Mongolian Legends

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Legends are said to be the oldest form of folktales. The Mongolians told them to each other to explain the world around them.

There are legends telling us something about the origin of men and society as portrayed in the one about how the Mongolian's received the gift of storytelling. Other legends give explanations for natural phenomenons people couldn't understand like why certain plants are evergreens or why the hare has got that funny, split lip.

The legend about the camel and the mouse shows the great impact other cultures - like the Chinese and the Indian - had on the Mongolians. This impact shows itself not only in their twelve-year calendar1 or in their religion - the Lamaism - coming originally from India, but also in the tales the Mongolians tell each other sitting in their yurts.

I hope you'll like the legends I've chosen. Have fun reading them!

How Tales Originated Among The Mongolian People.

It is said that, a long, long time ago, a dangerous black plague spread among the Mongol people and several thousands died a quick but painful death. Those caught in the plague's clutches had no chance of surviving. Men and women who remained healthy tried to save their lives. Fleeing in panic, they cried out to those they left behind:
'We must try to escape! Fate will decide the destiny of the suffering!'

Among the sick was a fifteen-year-old youth called Tarvaa. For days Tarvaa's body battled the forces of death but, finally, weak and feverish, the young man lost all awareness of this world.

Tarvaa's spirit thought that young Tarvaa had died and left his body to begin the sad journey to the place of torment. After many difficulties the spirit of Tarvaa arrived before the portal of the kingdom of the underworld and was led to the presence of its great khan.

The khan was most surprised to see such a young spirit and he asked sternly:
'Why did you leave your body whilst it was still alive? Why are you here in my kingdom?'

Trembling with fright, the spirit answered:
'Begging your pardon, great khan, but all my family and all my friends who remained in that world stood over my body and said I was dead. Then they ran away. So I did not wait for it to perish, but simply left on my journey to you.'

The simplicity and obedience of the young spirit won the sympathy of the khan who declared:
'Young spirit, your time has not come yet. You do not belong here. You must return to your master. However, before you set out on your journey home, I will grant you one gift. You may take back with you anything from my kingdom that you desire.'

It was only then that the spirit of Tarvaa looked about him. As far as his eyes could see in the dim light of the kingdom of the underworld were every pleasure and every pain to be had in life: wealth and poverty, good fortune and bad, happiness and sadness, grief and woe, music and song, rich food and clothing, amusement and laughter, ballade and dance, and many, many other temptations, both good and bad.

The spirit of Tarvaa wandered among all these wondrous treasures for some time. Only after a long search did it finally stop and stare: it had spied the one thing that Tarvaa was to value most in life.

Hesitatingly, the spirit pointed to something deep in the shadows, then looked back questioningly to the khan. The great khan nodded his consent with a fatherly smile.
The spirit of the young Tarvaa had chosen a tale and this is how the gift of tales and legends was bestowed upon the spirit of Tarvaa.

The khan then instructed the spirit:
'Now return home at once. Use this gift well in life, and do not come here again until you have been called!'

After days and nights the spirit finally reached the lifeless body. To his distress, he found that a crow had already dug out the eyes. Though sad and frightened by the horrible condition of its now sightless body, the spirit did not dare to disobey the orders of the khan. Seeing no other way but to take possession of its body, the spirit slipped silently back into the boy's still sleeping flesh.

Young Tarvaa recovered from the black plague and, though he was blind, lived to become an old, old man. Throughout his long life Tarvaa would travel to the far corners of the Mongol lands recounting wonderful tales and legends to his people. They were stories not only from his own country but also delighted tales that he learned from faraway lands.

In this way blind Tarvaa, known and loved by the Mongolians as the greatest storyteller of all time, used well the gift bestowed upon his spirit by the great khan of the kingdom of the underworld.

From that time, so they say, the Mongol people have told each other tales.

The Reason Why The Fir, Cedar And Red Bilberry Became Evergreens.

