MONGOL NAADAM – The Only Festival of Its Kind

Every year on July 11-13, Mongols celebrate the National Festival – Naadam. During Naadam, Mongols have a tradition of organizing the festival consists of the “three manly sports”- wrestling, horse riding and archery, accompanies by festivities, dancing, singing and socializing.

The Naadam Festival became a state holiday in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. Since the Year of the Red Tiger in 1206, when Chinggis Khaan founded the Mongol Empire, the tradition of holding the national festival was established. The opening ceremonies of Naadam are held at the Central Stadium each year, showcasing the different periods of history of the great Mongol heritage. The national festival is celebrated throughout all districts, provinces, and the capital of Mongolia.

Wrestling is the most popular and the much-awaited of the Naadam Games. Depending if the Revolution anniversary is even or not, as many as 256 to even 1,024 wrestlers have been taking part in the Naadam wrestling contest, which is normally a two-day event as Mongolian wrestling follows the knock out system, leading to as many as nine rounds, which being the final determines the winner and the runner-up. There is no age and weight category in Mongolian wrestling, and wrestlers, as they win and go into the next round are given elaborate rank titles as Lion, Geruda Bird, Elephant, Hawk and Falcon.

Horse-racing is another ancient and important games of the Naadam. Hundreds of horses and their small jockeys – boys and girls aged between 8 and 12, will run several scores of kilometers across the steppe. The horse races draw large crowds of spectators, some racing towards sweating horses to wipe horse sweat to bless themselves, hoping that the horse’s sweat will bring good luck.

Archery is as ancient as Mongolia’s history. It used to be a male-dominated event, but now women and even girls test their marksmanship, using composite Mongolian bows. The targets are cylinders made of hardened and knit camel hide, 75 meters away for male competitors and 65 meters for female competitors. The winners of the Naadam Archery Games are decorated with elaborate titles.

The term Three Manly Games had to be changed when a uniquely Mongolian game called Shagai Kharvakh was introduced. Sharpshooters, 4.72 meters away from the target, have to shoot stylized knuckle-bones to hit the target in a sitting posture, using their forefingers. It is a traditional sport normally played in winter on frozen rivers.


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