Mongolian Arts and Culture
The Tale of Khoomii
Once upon a time, there was a little orphan boy who lived at the foot of the high mountain for three years. The mountain had lots of different sounds of eco. When the wind blows hard, a loud noise was created. The little boy had no one around him, but he started mimicking the eco to express himself to the nature. When his voice reached the other people in the area through wind, locals called it Khuumuu, throat singing.
Long song of Mongolia
There are two types of songs in Mongolia: short and long songs. All the special events including state ceremonies and traditional festival begin with a long song of Mongolia. Long song is accompanied by the “Morin khuur” horse head fiddle. Many verses of long songs relive traditional stories of nomad life, describing the beauty of the steppes and the desert.
The Legend of a Long Song
Once upon a time there was a hunter who usually did hunting in forested mountains. One day when he was hunting he saw a deer with beautiful long horns. Right when he was about to shoot it, it produced a wonderful sound which he had never heard before. Its wonderful sound could be heard from afar. This sound touched him and he couldn’t shoot it. Since that time it has been said that long song originated from deer singing.
Horse head fiddle: Morin khuur
One of the representations of nomad Mongolians’ respect for horses as the symbol of strength and good spirit is the musical instrument Morin khuur, horse head fiddle. During the long history Mongolian have created utilized and transmitted over 400 musical instruments. Horse head fiddle which has been maintained for centuries has the long history. According to the legend, a man created morin khuur to imitate relevant sounds of adored horse. Indeed, horse head fiddle is a unique traditional musical instrument that can accurately imitate neighing, trotting, and galloping sounds of a horse. Morin khuur, horse head fiddle is a bow instrument and a carved horse head on the top. Both strings and the bow are made of horse hair.
Today horse head fiddler play not only traditional but also classical music with morinkhuur and get high appraisal from listeners and specialists from many countries. Morin khuur, horse head fiddle was listed in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO in 2008.
The Legend of the Horse Head Fiddle- Morin Khuur
Once upon a time there was a handsome man in the Eastern part of Mongolia. He was known by the name “Khuhuu Namjil”. He also was popular among the locals as he sang beautifully. He left for the western part of the country to serve in the army . His commander found him talented because he had a clear voice and sang beautifully. Instead of letting him do military training, his commander kept asking him to sing beautiful songs for him. This went on for more than 3 years. While he was in the army he met a beautiful princess. When he returned back home from the army, she gave him her horse named “Jonon Khar” as a token of remembrance. It was very a special horse. When he reached his home, locals were very interested in his horse. He only rode the horse given to him by his beloved princess. Locals also wondered why he only rode that horse.
In the evenings, he flew to the western part of the country on his horse to see his beloved princess but returned to the eastern part of the country at dawn Three years passed this way and nobody knew what he was doing. He had a neighbor who was very rich. In that family, there also was a gossipy woman who let the people argue and quarrel with each other. She was very jealous of him since she knew that he had a very special horse that nobody else had. She wanted to make trouble for him because of her jealousy. One time, Khukhuu Namjil saw his beloved princess and came back home as usual. His horse was sweating a lot and he wanted to send it to the pasture at dawn after its sweat had died down. He decided to relax until dawn.
As soon as the treacherous woman heard the sound of horse’s hooves, she spied upon them. After Khukhuu Namjil went into his home, she approached the place where his horse was tied. Unfortunately, the horse didn’t sense that she was an enemy. The horse looked so splendid by showing its strong chest and it kept moving its wonderful two wings with magic. She hurried to her home and wanted to bring her scissors which she used to for tailoring work. The horse, which was commonly known by the name “Jonon Khar” died as the evil woman cut its beautiful magic wings.
Khukhuu Namjil woke up at dawn to send his horse to the pasture. But he found his beloved horse dead. He was in deep sorrow and was about to faint. His sorrow and loss couldn’t be expressed in words.
One day he decided to make a musical instrument for the remembrance of his beloved horse. He carved its head, made the handle from a soft tree and covered the lower part of that instrument with horse skin. The two strings were also made from the tail of his horse. He covered its two strings with tar to produce a more melodic sound. Then, he started playing it by describing different gates of his horse including galloping and trotting and also imitating its neighing. Thus, the Horse Head Fiddle “Morin Khuur” originated from Mongolia and the Mongols have played it for many centuries.
In the past, tsam dance was called temple dance. Tsam dance was danced during the religious festivals. The concept of the religious dance is to eradicate bad spirit and bad deeds. In tsam dance, lamas wear elaborate costumes and brightly painted papiermache masks to act the roles of various Buddhist gods. The masks are works of art and are displayed in Mongolian temples and museums. Tsam dance can be seen at Amarbayasgalant Monastery in Selenge province. As well, a few song and dance ensembles show traditional concerts where you can see tsam dances.