Altai New Year : Chagaa Bairam


I have heard it said that the measure of one’s culture is reflected in  ritual for this is the way in which a people communicates with God, the deities  and higher forms of consciousness. If you have ritual, you have culture.

Chagaa Bairam is a traditional Altai calendar rite. ‘Bairam’ means ‘celebration’ and ‘Chagaa’ means white. On this and other national holidays people greet each other with ‘bairamla’ which means ‘Happy celebrations to you’. On the day of the New Year people greet each other in the following way: (from ‘Altaiding Cholmoni’ newspaper)

– Good, did you leave the old year favourably?         – Good, I left it favourably.        – How old are you?         – 45.     – Live as many   years again. Wishing you a  long life, a long road!

     Traditionally, on the day of the new year a prayer gathering would be held around a ‘tagyl’, a  construction for ritual offering, made of stone slabs. The main ritual elements include sprinkling milk to the fire, the tagyl, the sky, sun and moon; ‘alas’ – smudging with the smoke from juniper branches and the speaking of words of gratitude to the spirits, to Altai, the Sun, Moon, ‘Uch kurbustan’, Kairakan (sky god), and the sacred mountains and trees of the local ritual area.

     Offerings of food are made to the ‘tagyl’ such as figures made from hard and soft cheese in the form of mountain peaks, the ‘ail’ – traditional Altai dwelling, tying post, horses, deer etc. These figures are called ‘shatra’. Only certain ‘special’ people prepare ‘shatra’ which along with the fact that they are made from white milk emphasizes their sacredness. The figures are burned in the fire at the end of the ritual.

     The fire in the hearth of the ‘ail’ is also made an offering of sprinkled milk’ (libation) after which festivities begin in the form of games, competitions held outside for adults and children alike.

     ‘chagaa Bairam’ is my favourite Altai national celebration. In Altai the winter is long and can last for about six months. When we celebrate New Year here 31st December, the winter has really only just begun.  After the celebrations at the end of December however, I usually flop after the ‘high’ because it is still winter. Nature provides no ‘wave’ of energy that would carry one through the festivities. In February and early March however, everything begins to come alive both in the natural world and in one’s own body and so the fresh energy fits the celebrations and naturally carries one into early spring.


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