Naadam (meaning:’games’) is a traditional festival in Mongolia. The festival is also locally termed ‘eriin gurvan naadam’, ‘the three men’s games. The games are Mongolian wrestling, horse racing, and archery and are held throughout the country during midsummer.
Women have started participating in archery and girls in the horse-racing games, but not in Mongolian wrestling. To learn more about naadam day in Mongolia, Keepincalendar put together everything you need to know.
Naadam Day in Mongolia
The festival has its roots in the nomad wedding assemblies and hunting extravaganzas of the Mongol Army.
This festival has been held for centuries as a form of memorial celebration, as an annual sacrificial ritual honoring various mountain gods or to celebrate a community endeavor.
The festivities kick off with a colorful parade of athletes, monks, soldiers marching in perfect uniformity, musicians performing powerful military tunes, and Mongolians dressed in Chinggis-style warrior uniforms.
In 2010, Naadam was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO.
The biggest festival (Naadam of the Country) is held in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar during the National Holiday from July 11 – 13, in the National Sports Stadium. Naadam begins with an elaborate introduction ceremony featuring dancers, athletes, horse riders, and musicians. After the ceremony, the competitions begin.
Naadam is the most widely watched festival among Mongols and is believed to have existed for centuries in one fashion or another.
Naadam has its origin in the activities, such as military parades and sporting competitions such as archery, horse riding, and wrestling, that followed the celebration of various occasions, including weddings or spiritual gatherings.
It later served as a way to train soldiers for battle. Now it formally commemorates the 1921 revolution when Mongolia declared itself a free country. Naadam also celebrates the achievement of the new state. Naadam was celebrated with minor religious holiday until the destruction of Buddhism in the 1930s.
The three sports are called ‘Danshug’ games. They became the great celebration of the new nation, where all the nobility got together to dedicate themselves to the Jabzundamba Khutugtu, the new head of state.
Genghis Khan’s nine yak tails, representing the nine tribes of the Mongols, are still ceremonially transported from Sukhbaatar Square to the Stadium to open the Naadam festivities. At these opening and closing ceremonies, there are impressive parades of mounted cavalry, athletes, and monks.
Another popular Naadam activity is the playing of games using shagai, sheep anklebones that serve as game pieces and tokens of both divination and friendship. In the larger Nadaam festivals, tournaments may take place in a separate venue.
The three games
512 or 1024 wrestlers meet in a single-elimination tournament that lasts nine or ten rounds. Mongolian traditional wrestling is an untimed competition in which wrestlers lose if they touch the ground with any part of their body other than their feet or hand.
When picking pairs, the wrestler with the greatest fame has the privilege to choose his own opponent. Wrestlers wear two-piece costumes consisting of a tight shoulder vest (Bodog) and shorts (shuudag). Only men are allowed to participate.
Unlike Western horse racing, which consists of short sprints generally not much longer than 2 km, Mongolian horse racing as featured in Naadam is a cross-country event, with races 15–30 km long. The length of each race is determined by age class. For example, two-year-old horses race for ten miles and seven-year-olds for seventeen miles.
Up to 1000 horses from any part of Mongolia can be chosen to participate. Racehorses are fed a special diet.
Children from 5 to 13 are chosen as jockeys who train in the months preceding the races. While jockeys are an important component, the main purpose of the races is to test the skill of the horses.
Mongolian archery is unique for having not only one target but hundreds of surs on a huge wall. In this competition, both men and women participate.
It is played by ten men/women teams who are given four arrows each; the team has to hit 33 ‘surs’. Men fire their arrows from 75 meters away while women fire theirs from 65 meters away.
Traditionally the archers wear their national clothing ‘Deel’ during the competition. All the performances wear leather braces up to the elbow on the arm that is stretched, so that the deel’s cuff does not interfere with shooting.
Targets are installed with short wooden tubes with a little ball inside. They are placed one on top another formed as a pyramid shape. Knocking a tube out of the pyramid with an arrow is target hitting, though to know the ball out of the tube will bring you more points.
When the archer hits the target the judge says uuhai which means ‘hooray’. After every single shooting, someone from among the oversees bends and adjusts the destroyed pyramids and makes it ready for the next round. The winners of the contest are granted the titles of ‘national marksman’ and ‘national markswoman’.