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Culture and traditions

Old beilevers

One unforgettable evening at the Old Believers

Who are they? In the 17th century, the opponents of Patriarch Nicon's reforms, who stuck to their principles and old rituals, were brutally persecuted and they had to flee to the borderlands if the Russian Empire and even abroad. Since they moved with their families, so they were called «semeyskie» (this word derives from a Russian word «semiya» — which means «a family»).

Why in Buryatia? The Russian state geopolitics played a great role at that time and the most important purpose of this geopolitics was to consolidate the positions of the Russian Empire in the Far East and Siberia, including the economic development of this vast territory. Since 1764 till 1770 the main groups of the Old Believers were settled in the Transbaikalian region, along the tributaries of the Selenga River.

What is so special? Even nowadays a trip to the village of the Old Believers can be a trip into history. The Old Believers are a unique and striking Branch of the Russian people. They have not lost their specific culture and they have preserved their strong moral principles, ringing song heritage, books and icons of the Pre-Nicon script. It seems as if the time has stopped in their villages! You can find the same authentic houses, utensils, clothes and you can listen to the same songs as three centuries ago.

How can we get there? The way to the Old Believers leads to the village of Tarbagatay, which is 55 kms (34 mls) away from the capital of Buryatia. We can come by a bus or a minivan in a trice, from Ulan-Ude to «Omulyovaya» mountain, where an unforgettable show usually starts.

You will be welcomed with ringing, beautiful songs and dances at the top of the mountain. They will tell you about their traditions and rituals and you will also take part in them!

Later you will know more about the history of resettlement of the Old Believers at the Community Cultural Center.

How to have a good time in the evening?

Two centuries ago the Old Believers would never give a stranger a cup of water. Nowadays they invite you to their houses, entertain you to the dishes of old Russian cuisine, tell you about their history, show you how to put on and wear traditional clothes.

Maybe, you'd like to try the clothes of the Old Believers on and participate in an old ceremony? Or maybe you'd like to take part in a facetious game called «Podushechka» (a cushion)?

You can listen to the ancient Old Believers' tales and songs all the evening long through.

And can you imagine a Russian feast without old russian vodka?

Don't be afraid of staying late there. We can easily bring you back to any part of the town!

The evening, spent at the family of the Old Believers, is an opportunity-not-to-be-missed to add colorful photographs, videotape recording and tape-recording with ancient dances and songs to your collection.

The Buryats

The Buryats, numbering approximately 436,000, are the largest ethnic minority group in Siberia and are mainly concentrated in their homeland, the Buryat Republic. Buryats are of Mongolian descent and share many customs with their Mongolian cousins, including nomadic herding and erecting yurts for shelter. Today, the majority of Buryats live in and around Ulan Ude, the capital of the republic, although many live more traditionally in the countryside. It should also be noted that Buryat Mongols do not only live in Buryatia, but also are significant minorities in Mongolia and Inner Mongolia as well.

The name «Buriyat» is mentioned for the first time in a Mongolian work (1240). Consolidation of tribes and groups took place under the conditions of the Russian state. In addition to genuine Buryat-Mongolian tribes that merged with the Buryats, the Buryats also assimilated other groups. The territory and people were annexed to the Russian state by treaties in 1689 and 1728, when the territories on both the sides of Lake Baikal were separated from Mongolia.

The historical roots of the Buryat culture are related to the Mongolian. After Buryatia was incorporated into Russia, it was exposed to two traditions — Buddhist and Christian. Buryats west of Lake Baikal (Irkutsk Buryats) are «russified», and they soon abandoned nomadism for agriculture, whereas the eastern (Transbaikal) Buryats are closer to the Mongols, may live in yurts and are mostly Buddhists. Though the traditional religion of the Buryat people is Shamanism.

These people respect old traditions very much. The main tradition is called tuhalamzha — this is the tradition of helping each other during ll significant events in the life of a family.

The Buryats are traditionally hospitable. The ritual of paying visits is very popular. They are equally happy to visit their friends and greet them in their own home.

Maslenitsa (Shrovetide)

This holiday came from the paganism. It is celebrated a week before the Lent and seven weeks before the Easter. The name of the holyday derived from «butter week» or «cheese week». During the whole week people can eat non-fast meal and drink enough for the last time this year before the Lent. At the same time the Maslenitsa was a kind of gradual adaptation to the non-fast Lent meal, people already did not eat the meat on these days.

The symbolism of the holiday's rituals is connected with the old Slavic heathen tradition to send off the winter and to welcome again the spring, the sunny warmth. In honor to the sun people baked pancakes believing that while eating a round pancake resembling the sun they ate a piece of its warmth and power.

From Monday to Monday each day had its own traditions and rituals.

On the first Monday people created a scarecrow named Maslenitsa, symbolizing winter, put it on a hill and started sledding. Women tried to sled as far as they could from the hill to make the flax grow up longer in summer, in order it to be «long».

On Tuesday people rode on troikas, performed puppet side shows, organized funny home performances and concerts and walked and danced in the streets in costumes.

On Wednesday they baked pancakes and brewed beer that everyone could try at home and in the streets.

On Thursday kulak fightings were held. They fought «wall to wall» or «one to one».

On Friday there were mother-in low's parties. The sun-in-low paid a visit to his new family were richly served table waited for him. On this very day newlyweds were especially respected.

On Saturday were daughter-in-law's parties were held. She accepted parents and other relatives at her place.

On Sunday people forgave each other. It was and still is a «Forgiving day». One could forgive everything to those who harmed him last year. The former answered only «If God forgives I will as well». At the end of the week's celebrating the scarecrow of Maslenitsa was burnt at outskirts of a village. It signified that the winter went away and the spring became the hostess of Nature.

On Monday men rinsed their teeth with vodka to wash out non-fast food, women washed utensils cleaning it up of the grass, people bathed in banyas.

Nowadays Maslenitsa is mostly celebrated on its last days: Saturday and Sunday. The holiday is a funny and colorful performance with a lot of traditional entertainments: troika riding, sledding from hills, pancakes baking and tasting, national competitions, folk concerts and performances and for sure burning Maslenitsa's scarecrow and jumping above the fire to purify themselves of all «dirt» before the awakening of the Nature.

The Holiday of «White Month»

The Europeans celebrate New Year only once a year, the Russians — twice. And only in Buryatia New Year comes three times a year!

«Sagaalgan» is a holiday signifying the beginning of New Year and coming of spring. Following the Lunar calendar tradition it is dated on February. The scientists still argue, how we should translate the name of the holiday. It can be translated both as «White Moon» and «White Month».

Sagaalgan symbolizes purification, the beginning of the new life and experience of pure feelings and emotions. It is a good opportunity to visit friends and to taste white dairy food for the whole month.

The houses are cleaned and special food is cooked beforehand.

The main ritual during the month is — evening fire «Dugzhuuba». It is celebrated in Datsans. People are walking round it, holding a piece of dough in their hand. They wipe themselves with this dough purifying themselves. New Year is the time when lifestarts anew.

It is accustomed to treat each other to white food on this holiday: sublimated milk skins, homemade cheese, sublimated curds, sour clotted milk, buns, dairy cookies, pozy (dumplings made on steam), milk-based vodka «tarasun». Also, milk, tea, or water should be tossed with a spoon to the four directions in order to honor the tenger (sky spirits) of the four directions. The White Moon festival lasts until the moon becomes full. Traditionally the fire that is lit at the rising of the White Moon was not allowed to go out until the full moon, but that custom is rarely practiced today.

They say in Russia: «You'll spend the whole year as you met it «. Come to get wonderful impressions from Sagaalgan in Buryatia.


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