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Larisa Shoglyaeva, An Interview



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Terbish, Baasanjav 


In this video Larisa talks about herself. Larisa: I was born in Siberia in 1946. When I was born, my father was already 56 and my mother 44. My mother told me later that she felt ashamed to tell people that she had given birth at her age. I was born in the evening. We lived three families in the same house. My older sister, who had no winter coat, wore an old sweatshirt that she dried on top of the oven in the house. One day when she came home, she learnt about a new baby. I was born in the 241st sovkhoz in Maryanskiy rayon of Omskaya oblast. In our village there lived Germans, Estonians, Ukrainians and Kalmyks. We all lived in friendship. Later (in the 1990s), I returned to my Siberian village on the train ‘The Children of Siberia’. There were four people from our village on that train. Upon arrival, we collected the local old people, gave them presents and talked. We cried. So did the local elders. One old woman asked me: ‘Are you not the daughter of the Davaevs?’ I said: ‘Yes, I am Shura Davaeva’s daughter.’ My mother’s Kalmyk name was Chenzh though. Later we went to a cemetery. In the past when Kalmyks died, their corpses were piled up on the outskirts of the village. We took with us candles and food as offerings. My father is from the Avnra clan. I’ll tell you how I ended up in Orgakin (in Kalmykia). In Kalmykia, after finishing my studies at a pedagogical institute – I was a Komsomol member then – I met the minister Sharapov who asked me about where I wanted to work. I said to him: ‘Send me wherever I am needed. Send me to a place where they need a teacher.’ Sharapov proposed that I go to Iki-Burul’skiy rayon, to which I agreed. At that time I did not know that it was 500 kilometers away. In 1956, I came here in Orgakin. I worked for 39 years as a teacher. Today I live with my children and grandchildren. The land of Orgakin is a happy place. The local people are good people. (When I was younger) the old people knew about their genealogy very well. When we were young we did not pay much attention to this sort of thing. Now I understand that what the elders used to talk was a fountain of wisdom. Here lived Boskhomdzhiev who knew the history of this land very well. We used to listen to his stories. There was another old woman called Tagcha, who was very knowledgeable too. Today there are a few old people left. I should have written down what they had told us. We thought that we would never need their stories. When people get old, they think of their land, their people and good friends. On 18 December people who are younger than me – people in their 50s – invited me to the local club to talk about how we celebrated Zul in the past. Why? Because their parents are already gone and they themselves know little about this celebration. For us, the lama Tsongkapa is like a god. Zul is on the 25th day of the month of the mouse. On this day people pray to Tsongkapa. Our elders used to tell us that the Kalmyks have three important holidays, Zul, Tsagan Sar and Ur Sar. (Larisa talks about Zul in detail). I am happy that today the young people listen to our advice. In my 30s when we lived in the Soviet Union I knew nothing about traditions. We used to go out during Zul, did not perform rituals, ate meat and drank vodka. Question: Can you say a well wish for Zul, please? Larisa: ‘Let the old year depart and the new come/ Let all people live well without illness/ The coming year will be good, with plenty of rain/ Let people live in friendship/ Let all the bad go away and the good stay around/ Live well with your children, grandchildren and livestock’. People said well wishes before drinking tea. Children were given sweets and gingerbread. In the past, people wore their national dress. In front of their dress women had a white cloth hanging that they used to clean their hands. They also had a pocket filled with white and yellow coins that they gave to children. White coins, made from silver, symbolize life without illness and problems. Yellow coins symbolize abundance. In the past, there were no candies but sugar lumps. It was put on the hand, split into smaller pieces, and then given to children. I remember all this very well. (Larisa talks about how people celebrated Tsagan Sar in Siberia; how people celebrate Ur Sar today in Orgakin village; rituals connected with children; Kalmyk dress; hairstyles; the ritual of worshipping the spirit-masters of water; clan rituals and the hill of Kermen Tolga; and rain-making rituals). In the Soviet times, we knew little about god. Nevertheless, we prayed, because god was inside us. My father died when I was 2, and my mother when I was 21. The Kalmyks knew their traditions and taught them to their children. When I was a pioneer, then became a member of the Komsomol, I did not understand these things well. But I memorized whatever my mother taught me. My mother and I secretly did all the necessary rituals during traditional holidays. Whatever I learnt from my mother, today I pass this knowledge on to the next generation. In Kalmykia, the first national classes opened only in 1991, with 23 teachers. I was one of them. We read books and attended the lectures by professors from Xinjiang (China). Whatever I learnt from the professors I taught it to my students who were very interested (in cultural topics). Afterwards, I fell ill. I went to see healers who said to me that I had to accept 15 gods (as my protectors). Before that I used to read prayers to myself only. When I fell ill, I was very scared, because I was told that my condition would deteriorate. I decided to accept gods as soon as possible. Anya Molokanova gave me (the images) of gods. I accepted Tsagan Aav (as my protector) three times. After that, Anya gave me other (images of) gods. I also received books and the statues of Buddha from Yurda Rinpoche from Tibet. (Today) I help people. If someone needs my advice about how to organize one’s altar, I help. On the 15th day of the lunar month I read prayers at the temple, although I skip them from time to time. When I forget and eat meat or sausages on these days, I ask gods for forgiveness. I also read prayers on the 2nd and 16th days of the lunar month, which is the day of Tsagan Aav. I received books of prayers from our lamas. Whatever our lamas read, I read them too. When I feel up to it, I read prayers. (Larisa shows her altar and talks about her dreams). Question: Could you tell me what is the attitude of people towards people like yourself (i.e. towards folk healers)? Larisa: Different people have different attitudes. Today people want to learn more about spirituality. People ask questions, I answer them. Today almost all people are religious (in Kalmykia). In the beginning, some people thought that I was crazy. Later they understood that I am an adequate person. What I really appreciate is that the young people became curious, they want to learn more, and that they respect lamas. Question: What do you think of Buddhist monks? Larisa: You already know about this without me answering this question. There are real lamas and there are those who are fake. I am a psychologist by nature. The teaching work suits me. I look at people’s eyes, because the eyes show the soul of that person. By nature, I am a mysterious person who is connected to gods. I do not like talks about the hereafter though. You can learn about a person by looking at his/her behavior, the way that person sits, speaks, from that person’s facial expressions. Question: I understand you do not work with the world of hereafter, but only with the upper worlds, is that right? Larisa: Yes. I do not understand (the hereafter). The most important thing for me is to help others. If people are well, their children will be too. We, old people, need nothing. We have had our lives. The only thing that we are worried about are our children and grandchildren. We sit and pray. I used to pray from morning to evening.



Folk healer, autobiography, Zul, Tsagan Sar, Buddhsim, dreams

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Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge

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Sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin