Mongolia’s Naadam Festival – 2017

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June 20, 2017
Local Mongolian men enjoying using the camera of one of our guests at the local Naadam Festival in Kharkhorin, central Mongolia
Mongolia Through A Lens
July 28, 2017
Archery at Mongolia's Naadam Festival
If you’re reading about Mongolia then you have probably heard of Naadam. What surprises me is that people just see Naadam as the Three Manly Games. Naad means games and yes, Naadam highlights the ‘three manly games’ of wrestling,  archery and horse racing.  But, Naadam is so much more than wrestlers, horse racing and archery.

Naadam is a national celebration for Mongolians.  It is also 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 a celebration of first-class sportsmanship, ordinary people taking pride in their country  and century’s old tradition melded together.  It is also a time when Mongolians celebrate who they are, how proud they are to be Mongolian, their heritage and the qualities that produced the warrior nation of Genghis Khan. 

Countrywide Naadam

This national event is held in Ulaanbaatar on July 11th and 12th (with horse racing taking place in the week leading up to the event). The dates are the anniversary of the 1921 Revolution led by the Mongolian revolutionary Sukhbaatar that brought independence from the Qing Dynasty.  

Then, each aimag (province) also holds its own Naadam with each aimag deciding on their own festival dates. Often, the dates of these provincial celebrations are announced roughly one month in advance only.   Each province is split into districts and so most of the districts will also hold a Naadam. Naadam celebrations are also held by small communties – as an example, herders coming together to honour the community ovoo (sacred stone shrine). Naadam is a holiday and a celebration and so most communities decide an auspicious day from the Mongolian Lunar Calendar. These smaller community events are typically only advertised by word of mouth within the local community.

Opening Ceremony

It’s not just the National Ulaanbaatar Naadam that holds an opening ceremony – no matter the size, each Naadam will have an ‘opening’ of some kind. 

For the Ulaanbaatar Naadam, did you know that each year the Opening Ceremony is designed by a leading Mongolian artist? Based on a different theme?  In 2017, N. Naranbaatar was the artistic creator – the Executive Director of the State Academic Theatre of Drama and State Laureate.

The Three Manly Sports

Well. There’s four.

Horse racing, wrestling, archery and also shagain kharvaa – ankle bone shooting. 

At the 2017 national event the wrestling was won by Ts.Sodnomdorj – who previously had only achieved success at the 6th round (Hawk). It was a good year for new titles – with one Lion, Garuda, two Elephants, two hawks and six falcons being born. No. It’s not  a zoo. These are the titles given to the winners of round 5 upwards. And remember that 512 wrestlers compete so getting to round 6 or 7 is a huge achievement.

Even the Olympic gold medalist N.Tuvshinbayar took part – earning an Elephant of State title. 

The President Takes Part

Here’s part of the Naadam opening speech made by Mongolia’s President (Fifth President of Mongolia – Kh.Battulga) this year:

‘Everywhere around the world, our people are raising the fame of our beloved country, Mongolia. The banner of our independence is still standing strong. The hardworking Mongolia has won and is striving for development … Naadam celebration is a significant cultural heritage that is spreading the name of our country in the world. In the sweet times of summer, our tradition of statehood, wonder of cultural history and pleasure of our people National Naadam celebration has now started. In the days of laughter and hardship of our proud people with great history and culture, let their hearts be at ease, horses be quick and bows be accurate … Happy Naadam. Let our sovereign state be flourished. And let my people be at peace.’

If you read anywhere about Naadam being too touristy, ignore it. Naadam will be so much more than you will probably expect it to be.  The most important thing to remember is to experience Naadam from a Mongolian perspective. Apart from the stadium events, it’s free for all members of the public and it draws a large number of Mongolian families – there are  far more Mongolian spectators than foreigners- creating a vibrant holiday atmosphere. 

If you’re interested in experiencing Mongolia’s Naadam or one of the other annual festivals, why not have  quick look at the Mongolia Festivals page on my EL website. I’m always happy to answer questions so do get in touch. 

For now, Saikhan Naadaarai!

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