Contemporary cultural life in Mongolia is very unique in a way that it is an amalgam of traditional elements, heritage of centuries and a growing modern element. The Mongolians love to use lyrics and melodies not only on public or individual holidays and celebrations, but in telling fairytales, relating with livestock, playing games, even in counting. The eloquence, tunes and structure of lyrics and melodies are distinct and specific than other nations.
Iterature has a long history and evolved a wealth of traditional genres such as epics, legends, tales, yurol (poetry of good wishes) and magtaal (the poetry of praise), as well as a host of proverbial sayings. Mongolian literary works of the early medieval period are written in old Mongol writing, soyombo script and clear inscription (tod useg). The most outstanding among them is the Secret History of Mongols (Mongolyn Nuuts Tovchoo) written in 1240. The Secret History is a mine of information about Mongolian kings, lifestyle, history, language and culture, with epic poetry, shamanism and customs. It is regarded as a classic work of literature. The Secret History is unique in that no other nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples have ever created a literacy masterpiece like it, with epic poetry and narrative are skillfully and artistically blended with fictional and historical accounts. Translation and study of this famous work has been undertaken and researched by many Mongolian scholars and international specialists.
“Geser” and “Jangar” are classic legends; each is a library of folk wisdom and national heritage. Although the literary and cultural life as a whole were affected by development of Tibetan Buddhism in the second half of 16th century, traditional epochs and ballads enriched by generations and remained popular. Modern literature has developed based on folk oral and written literature. It reflects social changes that occurred in the country and changes in the traditional lifestyle, peoples relations and attitudes in modern times. The first fictional writings were based on folk tales and tradition, then came short stories and novels and plays on historical subjects, at last on contemporary life. Dashdorjiin Natsagdorj whose poems and short stories became particularly significant in the 1930s is regarded as the founder of modern literature in Mongolia.
Traditional songs. Mongolian music is a reaction to the surroundings and life. Caring for a baby provokes melody. Seeing a calf or colt being rejected, its mother is convinced to return by singing. Traveling a long way on horseback, riding sets a pace, the pace delivers rhyme, and here again the song is involuntary. Hurrying to one’s beloved, the heartbeat composes another melody. The sources of song are endless. Birthdays, weddings, national holidays, winning a horse race or wrestling competition, celebration of the elderly, mare’s milk brewing, wool cutting, cashmere combing, and harvest comprise an endless chain of reasons for singing and dancing. Through the ages, music has spread around Mongolia through home teaching and festivities. Any family or clan event was a good chance for musicians and singers to get together. Singers may sing with or without a musical instrument. Coming from different areas, most often representing different tribes, people had the opportunity to perform, to learn from others and to take home a new melody or song. In this way, the ancient patterns of various corners of Mongolia have been preserved by local masters for the whole nation.
The fundamental musical mind of Mongols are contained in five tones (pentatonic) and diversified due to geography and way of life. Long song is a unique traditional singing style known as Urtyn duu. Long songs, as the name suggests, last quite a while and are loved by Mongols. It is one of the oldest genres of Mongolian musical art, dating to the 13th century. Urtiin duu involves extraordinarily complicated, drawn-out vocal sounds. It is evocative of vast, wide spaces and it demands great skill and talent from the singers in their breathing abilities and guttural singing techniques. Long songs relate traditional stories about the beauty of the native land and daily life, to which Mongols offer blessings. Long songs are the paragon of Mongolian musical performance.
Khuumii, the vocal singing in two pharynxes are distinct and doesn’t occur in other national cultures. Khuumii involves producing two simultaneous tones with the human voice. It is a difficult skill requiring special ways of breathing. One tone comes out as a whistle-like sound, the result of locked breath in the chest being forced out through the throat in a specific way, while a lower tone sounds as a base. Depending on the way air is exhaled from the lungs, there are various ways of classifying khuumii, including laryngeal, palatine, guttural and nasal. Professional khuumii performers are mainly found in western Mongolia. Hovd aimag (province) is one home of khuumii. Tuva, a part of Russia to the north of Mongolia, is also a center of khuumii.
Traditional instruments. There are traditional string and wind instruments, as well as drums and gongs. Mongolians have made their music through ages using metal, stone, bamboo, leather and wood. Morin Khuur (horse head-decorated 2-string cello) is the most ancient popular musical instrument of the Mongols, invented at least a thousand years ago. In Mongolian, morin means horse, and khuur means sound, rhyme, melody. This instrument’s history is based on a legend of a man who had a beloved, magical horse that could fly. When an evil man killed the horse, the man made an instrument from the horse so that he could remember it. Originally, the handle of the horse-head fiddle was made of horse ribs and its base was horse skin.
Today, the long tail hair of a horse ridden since childhood is used for the strings. It is said each tail hair fiber should be processed until it “starts talking”. To honor the horse, its head is carved of wood and placed where the scroll would be on a violin. The wooden neck and the sound box of the instrument are sometimes decorated by the five elements and the horoscope animals of the Buddhist 12-year calendar, and the symbol of eternity is depicted on the sides of the box. The tone of the morin khuur is tender and slightly languorous. This instrument is often used to perform pieces which imitate animals’ and nature’s appearance and behavior, including rivers, stallions, camels, bulls, elks, and especially the horse. Many musical instruments are used purely for religious ceremonies. A shell shaped bugle called “dun” is used to gather lamas before ceremony and ganlin horns are still used to dispel bad spirits.
