14 July 2012

Mongolia's Naadam Festival - Saikhan Naadaarai!

In need of a little celebration in your life? A little colour? Put July 11th and 12th in your diary and come to Mongolia to experience the national Naadam Festival - Erin Gurvan Naadam - The Three Manly Sports. 


'Naad' means games and Naadam highlights the three manly sports of wrestling, archery and horse racing. It is a time when Mongolians celebrate who they are, how proud they are to be Mongolian, their heritage and the qualities that produced the warrior nation and Mongol Empire. 
The horse racing is a test  of speed, stamina and strength. In Mongolia, it is the horse and not the jockey that wins the race. Child jockeys are chosen as they are lighter - their role is not to force the horse but only to guide it to the winning post.
The origins of Naadam can be found in the Khan meetings - the traditional councils held by warrior Mongols. Victory on a battlefield alone did not confer legitimacy of rule until publicly acclaimed at a gathering of representatives from every part of the territory. At the gatherings, competitions were held in traditional games - considered essential skills for warriors. 

The Opening Ceremony  - the National Naadam Festival - Ulaan Baatar
I love Naadam. I love the atmosphere, the crowds, the noise and the colour. Yes! I know a majority of international visitors and tour companies prefer a Naadam based in the countryside and I agree, as they are very special local events. However, I retain a fondness for the 'big one!' It is a true Mongolian celebration of ordinary people taking pride in their country and century's old tradition melded together. It is a great time to be in Ulaan Baatar and I really believe the festival deserves to be seen - I say you just need to adjust your perspective and see it through the eyes of a Mongolian. 

Before and after every match, each wrestler does the traditional 'Eagle Dance' (devekh) based on the flight of the mythical Garuda bird - said to symbolise power, strength and invincibility. This unique dance is an integral and indispensable aspect of the wrestling tradition.
I really do believe that it is important that you see Naadam from a Mongolian perspective - a time when Mongolians strengthen their ties with friends, family and their heritage. It's a true celebration and is a time to eat, sing, drink and enjoy life to the full - all of which Mongolians are talented at. 

It's a true celebration of all things Mongolian and you don't get much better than that! 

Winners of the archery competition are usually awarded the title of 'mergen' meaning 'sharpshooter'. Archery competitors are accompanied by a choral tune (Uuhai) where men and women stand on either side of the target (set up to 75 metres away for men) and sing with their hands raised to indicate the results.