Repository logo

Vladimir Boldyrev, About Making Offerings to a Fire, Land and Water

Change log


Terbish, Baasanjav 


Vladimir talks about a ritual of offering to a fire, land and water. This is his story. When my older relatives passed away, I began to perform these rituals. I have been doing it for more than 50 years now. Only those who can speak Kalmyk should perform this ritual because it is believed that ancestors understand only Kalmyk. A ritual of offering to a fire is performed in the following situations: during a wedding, before the construction of a house or moving into a new house, and in case of tachal (i.e. when the deceased haunts the living). On a wedding day, the groom’s delegation brings the bride’s side a live sheep. This sheep is offered to a fire. It should be slaughtered by tearing off its aorta. Before building a house or moving into one, a man should make an offering to the spiritual master of land. In the past, during a ritual of making offerings to ancestors Kalmyks burnt three sheep bones: a sternum, a scapula and an ankle. From sheepskin Kalmyks made horse reins so that the deceased could find the right path to the afterworld. The sternum bone is wrapped into the reins and then the offering is covered with fat sheets from the sheep’s intestines. Other offerings such as incenses (sangin idyan), hot butter, red and white coins are put on top of the wrapped-up sternum. Coins are offered to both Green Tara and Tsagan Aav. During a funeral, Kalmyks throw bones with meat from the front right side of a sheep into a fire. This meat should be twisted over the fire by uttering ‘Khyur-khyuryu’. This is done in order to ask the deceased to grant his/her blessings (kishg) to living relatives. Kalmyks also believe that a deceased person can cause what is called tachal. In order to get rid of it, one needs to bring a long-sleeved shirt, a robe or a piece of fabric to a temple. The prayers read in the temple are believed to provide the deceased with clothes which he/she may not have in the afterworld. A ritual of offering to land is performed for the well-being of livestock so that they have enough water to drink and grass to eat. In the past, for this ritual Kalmyks went to the steppe where they slaughtered a sheep. They sprinkled vodka upwards and lit seven candles (zul) thus symbolising the seven stars of Ursa Major. During this ritual, lamas read prayers and people uttered well wishes to each other. A ritual of offering to water is different. It involved a boat and a figure of a sheep made from bulrush. Food offerings were put on the boat along with seven burning candles. The boat was pushed into the river. Each Kalmyk clan performs these rituals in their own ways. Having said that, they all share the same tradition. About Zul. In the past, Kalmyks made a boat-shaped vessel to put candles inside. These vessels were made from various materials, including dough or potatoes. The number of candles in a boat had to correspond to the age of a family member to whom the candles were dedicated. For those who were 60 and older, Kalmyks made only about 10 candles each. During Zul, boats with burning candles were put outside when the first stars appeared in the sky. People watched their boats until they burnt out. Afterwards they fried their boats and ate them. In the past, children were given a piece from old people’s boats so that they lived longer. There are three days of fasting in a month. These are the eighth, fifteenth and thirtieth days of each month. On these days, gods are believed to descend on earth to see how people live. It is important that housewives keep candles in their houses burning. Today many people complain that their children get ill easily. Knowledgeable people recommend that Kalmyks worship their ancestors so that their children stay healthy. Kalmyks always made food offerings to their ancestors even when they had little to eat. At the end of the video, Vladimir briefly talks about traditional behaviour. He says that men should never brag that they live well and in plenty, because in one’s life good and bad things go together.



Ritual, fire, water, land

Is Part Of


Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge

Publisher DOI

Publisher URL

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