Mongolian Legends – How They Started

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Mongolian Legends – How They Started

Stories, myths, folktales, and legends were historically an inherent part of life in Mongolia. This is especially so as the small confines of the Mongolian ger (a practical, circular, felt, dwelling that can be easily collapsed, transported, and put up again entirely) prevented privacy but compelled families to interact and to share. Whether in oral or written form, Mongolian folktales evolved over many centuries and reflected the nomadic lifestyle, social behaviours, respect for nature, survival, religion, historical knowledge, and, of course, imagination.

Mongolian Ger Winter

This is the Mongolian legend of how tales originated among the Mongol people. 

Once upon a time, the Black Death descended on Central Asia and began its assault on the people of Mongolia. Thousands fled, leaving the sick, and as they fled they said ‘We must try to escape. Let Fate decide the Destiny of the suffering.’

Among the sick, there was a young boy called Tarvaa.  For days Tarvaa’s body battled the forces of death but finally, weak and feverish, the young man lost all awareness of this world. Tarvaa’s spirit thought that young Tarvaa had died. The spirit left Tarvaa and rose up out of the boy’s body and started the sad journey to the Underworld. On arrival, the Great Khan of the Underworld said to Tarvaa ‘Why have you left your body while it is still alive? Why have you come to my Kingdom?’

Trembling with fright, Tarvaa’s spirit replied, ‘Great Khan, all my family and all my friends who remained in that World stood over my body and said I was dead.  I did not wait for the terrible last moment, but simply left on my journey to you.’

The Khan was touched by the simplicity and honesty of Tarvaa’s spirit. He told the spirit gently, ‘Young spirit, your time has not yet come. You do not belong here. You must return. But before you set out on your long journey home, I will grant you one gift. You may choose and take back with you anything from my Kingdom that you desire.’

Tarvaa looked around and saw all earthly joys and talents – wealth, happiness, laughter, luck, music, and dance. ‘Give me the art of storytelling,’ he said, for he knew that stories can summon up all other joys.

The Khan then instructed the spirit, ‘Now return home at once. Use this gift well in life, and do not come here again until you have been called!’ So he returned to his body, only to find that the crows had pecked out the eyes. Since he could not disobey the Khan of the Underworld he re-entered his body.

Young Tarvaa recovered from the Black Death and lived on, blind, but with the knowledge of all tales. For the rest of his life, Tarvaa would travel to the far corners of the Mongol lands recounting wonderful tales and legends to his people and bringing joy and wisdom.

If you’re interested in learning more about Mongolia, why not have a look at the Mongolia country profile on the Eternal Landscapes website?

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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