There is no other place like the steppes and mountains to feel one's relation to the universe and eternity. Who has only once been to boundless flat plains of Kalmykia will understand the truth of these words. The harmony of the steppes with a sharp fragrance of its grasses, the deepest blue sky, great open spaces, quiet waters of Volga and Manich, the epic Caspian sea, the constant singing of cicadas, the guttural scream of eagles, the proud grace of snow white swans and pink pelicans, the slow step of cranes gives you a new fresh understanding of time and space which seem to have quite a different rhythm and meaning here. This must be shocking but at the same time exhilirating for a modern man used to the pressures of big cities with their closed narrow spaces and crowds of people to be able to feel for even a fleeting moment a small part of this eternal wonderful living world. One cannot but agree here with the poet who could not only feel this spaciousness of the land and of the soul of people living here but also express this feeling in his poetry.

When in the steppe I stand alone
With far horizons clear to view,
Ambrosia on the breezes blown
And skies above me crystal blue,
I sense my own true human height
And in eternity delight.

The obstacles to all my dreams
Now shrink, appear absurd, inept,
And nothing either is or seems
Except myself, these birds, this steppe...
What joy it is to feel all round
Wide open space that knows no bound!

This is an ancient land which still bears the traces of its past civilizations and keeps in its memory the Hunns, who passed away through it like a wind, ancient states and peoples, Chenghis's troops and the scatter of thousands of hooves of their unkempt horses, the Golden Horde. It was a point where Asia met with Europe, the East met with the West. The Great Silk Route, one of the main ancient routes connecting the peoples and cultures of Europe, Siberia, Central Asia and Middle East, passed through the Kalmyk steppes. One of the silent witnesses of the stormy history of the steppes, a stone monument, found here is kept in the Ethnography Museum of the republic.

This land saw and actively participated in the cruel battles of peoples for their freedom and independence, in the bloodiest wars of the XX century - the Civil war and World War II. In 1942 the German fascists went through the territory of Kalmykia on their way to the Caucasus and Stalingrad (Volgograd).

The rich soil of this land gave birth to many of its famous sons who became known through their loyal service to Russia contributing to strengthening and blossoming of the Russian state. The modern generation of the Kalmyk is proud of their ancestors and honors their names: Fedor Kalmyk, a famous artist, A. Yegorov, also a famous painter, a member of the Russian Academy of Arts, Denis Kalmykov, an admiral and comrade-in-arms of Peter the Great, Dmitri Mendeleyev, a great chemist of the XX century, F. Plevako, a renowned lawyer of Russia. Many other

famous people of Russia had Kalmyk relatives: Vladimir Lenin's grandmother was a Kalmyk, Lavr Kornilov, one of his opponents was also of a Kalmyk origin.

But the real history makers of this land are its common people: ploughman, cattle breeder, fisherman, builder whose everyday hard work changes the life of the republic for the better.

Come to this land with your hearts open and you will experience this wonderful feeling of unity with the nature and energy of the steppes.

There is an old Kalmyk legend which says that those who will find and taste the wonderful plant of "amulang" will become healthy and cheerful. Only lucky ones will succeed in their search for it.

Kalmyk Customs and Traditions

The Kalmyk have many customs and traditions which were introduced in the ancient times of their Mongol history. The Kalmyk were a nomadic people known as the Oyrat or Western Mongols who used to live in Central Asia which they left for the Caspian Lowlands steppes at the beginning of the 17th century. Most of these customs and traditions are still alive today. Thus the seniority in the Kalmyk family or clan is determined by age. The younger members of the family respect and obey their elder and, in general, old age is in great respect.

Another tradition, which is strictly observed by the Kalmyk, is hospitality. There are no unwelcome guests for the Kalmyk who are always glad to meet even a total stranger offering him a drink and food without asking any questions. One of the most popular sayings of the Kalmyk is "First offer a drink to your guest, then ask him to state his business". Another one says: "The best food for your guest, the best dress for yourself" which describes the traditions of Kalmyk hospitality in the best possible way. At the table a Kalmyk will ask his guest to have a seat to the right side of him to show his respect while the left side seats are for his family and relatives.

In the past a good host used to come out and welcome his guest well before he approached a house helping him with his horse whose needs were to be attended first while the elder family members would invite the guest into the house offering him the best seat, a lighted pipe and Kalmyk tea with bortzoki (Kalmyk pastry). And here were special tea ceremonies to be followed. Thus young people were to pass a cup of tea over to the guest taking every precaution not to spill a drop of it. Carelessness was considered to be very rude since it was believed that with every drop of tea spilled the guest's happiness lessened and in this case a cup was to be returned at once and refilled. The oldest of the guests or family holding his cup of tea in his hand was to perform three "tzatzala" (three sprinkles using the fingers of his right hand to the Sky, Earth and Fire) and then say a "yoral", his best wishes to the host, his family and hospitality. There were not very many rules for a guest and they were easy to follow. Thus a well-bred guest was not to tip his cup over which was considered to be very rude as characterized him as a most ungrateful person for whom the door of the house would be closed forever.

