The book contains the text of the translation to the English language of the unique epical monument of the Buryat people “Abai Geser the Mighty” written down from one of the gifted Buryat epic-tellers Manshud Imegenov by an outstanding expert of the Buryat folklore Ts. Jamtsarano. Consideration is given to the general characteristics and contents, the epical heroes, the cults and rituals, the traditions and customs, the natural phenomena and some other issues. It is argued that the rudiments or the first lines that gave the beginning to the text of the present “Geser” epic appeared in the earlier times when there were no religions, there were only some cults and beliefs wholly based on the observations of the natural phenomena. The author of the epic “Geser” is the common folk known as the Buryats. The hints concerning the religions were incorporated in the text much later. The manuscripts and block-prints in the Old-Mongolian script are briefly discussed.
The book is intended for the experts in folklore, literature, cultural and religious studies, ethnography and all those interested in the spiritual culture of the Buryat people.
In 1906 one of variants of the Buryat epic “Geser” was recorded by Ts. Zh. Zhamtsarano from a well-known Buryat rhapsode Manshud Imegenov (Emegenov) in the Kukunut ulus (now the Ekhirit-Bulagat district, Irkutsk province). The epic shows how Geser was sent to the Earth by the Tengris — the celestial deities. He performs his heroic deeds for the people’s happiness and peace. The epic depicts the mythological level of consciousness. One of the best folklore traditions of the Buryat people, the heroic epic of the mighty hero-bator and liberator of the whole world from all evil is a wonderful creation of the gifted epic-tellers — uligershins who came from the common people and partook of the rich spiritual and world view heritage of their people and expressed it with help of the magic of word.
Many people have the fascinating tales narrating of the ideals of kindness and fairness.These are the following: the Uzbek “Alpamysh”, the Kyrgiz “Manas”, the Turkmen Gyor-ogly; the Kalmyck “Jangar”, the Anglo-Saxon “Beowulf”, the French knights’ novel ‘Tristan and Isolda’, the Karel and Finnish ‘Kalevala’, the Evenki Nimngakans, the Sakha-yakut ‘Nyurgun-bootur’, ‘Meldiu the Mighty, etc. All of them sing glory to life and beauty, kindness and fairness, common sense and wisdom of men, their struggle for the highest ideals, happiness, love and prosperity. The Buryat Geseriade is a unique creation of the Buryat people, it’s very big and surpasses in size the epics of many other peoples. It is sometimes called the Iliade of Central Asia. The Geseriade is spread on the vast territory from the tropical Ganges, a river in North India and Bangladesh flowing from the Himalayas into the cape of Bengal, to the cold Amur in North-East Asia; from the sunlit Yellow river in East China to the cool Lena in East Siberia.
Part 1. The buryat heroic epic “Geser”
One of the best folklore traditions of the Buryat people, the heroic epic of the mighty hero-bator and liberator of the whole world from all the evil Geser is a wonderful creation of the gifted epic-tellers or uligershins who came from the common people and partook of the rich spiritual heritage of their own people.
Many people have the fascinating tales narrating of the ideals of strength, kindness and fairness, devotion to one’s motherland and its defense. One can mention some of them: the Kalmyck “Djangar”, the Evenki nimngakans, the Sakha-yakut “Nyurgun-bootur”, the Kazakh “Кобланды батыр”, the Uzbek “Alpamysh”, the Kyrgiz “Manas”, the Turkmen “Gyor-ogly”, the Anglo-Saxon “Beowulf”, the Greek “Iliada”, the Karel and Finnish “Kalevala” and many others.
All of them sing glory to life and beauty, kindness and fairness, common sense and wisdom, the struggle of the people for the highest ideals, happiness and prosperity.
