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Clan Rituals

The main purpose of clan and communal rituals is to consolidate, protect and secure the wellbeing of close-knit groups of people who may or may not be related through kinship. These rituals include gal tyalgn (fire ritual), gazr takilgn (worship of land), us takilgn (worship of water sources) and usn-arshan (water ritual). Whilst all these rituals are performed differently by different groups in different places, a general consensus among Kalmyks is that whereas gal tyalgn is a ritual that is done by patrilineal relatives, the other three rituals usually involve people who live together or see themselves as belonging to the same locality.

The rituals of gal tyalgn, gazr takilgn and us takilgn involve fire, which is believed not only to have cleansing quality but also serves as a medium by which food offerings are delivered to the realm of the supernatural, inhabited by ancestors, Tsagan Aav, the spiritual masters of land or water sources, protectors of various Kalmyk clans, Buddhas and bodhisattvas. As the goddess of fire, Okn Tengr is also an important recipient of fire offerings. These three rituals are usually directed by Buddhist monks or ritual specialists who read prayers and perform rites. Usn-arshan, by contrast, is simpler in form and involves the bathing of people in rivers or lakes, tossing coins into the water, reading prayers and partaking of consecrated water.


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Now showing 1 - 20 of 65
  • ItemOpen Access
    Yulia Naranova, About the worship of the masters of water
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-07-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Koldaev, Tseren; Okonova, Altana; Churyumov, Anton
  • ItemOpen Access
    Vera Inzheeva, Gal tyalgn
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-07-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Koldaev, Tseren; Okonova, Altana; Churyumov, Anton
  • ItemOpen Access
    Ekaterina Dorzhieva, Ongyalgn
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2014-08-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumova, Elvira
  • ItemOpen Access
    Baatr Mandzhiev, Ongyalgn
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2014-08-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Seleeva, Tsagan; Seleeva, Tsagan
  • ItemOpen Access
    Tatyana Dordzhieva, About the ritual of ‘cutting a black tongue’
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-10-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Churyumov, Anton
    Tatyana says that gossiping is not only bad for gossipers themselves but for their children as well. To counter a gossip, people perform a ritual known as ‘cutting a black tongue’ which is accompanied by reading well-wishes and prayers. The person for whom it is performed also bites a white and a black threat symbolizing the destruction of the power of the gossip.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Maria Beltsikova, About my clan protectors and the persecution of monks
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-12-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Churyumov, Anton
    Maria says that the terrain around the village of Bolshoi Tsaryn is flat, with no mounds or barrows. The nearest river is in a place called Yangal. Maria’s husband was from the Taltakhin clan whose patrons are the goddesses White and Green Tara. The patron of Maria’s mother’s clan is Anja Burkhn.Maria reminisces about her childhood when one day she saw papers flying on the steppe presumably from the nearby temples that had been ransacked by the Bolsheviks. She was warned by her mother not to touch any paper. In 1929 the local monks were arrested and sent into exile. Those who were spared hid their identity and stopped performing religious rituals.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Danil and Sergei Orusovs, Gal tyalgn
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-10-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumov, Anton
    Danil and Sergei say that they perform the ritual of gal tyalgn when someone in their family sees a dream in which their ancestors request this ritual. For the ritual, they slaughter a sheep and put certain offerings on a fire, including the sacrificial sheep’s head (with its tongue and jaw removed) and its legs, biscuits, candies and milk. The meat of the sheep is shared among the participants. Sheep bones left from the feast are burnt on the fire. The ritual is directed by the elder of their clan.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Galina Suikieva, about the worship of the spiritual masters of water and land
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-03-12) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumov, Anton; Kovaeva, Bair; Churyumov, Anton
    Galina says that gazar-usn takilgn (a ritual of worshiping land and water) is performed on various occasions, such as when it does not rain for a long time or when one’s livestock becomes sick. Before conducting this ritual, people should go to a temple and ask for an auspicious day to conduct this ritual. People should bring dairy products to the ritual, which should be done close to a water source. The ritual of worshipping earth is conducted when people buy a new house or property. The parents of a man who is getting married also perform this ritual. During usun-arshan, people also worship land and water by tossing coins around and praying to Tsagan Aav and other spiritual masters of that place. People consecrate water turning into ‘arshan’ or elixir. That is why the holiday is called usun-arshan literally meaning ‘water-elixir’. 
