Naadam FestivalKirsten Scully
Naadam is the most widely watched festival among Mongols, and is believed to have existed for centuries in one fashion or another. Naadam has its origin in the activities, such as military parades and sporting competitions such as archery, horse riding and wrestling, that followed the celebration of various occasions, including weddings or spiritual gatherings. It later served as a way to train soldiers for battle. The three games of wrestling, horse racing and archery had been recorded in the 13rd century book The Secret History of the Mongols. During the Qing’s rule, Naadam became an festival officially held by sums. Now it formally commemorates the 1921 Revolution when Mongolia declared itself independent of China. Naadam also celebrates the achievements of the new state. Naadam was celebrated as a Buddhist/shaman holiday until secularization in the 1930s under the communist influence of the Soviet Union.
In Mongolia, the biggest festival (National Naadam) is held in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar during the National Holiday from July 11 – 13, in the National Sports Stadium. Naadam begins with an elaborate introduction ceremony featuring dancers, athletes, horse riders, and musicians. After the ceremony, the competitions begin. The competitions are mainly horseback riding. Naadam is also organized in different regions of Mongolia and Inner Mongolia in July and August. In the Tuva Republic, Naadam is held officially in 15 August.
The three sports are called “Danshig” games. They became the great celebration of the new nation, where the nobility got together to dedicate to the Jabzundamba Khutugtu, the new head of state.
Genghis Khan’s nine horse tails, representing the nine tribes of the Mongols, are still ceremonially transported from Sukhbaatar Square to the Stadium to open the Naadam festivities. At these opening and closing ceremonies, there are impressive parades of mounted cavalry, athletes and monks.
Another popular Naadam activity is the playing of games using shagai, sheep anklebones that serve as game pieces and tokens of both divination and friendship. In the larger Nadaam festivals, tournaments may take place in a separate venue.