Everyone has a homeland they feel proud to call their own; to love, to cherish and to take pride in. To love your homeland is to know its history, its culture and its traditions.
Here is a brief piece about the traditions of those peoples who live in Tatarstan
The essence of a culture lies in its ceremonies and celebrations. Tatar culture has traditionally included both religious celebrations (Kurban-bairam, Uraza-bairam and Ramazan) and secular ones observed at various points throughout the year.
The Tatar calendar begins with Nauruz, which is observed on the day of the spring equinox (21 March) of the solar calendar.
As with other Turkic peoples, Nauruz was observed by Tatars on 21-22 March. This was the new year by the old calendar. It was marked by complicated rites and ostentatious theatrical productions. A ritual porridge-like dish called kuzha was prepared from sprouting barley seeds, and midnight people would go out into the streets to congratulate each other on the New Year. In the morning shakirds – students from the local madrassa – would walk along the streets singing songs of events from the year gone by, then would gather to discuss their own exploits. It was here that a theatrical production would take place, as well as the presenting of unmarried girls and the newly-betrothed (Nauruz-bek) due to be married in the coming year. The name of this festival is preserved in many Tatar names and surnames to this day.
Nauruz has become one of the biggest festivals in Kazan. People come to Gorky Park to see exhibitions and plays, as well as take part in games and comedy competitions. The day would not be complete without demonstrations of figure skating and dressage and mountains of hot pancakes. And of course there is always plenty of fun to be had at the target range shooting images of the latest villains and bad guys.
Soon it will be time to sow the seeds for the new harvest – the most beautiful time of year, and the time of the festival of Sabantuy.
On a given day children will be sent from house to house to collect grains, milk, butter and eggs. A woman will then use these ingredients to make the children a porridge for their efforts. The next day, at first light, the children will put on their best clothes and go from house to house collecting painted eggs, each child carrying a bag made from towels. On this day all the women also bake rolls of bread, and in some villages it is custom for the first boy to enter a house to be sat on a cushion and told: “He who is fleet of foot is he who has many chickens and chicks…”. He would then be given some eggs – always more than those who come after him.
The roots of this festival run very deep, and indeed Sabantuy is as old as the Tatar people themselves. Even in the year 921 the famed explorer from Baghdad Ibn Fadlan, secretary of the Arab embassy, wrote with wonder and admiration of how the Bolgars marked this celebration. So too Karl Fuchs, who in his book “The Kazan Tatars” writes:
“In times of old, the Tatars celebrated this festival on Arsk Field. A table was laid in the open air where the poor could eat for free. This gift was known as Tuy. In time, however, the location was changed. In 1834, Sabantuy in Kazan took place from 25 May until 1 June. This was the first time Russians were invited, with the help of a herald carrying a long stick with a colourful handkerchief tied to the end. The herald walked through all the streets of Kazan, inviting everyone to join the celebration.”
As described with such enthusiasm by Fuchs, the celebration of the Tatar national holiday Saban took place on a large meadow on the other side of Novo-Tatarskaya sloboda. Neighouring settlements marked Saban as soon as the snow left the fields, but in Kazan it was celebrated later as the site on which it was held was susceptible to flooding from the Volga.
And here’s a little more: Saban starts on a Friday and runs the whole week until the following Friday. All Tatars, young and old, meet around noon to make a rope circle to sit or stand around. Into the circle enter two young, fit wrestlers who try to throw their opponent to the ground using the sash tied around his waist. The winner would receive a pot of money collected from wealthy Tatar merchants. Good wrestlers could expect to earn a fair sum of money. Umpires would watch over the bouts, keeping the peace with a long stick. Any disagreements over the outcome would be swiftly dealt with. In fact it was these same umpires who sought out wrestlers to take part.
Equestrian events and footraces were held alongside the wrestling. The horses were ridden by boys well skilled in the art of riding. It so happens that the term saban has two meanings: that of a “plough” and of a “scattering of seeds”, while the term tuy connotes a celebration. It is a festival dedicated to farming, to the worship of mother earth’s bounty.
Traditional Sabantuy competitions:
- Pillow-fight with sacks filled with hay while sitting astride a beam. The object of the game is to knock your opponent “from the saddle”.
- Sack race.
- Three-legged race.
- Balancing on a moving beam.
- “Split the bag”, where the participant is blindfolded and wields a stick to hit a suspended bag.
- Egg-and-spoon race, where contestants must carry the spoon between their teeth.
- A “Tatar-style” beauty pageant, where contestants compete to cook noodles in the shortest time possible.
Also on offer are shashlyk kebabs, rice plov dishes, home-cooked noodles and an assortment of other Tatar treats: sweet fried dough known as chak-chak, as well as pies like echpochmak, balish and peremyach.
Similar Sabantuy celebrations are practiced by neighbouring Turkic peoples such as the Mari, Chuvash, Bashkirs, Udmurts and Mordovians.
The Muslim festivals are held in especially high esteem. The most important of these is Kurban-bairam. Kurban-bairam, or Eid al-adha, is the festival of the sacrifice, and commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his only son to Allah. For several weeks leading up to the festival, an animal bred for meat is fattened up to be sacrificed.
Uraza-bairam marks the end of the thirty-day fast during the month of Ramadan. After breakfasting on sweets in the morning, Muslims will visit the mosque, then gather together in the evening for a family feast.
Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, traditional folk festivals have incorporated new elements which reflect the changes in society and politics. The most notable example is Republic Day (30 August), which marks the day Tatarstan ratified the declaration of state sovereignty back in 1990. Republic Day combines both tradition and modernity, encouraging people to both remember the past and look to the future. Every year on this day, towns and villages across the Republic come out in colour, as the many nationalities of Tatarstan come together to enjoy open-air theatre celebrating the historical customs and traditions of the region, wrestling competitions and ensembles of folk-musicians and story-tellers.