  • ItemOpen Access
    Galina Mandzhieva, gal tyalgn in the Soviet period
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2015-09-24) Terbish, Baasanjav; Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira
    Galina says that her father conducted this ritual in October. He slaughtered a sheep in the traditional way without spilling its blood on the ground. Then he lit a fire in the stove at home and tossed fat and butter into the fire. Her father also performed this ritual outside near a spring. He invited his relatives, a monk, and cooked meat. The monk red prayers, and then all ate the meat and drank tea. Galina and other children helped her father during the ritual. 
  • ItemOpen Access
    Galina Erdneeva, the worship of the masters
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2018-01-26) Terbish, Baasanjav; Bembeev, Aleksandr; Korneev, Gennadiy; Bembeev, Aleksandr
    Galina says that the ritual of worshipping the spiritual masters of nature is performed in an open space on the steppe. This ritual involves a fire which is used to burn milk, butter, and meat as an offering to the spiritual masters of land and water sources. She says that in the past Kalmyks performed such rituals in their ancestral land, near a water source. Monks were involved in reading prayers at such rituals. 
  • ItemOpen Access
    Gal tyalgn
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2018-03-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumov, Anton
    The video features the ritual of gal tyalgn (fire worship) as it was performed in Orgakin for the members of the Boltakhin clan. In the beginning, the monk who directs the ritual consecrates the place with incenses. The lay people arrange food on the table, and prepare wood for the fire. The lama begins to read prayers, and the people sit down. The lama reads from a book, periodically ringing the bell in his hand. A women cleanses all participants with a smoking incense. On the monk’s instruction, somebody places three candles on the ground. Two pots are placed in front of the monks: one contains food, including grain, flour, biscuits, sweets, and fruit, and the other pot contains sheep’s fat. All this is done while the monk reads the prayers, and sprinkles rice to the ground. A man pours vodka into a cup and puts it in front of the monk who dips a branch with leaves into the cup and then waves the branch, sprinkling the vodka in the air. The monk utters a prayer in Kalmyk for the spiritual masters of the place and deities to protect the Boltakhin clan. The fire is ‘fed’ with offerings, including butter, sweets, fruit, biscuits, milk, yoghurt, incenses, and tea. All men hold mustard seeds in their right hand, go to the fire, close their left nostrils with a finger of their left hand, and blow the mustard into the fire. The burning of mustard seeds symbolizes the disappearance of illnesses. Afterwards, all men circle the fire and recite the mantra ‘khum bazra pet’ and bow three times. Afterwards, the women do the same. The fire is again ‘fed’ with sweets and sheep’s fat. People receive gifts and pronounce their names loudly for the deities to hear. After the monk finishes reading prayers, one of the elders of the family takes the pot with sweets and sways it clockwise while uttering ‘a khri, a khri’. Other people also hold sweets in their hands and repeat after him. This rite is performed to ask the deities for luck. During all this time, the monk continues reading prayers and ringing his bell. After that all participants form a circle, holding rice in their right hands, and with their left hands holding the hands of their neighbors. All bow twice, uttering ‘May all the prayers reach the recipients and all our wishes be fulfilled’. After a third bow, all jump up, throwing the rice up and shouting ‘khyure’. Finally, all go round the fire clockwise, chanting ‘om mani pad me khum’. All bow to the fire and thank the deities. The monk sits on his chair and all the participants come to him to receive a blessing. Jangar Chikindeev (a member of the clan): I am from the Boltakhin clan of the Orgakinskiy aimak. Today we have gathered and held a ritual for our clan, in particular for the family of the Kavkishevs. Yesterday they slaughtered a sheep, by cutting its belly open, and purified the meat with incenses. The blood and the intestines were wrapped in the skin – after the ritual it was used as an offering to the spiritual masters of water. Meat, the sheep’s head, the rump, internal fat, sweets, biscuits, fruit, and cereals have been used as an offering to ancestral spirits. Usually this ceremony is held in spring and autumn, during Urs Sar and the month of the mouse. But there are exceptions, and as is the case today, it can be performed on other days. This ritual is performed to feed ancestors and ask them to grant us health and prosperity. Before the holidays of Zul and Tsagan Sar, each family conducts this ritual for themselves in their courtyard. For the ritual of gal tyalgn we use the sheep’s skull with its jaw removed, the sacrum, the sternum, the right back leg and the left front leg of the sheep. These parts are burned in a fire. The rest is eaten up only by close relatives who participate in the ritual. One’s maternal relatives cannot partake of this food. The most important offering both to the fire and the ancestors is the sheep’s internal fat. The jaw and the tongue are wrapped in the sheep’s skin. The skin bundle is put on a raft and lowered into the water. Other offerings that are placed on the raft are candies, biscuits, and white and yellow coins. Milk is