English language Web site on current affairs in the biggest russian region
00:35 | Aug 13 | 2011

Ysyakh - the Birthday of the Universe

This ancient holiday in honour of the celestial deities and the revival of nature is accompanied by ceremonies, entertainment, dancing, games and races. This is a greeting of the sun, the summer, the beginning of a new life cycle,
a kind of Yakut New Year.

The triumph of all living beings

There is nothing permanent in the world – the long cold winter is going away as well. There comes a time of great awakening of nature. And with the advent of the long-awaited summer all the people begin to prepare for the main holiday – Ysyakh which received the status of a national holiday of Yakutia in 1992.

It is noteworthy that according to the Yakut belief a human’s soul descended to the earth only in spring, when the nature itself was re-born. This soul was given by the Yakut celestial deities Aiyy. The Yakuts comprehended Ysyakh not only as a beginning of a new cycle or a celebration of a New Year but also as a universal birthday. After a long winter people who met during the holiday got a rare opportunity to meet with each other: they shared the latest news, rejoiced in the coming summer together and performed the spring rituals to the sky, nature and earth. The basis of the holiday was comprised of a humanistic idea of survival, the immortality of the human race, a call for happiness, prosperity and longevity, a rich harvest and a good livestock offspring.

Legends of the golden times

The holiday is associated with a traditional world-view complex of the Sakha people, with their religious beliefs. According to the Yakut mythology, the first Ysyakh holiday was hosted by the first ancestor of the Sakha people, the creator of the Yakut culture Alley. As legends have it, since those times the Yakuts have begun to offer prayers to the serene deities. During the holiday the white shaman performed a ritual of sprinkling koumiss to Yuryung Aiyy Toion, the supreme Yakut deity, to Dzhesegey Aiyy Toion, the patron and founder of horses, and to other serene deities and host spirits of the area with prayers to send down happiness and kindness. The ritual of sprinkling (the white shaman sprinkled koumiss to the cardinal points, horses, etc.) was central for the holiday and this is reflected in its name – ‘Ysyakh’ (ys in Yakut means ‘to asperse’, ‘to sprinkle’).

Ysyakh – is a festival that bears all folk patterns: the language, mythology, dance, music, rituals and customs, crafts and architecture, traditional cuisine, games and people’s philosophy altogether. Yakut Ysyakh is a mechanism for preserving and transmitting of the cultural heritage to future generations; it is an active translator of ethnicity, a symbol of the Yakut culture.

Circle time

According to ancient traditions Ysyakh is arranged inside a ritual circle of chechir (young birch trees). A tethering post with arch decorations made of birch trees – serge is installed in the center of the festal circle. According to traditional notions of the Sakha, serge is a symbol of the World Tree and the axis of the entire universe. Through its installing, the Sakha were constructing a sort of a model of the universe – the nine branches of the sacred tree exuding white grace. In modern times the symbolism of the serge expanded – now the ritual tethering post embodies the friendship and unity of all nations living in our northern republic.

A ritual circle, enclosed by coloured salama made of horse hair flocks, pieces of cloth and birch bark products is usually set near serge. An altar with ritual utensils and containers filled with koumiss is placed in the center of tyusyulge.

A heavenly drink – koumiss

In the Sakha concept, koumiss is a sacred drink and a symbol of ilge – white grace of abundance which contains the souls of all unborn humans, horses and cows. It is believed that koumiss is the earth incarnation of the heavenly milk lake on the shores of which there is a dwelling of one of the highest deities – patrons of the Sakha Yuryung-Aiyy Toion. His divine spouse is also being washed in this lake.

Through drinking koumiss during Ysyakh people are exposed to the supreme mysteries of existence. Koumiss is usually drunk from a choron – a sacred vessel.

The holiday begins with an ancient ritual – the sprinkling of fire and earth with koumiss, the blessing of those present and the request to the upper deities to grant their grace to all.

The meeting of the sun

Ysyakh is a family holiday. Each family carefully prepares to it in advance: they sew festive clothing, cook national dishes, koumiss, and other products from milk. A joint meal together with all friends and family is a must during Ysyakh. Honourable and respected members of the family bless the younger generation.

After that everyone participates in the round dance – a mass folk dance uniting of Olonkho land people. By holding hands its participants pass the positive energy to each other and become kindred spirits. The songs of the festal round dance praise the force of nature, its beauty and majesty as well as the coming of the bountiful summer and abundance.

The meeting of the sun is the most exciting moment, and the culmination of Ysyakh. There comes a new day and the warm sunlight is gently hugging everyone with love and fondness. It seems as if all nature – forests, herbs, flowers – throws its life-giving energy into the arms of the sun, while charging everyone with it.

The sport spirit
Sporting events in which the daredevils tend to show their agility, strength, beauty and skill are extremely spectacular. These are jumping on one or both legs and even with interchange of feet, as well as archery and khapsagay – a kind of Yakut wrestling, where the one who succumbs to the force of the opponent and touches the ground at least with a finger loses the fight. The strongest, most agile and successful win in all competitions. They are honoured and rewarded with festive meat dishes and valuable gifts.

In addition, the Yakuts are big fans of horse racing, and no Ysyakh is held without them.

What's new?

The best national holiday in Russia

The Yakut Ysyakh, which takes place in the sacred for all Sakha people area of Us Khatyn near Yakutsk, was nominated for the award last year, but only this year it achieved an epic victory in the nomination “The Best National Holiday” of a prestigious All-Russian national award “Grani Teatra Mass” (The Edges of the Theatre of the Masses).

The nomination of “The Best National Holiday” is awarded for the preparation and implementation of a theatrical ceremony (a complex of ceremonies), dedicated to an important event in the history or modern life of a national (ethnic) region of Russia at a high artistic level. The celebrations should reflect distinctive national and spiritual character of culture, traditions and everyday life of the ethnos. International festive events which promote the idea of inter-ethnic friendship and cooperation also participate in the contest.