The Geseriade is a unique creation of the Buryat people, it’s very big and surpasses in size the epics of many other peoples. The Geseriade is spread on the vast territory from the tropical Ganges in North India and Bangladesh flowing from the Himalayas into the cape of Bengal, to the cold Amur in North-East Asia; from the sunlit Yellow river in East China to the cool Lena in East Siberia. The heroic epic of the Buryat people narrates of the noble deeds of Geser liberating the people from the evil, of his battles with the monsters preventing the people from living in peace and harmony. Not infrequently those monsters- mangadkhais personified the powerful, threatening forces of Nature that were beyond understanding of the common folk. They were quite unaware of their origin and the cause for their being merciless. Therefore those powerful forces were taken as, say, Gal-Nurman Khan who was the symbol of one of the prime elements — the Fire, the oppressive heat and drought or Loir Lobsogoldoi who was the personification of another prime element, the Water, the flood and overflow that badly damaged and injured the people, animals and plants. One could add here the monster Orgoli who was taken as Master of the thick forests and could deprive the hunters of their game or sometimes took up their lives. Then there was Shereem Minata khan with an iron whip and a pig iron thigh who possibly symbolized the starting point of the blacksmith shop, the first steps in mastering the art of forging. The sparks and flames coming from the glowing incandescent metal were perceived by the ancient forefathers of the Buryats as a threatening iron whip which might burn or dazzle. One might as well recall the epical devil Arkhan who wanted to swallow the Sun and the Moon and plunge the Earth into the darkness. This might be the symbolical representation of the Sun and the Moon eclipse in the perception of the ancient Buryats. Geser also fights with the alien tribes who threatened the peaceful life of his kinsmen. In the epic those are the Sharaldai Khans. The heroic and fair Geser-bator fights with those evil forces.
On the other hand, the Buryat epic sings glory to the same natural prime elements. Not only do those forces of nature harm the people but they do them a lot of good. Man could not get on without the fire, water, gifts of the thick forests including the wood, plants, game, etc. Man realized it far too well. He felt that the fire, water, woods, stone, metal and the like possessed the positive qualities too.They helped him survive. There was more favourable in them than negative. So he worshipped them, took them to be sacral. Hence there were many cults, that (здесь: культ) of the Sky, for example, though it sent down to the Earth the thunderstorm and lightening, heavy rain and floods, etc. There was the cult of the Sun and the Moon which is closely connected with the light, heat and fire. One cannot but mention the cult of the Water, lakes and rivers, as well as the cult of the Master of the taiga (the thick forest) that provided the people with the food and wood. There were many other cults. Since there were the sacral cults there certainly were the cult rituals, the sacral ceremonies which were to persuade the divinities in charge of the natural forces help the people survive and protect them from the evil spirits. Each hardship in life was thought to be directly connected with the unkind spirits whom it was needed to keep away with the help of the deities.
This double nature of the earthly and cosmic elements interfering with the life of the Man was the reason for the appearance of the numerous pantheons of the gods, sky-dwellers or divinities. They had special names and were in charge of the specific meteorological and other phenomena. Naran Gerel tengri (the deity of the Sunlight) was in charge of the sunny days, Oyor Sagan tengri (the white bottom sky) was in charge of the cloudless weather. The following divinities come the first among the rest of the Heavens according to their role and status: Yekhe Ekhe tengri (Great Mother the goddess, the eldest goddesses Manzan Gurme and Mayas Khara. One could also mention Esege Malan tengri (the bald-headed or cloudless Sky) whose supreme sacredness prevented him from being active and in reality he was too quiet and idle. Then there come Khormusta tengri, Atai Ulan tengri, Zayan Sagan tengri (The White Creator, who represent the older generation of the divinities.
The sense and cult perception of the world made the Buryat people depict the epical personages either as men with some extraordinary features (the anthropomorphous creatures) or the animals with the exaggerated grotesqueness (the zoomorphous creatures or just the mixed types bearing the features both of the human being and the animal (the mixmorphous creatures). One can understand why it was so. The powerful forces excited fear, so that the people gave those inexplicable phenomena like the lightning or the space and time some fantastic mysterious coloring.
As a consequence the Buryat tales give the exaggerated grotesque fantastic descriptions of the personages irrespective of their being either positive or negative. Some are horrible, ugly and fearful whereas the others are the ideals of beauty, strength and generosity. The former are quite fear-exciting with the many eyes, many heads, sharp claws and teeth covered with the snakes, blowing out the flame and sparks. The latter are well-built, strong and slender, handsome and attractive, kind and open-handed.
