CULTURE & RELIGION

SHAMANISM

Shamanism or Böögiin shashin, considered to be an original religion of Mongols, belongs to the animistic and shamanic religion. It has been practiced not only in Mongolia but also in its surrounding countries including Buryatia and Inner Mongolia since the ancient time.

In the past, people believed that the natural phenomena or incidents occurring in their surroundings were influenced by supernatural.  A kind of priest or medium who is called shaman helped people by religious concepts, rituals and magical practices to call the realm of the gods, demons, and spirits of ancestors and calm them down.

Every person didn’t choose the profession of shaman but someone could be selected for the job by a messenger from the spirit world.

In short, Mongolian shamanism is a comprehensive system of faith, which includes medicine, religion, worship of nature and the worship of ancestors. The main element of the system is the actions of male and female intercessors between the human and spiritual world, the shamans: Böö (male shaman) and Udgan (female shaman).

In the 17th century, after Outer Mongolia had been annexed by the Qing Dynasty, Buddhism became the dominant religion of Mongolia and shamanism began incorporating Buddhist elements. Violent resistance in the 18th century by the hunting tribes of Northern Mongolia against the Buddhist ruling group, the Khalka Mongols, led to the foundation of black shamanism.

During the socialist period, all varieties of shamanism were repressed, after the democratic revolution in 1991, the religion including Buddhism and shamanism made a comeback and now shamanism continues to be a part of Mongolian spiritual life.

We will arrange the spiritual tour including the activities such as visiting to shamans and seeing the different rituals considering the time of your stay in Mongolia, budget and interest.

Please contact us by e-mail.

BUDDHISM

Buddhism is the official religion of Mongolia having own national distinction. The first attempt to extend Buddhism in Mongolia was made by Tibetan missionaries in the 13th century, but it was adopted by the imperial court and several other Mongolian Aristocracy because shamanism was still remained strong among Mongols.

The second attempt turned out to be more successful in the 16th century. In 1758, the congress of all heads of Mongol tribes with the participation of the head of Buddhist school in Tibet proclaimed Buddhism as the state religion. Then the first Buddhist monastery was built and the First Bogd Gegeen (religious leader of Mongols) was incarnated. By the beginning of the 20th century the number of monasteries reached to 750, about 40% of the male were monks in Mongolia; in each family, at least one of the sons would certainly become a Buddhist monk.

Buddhist monasteries acted as the main sedentary lifestyle. They owned huge herds, received considerable funds of taxes, voluntary donations from believers and also engaged in trade and usury.

After the people’s revolution in 1921, Buddhism in general began to gradually lose their former influence and authority. The anti-clerical and anti-religious attitudes from the communist governors lead to not only the distraction of Buddhism in Mongolia but also an enormous number of religious artworks, architecture and books with Buddhist teachings.

During the repression in the 1930-s, all monasteries were closed and destroyed, most of the monks were killed or sent to the jails.

As a result of the political and social reform started in 1986, all the restrictions on the religion were removed, a number of Buddhist monasteries used as museums were reopened and reconstructed, even the symbol of the Mongolian Independence in 1911, the incredible 26-meter high Statue of Megjid Janraiseg which was dismantled and sent to Russia to make bullets, was rebuilt in 1996, by donations from Mongolian people.

Now, there are more than 200 monasteries including Erdenezuu monastery in Kharakhorum functioning.

NOMAD LIFESTYLE

Merging of tradition and technology, old customs and modern progress – for someone it is exotic while for someone, it is everyday life.

Mongolian nomadic culture was on the verge of extinction during the socialist period. Attempts to carry out forced collectivization and urbanization made in almost all socialist countries ended with failure. In the 1950-s and 1960-s, many nomads who moved to the city became poor and couldn’t withstand the urban pace of life. After the democratic revolution in 1991, with rising food prices, unemployment and poverty, the nomads had to return to the countryside empty-handed but thanks to the privatization of state - owned livestock, they start conducting nomadic cattle- breeding inherited from the ancestors.

Now, except for a very few farmers, most Mongols have traditionally lived by animal husbandry, moving to look for pasturage as the seasons change. They move from one place to another two or three times a year. They live in a round shaped, felt covered dwelling – ger. It has changed and developed over the times, but is keeping its own features today. The ger is very suitable for nomads, it is easy to collapse and build.

