Naadam Festival is the biggest and most attractive festival in Mongolia which is held in 11th, 12th, and 13th of July, annually. The Naadam literally means “game”, and it consists of three so-called manly sports, locally termed “Eriin gurwan naadam” – wrestling, horse racing, and archery. The origins of Naadam date back to the Mongol empire period, even though, the festival commemorates the national revolution’s success and independence. All of the administrative units of Mongolia celebrate their Naadam festival on different dates, but the biggest one is officially hosted in Ulaanbaatar, and attracts thousands of tourists and hundreds of journalists from all over the world.
In the course of Naadam festival celebration, all of both participants and audiences wear their most colorful and fashionable traditional clothes. Besides, they spend the whole festival to enjoy and proud their culture and tradition. In 2010, the festival was registered to “Intangible Heritage List” of UNESCO.
It is a folk wrestling style of Mongolia, unlike in other parts of the world. There are no weight divisions, and time limits. Thus contestants could be the same weight or separated by a hundred of pounds. The wrestlers known as “bokh” (durability). The objective is to force one’s opponent to lose his balance and fall or force him to touch the ground in some manner, and only the feet and palms of the hand may touch the ground. Although kicking and punching are illegal, a wrestler may use his feet or legs to gain leverage or trip his opponent. The matches go on until someone falls or other parts of the body, other than legal parts touch the ground. Thus it is conceivable for the match to last for hours. Typically, Mongolian wrestlers wear a zodog, which is a tight-fitting jacket or open shirt. It basically looks like two sleeves with cloth running across the upper back and shoulders, attaching them. A rope ties the zodog together in the front. The purpose of the zodog is to give the wrestlers something to grip on an otherwise bare upper body. The wrestlers also wear a shuudag, or the equivalent of trunks or briefs. The outfit is completed by the standard up-turned Mongolian boots. Before the match, the wrestler wears a conical hat, often with a ceremonial scarf of khadag attached to it. Owing to the wrestling garb, women have traditionally been excluded from participating. Before and after the matches, there are standard rituals that the wrestler must perform. He circles the field where the matches take place in a clockwise fashion and make a libation of milk to the gods and local spirits. There is also a ceremonial dance called the “eagle,” or garuda, a bird from Buddhist mythology that the wrestler performs after his coach chants words of praise for the wrestler. The tournaments are single elimination and vary in size, but the Naadam matches have had up to 1024 wrestlers in the match and lasts 9 or 10 rounds.
World longest and toughest horse racing is organized in Mongolia. Horse racing in Mongolia is quite different from races elsewhere, as they range from five to thirty kilometers (3.1–19 miles). For the race, the horses are divided into five age categories: two-year-olds, four-year-olds, five-year-olds, over fives, and stallions. Most of the horses are geldings; mares never race. The categories of horses run different lengths of racecourses. Although horse racing is one of the three manly sports, the jockeys are always children, boys, and girls. The jockeys sit atop felt pads, rather than a normal saddle. Usually, these do not have stirrups. The choice in riding equipment focuses more on the comfort of the horse than of the rider. The jockeys also wear appropriate uniforms—colored shirts and hats. During the Naadam races, well over a thousand horses take part. After some rituals of procession and song, the races take place through the steppe, rather than on a track; thus the riders must contend not only with the distance, but also with hills, rivers, and uneven ground. In addition, the horses run at full speed, approximately thirty-five kilometers (21.7 miles) per hour, the whole race. While speed is necessary, endurance is the prized feature of a horse. The length of the race demonstrates that the race is more about the horse than about the skill of its rider, and this is reflected in the awards. Indeed, as long as the horse crosses the finish line, the race is considered completed—the jockey need not be present. As a horse crosses the line, the judge sings a song praising it, anoints the head and flanks of the horse with airag, and gives the rider some cheese crumbles. The judge then sips some of the airag and passes it to the jockey. The winning horse receives the title of “Forehead of the Ten Thousand Race Horse.” Medals are awarded to the five runners-up, who also undergo the ritual that the winner undergoes. Oddly, the person who finishes last also receives a medal and is honored as “Rich Belly” in word and song.
The final manly sport and is performed by men and women. Although the old techniques of Mongolian bow-making has been lost, and thus bows are not as powerful as those used in the time of Chinggis Khan, the composite bow, constructed from layers of horn and wood, is still used. The bow itself usually is about four feet in length, although some extend to six feet when strung. Unstrung, the bow takes on more of a C or crescent shape. The archer shoots arrows normally constructed of pine, birch, or willow, with fletching made preferably from eagle or falcon feathers. Mongolian archery techniques are quite different from Western styles. The arrow is placed on the right side of the bow and is held in place by the thumb and forefinger, unlike in the West, where the arrow is held by the forefinger and middle finger. Whereas in the West, the string is pulled by the forefinger, middle finger, and ring finger, Mongolians pull the string with their thumbs with the aid of a thumb ring. This device is made from either polished stone or leather. When performed properly, the string slides off of the thumb with little friction. Mongolian archery contests also have another unusual feature: singing. As the archers take aim, their coaches and the umpires begin to hum. Rather than being a distraction, the archers find that it helps them concentrate. Then, when the arrow hits the target, the umpires yell “Uukhai! ” and raise their arms in a circular motion, with hands pointed to the sky. Rather than shooting at an upright target, Mongolian archery contests fo-cus on shooting at a target that is flat on the ground, perhaps a carryover from the medieval period when a common tactic was shower shooting. This consisted of shooting at a specific location rather than at a target, thus creating a kill zone. The targets consist of small, upright cylinders placed in groups several meters across. They are usually painted white, yellow, or red, each with a point value, with red being worth the most. The key for the archer is determining the trajectory of his or her shot. Men shoot from about seventy-five meters (82 yards), while women shoot from sixty meters (65.5 yards). The men shoot forty arrows and must score at least fifteen points to advance to the next round, while women shoot twenty arrows and must score at least thirteen points. Curiously, men and women use the same type and draw of bow, although women only began participating in the sport in the 1960s. The winner receives the title of Mergen, or “Sharpshooter.” Another game that exists today, but that used to be part of naadam games in the nineteenth century, also takes place from a standing position. In this game, the archers shoot at a target consisting of a pyramid or line of targets, usually made of leather cylinders. The idea is to knock the targets over, much like shooting at cans with a pellet or BB gun. This contest is known as the khana tsuvaa and can be performed by teams. Usually, a team consists of ten or twelve archers. The archers begin at a set range, but if an archer fails to knock down any of the targets, the team must take another step backward for each failed attempt.