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Gal tyalgn



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Terbish, Baasanjav 


The video features the ritual of gal tyalgn (fire worship) as it was performed in Orgakin for the members of the Boltakhin clan. In the beginning, the monk who directs the ritual consecrates the place with incenses. The lay people arrange food on the table, and prepare wood for the fire. The lama begins to read prayers, and the people sit down. The lama reads from a book, periodically ringing the bell in his hand. A women cleanses all participants with a smoking incense. On the monk’s instruction, somebody places three candles on the ground. Two pots are placed in front of the monks: one contains food, including grain, flour, biscuits, sweets, and fruit, and the other pot contains sheep’s fat. All this is done while the monk reads the prayers, and sprinkles rice to the ground. A man pours vodka into a cup and puts it in front of the monk who dips a branch with leaves into the cup and then waves the branch, sprinkling the vodka in the air. The monk utters a prayer in Kalmyk for the spiritual masters of the place and deities to protect the Boltakhin clan. The fire is ‘fed’ with offerings, including butter, sweets, fruit, biscuits, milk, yoghurt, incenses, and tea. All men hold mustard seeds in their right hand, go to the fire, close their left nostrils with a finger of their left hand, and blow the mustard into the fire. The burning of mustard seeds symbolizes the disappearance of illnesses. Afterwards, all men circle the fire and recite the mantra ‘khum bazra pet’ and bow three times. Afterwards, the women do the same. The fire is again ‘fed’ with sweets and sheep’s fat. People receive gifts and pronounce their names loudly for the deities to hear. After the monk finishes reading prayers, one of the elders of the family takes the pot with sweets and sways it clockwise while uttering ‘a khri, a khri’. Other people also hold sweets in their hands and repeat after him. This rite is performed to ask the deities for luck. During all this time, the monk continues reading prayers and ringing his bell. After that all participants form a circle, holding rice in their right hands, and with their left hands holding the hands of their neighbors. All bow twice, uttering ‘May all the prayers reach the recipients and all our wishes be fulfilled’. After a third bow, all jump up, throwing the rice up and shouting ‘khyure’. Finally, all go round the fire clockwise, chanting ‘om mani pad me khum’. All bow to the fire and thank the deities. The monk sits on his chair and all the participants come to him to receive a blessing. Jangar Chikindeev (a member of the clan): I am from the Boltakhin clan of the Orgakinskiy aimak. Today we have gathered and held a ritual for our clan, in particular for the family of the Kavkishevs. Yesterday they slaughtered a sheep, by cutting its belly open, and purified the meat with incenses. The blood and the intestines were wrapped in the skin – after the ritual it was used as an offering to the spiritual masters of water. Meat, the sheep’s head, the rump, internal fat, sweets, biscuits, fruit, and cereals have been used as an offering to ancestral spirits. Usually this ceremony is held in spring and autumn, during Urs Sar and the month of the mouse. But there are exceptions, and as is the case today, it can be performed on other days. This ritual is performed to feed ancestors and ask them to grant us health and prosperity. Before the holidays of Zul and Tsagan Sar, each family conducts this ritual for themselves in their courtyard. For the ritual of gal tyalgn we use the sheep’s skull with its jaw removed, the sacrum, the sternum, the right back leg and the left front leg of the sheep. These parts are burned in a fire. The rest is eaten up only by close relatives who participate in the ritual. One’s maternal relatives cannot partake of this food. The most important offering both to the fire and the ancestors is the sheep’s internal fat. The jaw and the tongue are wrapped in the sheep’s skin. The skin bundle is put on a raft and lowered into the water. Other offerings that are placed on the raft are candies, biscuits, and white and yellow coins. Milk is also poured into the water. Since we receive everything – our happiness, health, prosperity, livestock, and shelter – from deities, spiritual masters of land and water, and our ancestors, every family should perform this ritual. We perform this ritual on our ancestral land. The first to come to this place was lord Sheereng accompanied by his aid Ulda Baatr. Ulda Baatr had a son called Org. Org’s three sons established three clans, including Boltakhin, Baadzhikhin and Onkakhin. we come from the second son. The Boltakhin is divided into two, namely Shalhdud and Taarlmud sub-clans. Until the 1930s, we were all considered as one clan of Orgakhin. Later we split into Boltakhin, Baadzhikhin and Onkakhin. In this area we have eight clans in total. The other five clans joined us later. During all rituals that we perform we mention our ancestors. The main protector of our clans is Vajrapani. We usually appeal to him for help and protection. Today the fire burnt well, which means that all the deities, spirits and ancestors have come, accepted our offerings and bestowed on us their blessings. This ceremony should be conducted at least four times a year. The spiritual master of this place is a huge snake that has a head resembling that of a dragon. He lives in the place where we carried out the ritual today. In the past, Orgakin elders used to gather together to perform joint rituals for all the clans near the stupa dedicated to a monk. After every ritual, as soon as they reached their homes, it rained. Batyr Elistaev (the monk who directed the ritual): I am the abbot of the temple of Bogd Dalai Lamin Rashi Lunpo. My monastic name is Gombo-Dordzhe. Today we have carried out a ritual called gal tyalgn for the Boltakhin clan, in particular for the family of the Kavkishevs. Since times immemorial, people cured themselves and secured their wellbeing with the help of fire rituals. Today’s ritual also had the same purpose. During this ritual, we appeal to four groups of deities to whom we make offerings. These groups include (1) Buddhas and bodhisattvas, (2) Vajrapani, (3) all living beings, and (4) the spirits that dwell in this area. The ritual consists of three parts. The first part was held for all the four groups of ‘spiritual guests’. The second part was dedicated to Vajrapani. The third part is devoted to the spirits of ancestors and the spiritual masters of this land. This particular place is where this clan has lived for centuries. The ceremony is performed so that the reservoir has plenty of water, the sky rains, the grass and crops grow, and the livestock develops. There are two seasons when this ritual is performed. In the month of the horse (i.e. April) we perform gazr tyaklg (i.e. make offering to spiritual masters of nature). In the autumn, we make offerings to our ancestral spirits. This ritual is performed on special days.



Ritual, gal tyalgn, clan, spirits, 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