Sangadzhi Kononov, About Kalmyk Wedding
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Terbish, B., & Churyumova, E. (2018). Sangadzhi Kononov, About Kalmyk Wedding [Video file]. https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.25335
Sangadzhi talks about wedding rituals, including matchmaking, wedding, gal tyalgn (fire ritual) and others. Born in the village of Khanata in Maloderbetovskiy rayon, Sangadzhi belongs to the Onkyakhn clan (arvn). After finishing Kalmyk State University majoring in linguistics, he worked in several places, including the Russian Theatre of Drama and Comedy in Elista, the local TV station, a secondary school, and then as the head of his native village. Today he lives and works in Elista. Sangadzhi says that the Kalmyks adhere to a kind of Buddhism which is different from Buddhism in other countries. Each Kalmyk family belongs to an arvn (clan) and each arvn has its rituals passed down the generations. Clan affiliation and knowledge of their ancestors are very important for all Kalmyks. Sangadzhi points out that it is important to follow traditional rules, from cradle to burial place. Weddings play an important role in the lives of Kalmyks. In the past, matchmaking was a long-time endeavour which started with the testing of the potential bride. Kalmyks lived in khotons (nomadic units consisting of several yurts) and matchmakers from other khotons would come and spend a night at the yurt of the potential bride. It was done as follows. The parents of the groom would send a matchmaker to the potential bride. Asking for a place to spend the night, the matchmaker would come in the evening. Before thanking his hosts and leaving the yurt the next morning, the matchmaker would make it sure that he blocks the thimble of the potential bride with dung. In a few days’ time the matchmaker would return to the yurt and check the thimble whether it was still blocked with the dung or not. Since hard-working girls were supposed to be doing a lot of sewing, by looking at their sewing implements it was possible to infer whether the girl was hardworking or not. In Kalmykia, every important ritual includes an offering of a sheep or its cooked head. On the wedding day when the groom’s side arrives at the bride’s house, they bring two sheep, one cooked and the other alive. The cooked sheep meat, however, should not be presented to the bride’s side in its entirety. The groom’s side should keep the head and the left shoulder for themselves. After the wedding ceremony, the live sheep is sacrificed, and its head is used in a ritual called gal tyalgn (fire ritual) so that the new bride successfully integrates into her new family and role. This fire ritual is performed by the bride’s relatives. The sheep’s head is divided into two: the lower jaw and the tongue, considered to be ‘unclean’, are removed, while the upper part (including the skull), which is considered ‘clean’, is boiled thoroughly until the meat falls off the skull. The holes, including the nasal cavity and the eye sockets, are filled with butter. The skull is sprinkled with incenses, white and yellow coins, and wrapped inside the intestine fat of the killed sheep. Then a fire is set alight and three clay candles are placed around it. One of the candles should be placed in front of the person who directs the ritual. This person has to wear a hat, and the others sit on small foldable chairs or squat. The person who directs the ritual sits facing either the north or the west. He/she first appeals to Tsagan Aav and Okn Tengr and asks these gods to grant the bride a happy married life. Then the sheep’s head is put inside the fire. All who are present say incantations and men move around the fire clockwise. Women do the same when men are finished. The sacrificial meat is cut into small pieces and eaten by the participants. Other rituals performed before or during weddings are (1) olkts, (2) giving the so-called omskul presents to guests, (3) a dance performed by the groom’s mother by wearing white trousers, (4) making the bride to bow to the groom’s family, (5) a ceremony of ‘the bride’s tea’. Olkts is a white cloth that has the following objects attached to its one end: white and yellow coins and stripes representing the colours of one’s clan. During the wedding, both the groom’s and bride’s sides exchange their olkts cloths thus symbolising a union between the respective clans. These olkts are kept by the newlyweds or taken to the Buddhist temple so that lamas read prayers for the continuation of the two clans. During the wedding, it is customary for the receiving side to give presents to the guests. These presents are called omskul which are shirts (for men) or cloth (for women). Before handing them over, omskul presents are dusted three times and then put on the left shoulder if the recipient is a man, and on the right shoulder if it is a woman. At the wedding ceremony, the mother of the groom puts on white trousers and performs a dance symbolising her fertility. It is the only moment in a woman’s life when she could wear trousers on a par with men. White is the colour of purity and a symbol of victory over obstacles. When the bride enters the groom’s house, she has to kneel on a special mattress and bow so that her forehead touches the floor. The recipients of this honour are the parents and grandparents of the groom who in their turn throw small pieces of sheep’s fat at the bride, wishing her fertility. By this ritual the bride expresses her loyalty to her husband and his family. The next morning, the bride makes fresh Kalmyk tea. During this ritual, her parents-in-law give her a new name, symbolising her re-birth into a new family. According to Kalmyk tradition, when a girl gets married she becomes symbolically dead for her natal family. When she enters the house of her in-laws, they smear her forehead with butter which symbolizes purity, abundance and new life. Once she becomes a new member of her husband’s family, his clan ancestors start to see her and bless her. If ancestors do not accept her, she may fall ill or get depressed. In this situation, people usually go to see folk healers who usually advise that the bride has this ritual performed (i.e. the ritual of giving a new name and smearing with butter). Apart from angry ancestral spirits, there are other powers that may hinder one’s married life. The killing of a sacrificial sheep – which should not be done during the wedding but executed either before or after – should be done according to Kalmyk tradition. Before killing a sheep, one needs to light candles on the altar and ask Tsagan Aav for permission to proceed. In doing so, one has to say to Tsagan Aav that the sheep is going to be killed either for food or for a ritual (and not as an entertainment). The sheep is put on a white cloth with its head heading towards the east. One should then smear its head, the back, the tail and the legs with melted butter and put a coin into its mouth. Than the sheep is killed without spilling its blood on the soil. A small cut is done with a knife in the sheep’s belly and the artery along its spine is pulled off by hand. If blood spills on the soil, it attracts various malign powers that impede the sheep’s soul from departing successfully into the next reincarnation. Then the sheep’s carcass is cut into seven pieces. The following parts should be offered to gods: the right front and back legs, the head, brisket, and the sacrum. The most valuable part is its head. Hence, it has to be consumed within the family whose member killed the sheep. According to Sangadzhi, every location (trees, hills etc.) has its spiritual protectors (gazr usna syakusn). Before rituals, it is important that the local spiritual protectors are appeased. In Kalmyk tradition, it is forbidden for wives to address their husbands by their first name, otherwise this is believed to bring misfortune to their husbands. Other names or words are to be used instead, including baav (uncle), mana kun (our man) etc. Other taboos that women should follow are as follows. It is forbidden to wear trousers, to show one’s heel, to cut one’s hair (since women’s power is believed to dwell in their hair). Traditionally, single women had a single braid, while married had two.
Wedding, rituals, matchmaking, offerings
Sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.25335
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