Local Customs and traditions

Tatar culture has a long and rich cultural history, steeped in literature, ballet, painting and classical music. While outsiders may see the republic as drab, Tatarstan has a very visual cultural past, from its colorful folk costumes to its ornate religious symbols. Destinies of many outstanding cultural workers are intertwined with Tatarstan: singer Feodor Chaliapin, writers Leo Tolstoy, Sergey Aksakov and Maxim Gorky, Vasily Aksenov, poets Evgeny Boratinsky, Gavriil Derzhavin, Marina Tsvetaeva and Nikita Zabolotsky, artists Ivan Shishkin and Nikolay Feshin. Such classics of Tatar poetry as Gabdulla Tukay, hero and poet Musa Jalil, composers Farid Yarullin, Salih Saidashev, Nazib Zhiganov, Sofia Gubaidulina and many others made the Tatar culture famous.

The essence of a culture lies in its ceremonies and celebrations. Tatar culture has traditionally included both religious celebrations (Kurban-bayram, Uraza-bayram and Ramadan) and secular ones observed at various points throughout the year.

At the beginning of summer, it will be time to sow the seeds for the new harvest – the most beautiful time of year, and the time of the festival of Sabantuy.

On a given day children will be sent from house to house to collect grains, milk, butter and eggs. A woman will then use these ingredients to make the children a porridge for their efforts. The next day, at first light, the children will put on their best clothes and go from house to house collecting painted eggs, each child carrying a bag made from towels. On this day all the women also bake rolls of bread, and in some villages it is custom for the first boy to enter a house to be sat on a cushion and told: “He who is fleet of foot is he who has many chickens and chicks…”. He would then be given some eggs – always more than those who come after him.

The roots of this festival run very deep, and indeed Sabantuy is as old as the Tatar people themselves. Even in the year 921 the famed explorer from Baghdad Ibn Fadlan, secretary of the Arab embassy, wrote with wonder and admiration of how the Bolgars marked this celebration. So too Karl Fuchs, who in his book “The Kazan Tatars” writes:

“In times of old, the Tatars celebrated this festival on Arsk Field. A table was laid in the open air where the poor could eat for free. This gift was known as Tuy. In time, however, the location was changed. In 1834, Sabantuy in Kazan took place from 25 May until 1 June. This was the first time Russians were invited, with the help of a herald carrying a long stick with a colourful handkerchief tied to the end. The herald walked through all the streets of Kazan, inviting everyone to join the celebration.”

As described with such enthusiasm by Fuchs, the celebration of the Tatar national holiday Saban took place on a large meadow on the other side of Novo-Tatarskaya sloboda. Neighbouring settlements marked Saban as soon as the snow left the fields, but in Kazan it was celebrated later as the site on which it was held was susceptible to flooding from the Volga.

And here’s a little more: Saban starts on a Friday and runs the whole week until the following Friday. All Tatars, young and old, meet around noon to make a rope circle to sit or stand around. Into the circle enter two young, fit wrestlers who try to throw their opponent to the ground using the sash tied around his waist. The winner would receive a pot of money collected from wealthy Tatar merchants. Good wrestlers could expect to earn a fair sum of money. Umpires would watch over the bouts, keeping the peace with a long stick. Any disagreements over the outcome would be swiftly dealt with. In fact it was these same umpires who sought out wrestlers to take part.

Equestrian events and foot races were held alongside the wrestling. The horses were ridden by boys well skilled in the art of riding. It so happens that the term saban has two meanings: that of a “plough” and of a “scattering of seeds”, while the term tuy connotes a celebration. It is a festival dedicated to farming, to the worship of mother earth’s bounty.

Traditional Sabantuy competitions:

●      Pillow-fight with sacks filled with hay while sitting astride a beam. The object of the game is to knock your opponent “from the saddle”.

●      Sack race.

●      Three-legged race.

●      Balancing on a moving beam.

●      “Split the bag”, where the participant is blindfolded and wields a stick to hit a suspended bag.

●      Pole-climbing.

●      Egg-and-spoon race, where contestants must carry the spoon between their teeth.

●      A “Tatar-style” beauty pageant, where contestants compete to cook noodles in the shortest time possible.

Also on offer are shashlik kebabs, rice plov dishes, home-cooked noodles and an assortment of other Tatar treats: sweet fried dough known as chak-chak, as well as pies like echpochmak, balish and peremyach.

Similar Sabantuy celebrations are practiced by neighbouring Turkic peoples such as the Mari, Chuvash, Bashkirs, Udmurts and Mordovians.

The Muslim festivals are held in especially high esteem. The most important of these is Kurban-bayram. Kurban-bairam, or Eid al-adha, is the festival of the sacrifice, and commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his only son to Allah. For several weeks leading up to the festival, an animal bred for meat is fattened up to be sacrificed.

Uraza-bayram marks the end of the thirty-day fast during the month of Ramadan. After breakfasting on sweets in the morning, Muslims will visit the mosque, then gather together in the evening for a family feast.

People with various historical and cultural traditions live in the republic. Everyone has a homeland they feel proud to call their own; to love, to cherish and to take pride in. They love their homeland and its history, culture and traditions.

EJOI 2018

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