The nomads live off their animals: they produce a great variety of dairy products such as aaruul (dried yogurt), cheese, eezgii (curds), milk vodka, fermented mare’s milk etc. Butter is made from cow’s, yak’s and sheep’s milk. Foreigners think, that Mongolians eat meat a lot. Yes, they eat beef, mutton, horsemeat, chevon, a little camel meat, but not all year round, they eat a lot of meat in winter to survive in harsh and cold time! In summer, they eat mainly dairy products. Of course, their food contains vegetables.

The animals don’t have a fence, during summer they graze on the vast open field seeking lush pastures to get strength and fatness for winter.

NOMAD LIFESTYLE

Merging of tradition and technology, old customs and modern progress – for someone it is exotic while for someone, it is everyday life.

Mongolian nomadic culture was on the verge of extinction during the socialist period. Attempts to carry out forced collectivization and urbanization made in almost all socialist countries ended with failure. In the 1950-s and 1960-s, many nomads who moved to the city became poor and couldn’t withstand the urban pace of life. After the democratic revolution in 1991, with rising food prices, unemployment and poverty, the nomads had to return to the countryside empty-handed but thanks to the privatization of state - owned livestock, they start conducting nomadic cattle- breeding inherited from the ancestors.

Now, except for a very few farmers, most Mongols have traditionally lived by animal husbandry, moving to look for pasturage as the seasons change. They move from one place to another two or three times a year. They live in a round shaped, felt covered dwelling – ger. It has changed and developed over the times, but is keeping its own features today. The ger is very suitable for nomads, it is easy to collapse and build.

The nomads live off their animals: they produce a great variety of dairy products such as aaruul (dried yogurt), cheese, eezgii (curds), milk vodka, fermented mare’s milk etc. Butter is made from cow’s, yak’s and sheep’s milk. Foreigners think, that Mongolians eat meat a lot. Yes, they eat beef, mutton, horsemeat, chevon, a little camel meat, but not all year round, they eat a lot of meat in winter to survive in harsh and cold time! In summer, they eat mainly dairy products. Of course, their food contains vegetables.

The animals don’t have a fence, during summer they graze on the vast open field seeking lush pastures to get strength and fatness for winter.

MEALS

Mongolian traditional meal consists of dairy products, meat and animal fats. Lots of people think that Mongolians are “meat-eating” but it is not completely like that. Due to the harsh climate and living conditions, our forefathers used to eat meat a lot in winter time to survive harsh winter and eat a lot diary -products in summer.

In addition to meat and dairy, now they introduce many kinds of seeds, vegetables, grains, fruits and berries into the diet to enhance the flavor of food and to treat. In ancient times Mongolians likely made flour from wild grains, but by the middle-ages, wheat and barley flour were being widely imported from neighboring states.

Mongolians also have much experience of storing, processing and preserving meat. Flavor and quality of meat is specific because the domesticated animals grazing in the pasture often eat rich seeds and plants and drink fresh water of the lakes and rivers. Particularly, a horse eats over 80 kinds of seeds, a cow- about 60 and a sheep- 10 times more species than they do. Thus, Mongolians prefer mutton than any other meat and slaughter a sheep and give to sick people or women who have recently give birth to strengthen them. There are many cooking methods for preparing meals with meat. Beef is considered to be “hot meat” so it is stored and used in cold seasons as medication. Horse meat is hot, not easily congealed and is usually eaten when people travel or hunt in really coldest time of winter. Goat meat is suggested to eat in spring because this time of year goat eats a lot of anemone, which grows early in spring and is an ingredient in many medicine. Camel meat is fatty and is suitable to eat in dried form.

Meat and dairy from the five domestic animals are regarded as the top of the food Mongolians have, so we firstly offer them to our God or Heavens. Also, dairies are firstly given to esteemed guests and it is not accepted to spill out. However, cow’s milk is never drunk raw, due to the risk of brucellosis infection but is boiled and diluted with water, made into thin yogurt (tarag) or used in milk tea. Mare’s milk can be drunk without boiling; it is thus consumed mainly for medicinal purposes, as it contains several times more vitamins than dairy milk. Other staple dairy products are cheese, dried curds, cream, butter, and various forms of butterfat.