The Geseriade, a well-known epical work of the Buryat people, was in the focus of the scholars in Europe and Russia in the course of almost two hundred years. Most prominent are the two narrative traditions of the Buryat epic of Geser, they are the Ekhirit-Bulagat and the Unga variants. The former is considered to be an archaic one whereas the latter dates back to a later period. There are still the other variants of the same heroic epopee, e.g. the Khorinsk variant which has been studied least of all up to now. The interest in the epic which is the cultural heritage of the Buryats has increased. Many talented investigators made contribution to the study of this monumental creation of the Buryat nation. The various narrative traditions and the historical and ethnographical background were studied by Ts. Damdinsuren, A.I.Ulanov, N.O.Sharakshinova, M.P.Khomonov, S.Yu.Nekludov, S.Sh.Chagdurov, E. A. Ulanov, B.S.Dugarov, D.A.Burchina and many other investigators.
The Buryat heroic epic of Geser: the general characteristics
The heroic epic of the Buryat people “Geser” narrates of the noble deeds of Geser liberating the people from the evil, of his battles with the monsters that would not let people live in peace and harmony. Not infrequently those monsters-mangadkhais personified the powerful, threatening forces of Nature. They were quite unaware of their origin and the cause for their being quite merciless.
Therefore those powerful forces were taken as, say, Gal-Nurman Khan who was the symbol of one of the prime elements, i.e. the fire, the oppressive heat and drought, or Loir Lobsogoldoi who was the personification of another prime element, i.e. the water. The flood and the overflow badly damaged and injured the people, animals and plants. One could add here monster Orgoli who was taken as Master of the thick forests and could deprive the hunters of their game or sometimes took up their lives. Then there was Shereem Minata khan with an iron whip and pig iron thighs who possibly symbolized the starting point of the blacksmith shop, the first steps in mastering the art of forging. The sparks and flames coming from the glowing incandescent metal were perceived by thе ancient forefathers of the Buryats as a threatening iron whip which might burn or dazzle.
One might as well recall the epical devil Arkhan who wanted to swallow the Sun and the Moon and plunge the Earth into the darkness. This might be the symbolical representation of the Sun and the Moon eclipse in the perception of the ancient Buryats. Geser also fights with the alien tribes who threatened the peaceful life of his kinsmen. In the epic those are the Sharaldai Khans. With those evil forces fights the heroic and fair Geser-bator.
On the other hand, the Buryat epic sings glory to the same natural prime elements. Not only do those forces of nature harm the people but they do them a lot of good. Man could not do without the fire, water, gifts of the thick forests including wood, plants, game, etc. Man realized it too well. He felt that the fire, water, wood, stone and the like, possessed the positive qualities too. They helped him survive. So he worshipped them, took them to be sacral. Hence there are many cults, for example, that of the Sky, though it sent down to the Earth the thunderstorm and lightening, heavy rain and flood. There was also the cult of the Sun and the Moon which is closely connected with the cult of the light, heat and fire. One cannot but mention the cult of the water, lakes and rivers, as well as the cult of the Master of the taiga that provided the people with food and wood. There were many other cults.
Since there were the sacral cults there certainly were the cult rites, the sacral ceremonies which were to defend the man from the evil spirits. Each hardship in life was thought to be directly connected with the unkind spirits whom it was needed to keep away with the help of the deities. This double nature of the earthly and cosmic elements interfering with the life of the man was the reason for the emergence of the pantheons of the gods and divinities. They had the special names and were in charge of the specific meteorological and the other phenomena. One could mention Naran Gerel tengri (the deity of the Sunlight), who was in charge of the sunny days or Oyor Sagan tengri (the white bottom sky) who was in charge of the cloudless weather.
The following divinities come the first among the rest of the Heavens according to their role and status: Yekhe Ekhe tengri (Great Mother the goddess), the eldest goddesses Manzan Gurme and Mayas Khara, Esege Malan tengri [the bald-headed or cloudless Sky] whose supreme sacredness prevents him from being active and in reality he is too quiet and idle that careless Khormusta tengri. Then there comes Atai Ulan who represents the older generation of the divitities, Zayan Sagan tengri (The White Creator, etc.).
The sensory and cult perception of the world made the Buryat people depict the epical personages either as men with some extraordinary features, i.e. the anthropomorphic creatures or animals with the exaggerated grotesqueness, i.e. the zoomorphic creatures or just the mixed types bearing the features both of the human being and animal, i.e. the mixmorphic creatures. The powerful forces of Nature excited the fear and shock. The inexplicable phenomena like the lightning or the thunder obtained some fantastic mysterious coloring.
