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Oral Traditions. Mongolian Myths, Tales, Legends and Epic Poetry ...

Discovering Mongolian literature can't be reduced to a mere overview of paper-based instances and documents, for these are inevitably bound to sedentary lifestyle: monasteries or towns. Nomads have been developing an extremely fertile and still lasting oral tradition.

Like in many other civilisations, the Mongolian oral tradition fetches wide-ranging faculties to build fantasies. This oral culture has been shaped by myths, fables, tales, legends, proverbs and sayings as well as epic poems.

Mongolian Myths

Myths mirror how the founding forefathers of a nation sensed and comprehended the world. Although mankind shares a lot of the schemes the Mongolian mythology has been unfolding, the latter remain strongly impregnated with the environment that spawned them.

The main Mongolian myths deal with the creation of the world, the struggle between good and evil, the animal world or natural phenomena. Tenger, the Sky (male) and Gazar, the Earth (female) are holding a foremost place in them. Totemic animals also play a preponderant role in myths linked to the apparition of the Man. The Turkish wolf remains the best known of these totemic animals (the Turkish, originating from Central Asia, had been Mongols' vassals).

Fables of Mongolia

Fable is a most popular genre of oral literature. In prose or verses, fables are likely to gather all generations and are still being delightedly recounted inside of yurts in winter times.

Tackled topics are freely chosen: daily life, anecdotes, etc. These fables, upon a moral drive, raise a hero, man or animal, always virtuous and fair who, with or without the help of supernatural skills, is going to defeat evil, enemies, vice or any other tainted human tendency...

Mongolian Legends

The scope of the numerous legends from Mongolia comprises History as well as the great figures of the past or other themes involving legendary acts. Contrary to fables and myths, to which are due the respect of prose or verses, their outlines are not anyhow settled. The legend slithers, in a constant evolution, lives on and forth. Galtsog, while recounting a legend, dresses it up, embroiders it, changes it, decorates it. Like a jazzman, he fits in a mere frame and gives rise to riffs, leaving his fantasy alter, transpose or tune up and down the rest. By outside fire, he would toss dry herbs into the flames, which then burn with shimmering greens, blues, yellows, reds. The legend becomes a real show ...

Learn more about Mongolian History, visit and read about centuries of events from Mongolia's past.

Epic Poetry

The insides of yurts are also inspirited with poetry, which can be of various types.

Magtaal is a poem which can be either sung or said and aims at praising a person, family or the like. A herald recites a Magtaal-like poem to congratulate the champion of a wrestling competition.

Yorool is a poetic form used for special greetings and is for example declaimed at weddings, felt makings or by erecting a new yurt, etc...

Duulkh, the epic poem, is a very old poetic form and takes its features and inspiration in mythology. "Huuheldei Mergen Khan" is reckoned as one of the earliest epic poems. It relates the story of a khan slaying a reindeer having outstanding antlers. Spellbound by the beauty of the animal he has just killed and tormented by remorse, he will carry the dead body on the top of a mountain and stay on there three lengthy years in a will to pay him tribute. Once this stage over, the reindeer gushes out and appears to him shrouded in a rainbow. Enthralled by this last sign, Huuheldei Mergen knocks his weapons out of his hands and eventually jumps down a cliff. Right then, three soaring kites come out to raise him up to the sky, where he has since then been resting in peace...

Mongolyiin Nuuts Tovtchoo, the secret story of Mongols, comes to be the very first certified work in Mongolian literature. Written in 1240 on the banks of the Herlen river and published in 1832, it chronicles the tribes reunification and the founding of a state under the impulse of Tumurdjiin (the future Genghis Khan). More than thirty stories, poems and legends account to this work, which begins with the listing of Genghis Khan's ancestors. The Mongolian classical literary heritage is an edifice raised by numerous writings in the kind of the secret story. Chigisiin Hoyazagal, Argasuun Huurchiin Domog as well as Altan Urguuni Durnud, found again in 1930 in the Volga area, are only a few specimens of the genre.

The Empire collapse in the XIVth and XVth centuries, the decay of tribal alliances just as well as endless rivalries between princes for a short-term leadership have also been working on the literature. Manduhkai Tsetsen Hatan Domog, story of the queen Mandhai, who sold her youth and her faith at a loss for the Mongol unity, stands for a genuine model of this period's authorship. Committed to political and military activities, she is going to manage a short-time unity of all khans although her enemies will slay her after the decease of her husband...

Until the independence of Mongolia, Mongolian « classics » feature a leading poetic inclination. Gulransa (1820 - 1851), HisigBat (1899 - 1916), Danzanvanjil (1854 - 1907) and Ijinashi (1837 - 1892) are to be mentioned for their remarkable short stories and satires.

Trailed by the 1921 revolution and independence, the Mongolian literature will be undergoing big changes, leaving space in the end for the rise of an Occidentalised-type literature. Dramas, tragedies, poems, short stories, reviews, theatre flourish and drift then the Mongolian literature in a wind of novelty. D. Natsagdordj (1906-1937), a still well-acclaimed poet, will wipe off very intensely the poetic genre. His most famous poem "Minii Ekh Oron" (namely "My Mother Country") depicts Mongolia with keenest sensitivity and delicateness. Together with S. Buyanemiikh (1902-1936), D. Natsagdordj will turn out as one of the founders of the new Mongolian literature.

A short while later comes out T. DamdinSuren (1928-1986). An accomplished poet, a scientist and a public figure, he publishes in 1934 "The grey-haired Mother". The traditional themes of motherly love and filial respect upon which the latter is staked don't depart from the manifestation of a huge originality.

Other literary genres will be agitated by this revolution, without exception. Mongol writers are then going to develop their works with nature, the Revolution and its heroes, Patriotism, the Man and the Society as main themes.

The Democratic Revolution and its aftermath have showed up as a further milestone in the mind-expansion of the Mongolian literature on the world. Before this outturn, owing to the huge amount of Russian-speakers, world classics were mainly spread and read in Russian. Consecutively to the Revolution, endeavours for massive translation works had been undertaken. The latter are still on the run; people can read in their mother tongue not only world classics but also the latest best-sellers...