A sheep was slaughtered for a guest staying with the family for the night to show a host's respect for him. A guest never left without a present and a special ceremony also took place here: a present (which was usually a dress or a piece of fabric) was to be put on the guest's right shoulder with a wish of happiness to him and his family. When leaving a guest was seen off by horsemen accompanying him to the main road with great ceremony.

Of course nowadays it is not always possible to strictly follow all the good manners of the past.

Respect for the Old

Some Kalmyk sayings are instructive like: "First respect your elder brother and then your younger" or "A man is a man when he has his elder brother to respect like a coat is a coat when it has a collar". These moral lessons have been carried from one generation to another teaching children to respect and obey their parents and elders. As adults a man and a woman were to honor and respect those who were older, never allowing familiarities with them or interfering in their conversations.

On festive occasions (weddings, holidays), the old people were the first to start conversation and then they were followed by other guests. When an old man was entering a house young people supported him from both sides and opened the door for him. While entering a house a young man was to give way to an old one. When an old person or a guest was leaving young people were ready to saddle his horse and see him off.

Fire Ceremony

Fire played an important role in the customs and traditions of the Kalmyk who believed that fire could cleanse everything from the bad and dirty. The Kalmyk, nomadic pastoralists, in their annual round of movement from winter camp to spring, summer and fall pasture and return performed a special ceremony making two fires and passing between them with their cattle and belongings to be cleansed from the evil. For the same purpose travellers returning from their long journeys were also to pass between the two fires with their horses and carts. It was a ceremony of great importance for the Kalmyk.

Fire accompanied the Kalmyk in their happy and bad days. Fire was sacred and it was not to be crossed over. Before one started to eat sacrifices should have been made to the God of fire. When by accident water was spilled into the fire it was considered to be a sin and to please the God of fire a piece of butter or fat was thrown into it.

To cleanse something unclean, defiled it was to be fumigated with fire and smouldering juniper. Juniper was believed to have some special magic power and it was used by the Kalmyk in the ceremony of cleansing their Buddhisttankas (icons) andthe sculptures of their gods.

There is an old Kalmyk saying that "fire and water will clean you oteverything dirty and bad".

Literature

Kalmyk Written Tradition and Literature have Mongol roots going back to their common history with one of its most outstanding written sources known as "Sokrovennoye Skazaniye Mongolov" (Secret History of Mongols) belonging to their common Mongol cultural heritage. Up to the 17th century the Oyrat (the Kalmyk ancestors) had been using the old Mongol script but after their departure from Dzhungharia (Central Asia) to the steppes of the Lower Volga a great Oyrat scholar and educator Zaya Pandita introduced a new Kalmyk script known as "Todo Bichig" (Clear Writing) which he created on the basis of the old Mongol script. All the most important treatises of history, philosophy and works of fiction including "Sutra Zolotogo Bleska" (Golden Sutra), "Almaznaya Sutra" (Diamond Sutra) were translated from Sanskrit sources and written in "Todo Bichig". The Kalmyk brought to the Volga steppes their folklore, one of the richest in the world, sharing common roots with the treasures of folklore and literature of India, Tibet and Mongolia. An academician B.Y. Vladimirtsovwith aworld reputation in Mongol studies called Kalmykia the second best treasury of folk tales after India. But the masterpiece of the Kalmyk oral tradition is, of course, a heroic epic "Dzhanghar" glorifying twelve fearless powerful warriors and Dzhanghar, their leader who defend their fairy-like homeland of Bumba and its happy people from their numerous enemies. Thus one of the greatest classics of the Russian Literature Nikolai Vasilyevitch Gogol wrote in his essay devoted to the Kalmyk the following: "The Kalmyk is a great lover of folk tales with his soul open to the world of wonder and fiction. I admire most of all fabulous "Dzhanghar". Every significant event inspires the Kalmyk for a song...". Since the 20s of this century there has begun a new period of the Kalmyk modern literature.

National library named after Anton Amur Sanan is the most important cultural and information centre of the republic of Kalmykia with its largest in the republic collection of books (480,000) and periodicals (300,000). It has a collection of books in the foreign languages and a collection of rare books of the 19th and early 20th c.c. The library with its specialized departments will be open for participants and guests of the Olympiad to provide any information they may need about Kalmykia, its present and past. The library has an access to Internet and an e-mail address E-mail: .

Theatres

Theatres of Kalmykia take part in international and Russian theatre festivals. Kalmyk National Drama Theatre and Russian Theatre of Drama and Comedy were awarded an international prize of 'Zolotaya Palma' (Gold Palm) in 1998.









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