also poured into the water. Since we receive everything – our happiness, health, prosperity, livestock, and shelter – from deities, spiritual masters of land and water, and our ancestors, every family should perform this ritual. We perform this ritual on our ancestral land. The first to come to this place was lord Sheereng accompanied by his aid Ulda Baatr. Ulda Baatr had a son called Org. Org’s three sons established three clans, including Boltakhin, Baadzhikhin and Onkakhin. we come from the second son. The Boltakhin is divided into two, namely Shalhdud and Taarlmud sub-clans. Until the 1930s, we were all considered as one clan of Orgakhin. Later we split into Boltakhin, Baadzhikhin and Onkakhin. In this area we have eight clans in total. The other five clans joined us later. During all rituals that we perform we mention our ancestors. The main protector of our clans is Vajrapani. We usually appeal to him for help and protection. Today the fire burnt well, which means that all the deities, spirits and ancestors have come, accepted our offerings and bestowed on us their blessings. This ceremony should be conducted at least four times a year. The spiritual master of this place is a huge snake that has a head resembling that of a dragon. He lives in the place where we carried out the ritual today. In the past, Orgakin elders used to gather together to perform joint rituals for all the clans near the stupa dedicated to a monk. After every ritual, as soon as they reached their homes, it rained. Batyr Elistaev (the monk who directed the ritual): I am the abbot of the temple of Bogd Dalai Lamin Rashi Lunpo. My monastic name is Gombo-Dordzhe. Today we have carried out a ritual called gal tyalgn for the Boltakhin clan, in particular for the family of the Kavkishevs. Since times immemorial, people cured themselves and secured their wellbeing with the help of fire rituals. Today’s ritual also had the same purpose. During this ritual, we appeal to four groups of deities to whom we make offerings. These groups include (1) Buddhas and bodhisattvas, (2) Vajrapani, (3) all living beings, and (4) the spirits that dwell in this area. The ritual consists of three parts. The first part was held for all the four groups of ‘spiritual guests’. The second part was dedicated to Vajrapani. The third part is devoted to the spirits of ancestors and the spiritual masters of this land. This particular place is where this clan has lived for centuries. The ceremony is performed so that the reservoir has plenty of water, the sky rains, the grass and crops grow, and the livestock develops. There are two seasons when this ritual is performed. In the month of the horse (i.e. April) we perform gazr tyaklg (i.e. make offering to spiritual masters of nature). In the autumn, we make offerings to our ancestral spirits. This ritual is performed on special days. 
  • ItemOpen Access
    Ekaterina Dorzhieva, kishg durdh
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2015-05-08) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumova, Elvira
    Ekaterina talks about a funerary ritual: When a person dies, the living utter well wishes so that the deceased does not suffer in the afterlife and leaves his/her ‘happiness’ or ‘blessing’ behind for the relatives. It is believed that those who have received this kind of ‘blessing’ live happily. Through well wishes people also ask the spiritual masters of nature to protect them. In order to transfer this ‘blessing’ from the dead to the living, people perform the ritual of gal tyalg (fire ritual). A sheep is killed, and candles are lit. The elders utter well wishes, and put offerings, including biscuits, sweets, and other foodstuff, on the altar. These offerings are later divided among the relatives. During the ritual people ask for happiness for both themselves and their livestock. The ritual should include a knowledgeable person who can read special prayers, ring the bell, and light incense in the house. On the outside, people burn butter on a fire. The livestock and the whole house and the courtyard are purified with incense. At the end, all participants say well wishes, eat, and drink tea. 
  • ItemOpen Access
    Bulyash Chumudova, about a ritual to purify one's house
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2015-05-25) Terbish, Baasanjav; Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira
    Bulyash talks about a ritual to cleanse one’s place of habitation: Recently we have cleaned and purified our house and courtyard. We invited a monk, set a fire in the courtyard, and sprinkled into it butter and other offerings, including incense and milk. There are many rituals around, and each requires special prayers to be chanted. You tell the monk which ritual you want, and he reads the appropriate prayers. During the ritual of cleaning one’s house, the monk enters each room and reads prayers. He burns incense, tosses rice and yellow and white coins onto the floor. We follow the monk and also pray. He can also read prayers outside the house. This ritual is also prescribed for those who are struck by misfortunes. When I was a child, we performed similar rituals. After moving into our summer camp, we were visited by monks from the nearby temple who read prayers and cleansed the place. We uttered well wishes for the new place. In the past people migrated twice a year. In April with the appearance of grass, people moved into their summer camps, a place with abundant grass and water. In October, when it gets cold and starts snowing, people moved into their winter camps. I myself was born in a nomadic yurt. 
