Festival in Mongolia: Eriiyan Gurvan Naadam

Festival in Mongolia: Eriiyan Gurvan Naadam

Strength, speed, and accuracy.  The Mongolians celebrate these traits and bring their history to life during Eriiyan Gurvan Naadam, or the “Men’s Three Variety Games.” Can you guess what the three games are? 

-In the first, you will hear a thud and maybe a groan. 
-In the second, the pounding of hooves will shake the Mongolian grasslands.
-In the third, all will seem still and then, suddenly, whoosh!  ping! an arrow will hit its target.

Across Mongolia people gather to watch two days of wrestling matches, horse races, and archery tournaments.  The festivities begin with a parade of monks, athletes, and soldiers.  Some people dress like warriors from the glory days of Chinggis Khan (c. 1162-1227), who founded the Mongol empire.  Mongol warriors were known for their toughness.  They were able to ride on horseback for days without stopping and could shoot arrows at full gallop.  With these fearsome skills, they conquered the largest empire in the history of the world.  It encompassed China and stretched to the edge of Europe.

At Naadam, the rules for wrestling are simple: no weight divisions and no time limits.  Whenever any part of a competitor’s body, except hands or feet, touches the ground, that wrestler is the loser.  Contestants dress in small shoulder vests called zodog, tight shorts called shuudag, and heavy Mongolian boots called gutuls.  Meanwhile, horse races are held on the open Mongolian grasslands.  Riders and horses cover distances of up to seventeen miles.  Before the race, jockeys sing songs called “ginko.”  Archers use traditional bows made of horn, bark, and wood.  Today, women as well as men compete in horse racing and archery.

Audiences sing songs and enjoy Mongolian drinks and snacks such as tea mixed with fermented mares’ milk and cold meat pancakes.  Between events, people watch traditional performances or play a variety of games using shagai (sheep anklebones). Naadam is a time when Mongolians strengthen their ties with friends, family, and their heritage.

Author: Heather Clydesdale