As with all countries, Mongolia has many legends and folk-tales. Here’s one about how the animals were chosen for the zodiac – the 12-year cycle that relates each year to an animal and its reputed attributes.
Once upon a time during ancient times, God decided to create a ‘pattern of time’. One day he made an announcement ‘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 12 animals that appear before me will receive one of the years until I have all 12’. So, the following day, animals appeared before him – an ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and a pig. However, the 12th animal that appeared was actually two; the camel and the mouse. God did not know which to choose.
The camel is proud, big and self-confident and the mouse is the opposite: quiet, shy and modest. God decided to have a contest for the 12th year because both animals were equal to him. The following day the mouse and the camel were told to watch for the sun to rise. The first to see it rise would go back immediately to God and tell him.
The camel sat on a hill facing east where the sun always rises. He was confident that he would see the sunrise first because he thought himself as very intelligent and was taller than the mouse. The little mouse sat on the camel’s hump and when the sun began to rise he saw the sun breaking the horizon before the camel. Thus, the mouse won the contest and became the first animal of the animal zodiac.
(A new addition to an old blog post. We were saying good-bye to the Touchton family who were travelling with us in the Gobi on one of our Mongolia family holidays. I was telling them the above tale when Turuu asked if we had heard what Mongolian herding families say about the ash leftover from the fire in the ger stove. We hadn’t. 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!).