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Anatoliy Kekeev, about gal tyalgn

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Terbish, Baasanjav 


When I first conducted this ritual at home, my daughter was about to give birth. My wife went to be with our pregnant daughter, and I stayed at home with my youngest daughter to conduct the ritual. I prepared everything that is needed: meat, sweets, tea. We put out firewood and made a fire. When counting his rosary and reciting prayers, the monk, who conducted the ritual, saw our deceased relatives. He described one of them as ‘tall, fit, with medals on his chest.’ That was my father. Then the monk described my father-in-law, my mother, and other relatives. Shortly before we conducted the ritual for the second time, a cousin of mine died. Later the monk said to me that during the ritual the soul of a man approached him but refused to take the offerings. Upon learning what had happened, the monk said that he understood why the soul behaved in the way it did. This ritual is performed to make offerings to the ancestors and communicate with the deceased relatives who come to see how we, the living, are doing. The Kalmyk monk who performed this ritual is called Bair. In the beginning he sets a fire and burns the offerings, including the sheep’s head and various food which should be wrapped in a layer of fat. When the offerings begin to melt, the monk reads a prayer and tells us who of the deceased came to the ritual. Afterwards, it is important to wait until the ashes have cooled down, and collect the coins tossed into the fire during the ritual. The coins are put on the altar. The ash is buried somewhere in the yard. When my mother was alive, she used to bring an old woman called Bovush Ambekova to our house who did this ritual, but differently. If the monk pours butter into the fire, that woman made a sheep’s head from butter, sprinkled it with incense, and tossed it into the fire.



Ritual, gal tyalgn, fire

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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