The Naadam Festival is held for 3 days each summer in Ulaanbaatar, and starts on the 11th of July. There are several alternative Naadams held in the capitals of different aimags (provinces) – some on different dates. Mongolia is administratively split up into 18 aimags and 3 cities. Every aimag is divided into smaller soms.
Wrestling, the popular national sport of Mongolia, is the most important of the three. During a Naadam, there are nine knockout rounds. Defeating the fifth opponent brings the title ‘Nachin’ (Falcon), the seventh ‘Zaan’ (Elephant). The two wrestlers to defeat eight opponents become ‘Arslan’ (the Lions), but only one can become ‘Avraga’ (the Giant).
Before each bout, the wrestlers perform the ‘Devekh’ (or dance), which should be in the style of the animal whose name they carry, if they are titled. The competitors’ clothing consists of traditional ‘gutuls’ (boots), a short ‘zodog’ (jacket) with long sleeves tightly fit across the back and with the chest open, and a ‘shudag’ (short trunks).
The material, often top quality silk, is extremely durable. There are no limits in the methods used in Mongolian wrestling. They include a variety of dashes, holds, strikes, throws over the hip, shoulder and back. There are no weight categories and no time limit – defeat is to allow your elbow, knee or back to touch the ground.
Horse riding is an unusual manly sport, as the riders are all children. The skill lies, it is said, in the art of the trainer, not so much the rider. Boys up to the age of seven can compete. The horse who comes in last has a special song reserved for it, and is called ‘Bayan Khodood’ (fat stomach). The song tells how the young rider tried his best, but the stupid trainer had over-fed the animal; there were stones and craters in the young rider’s path, but the next year the horse’s fame will glitter like gold.
Archery is not as popular as the other two sports. The target consists of 360 small leather rings fixed to a wall 40-50 cm high and 4 meters long. Men shoot at this target from a distance of 75 meters and woman from 60 meters. Men shoot 40 arrows at the target and must score not less than 15-18 points; women shoot 20 and must score not less than 13-17.
The bow has no sight. The arrows are made of thin willow twigs and the feathers of the griffon vulture. The point is made of bone and the strings of bull tendons.
Archery contests are accompanied by the ‘ukhai’, a choral tune resembling a folk song. In accordance with ancient custom, several men stand on either side if the target singing the ‘ukhai’ the moment the arrow lands in-between them and hits its target.
Please note that if you have booked a Mongolia program with us there is an additional charge to visit the Naadam Festival which includes transportation, entrance tickets and a guide.