As a consequence the Buryat tales give the exaggerated grotesque fantastic descriptions of the personages irrespective of their being either positive or negative. Some are ugly, horrible and fearful whereas the others are the ideals of beauty, strength and generosity. The former are quite fear-exciting with the many eyes, many heads, sharp claws and teeth covered with the snakes, blowing out flame and sparks. The latter are well-built, strong and slender, handsome and attractive.
The study of the epic of Geser started with the publication of the texts including the texts of the shortened variants of the chapters, translations and scientific recordings of the epic. In the period to follow one can mention a more purpose-oriented, scholarly and systematic collection of the folklore pieces. With this in view quite a few folklore expeditions followed. S.Sh. Chagdurov made a contribution to its study by a number of his books. In the 80s of the last century the female personages, the epical genres, the various oral traditions were studied (S.S. Bardarkhanova, E.M. Kuzmina, D.D.Gomboin, S. Yu. Nekludov). The study of the Mongolian version of the “Geser” saga, particularly of over sixty manuscripts and xylographs of the written version of “Geser” in the Old Mongolian script was carried out (E. O. Khundaeva). In 1995 published in the academic edition “The epic of the Euroasian peoples” was “Abai Geser the Mighty” which was written down from the epic-teller Manshud Imegenov (Emegeev) by a well-known scholar Ts. Zh. Zhamsarano in 1906. In 1995 the book “The Geseriade of the western Buryats” was completed by D.A. Burchina, who gave a brief account of the various versions of the Buryat epic of Geser. In 1999 the two books by E.O. Khundaeva were published, one of them being “The Buryat epic of Geser: the symbols and traditions”, the other “The Buryat epic of Geser: the ties and the poetical style”. Both of them are devoted to the problems of the symbolic nature of the epopee, the cult rituals, the everyday customs and habbits, the language and style. In 2015 the book entitled “The Geseriade: the Buryat epic and the Mongolian written story” was published by E. Khundaeva and Ch. Erdyneeva.
In the Buryat and Mongolian epic of Geser there is a persisting idea of closeness, coherence, unification of man and nature which has been of great importance in all times, for the alternative to it might be neglecting all the laws and regularities of nature. At present there are the attempts at the ecological revival of the old traditions, rituals, holding festivals that evidences of the emotional loving attitude towards nature. A persistent necessity of waking up in the people of all the positive which had been accumulated by the ancestors, a respectful attitude towards one’s own culture and resulting from it self-education and the spiritual growth. This all presupposes a true recognition of the other cultures which cease to be alien in that case. This involves a two-fold task, to excite interest in the world civilization through cognizing one’s own.
On the study of the “Geser” heroic epic
The manuscrpipt “Abai Geser khubun” (Abai Geser the Mighty) is kept in Ulan-Ude in the archives of the Buryat folklore pieces in the collections of the Center for the Manuscripts and Block Prints at the Buryat Scientific Center which is a part of the Siberian Department (the city of Novosibirsk) of the Russian Academy of sciences (Moscow). It is well known all over the world among the orientalists, and its prestige among the scholars is ever growing. It is one of the richest repositories of the oriental heritage which attracts lots of the experts from the various countries. It has the ties with the scientific organizations and workers throughout the world. There are a lot of the foreign guests visiting or working in its richest archives. It is of the innovational nature and well equipped. The workers of the Centre also keep close ties with the scholars from many countries. They go on expeditions and business trips across the world and complete the joint projects. Very many international scientific forums take place in its assembly halls. It has got the international recognition and is making a good contribution to the further development of the oriental science.
In 1776 P.S. Pallas gave the first information in Russia concerning the epic “Geser”. B. Bergmann rendered the contents of the two chapters from the Kalmyck version of the tale of Geser (1804). J. I. Schmidt re-edited in the Old-Mongolian script the so-called (так-называемый) Peking version of 1716 consisting of the seven chapters , and in three years he published its translation in German . S. A. Kozin published the translation of “Geser” to Russian [1935—36]. A.M. Pozdneev in 1896 published the rendering (пересказ) of a Kalmyck version with the translation in Russian . G. N. Potanin gave the rendering of a Buryat version [1981, 1883]. He then published in proze the Tibetan and Buryat versions of “Geser” . M. N. Khangalov wrote down from the epic-tellers the variants of the Buryat version and published their renderings (пересказ, переложение) in Russian in the so called “Balagan collection” [1903, 1959].
