The Mongolian nomads have celebrated several festivals around a year over the centuries. The most important and most colourful festival of the Mongols is the Great Naadam festival that takes place annually in July in Ulaanbaatar and provincial capitals and villages. The Naadam Festival is an annual celebration of the courage, strength, and marksmanship of the nomads. The festival originated from the era of the Khunnu Empire (The Huns) and was originally created as a competition between warriors of different tribes. Today these traditions are still alive as individuals compete in the “Three Manly Sports” of wrestling, horse racing, and archery.
The rich history of the Mongol people is on display throughout the festival. The opening ceremony starts with a reminder of Mongolia’s fierce past under the Khans. The 9 White Flags of Chinghis Khan, a great source of national pride, are carried in a parade from the State Parliament House to the Central Stadium. After the flags have been planted in the stadium, a colorful opening ceremony featuring Mongolian singers dancers will amaze you.
Mongolian Horse Racing
Across the country 26,000 horses race for distances that range from 15km to 35km. At the festival in Ulaanbaatar alone 2400 horses are raced in 6 age categories. Boys, some of whom are as young as 6 years old, ride the horses bareback over the entirety of the course. The boys and their horses train together for at least 45 days before the festival in order to prepare for the rigorous test of endurance.
The Mongols have revered strength throughout their history. Today, wrestling is one of the most popular sports in the country with many boys beginning to wrestle as soon as they can walk. The wrestling portion of Nadaam consists of either 512 or 1024 wrestlers in a one-on-one, single elimination completion. There is no weight category and no arena, only two men in an arduous display of strength and skill. Each match begins with the Eagle dance, a dance that lifts the wrestler’s spirit, and ends when the first wrestler falls to the ground. The winner each year goes home a national hero.
If there is one group of people that have truly mastered the art of archery it is the Mongolians. There are countless tales of the feats of Mongol warriors and their skill with the bow. It was recorded that one of Chingis Khan’s warriors, Esunkhei Mergen, hit a target at 520 meters, an almost unfathomable distance for archers. This mastery of the bow, combined with the mastery of horseback riding allowed the Mongolian empire to expand to be the largest contiguous empire in the history of the world.
In the modern competition, men shoot arrows from a traditional bow at a distance of 75 meters. Women shoot at 60 meters. The archers aim at stacks of small blocks with the goal of knocking them over in what can only be compared to bowling. Mongolian archery is truly distinct from the type of archery practiced in the rest of the world.
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