Mongolian Folktales – The Camel Versus The Mouse

Mongolian Legends – How They Started
December 12, 2021
Sacred ovoo at Khovsgol Nuur National Park
Mongolia’s Sacred Ovoos
December 12, 2021

Mongolian Folktales – The Camel Versus The Mouse

Mongolian’s follow the Lunar Calendar as created by the monks of Gandan Monastery – Mongolia’s most important monastery located in Mongolia’s capital city Ulaanbaatar. The Lunar Calendar has 12 animal years. The animal years are alternately male and female and combine with five elements – wood, fire, earth iron, and water – represented by the colours of blue, red, yellow, white, and black respectively.

According to legend …

Once upon a time, God decided to create a ‘pattern of time’ and he made an announcement to the people: ‘I am creating a 12-year calendar; however, I need 12 different animals to distinguish each year. I’ve decided that tomorrow afternoon – the first twelve animals that appear before me will receive one of the names until I have named all 12’. So, the following day animals appeared before him.

The first 11 were the monkey, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, cock, dog, and pig. However, the 12th animal that appeared was actually two; the camel and the mouse. God did not know which to choose. Both would be good representatives because he created both. God decided to have a contest for the 12th year because both were equal to him.

The following day the mouse and camel were to watch for the sun to rise. The first to see it rise would go back immediately to God and tell him. The camel, being proud, propped himself on a hill facing east where the sun always rises. He was confident that he would see the sunrise first because he thought of himself as very intelligent. The little mouse, sitting on the camel’s hump, faced the west. When the sun began to rise the mouse first saw its reflection on the mountains it was staring at. Thus, the mouse had won the contest and became the 12th animal on the calendar.

The Lunar Calendar is used in Mongolia for marking the new year, traditional holidays and auspicious dates. It incorporates elements of the lunar calendar with those of the solar calendar. Mongolian New Year is known as Tsagaan Sar which means White Month. It marks the ending of winter, the start of spring and a new beginning. Image: EL guest Kairi Aun.

(Mongolian herders always dispose of the ash a distance away from the ger and camels like to roll in the ash and use it as a ‘scratching post’ – Mongolian herders say this is as a way of trying to get rid of the pesky mouse that won against the camel!)

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I'm Jess Brooks, the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia and the voice behind EL's blog posts. For more than a decade, since 2006, I've been based in Mongolia, working closely with my beloved Mongolian team to advocate for a tourism approach that brings about positive change.. What sets our blog apart is our deep understanding of Mongolia—our home. Unlike content from influencers or creators, our posts prioritise authenticity and firsthand knowledge as guiding principles.
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