One should take note of the fact that in 1909 an English traveler J. Curtin published the three variants of “Geser” making use of his notes . One can find among them the abridged tale of Geser written down from the epic-teller M. Imegenov. This curtailed variant has some passages which differ it from the full recording made from the same epic-teller by Ts. Zhamtsarano in 1906. One should bear in mind that the texts in J. Kurtin’s book present the result of the double translation. At first the text was translated from Buryat to Russian by V. Mikhailov on the request of J. Kurtin. Then it was translated from Russian to English, therefore they present in fact a prosaic rendering of some motives of the epic but certainly they cannot be taken as the precise recording of the epic performed by the epic-teller.
On the contrary, the records made by Ts. Zhamtsarano are of great academic interest. In the first and second issues of the second volume of “The patterns of the folklore of the Mongolian tribes” one can find the tales “Abai Geser khubun”, “Oshor Bogdo” and “Khurin Altai” written down from a story-teller M. Imegenov [1930, 1931]. Ts. Zhamtsarano accompanied his records with the comments, the characteristics of the epics, the peculiarities of their performing art. The epic-teller M. Imegenov was born in 1849 into a poor peasant’s family in the village of Kukunut. He had a special gift for story-telling. Ts. Zhamtsarano wrote: “When the rhapsode performs the uliger, he puts the pure water near him to have it time from time, leans back, half closes his eyes and gets absorbed in the atmosphere of his epical poem and begins to sing in a drawn-out, melodious manner being carried away while as if drawing one picture after the other with a surprising calmness and impassivity despite his being inspired and taken away. The listeners echo him whenever necessary” [Obraztsy, 1930]. (Translated by Ye. Khundaeva).
The folklore experts S. P. Baldaev, A. K. Bogdanov, G. D. Sanjeev, K. A. Khadakhane, K. B. Baginov, A. I. Shadaev, I. N. Madason, D. D. Khiltukhin, N. G. Baldano, R. F. Tugutov, D. A. Alexeev, N. O. Sharakshinova and the others wrote down the tales of Geser in all the districts of Buryatia. They wrote down the epics from the celebrated (знаменитый) story-tellers of the 20—30-s of the 20 century.
At present in the Center for the Oriental Manuscipts and Block-prints at the Institute for the Mongolian, Buddhist and Tibetan studies of the Siberian Depatment, the Russian Academy of sciences, the collection of the epics (uliger) contains over one hundred authentic works among which presented most richly is the epic of Geser. There are about ten variants of “Geser”. The records were made in different years in such districts of the Irkutsk province (oblast’) as Ekhirit-Bulagat, Bokhan, Osinsk and Nukut. The epic-tellers were M. Imegenov, A. Vasiliyev, P. Petrov, P. Dmitriyev, P. Tushemilov, N. Ivanov, P. Stepanov, A. Baldakshinov, B. Zhetukhaev, A. Toroyev and the others.
The academic studies and the texts of the heroic epics are published beginning with the 1950-s. One can mention a fundamental study completed by a Mongol scholar Ts. Damdinsuren . He made a comparative study of the Mongol, Buryat and Tibetan versions of the epic. The French scholar R. — A. Stein completed a study of the various aspects of the Tibetan Geseriade . The Hungarian scholar L. Lorincz studied the Mongol and Buryat epics, particularly “Geser” [1978—79]. The issues of the epical heritage of the Mongols and Buryats were studied by the scholars in such countries as Japan (K. Tanaka), France (R.-A. Stein, R. Hamayon), Germany (W. Heissig, C. Sagaster).
The Ekhirit-Bulagat variant of the Buryat version of the “Geser” epic written down by Ts. Zhamtsarano in 1906 from the epic-teller Manshud Imegenov was published in Buryat in the academic transcription in St.Petersburg in 1930. In 1961 its second publication with the translation to Russian was completed by M. P. Khomonov. Then in 1969 it was again published with a new translation to the Russian language by N. O. Sharakshinova.
