Surharban: Hitting the Mark!

Opening ceremonies of Surharban.

The toxophilites had drawn together. Grapplers, gathered. Jockeys, jumbled. Every hair follicle on my fair head prickled as the sun beat us. Dorj, Yulia’s cousin, sat stoically in a black button up shirt, and black slacks. We were waiting for action! But instead, mayors, governors and other top dog’s were filling our ears with pretty speeches of inconsequence. Dorj kept saying, “Man they are opening long”. In all fairness to the big wigs, they were sitting in the shade, and had no idea that a sun of treacherous intent coupled with their endless rambling prose was mind bending! Suddenly the droning stopped and . . . Dancing! Buryats and Russians alike twirled and whirled in a kaleidoscope of color to our delighted eyes. And singing! (Check out some Buryat singing here) Buryat style and Old Believer style are quite unique and different from any singing style known in the West. Twirling, silks of different hues billowing in Buryat hands, whirling, curved swords brandished in Cossack hands, color spun in dance to the lilt of their songs!

An archer looking fine.

Traditional Buryat stringed instrument the Morin Huur.

That was my introduction to Surharban, which means “hitting the target” in reference to archery. Toxophilites are by the way, “devotees of archery”. This is a festival celebrating archers, wrestlers and horse racers. All of which we watched under a burnt sun. After two ice-cream bars, a liter and a half of kvass, (a Russian sort of soft drink made of fermented bread, which Russians of all ages incessantly drink in the summer), several rounds of Mongolian style wrestling, and a couple rounds of archery, Dorj and I decided we were hot. We left the stands, and went to the cultural area for lunch, and to enjoy the dancing and singing of Buryat and Russian groups from different regions of Siberia.

Dorj in his stoic black.

Yulia came in time to watch horse racing. Dorj and I hung on until the race when after eight laps, we couldn’t tell if the race would finish soon, or continue till midnight! We decided we were baked twice over, and it was time to go home for Pozi! (Traditional Buryat meat dumpling of sorts.) As the day wore toward dusk, Dorj, his father, Sanpil and I ate pozi, and discussed the Creator of the world, and how he is crazy about Buryats! Every tribe!

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Surharban: A Season for Festivals

It is Surharban time here in the land of the Buryat people. Surharban means “Shooting the target”. Surharban is a Buryat festival of sports and culture. Wrestling (Mongolia Style), Archery and Horse Racing are celebrated sports for most nomadic peoples in Asia. Prowess in one of these sports could gain a man great standing among his people.

Eastern Style Buryat Plumage.

Surharban is celebrated on a local level, where people local to a small area gather and compete. Winners then go to compete in a Regional Surharban. (Imagine County Fair vs. State Fair).  There are three regional Surharban’s in our area, one in the Irkutsk Province, one in Buryatia, and one in the Chita Province. I had hoped to attend our Surharban here on the Irkutsk side, but this year it is on the extreme west side of Irkutsk province. I have never been there, and know no one there, so, this year I intend to go to Surharban in Buryatia, conveniently located in Ulan-Ude. Hopefully next year the Irkutsk Surharban will be closer to us.

As times have changed, and political, religious and cultural forces have combined to bring great change to the nomadic way of life, Surharban has become a repository for Buryat culture. Surharban now includes competition in traditional and contemporary song, and a beauty pageant in traditional dress. You can get traditional foods, listen to story tellers, (that reminds me, I must translate a traditional Buryat tale or two for you. They are fascinating), and the traditional Yohor (Circle dance) is always danced.

I have not yet been to Surharban, the anticipation is killing me! It will be a great opportunity to meet people, make connections, and celebrate Buryat culture. I will take my camera, and hope to get some interesting stories out of the experience.