Svetlana Suktueva, The Dog in Kalmyk Culture

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Terbish, Baasanjav 

If a dog comes to your house, it is forbidden to chase it away or kill it. There is a belief that such dogs are the reincarnation of your ancestors. Such dogs should be fed and taken care of. The Kalmyks are superstitious about dogs. In Kalmykia there are three types of dog, (1) barg noha or watchdogs, (2) shurg noha or hounds, and (3) gavsh noha or mongrels. Watchdogs are considered to be helpers of herders. These dogs are also referred to as ‘dogs with 4 eyes’ (because they have spots above their eyes). Dogs are a very sensitive and communicative species. They always let you know where they are. Each dog has its own individual character. Dogs are very loyal to their owners and understand them well. Like watchdogs, hounds also protect their owners and their livestock. By running around, they bark and chase away wolves and foxes. Mongrels are usually kept inside houses or in yards. They also protect their owners by barking at intruders. In the past, however, dogs were not allowed inside a human habitat i.e. houses or yurts. Common dog names are Basr, Galzn, Khasr. About the treatment of dogs. It is considered to be a sin to kill a dog without a good reason. Although the killer may not suffer, it is usually their children who do. Stories about people killing dogs and their children suffering as a result are widespread in Kalmykia. Dog’s saliva is believed to have medicinal properties. For example, it is good for tumor. The Kalmyks have a tradition of burying good and loyal dogs. The dead dog’s mouth is smeared with butter and then yellow and silver coins are thrown at it. The words uttered at the funeral are: ‘Be reborn as a human being in your next life’. Another ritual involving dogs is connected with weddings. In the past, when new brides were brought into the house of their in-laws, they were supposed to pray to their in-laws and taste a dairy product, usually milk. After sipping the milk three times, new brides were supposed to feed the domestic dogs with the leftover milk, which symbolized her loyalty to her husband’s family and clan. Today the Kalmyks do not perform this ritual. There are several omens connected with dogs. For example, if a yellow dog has a black spot around its mouth, it is a bad omen, for it is believed that such dogs would bring bad news. The same can be said about black dogs that have a yellow spot around their mouth. In the past, the Kalmyks did not keep such dogs. Also, in the past, when dogs whined excessively, their owners were supposed to go to a temple and ask monks to read mantras to stop their dogs whining. It was also customary to kill such dogs, for it was believed that by whining they brought bad news to their owners. Another situation when dogs were killed was when they attacked their owners.

hunting, dog, spots, omens, ancestors, belief, medicinal properties
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Sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.