Since that time about fifty years passed. During those years a great progress was made in the study of the heroic epic of the Buryats. The academic level of the preparation of the texts for publishing improved as well as the translating techniques to Russian. The book “Abai Geser khubun” (1995) was prepared taking into account the new requirements. The Buryat authentic text, its translation to Russian, the commentaries and the academic articles are in essence a new academic interpretation of the epical monument in its unique and artistic originality taking account of the new requirements concerning the edition of the epics.
But it hasn’t been translated to English although it might be the prerequisite (предпосылка) of its becoming known to a wider public. Therefore a decision was taken to translate the epic to the English language. The English translation of the Ekhirit-Bulagat variant of the Buryat version of “Geser” written down by Ts. Zhamtsarano in 1906 from Manshud Imegenov was recently completed by Ye. Khundaeva. The present English translation of the epic of Geser is made on the basis of the manuscript (Inv. No 1) of the collection of the Buryat folklore (The Center for the Oriental Manuscripts and Block Prints, The Institute for the Mongolian, Buddhist and Tibetan studies, SB RAS, Ulan-Ude) which is entitled “Abai Geser khubun” and its published variant (Abai Geser khubun, Moscow, 1995).
А brief summary of the contents of Geser
Those were the remotest times when there were neither celestial gods nor sun, stars. Instead of the sky there was some misty haze and below there was only water. The Great Mother the Goddess was all alone. And she decided to create a world and fill it with some creatures. For the beginning she made an earth from a piece of clay brought from water by the duck created by her earlier and put it on back of the turtle. Then there appeared the mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes; moreover, there appearеd the beasts, birds and fish. The goddess makes the sun and the moon. From the rays of the sun and the light of the moon she gives birth to the two daughters Manzan Gurme and Mayas Khara who afterwards become the foremothers of the kind western and the evil eastern sky-dwellers or deities-tengris. The goddesses’s daughters had then many children and grandchildren who were fond of having merry open-air parties and festivals with the games – naadan. On the first day of the naadan there were the wrestlers’ competitions, on the second — those of the archers, on the third day — the horse races, on the fourth day the people devotedly listened to the singers, storytellers and epic-tellers — uligershins, on the fifth day there were the contests of the sages. In a word, there was a joyous festival which might be called the “yokhor” in the Buryat language.
In the western part of the sky there live the fifty five tengris, their head being Khan Khormusta. He has the three sons, the middle of them being future Geser. In the eastern part of the sky there live the forty four tengris, the head over them being Atai-Ulan, who has the three sons too. Living in the middle place of the sky is Segen-Sebdeg tengri. He has a daughter Seseg-Nogon, she is a beauty and sews skillfully. The eldest sons of the heads of both the skies eagerly wish to take her as wife. The western and eastern deities want to get possession of the middle sky, there bursts out a quarrel between them. In the battle that followed the western tengris win. Having cut Atai-Ulan into the pieces they throw them down to the earth that causes the people the numerous troubles and misfortune. From the parts of Atai-Ulan’s body there appear the various monsters: from the chest — Gal-Durme khan, from the thigh — Lodsogoldoi mangadkhai (monster), from the neck vertebrae — Sherem-Minata devil, from the stomach — Mitagar Khara Mila, from the liver — Ganga Bured khan, from the right hand — Abarga Sesen mangadkhai, from the left hand — Asurai Shara mangadkhai, from the right leg — Khitad Gumen khan, from the left leg — fourty-eyed Dume, from the kidneys — the Edir sagan tree and the spotted deer Taril Eren, from the lungs — Black Guma Mitan who had a thousand of the white eyes. Apart from them, there were the other monsters that caused the innumerable troubles, such as Arkhan Khara devil, fifteen-headed Asurai mangadkhai, ninety-five-headed Yenkhoboi mangadkhai.
In order to save the people from all the misfortunes Khan Khormusta’s middle son Erkhe Beligte (future Geser) gets down to the earth. To complete his mission he is to be re-born on the Earth because being of the celestial origin he is too pure and sacral for the earthly life. He gets born into a poor childless family of an old man Sengel and an old woman Sengelen. The old woman gets pregnant in a magic way and gives birth to the three children. The two daughters get up onto the sky, remaining is the son who is far from being nice-looking and stains all around at that. He gets the name of Nyukhata Sura (Snot Sura). He does a lot of trouble to his elderly parents.