Monday, March 21, 2011


The Mongolian yurt called a ger, is ideally suited to the country’s sharply continental climate and the people’s nomadic way of life. This is a multipurpose dwelling which can be easily collapsed, transported to another place and put up again fully preserving its original shape. The yurt appeared centuries ago. Although it is believed that the collapsible yurt as we know it today was invented in the none-too-distant past. Being constantly on the military campaigns compelled the Mongols to build yurts on cart. Old books contain pictures of such yurts, temporary abodes in which families of three or four could spend the night or find shelter. History has preserved information about giant yurts built on wheeled platforms. The French monk William Rubruquis who visited Mongolia in the 13th century witnessed that distance between the wheels of such a platform was 20 feet (6.5m) and the yurt protruded at least five feet over each wheel. The platform was drawn by 22 oxen. Yurt of that where made for nobility. Soon, however, they fell out of use as the cart were clumsy and the yurts could not be hauled over long distance as there was the danger of getting stuck in the mud somewhere or tipping over. During campaigns the noblemen preferred to use big tents of bright and durable cloth. The Mongol’s earliest dwelling was, to all appearances, a so-called ebesun nembule, a kind of a grass shack. It is mentioned in the Secret History of the Mongols that Genghis khan’s forefather, Bodanchar, lived in such a shack. The development of craft, notably the processing of the wool into felt, brought forth a new-type dwelling, the yurt. The Mongolian yurt has two key components- the wooden framework and the felt cover. The wooden parts are walls, the long poles, the smoke escape and its supports. One wall consists of 10-15 wooden poles, each about 1,5 m high, bound together in a way making it possible to fold it for transportation and the unfold it like an accordion. The unfolded walls, which are connected to form a circle. The long poles are fastened to upper part of the walls, with the other end passed through the toono hole, the only window and smoke escape in the yurt. The toono is propped up by two posts, called bagana. All this forms the wooden framework of the yurt which resembles an open umbrella, as one foreigner put it. The framework thus built is covered with felt. The yurt is mounted on a wooden carpeted with felt. Sometimes the felt is laid directly on the ground. The door is always on the southern side facing the sun. the number of walls and poles determines the size of the yurt. Most of the time cattle-breeders yurts have five falls, which makes a living area of 16-18 sq.m. The above-mentioned yurts of noblemen in olden times had 10-20 walls. Today, yurts of this size accommodate clubs and libraries in the countryside, as well as cafes and bars in tourist’s centers.  In the centre of the yurt is the hearth which has a special meaning for the Mongols. Apart from its utilitarian purpose, the northern symbolizes ties with the ancestors. The Mongols say “aavyn golomt” (the parental hearth), instilling in these words the respect they have for their forefathers. One is not allowed to stretch out one’s legs towards the hearth, throw trash into it or bring sharp-pointed object close to the fire. Desecration of the hearth is a sin and an insult to the master of the house. The hearth is mounted on three stones which symbolize the host, the hostess and the hearth is centre of the yurt whose construction begins with its mounting. The hearth divides the yurt space into three conventional parts-the male and female quarters and the khoimor. The male quart are on the western side. Here the host keeps the saddle, the horse bridle and the koumiss bag. The female quarters are on the eastern side to the right of the entrance. The hostess keeps kitchenware and appliances here, as well as her and her children’s belongings. Accordingly, a man entering the yurt goes straight to its western part and a woman, to the eastern part. It is believed that the male quarters are under the protection of heaven and the female quarters are patronized by the sun. The most honored place is the khoimor by the northern wall across from the door. Here they keep objects dear to the master of the house, his weapons, and his morin khuur (a national musical instrument) and the host’s horse bridle. Pieces of furniture, usually tow wooden chests of a bright-orange color, are also placed in the khoimor. Framed photographs of the host and hostess, their children and relatives are put out on the some governmental award he is sure to hang it the khoimor. The host is usually seated on the eastern side of the khoimor and guest on the western side. The hostess place is by the hearth and the children are supposed to sit near her but closer to the door. The bed of the host and the hostess is in the female quarters; those for guests are on the opposite side. The children are put to sleep at their parents’ feet. Speaking about the yurt design, let’s dwell at length on the functions of the smoke escape (toono) and its props (bagana). The point is that some of the Mongols’ philosophical ideas are associated with them. The smoke escape is the only opening through which light penetrates the yurt. An old legend has it that it was through such a hole that a fair-haired man got into the yurt of Alan-gua, the Mongol’s ancestral mother, and begot three sons. In olden days people could tell the time by the sun’s rays falling on the cross-pieces of the smoke escape and on the poles. The Mongols divided the day into twelve hours and each hour into twelve minutes which they called by the names of the lunar calendar animals. A hair rope, chagtaga, is fastened to the smoke escape from which a weight stabilizing the yurt is suspended during strong winds. In new yurt, they fasten a khadag to it, a piece of blue silk in which a handful of grain is wrapped. The symbolism of this ritual can be summed up like this : “May happiness multiply in this new yurt like grains of corn and may life be pure and beautiful here”. The supports (bagana) ensure the stability of the yurt and that is probably why tradition forbids touching, left alone leaning against them. Moreover, they symbolize a link with heaven, with the past-present-future axis supposedly passing through them. In winter the hearth heats the yurt and also serves as a stove for cooking. In wooded areas the hearth is stocked with firewood while in the steppe and the Gobi dry dung briquettes are used. The yurt warms up quickly and holds in the heat. In the summer heat the lower part of the felt cover, the so-called khormoi, is raised to let fresh air in. The yurt, round-shaped and squat, can withstand winds while the quick-drying felt is good protection against the rain and snow. In the towns and urban-type settlements yurts are being ousted by modern well-built housing. Young Mongols prefer to live in comfortable flats. In summer, however, urban dwellers often spend their vacations in yurt, leaving the urban conveniences for a short while to enjoy the unmatched comfort of the yurt. 

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