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электронный журнал "Новые исследования Тувы"

Tuva is preparing to welcome Shagaa

Today is the eve of Shagaa, the Lunar New Year, - buduu. As the scholar-ethnographer Mongush Borakhovich Kenin-Lopsan writes, children up to 13 years of age may sleep during the "buduu' night, but the adults did not sleep, and spent the night telling and listening to stories and playing games. Early in the morning, between 3 - 5 a.m. ,  is when the New Year comes.  In Tuvan this time is called  "Shagaa bazhy chalarady",  - "Shagaa is showing its head". "The first day of Shagaa is definitely the greatest day of the year. People's age is determined by Shagaa, people would say "I have met so-and-so many Shagaa." A newborn would be considered to be one year old, and a baby born on the eve of Shagaa would be two."

During this time, when the sun is rising, everybody would put on their best traditional clothes, would go outside, and carrying trays "despi", wooden platters with boiled mutton ribs and various delicacies, would ascend to a hill, where they would perform the "san salyr" ritual - lighting of the sacred fire.

"At dawn all the adult men of an aal, with their leader at the head, would go. In their hands, on platters and  in trenchers they carried boiled meat, butter, fat, sugar, grains, wheat, buckwheat, and the best pieces of freshly made food. In a teapot, pitcher, or a small wooden bucket, they carried hot tea boiled with milk and artysh (juniper). At first this ritual was performed by people of each yurt and family in a special sacred place  on their clan territory. Such a place could be a hill or mountain near a concrete camp, the center  of the clan lands or an ovaa considered to be the living place of  the Master Spirit of the mountains. If there was nothing like that in the vicinity, they built an altar for offerings, where they lit they fire to bring offerings to the earth spirits.

The ritual "san salyr" is an important and special part of the New Year celebrations. Everybody tries to do this ritual, because it is believed that whoever takes part in the ritual, will be protected by good spirits and deities in the coming year and there will be success and good luck for him.

People would burn artysh on a specially built altar or fire, and they would throw "deezhi", that is the most honored and delicious part of the food they brought; the chief components of it were melted butter (sarzhag), milk,  flour of roasted barley - dalgan,  roasted grains ( taraa), dried milk ( oreme), cheese  (byshtak), dry cottage cheese (aarzhy), fried dough (poova, boorzak), etc.

The "san salyr" ritual was performed usually by  a shaman or a lama, or, if they were not available, the oldest and the most respected member of the community. "When the large fire would start burning, people with the leader at the head would  line up in front of the place of offerings. The leader would sprinkle  tea into the fire,, sprinkling it into the four directions around the san - first to the east, the direction of the rising sun, and then along the movement of the sun (clockwise). San salyr is a bloodless sacrifice, "feeding" of the master spirits of the earth, and purification of the land from evil spirits. During this ritual those present pray to the spirits and bow to the rising sun with greetings. After that, they would circumambulate the hill and continue to pray. After the "san salyr" ritual, the participants would select a clean place where nobody has walked before, and would roll in the snow for the purpose of purification ; then they would get up, take off their hats and slap them in the snow. This symbolized cleansing from all kinds of filth, from sin; it was a wish for renewal and refreshing of life.

After finishing the "san salyr", the "cholukshuur" ritual would start, or, according to M.B. Kenin-Lopsan, "amyrlazhyr",  a gesture of New Year greeting by the words "Amyr-la!" and the response : "Amyrgyn-na, amyr-amyr!" which was exchanged by everyone who met for the first time not just during the New Year celebrations, but even much later, even many months later,  in the  new year. (Mongush, 1992, p.94.) the meaning of this greeting is this: the younger to the older, (or a woman to a man, if they are of the same age) offers one's hands with palms facing upward, and the older one puts his hands in them with palms down, and the younger one holds the older one up by the elbows. The gesture is an expression of respect and a promise of help and support if necessary. Sometimes, among relatives, it is accompanied by slight touch of  cheeks. This ritual often is completed by the younger person offering a khadak on stretched hands, putting it on the extended wrists of the older person, who then returns it, putting it on the right wrist of the younger one, and then they both complete the "cholukshuur". Earlier, women would receive a scarf instead of a khadak, and during "cholukshuur", in contrast to the men, they would not remove their headdress, and the rims of their sleeves were down.

During the "cholukshuur" ritual Tuvans would exchange more than khadaks and scarves. As M. Kenin-Lopsan notes, earlier on the first day of the new year during the presenting, they would substitute  something else for a khadak, another present, for example a fur of white color. Sometimes, if they did not have a khadak, they would use a "dadaazyn" - a leather strap from clothing.    A. Adrianov writes that "totazyn has the same meaning as khadak, only it is the offering of the poor."

After "san salyr" everybody returns home and then the stage of gift-giving, mutual greetings, visiting and welcoming gusts would start. First of all, the family members would greet one another. Especially the younger members of the family were expected to greet the older ones first.  Then a feast would start, and everybody in turn would say "Yoreel".  With the New Year, endless rounds of visiting would begin, going from yurt to yurt, greetings, feasts, exchange of gifts, until all the relatives visited each other.  The limits of  social differences in status were forgotten on this day on the first day of the New Year, everybody was expected to just be joyful and to celebrate, without doing anything else. For that there was the next day.

After the first three days  full of various interesting events and entertainment, the next days of the new year month would follow. The entire month was considered to be part of the new year holiday.  During this month the prayers would continue, prayer meetings visits to Buddhist temples-khuree, visiting friends, relatives, even those who live at a distance, and see them with greetings and presents.

Traditions of new year celebrations include respect for older people, that is - the clan elders, and old parents. It can be said that this ceremony is the culmination of New Year celebrations. In comparison with Tuva,  this tradition in Mongolia continued without interruption an is therefore widespread today. And the tradition of respect for one's elders is for Mongols a natural condition of morality, ethics and behavior. Judging from the fact that the Tuvans are bringing back their traditions connected with the celebration of New Year more and more with every year,  there is hope that gradually this good custom of respectful behavior to their elders and to older peole in general will take root in people's consciousness .

A notable feature of Shagaa celebrations is that during this holiday, use of alcohol beverages is strictly forbidden. Shagaa is the most sober holiday. As M. B.  Kenin-Lopsan  notes, Tuvans from time immemorial considered vodka or any alcohol to be devil's beverages - "aza suksunu".

Shagaa is a domestic and religious holiday, which  facilitates unification of relatives and close people, and a socializing process takes place, teaching young generation respectful behavior towards old age, to older peole, and also the art of valuing and respecting time and life.

From materials of Ulyana Opei-ool, translated by Heda Jindrak
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