Naadam (Eriin Gurvan Naadam to give it its full title) is here. If you’ve heard of the Three Manly Games then you’ve heard of Naadam. Naad means games and Naadam highlights the ‘three manly games’ of Mongolian wrestling, archery and horse racing. It is one of Mongolia’s festivals as can be found on our Mongolia Festivals website page.
To clear things up, Naadam (whether the State Naadam in UB or one of its rural counterparts) is a favoured public holiday, one of Mongolia’s top sporting events, a celebration of culture and tradition and pride, and a vibrant festival. It is important that you see Naadam from a Mongolian perspective. Naadam is for Mongolians and we as visitors will not understand or necessarily agree with every aspect of it (such as the use of child jockeys). It’s a celebration of ordinary people and century’s old tradition melded together. It is a time when Mongolians eat, sing, drink and enjoy life to the full. It is a true celebration celebrating all things Mongolian. Just relax and enjoy being part of something so special and unique.
This is your concise (almost) introduction to this fantastic event. First up is Mongolian wrestling….
Mongolian restling is virtually the same in every Naadam except that the more local Naadams have fewer rounds according to the numbers of participating wrestlers. Also, the winners of local Naadams receive aimag (provincial) and soum (district) titles, but never a state title.
Mongolian wrestling has certain codes of conduct that are concerned with etiquette. For example:
Rounds 1-2 – All 512 wrestlers are listed according to their rank from the top and in the first two rounds the ranking list is folded – meaning the highest ranking contestant wrestles the lowest ranking wrestler. Thus the nearly equal contestants (around 248-257 on the ranking list) will be wrestling each other.
Third Round – By the beginning of the third round, the number of wrestlers will have decreased to 128. Beginning from the highest titled wrestler, the wrestlers themselves choose whom they want to wrestle. This launches a totally different game. First of all, the high titled champions, knowing that they must conserve energy for the remaining six rounds, will not call (select) a wrestler whom they have never before wrestled because they are vary of surprises. So, they call weaker wrestlers whom they feel they can easily defeat. Of course, the outcome is not always as expected.
Fourth Round – Beginning from the fourth round the selection rule is again “folding”.
Fifth Round – the start of the state titles. Falcon (winner of the fifth round) is a dream title for every young or new wrestler as they qualify for their first state title. If those who already have state titles win this round, almost no one cares. All the attention is directed towards young un-titled wrestlers
Sixth Round – By the start of the 6th round you will notice that the bigger wrestlers are starting to dominate the game. Why? It is because after five rounds of competition, only the most well trained men who can endure several hard wrestling rounds remain. Usually the new ‘falcons’ fall on this round even though they can and do employ surprising tactics. However, one or two of the new falcons might survive elimination in the 6th round and therefore qualify for a new title— Khartsaga (Hawk or Kestrel). When that happens it becomes a game changing wrestling event and the audience shouts and whistles their excitement.
Seventh Round – The Endurance Game (for you and the wrestlers!). In this round, the new title is Elephant. By this stage, only eight wrestlers remain. Because the ultimate victory of the Naadam is quite close, the big wrestlers don’t attempt risky moves. They wrestle carefully and slowly in order to make the other wrestler tired or so frustrated that he tries too risky a move. By the end of 30 minutes of non-result, the judges draw who will receive the right to have his preferred grab. If the lucky one doesn’t succeed with his preferred grab, the next grabbing choice is made by his opponent. In this way, the judges force the wrestlers to compete faster.
Eighth Round – If a wrestler wins this round for the first time, his title will be Garuda —the mythical bird. If any of the wrestlers finds enough stamina and speed to “disturb the field” (meaning to do speedy, surprising tricks rather than just slow wrestling), then the audience becomes happy and loud and shout their support.
Ninth Round – Finally! For a Mongolian, depending on which province a contestant is from, the final round can be quite emotional. The title of Lion is given to a first-time Naadam winner.
Mongolians know how a certain technique works and immediately yell with excitement if such an ‘air technique’ becomes successful. When that classic winning moment finally occurs and the entire stadium rocks with shouts, yells, whistles at their loudest, you’ll feel that you are in the right place at the right time. This is Naadam!
If you’re considering experiencing Naadam, why not do so with Eternal Landscapes? All images used on this post were taken by guests of EL. We provide you with a more flexible yet personal and up-close experience of this fantastic festival. Get in touch for details.
Jess @ Eternal Landscapes