinkled on the riders heads and on the horses backsides. During Naadam, a song is also sung to the two-year-old horse which comes last which is declared Bayan Khodood.
The wrestling tournament is the focal point of the festival. Altogether 1024 wrestlers step out onto the arena at the start of the wrestling tournament. Wrestlers slowly come up waving their hands imitating the flight of a mythical Phoenix bird. Wrestlers then divide into two groups on two sides of the arena. One by one, secoundants sing a long praise for the wrestler's qualities, the rank and past victories. Then they call out the name of the wrestler contender.
Once wrestlers know who will face whom, after a signal, they converge in a fierce battle. After half an hour the weakest ones are knocked out and the winners of the first round emerge, proudly waving their hands imitating an eagle's flight.
Winners, then they again split into two groups and start to call out their next contenders. The tournament lasts for two days and after eight matches only the strongest ones remain to wrestle for the title of a Titan, the highest rank.
The rules of wrestling are rather simple-anybody who touches the ground first is defeated. The rules also are demanding ones as neither wrestlers' weight nor height are accounted for.
The match time is not limited either and sometimes wrestlers become stalled like a pair of bulls, waiting for one another to make a fatal mistake. Only the angry shouts by funs may force them to try their last and favourite trick. Therefore, such qualities as the ability to withstand on feet, masterful command of every possible reception, dodges are vital for winning.
Each Mongolian wrestler has a title of his own: Lion, Elephant, Falcon, - a sophisticated hierarchy of ranks bestowed depending on the wrestler's past performance. Such definitions as Steady, Mighty and Strong are usually added to wrestler rank, to reflect their specific wrestling style or quality. The champion of the tournament is awarded the title of The Titan.
Mongolian wrestling costumes are hat, zodog, shuudag and Mongolian boots. The hat is made of silk and cotton, embroidered. Zodog is a chest-open, long-sleeved vest of silk. Shuudag is tight short trunks. Mongolia boots are made from upper leather, richly decorated, handmade.