  • ItemOpen Access
    Zurgan Lidzhieva, about the worship of the masters
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-05-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Babaev, Andrei; Kovaeva, Bair; Churyumov, Anton
    Zurgan talks about the rituals of gazr us tyaklgn (worship of land and water) and gal tyalgn (fire worship): The ritual of gazr us tyaklgn (worship of land and water) takes place in early spring. People bring with them butter, milk, tea, sweets, as well as statues of Buddhas and rosaries in order to ‘revitalise’ objects. Statues and rosaries can be ‘revitalised’ both at temples and during outdoor rituals, as long as these objects are exposed to prayers. During a ritual, people walk around the fire and toss offerings into it, including sweets, sugar, tea, milk, and vodka. This is done for the deity of fire. This ritual is done so that it rains, snows, the crops grow well, livestock multiplies, as well as for peace and happiness. This ritual is performed in a clean and high place where the grass grows well. People toss white coins onto the ground, put butter and food into the fire, and a monk reads prayers. Gal tyalgn should be performed by men only.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Zinaida Lidzhieva, worship of the masters of land and water
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-01-28) Terbish, Baasanjav; Babaev, Andrei; Kovaeva, Bair; Churyumov, Anton
    Zinaida talks about gazr us tyaklgn (worship of land and water): After the ritual of gazr us tyaklgn (worship of land and water) all wishes become fulfilled. This ritual consists of offering hot food to deities and uttering well wishes. After the Kalmykis returned to Kalmykia from Siberian exile, we immediately performed the ritual of gal tyalgn. We used a goat on that occasion. After that we used only sheep. Once, the chairman of the nearby farm brought a couple of sheep for the ritual. One sheep was used as an offering. We made a small boat, put candles and other offerings, and lowered the boat into the water. The temple of our clan of Tsaatan was in a place called Tsagan-Ovstya. A monk called Telyan Stepan, who studied in Mongolia, taught us the whereabouts of that place. Today, nothing left from that temple, except for few stones. During the religious repression, the temple was destroyed and the monks were dispersed, some of whom fled abroad. People built a small prayer house on the site of that old temple. In that building we light candles, but we carry out large rituals outside which we advertise beforehand in the newspapers. For the ritual of gal tyalgn we erect a yurt, light candles, utter well wishes and make offerings to deities. Not far from Tsagan-Ovstya we have also built a stupa. The stupa has flowers and other objects put inside it. Several young people from our clan kept a statue of Buddha from Mongolia for five years, before installing it inside the stupa. Through the ritual of worshiping land and water, people express their respect to the spiritual masters of nature. Prayers are addressed to the masters of that particular land and water sources, as well as Tsagan Aav. People light candles, offer coins and sweets and utter well wishes. Milk, vodka and shuurmug are sprinkled into the fire. Vodka is also sprinkled into the fire, to the ground and to the skies.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Viktoria Mukobenova, worship of the land
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2015-11-13) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumov, Anton; Kovaeva, Bair; Churyumov, Anton
    Viktoria talsk about the ritual of gazr tyaklgn (worship of land) in a place called Chapchacha: In 1991, when Buddhism began to revive, members of the Zyungar clan erected a stupa in a place called Chapchacha, where there stood a temple in the past. My maternal grandmother took part in the construction of the stupa. Every year, all Zyungar people gather in this place to perform the ritual of gazr tyaklgn (worship of land). In the spring, if it is dry, our elders also perform this ritual. I myself participated in a couple of such rituals. During such a ritual, people cook meat in a big pot, and read prayers while tossing butter and fat into the fire. I hear that we still perform this ritual in Chilgir. There people also perform us tyaklgn (worship of water sources).