Fine Art. The art of the ancient Mongol is rooted in, and an inseparable component of, nomadic culture and folk art. Art in Mongolia began with the impressions and expressions of feelings on rock. Ancient petroglyphs created before recorded history, and later, various Shaman symbols and sacred place identifications, bring us the voices and visions of the ancestors. These works usually depict hunting trophies and domesticated livestock, and more rarely, people and even carts with wheels. The traditional Mongol zurag or national painting style is developed from these prehistoric rock paintings. This style of painting has long brush strokes which taper at the end. It also tends to feature bright colors. In addition, Mongol zurag has the following features: Paintings usually show subjects from traditional nomadic life do not focus on a single subject but instead show many different activities. Rock and cave paintings are, however, not the only important Mongolian early artwork. The earliest examples of monumental sculpture known, not only in Mongolia, but in Central Asia in general, are deer stones. Considered by some to be the only genuine monument produced by nomadic art, deer stones are generally made from grey granite or marble and measure between two and five meters in height. Altogether around 550 deer stones have been found in Mongolia and around 200 in the Eurasian countries surrounding it. The other major type of monument found in Mongolia dates to the Turkish Empire between the 6th and 8th century AD. An example of very sophisticated workmanship and artistic abilities of early Mongolians are the ancient relics found in at the Hunnu tombs of “Noyon Uul” which date back to between 1AD and 3BC. Jewellery, pottery and other early artwork have been found here but the most well regarded piece is a felt carpet which dates back around 2,000 years. Thousands of years of nomadic life and the destruction of Mongolia’s Buddhist monasteries in the 1930s have greatly limited the survival of pre-twentieth century Mongolian visual art. Still, the earliest examples of Mongolian painting, petroglyphs, date to more than two thousand years ago. Significant paintings also remain from the Uighur people, who lived in the 8th century. Mongolian art experienced a sort of renaissance beginning with the flowering of Buddhism in Mongolia during Zanabazar’s time. One of Mongolia’s most famous sculptors, Undur Gegeen Zanabazar lived in 1635 to 1723. He created sculptures in gilt bronze of Buddhist deities. He developed a unique style, and all sculptures possess elegant detail, mastery of the human form, and exude life. Zanabazar laid the foundation for the depiction and praise of the human form in Mongolian sculpture. From this time until the shift to socialism in the early 1920s, much of the subject matter in Mongolian art was Buddhist. The most common media in religious two-dimensional art were mineral pigments on cloth and applique (pieces of cloth stitched together and embroidered to form an image).
With political and social changes beginning in the early 20th century, some artists began to move away from purely religious art and focused more on people and everyday life. An example of linking the old with the new in art is B. Sharav’s famous work “One Day in Mongolia”, which combines traditional Buddhist art aesthetics with secular subject matter. Also, in the early 20th century, a new aesthetic was introduced, as Mongolian artists were exposed to Western-style oil painting. In the 1940s, Socialist Realism and 19th century Impressionist styles dominated art produced by Mongolians. In the 1950s many genres of fine art, carpet and porcelain production were introduced in Mongolia and developed. The 1960s and 70s saw two interesting trends in Mongolian art. One is some Mongolian artists began to incorporate the older Mongolian aesthetic into their pieces, which remained Socialist in tone. Also, the technique of applique resurfaced, especially in the mid-1960s. A second trend during these decades and beyond was that Mongolian artists began to show more individualism: artists began refusing to use realism, linear perspectives, and harmonization of colors, and explored other techniques of painting. The market economy environment the country experiencing since early 1990s meant the beginning of the revival of Buddhism, and freedom for artists to express themselves without restrictions on subject matter or style.
Traditional dance began as a ritual performance imitating the movement and manner of deities, mystical creatures and legendary heroes. Shamanist perception of the surrounding world and worshipping of Mother Nature influenced the style of ancient dancing, as well as the shape and pattern of clothing and accessories. The great variety of folk dancing has been enriched by clans, tribes and generations of performers. Besides folk dances, there were special palace dances and religious ritual dances. “Bielge”, or dance of the body, is particular to the people of western Mongolia. It is performed to the music of Mongolian national musical instruments, such as the Morin Knur (horsehead fiddle) and the yochin (similar to the xylophone). Bielge is traditionally performed on the rather limited space before the hearth, so the dancers make practically no use of their feet. Instead, the dancers principally use only the upper part of their bodies.
Mongolian Folk Art
The Mongolian folklore is one of the art kinds which is being inherited through Tuulich / folk poet/, eruulch / praise reciter/, and ulgerch / storytellers/ from the centuries to century. The Folklore Heritage includes the folklore arts such as folk poetry, folk tales, folk legend and story, true story, folk and long song lyrics, phrase, folk say and mantras. It is classified as melodious and unmelodious. Unmelodious Folklore arts are legend and fairy tale, phrase, patter and guessing. Melodious Folklores are cradle song, short song, long song, praise, and tuuli/folk poet/.
The short song is the kind of folk sonag that has a shorter melodies and being developed by nomads and its author is always unknown. Its melodies sound differently in each parts of Mongolia, because they expresses the character of that nationality and place in the songs. There are the short songs of Khalkh, buriad, uzemchin, bayad, khotgoid, dariganga, tsakhar, and khuree. The short songs of Khuree were usually spread in 1900-1930 and sing with Shanz musical instrument, for example: Yanjuur Tamkhi, Khukh trogon tsamts, Gangan khul, Jiijuu khot, Kheyenkhuar and Zuun langiyn joroo luus etc. Melody of short song is short spoken, few vibrations and easier to sing, so people mostly like to sing this kind of songs.
Urtiyn Duu/Long Song/
Mongolian folk Urtiyn duu / long song/ is unique in the world. Wide steppe of Mongolia is influenced in the voice range of Mongolians. Otherwise, its melody is based on the everyday life of nomadic Mongolians. Long songs have no author and writer, generally it is founded by the people of Mongolia and had been developing by itself until nowadays. The meanings of songs are usually about nomads life and nature. In 2005, Long Song registered as the best art heritage in the World Heritage Center by UNESCO.