CLOTHING

Mongolian national clothing has a rich history with hundreds of years of tradition and is closely related to the way of life of Mongolians, the peculiarities of their economic structure, and the distinction of nature. The main item of traditional clothing is deel,  worn by both women and men, made from cotton, silk, wool and brocade.

The deel  is worn with belt made of silk and leather. The leather belt has large silver, or even golden buckle with ornaments on it. The place between the flaps and above the belt creates a kind of pocket, in which people keep many things including snuff box and wallet.  Though there is no major difference in material and outline between male and female deels, females wear snug-fitting, while men wear looser deel with wider sleeves. A girl’s deel differs from a married woman’s deel, the latter’s has more decoration and refinement. Typically, the deel should correspond to the situations: whether a person rides a horse along the steppe, whether she is at home doing housework, or at festive occasions.

Until recently, the deel was commonly worn by herders in the countryside, in the city – by elderly people and people who were on special occasions or celebration. Now that it’s simple, practical and logical, and looks very pretty if decorated and adorned with beautiful patterns, all Mongolians from eight year-olds to eighty year-olds now tend to wear deel a lot, improving the style and design. There is now, I can say, reconstruction of traditional clothing in Mongolia!

Compared with some countries, Mongolians are more stylish and fashionable, outer appearance is important aspect of Mongolian modern culture. People may judge you based on how expensive, how well your clothes fit on you, so women and men try to look well-favoured day out!

MUSIC

How do you feel listening to this amazing music?

Mongolian music and songs feature the vast open steppe, beauty of nature, the spirit of the nomad people and the sacred animal for nomads – horse. Mongolians love to sing. Like poetry, vocal music is very important in this culture and there are multiple types of folk songs. The voice of singing people is sonorous, bold, passionate and unconstrained. The music is rich with varieties related to the ethnic groups of the country: Oirats, Hotgoid, Tuvans, Darhad, Buryats, Tsaatan, Dariganga, Uzemchins, Barga, Kazakhs and Khalha.

The most important folk instrument is the morin khuur (horse-head fiddle), a stringed instrument whose name comes from the horse head carved above the tuning pegs. The morin khuur has a trapezoid-shaped body, leather sounding board, and two strings that are played with a bow made of wood and horsehair. Playing from a seated position, the musician rests the morin khuur on his knee.

The Western classical music and ballet flourished during the socialist period and we have some most famous singers and ballet artists not only in Asia but also in the world! Among the most popular forms of modern music in Mongolia are Western pop and rock genres and the mass songs written by modern authors in a form of folk songs. Now there are quite a lot nightclubs in the major cities where one can dance to the same pop music topping the charts in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere in Asia. A growing number of local rock groups are now performing whose music is mainly sold in Mongolia but can also sometimes be found in other Asian countries.

GER

Mongolian ger or dwelling is with a round, circular shape. Mongolians emphasize the round shape and it symbolizes perfectness, solidity, pureness and unity. Mongolians made not only their gers round but also the wooden frame for the flue of a ger, sheep pen, clothing, and even citadel.

Considering geographical formation and constantly windy or stormy weather in all seasons, the ger was structured to weaken or scatter the power of wind, to shield snow or rain on its surface.

One of the superiorities of ger is that it is easy to disassemble or set up when moving along the pasture, isn’t needed too many people to build and is convenient to live. It is perfectly dedicated to a nomadic lifestyle. The soil is not crushed or damaged when it is moved from one place to another, and this quality is worth for the environment and the nature.

The basic framework of the ger is made up of several collapsible lattice wall sections, usually five or six in number, a low wooden door, two central supporting posts; the toono, a wheel-shaped roof frame; and approximately eighty roof poles. Several large pieces of felt are tied together around the outside of the ger to provide insulation and are covered with a white cotton shell on it. The ger has the advantage of being quite warm in cold and cool time of the year, due to the excellent insulating properties of felt. Above all, the ger has been invaluable for those who prefer privacy, convenience and healthy livelihood for years.