  • ItemOpen Access
    Batyr Elistaev, about spirit-masters of lands and waters
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2018-03-01) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumov, Anton
    When you are appealing to ancestral spirits, it is not necessary to call their names loud. You can just imagine them in your head. When you are appealing to the spirits of a specific area or land, you can use the name of that place, for such spirits do not have personal names. Not all ponds are inhabited by spirits. In this pond, however, there lives a very strong spirit. There are people who saw it in the form of a 10-meter long snake. Basically, the spirit manifests itself when a rite is being held here. In the past, the village of Orgakin was located right in this place. People settled along the springs that flow here. When the Kalmyks returned from Siberia, they found their village relocated where it is today. In terms of hierarchy, Tsagan Aav is more senior than the spirits of nature. He is their leader. Since we live on earth and feed off it, it is important to perform rituals of making offerings to these spirits. A problem with the modern man is that he feels himself a hegemon: he climbed into the concrete buildings, wrapped himself with wires, and thinks that he is protected. However, he is not. Often, it is large cities that are affected by floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. This happens because we have lost touch with the world around us. We disrespect the land and its spiritual owners, polluting and poisoning the land. As a result, we fall ill with skin rashes, and our immune system deteriorates. This is the vengeance of the spirits of the earth, water, space, wind, and mountains. 
  • ItemOpen Access
    Viktor Mandzhiev, about animals offered to gods
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2018-03-23) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Korneev, Gennadiy; Koldaev, Tseren; Bembeev, Aleksandr
    Viktor talks about a goat in his native village that was used during rituals: We had a goat in our village. In the spring it was used during rituals. All the villagers gathered near a willow in a certain place to conduct gal tyalg (fire ritual) and a ritual of substitution. The goat would be released into the water. Behind it we released a raft laden with offerings, including candles, coins etc. The goat would reach the other bank and get out of the water. Offered to deities, that goat walked freely around the village and could go into anyone’s yard. In winter, we all fed it with hay. Apart from that goat, we had a bull that all the villagers fed together.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Vasiliy Mandzhiev, about the ritual of making offerings to the deities of water
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2019-05-10) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Churyumova, Elvira
    Vasiliy talks about a ritual performed by fishermen before going fishing: On the shores we kill a sacrificial sheep. The head of the sheep is put on a raft made from the vine bush and sent to drift on the water. During the ritual people pray so that they have a good catch. After that people go fishing. Before throwing the nets, the fishermen toss white coins into the water.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Valentina Bovaeva, about my clan
    (Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge, 2017-08-10) Terbish, Baasanjav; Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira
    Valentina talks about her lineage, clan, clan deities, and Tsagan Aav: The Khoshud aimak (or clan) consists of 15 arvns (or lineages). I'm from the arvan of Chonakhn. My father was born in 1914. We are called Chonakhn (i.e. wolves) because in our lineage we had a white wolf. We treat this animal with respect. I am very afraid of dogs. My father and older brother always asked me: ‘Why are you afraid of dogs? You’re a wolf person, aren’t you?’ My grandfather used to say that no wolf would ever harm us. The ribbons of our clan are of red and white color. These ribbon are used during weddings. Once, a girl from our arvn got married. But she was not asked by the groom’s side to bring her ribbons. The girl gave birth to daughters only. It was not until she took her clan ribbons to her new house that she gave birth to a boy. All Khoshuds venerate ‘two yellow Buddhas’. They are two statues made from gold. Following the Bolshevik revolution, 125 temples were destroyed in the Kalmyk steppe. My mother used to tell me that at that time the whole steppe was covered with statues and texts from destroyed temples. Not only did the ‘two yellow Buddhas’ evade confiscation but they survived Siberia (i.e. exile). Today they are kept in the village of Sarpa which is the land of the Khoshuds. The people from Sarpa lived close to each other in Siberia and returned home to Kalmykia without many casualties. My mother always sent butter to fill the candles dedicated to the ‘two yellow Buddhas’. During fasting days, we all went to visit the statues. Today the statues are kept by Azaeva Klavdiya Mandzhievna from Sarpa who is also a Chonakhn woman. Before that, the keeper of the statues was an old man called Khulkhach, and after him his children. The Buddhas ended up in Azaeva Klavdiya’s house because she happens to be a descendant of the first keeper of these statues. No celebration among the Khoshuds is held without praying to these two statues. I know that one of the statues is the Buddha Aryabala. Also, all Kalmyks venerate Tsagan Aav. During a ritual of worshipping land, the first deity that worshippers mention is Tsagan Aav because he is the Master of the Universe. My parents used to tell me that in the past people did not kill saigak antelopes no matter how hungry or needy they were. They are the animals that Tsagan Aav rides on. Every place has its spiritual protector or master. These protectors may take the form of a snake or the sandy wind. For them people perform special rituals.