Mongolians take joy in revival of Danshig Naadam

The Mongol Messenger
2016-08-15 13:57:32

Last year, Mongolia revived its old tradition of a religious Naadam festival – Danshig, in celebration of the 380th birth anniversary of Undur Gegeen Zanabazar.  The Danshig Naadam is comprised of the Khuree Tsam religious ceremony and three manly games of Mongolian traditional Naadam.  On August 6-7, the second ‘Danshig Naadam – Khuree tsam- 2016’ cultural religious celebration took place in Khui Doloon Khudag.

Mongolians first celebrated the Danshig Naadam 377 years ago. In 1639, 5-year-old Zanabazar, son of Gombodorj was enthroned as the first Bogd Jebtsundamba Khutuktu to be the spiritual leader of Mongolian people.  As the word ‘danshig’ translates into ‘firm stance’, the Danshig Naadam was initially designated for religious and political purposes. Although it was a Buddhist ceremonial event, it also gathered the seven princes of Khalkha aimags once a year to demonstrate the unity of Mongolian people at the time.

“Danshig Naadam is expected to be a major tourist attraction during the peak season.  The event is intended to promote Buddhism and attract tourists,” said Ulaanbaatar Mayor S.Batbold.  The cultural religious event seems to be serving its purpose seeing as the statistics show the arrival of around 48 thousand tourists this season showing a ten percent increase compared to last year.  “In the future, Danshig Naadam shouldn’t only be a Naadam, but also a major cultural religious festival.  This year, we welcomed guests from the Republics of Tuva, Kalmykia and Buryatia of the Russian Federation”, said the Mayor.

Interestingly, wrestler R.Purevdagva who won the wrestling tournament last year to become ‘Lion of Danshig’ was titled ‘Lion of Nation’ at the National Naadam festival last July.  Therefore, the wrestling tournament of the Danshig Naadam considerably ignited excitement among many wrestling fans.  To the joy of people, Purevdagva yet again won the competition of this Danshig to become ‘Giant of Danshig’, upgrading his title.  A horse race was held in two categories, an archery competition took place and the two games concluded gloriously with cheerful audiences.

The revival of Mongolian Tsam tradition

Around 1000 Mongolian monks were part of the Danshig Naadam which began with religious ceremonies such as the exalting of the Soyombo banner and the statue of Under Gegeen Zanabazar, Mandala-offering, and worshipping of Ochirvaani (Vajrapani) to continue with the Khuree Tsam dance which was the event's primary attraction.  The Tsam performance is carried-out in order to subdue and purify external environment, eradicate disease, suffering, war, famine, and hardship, and spread auspiciousness.

The Buddhist ritual Tsam dance was introduced to Mongolia around the 18th century.  The first Tsam was performed in Ikh Khuree in 1811; thus, the Mongolian Tsam dance was later called ‘Ikh Khuree Tsam’.  “Mongolian Khuree Tsam is considered to be bigger and more elaborate in terms of masks, ornaments and handicrafts, rituals and content was more extensive compared to other types of tsam and some researchers concluded that Mongolian tsam was the most 'precious' in the world”, wrote Tibetan Mongolian Museum Society. 

The Khuree Tsam was successfully performed for the second time pleasing the worshippers.  People had high regard for the religious aspects of the Danshig such as the contests between monks and particularly the Tsam dance.  Performed with an enormous and glorious mask and heavy ornament, Mongolian Khuree Tsam is a must to witness for anyone interested in Mongolian Buddhism.

Traditional Naadam aspects finding new dimensions

Khui Doloon Khudag Valley was loud and colorful for another two days after the National Naadam festival.  People celebrated another Naadam festival with high spirits and religious vibes.  A huge number of people including campers, vendor service workers, tourists and those who want to celebrate Naadam yet again filled the vast green venue which was converted into a huge amusement park especially for kids.

Horses and people on horseback were the most common sight at Khui Doloon Khudag.  That’s how the Mongolian Naadam celebration is to be imagined.  Mongolians have little problem with having many horses around, but it might have been a bit of a challenge for tourists to navigate themselves freely and safely among the man and horse mixed crowd.  Camel riding was also quite popular.

Being one of the two biggest national festivals of Mongolia, Naadam is where people feel Mongolian.  Increasing interest in archery among people was detected as there were relatively many archery vendors offering people a chance to hold a bow and arrow, and give it a shot.  Archery is finally starting to assume its rightful status as a national sport alongside wrestling and horse racing in society’s mindset instead of something that they only watch during Naadam.  I observed many people appearing not at all reluctant to try and miss all three shots; they indeed seemed pleased with their experience.  Archery is no longer just a subject of attention to the community of archery athletes.

“People were overjoyed by the revival of Danshig Naadam”

To figure how the revival of Danshig Naadam is perceived by the people, we met some people to hear their opinions.  “Last year, it was more organized.  Although the crowd is thicker than last year, organization is less tight this time.  Otherwise, the Danshig Naadam is going well”, said B.Otgonsuren who was selling her hand-made products at the tourism expo.  “Danshig Naadam tradition has been lost for many years. It is right to restore this precious cultural piece.  People were overjoyed when it was first renewed last year”, she said.  She was selling felt accessories and traditional costumes and said that tourists mostly picked her felt wedgies.

“It is right to restore one’s cultural heritage. I think, the Danshig Naadam is very beneficial.  I have seen the Tsam dance for the first time, and it left deep impressions on me” said 17-year-old B.Khulan.  “I think, it’s best to organize the Danshig Naadam annually; it will be good for Mongolian Buddhists”, she added.

“Mongolian people are restoring their long lost traditions and the revival of Danshig Naadam is one of them.  The celebration of Danshig has many significances including the stabilization of governance and spreading spiritual peace among the general public,” said L.Uuganbayar, head of a religious organization.  He was exhibiting an antique ger which was special because of its age and equally old contents.  Contents of the ger included two wooden beds, chess, a wooden avdar (box furniture that sits in the rear part of a ger), a fireplace, and 100-200 year-old wooden buckets.  After collecting the rare furniture pieces, Uuganbayar put them together for the Danshig Naadam.  Uuganbayar was the last of several people we approached and who had similar opinions about the Danshig Naadam.


Photo by N.Batbayar and T.Chimgee

The article is featured in the Mongol Messenger's issue No.12 for August 12, 2016.