Once upon a time there was a good-hearted swallow who, having found a spring of eternal water, was flying with a few drops in his mouth to an yurt because he wished to give the human beings there immortality and everlasting youth. However an ill-intentioned bumble-bee, who knew about this, stung the swallow in flight. Because of the pain, the swallow let out a groan and spilled the eternal water, which dripped onto the fir, the cedar and the red bilberry. Since then the leaves of these three plants are green throughout the whole year.

Seeing that all was in vain, the swallow, in his grief, pulled out the tongue of the bumble-bee who, from that time, has never sung beautifully but could make only a useless sort of droning noise.

How The Hare Split Its Lip.

One day many, many years ago, the elder of the hares summoned his clan together and said to them gravely:
'Brothers and sisters, there is not a living creature on earth that does not know how to defend itself or frighten away its enemy. We hares are the sole exception: we are afraid of everyone and everything!

'When the leaves on the tree just rustle a little, our hearts sink into our paws. When another creature so much as glances in our direction, we immediately hop away in fright.

'Brothers and sister, we are the most wretched of all the animals on earth! It is better to drown ourselves than continue living this way being the most shameful creature in the animal world.'

The hares sighed deeply and flopped their long ears in agreement. Then, with tears of self-pity welling up in their pink eyes, they formed a long line behind the wise elder and set out, hopping slowly on their big feet.

Just before reaching the cold waters of their destination, a deep watery pit, a black magpie swooped out of the skies. Perching on a branch near the long line of weeping hares, she cried in alarm:
'My dear hares, what has happened? Where are you all going?'

Without answering the magpie, the hares kept on marching to their doom. So the magpie became insistent:
'Hares! Why are you all so sad? What is the meaning of all these tears? One of you, please tell me what is going on.'

One little hare stepped out of the line and told the magpie, between loud sniffles:
'Oh, missus magpie! No one in the world is afraid of us and we, miserable creatures, are scared of simply everybody. It is best for us to vanish from the face of earth.'

cried the magpie.
'What a foolish thing to believe! Stop! All of you!'

The whole long line of hares halted their mournful march and gathered around the commanding magpie who told them:
'Hares, you may drown yourselves if you so desire, but before you do that, please do as I ask. Please hide behind the bushes. A shepherd boy is about to come here to water his sheep, and when he does, you must all jump out and run in all directions. You'll see what will happen. You're not the only miserable ones on this earth, I think.'

So saying, the kind hearted magpie flew away.

The hares followed the magpie's instructions and gathered to hide behind the bushes. After a few minutes a shepherd boy appeared over the hill, herding his flocks towards the spring.
Just as the sheep drew near, the hares sprang out of the bushes and ran bounding higher and higher in all directions. When they finally stopped and looked back, they saw that the sheep were so frightened that they had thundered off in all directions. The poor shepherd boy was desperately trying to stop the wild scramble and was shouting at the top of his voice and cracking his whip wildly.

So surprised were the hares at what had happened that they stood on their big hind legs and began laughing with glee. They had actually managed to frighten a whole herd of sheep! And they laughed and laughed so much and so long that their upper lips split in the middle, and that is why their lips look as they do right up till today.

Why The Camel Rolls In The Ashes.

A long, long time ago Buddha began assigning an animal to each of the years of the Mongolian twelve-year calendar. He allocated the names of eleven animals straight away and then thought about which name to give to the last and final year without coming to a decision.
On hearing this, the camel and the mouse, neither of them had been selected yet, rushed to see the Buddha. Bowing respectfully before him, each presented himself as a worthy candidate. The Buddha listened in silence as each animal argued his case.

When the elaborate pleas came to an end, the wise Buddha, not wishing to offend either of them, quietly told the camel and the mouse that they would have to settle the matter between themselves in a friendly and honest way.

The big camel and the tiny mouse discussed and debated for hours, until they finally agreed that they would settle the issue with a contest. The first to see the light of the new morning sun the very next day would be the winner and the winner would enter the Mongolian twelve-year calendar for all time.

That night, in the darkness, in the middle of a wide, open plain, the camel took up a position facing the east. The mouse, who had climbed up on the camel's hump, fixed his eyes on a faraway, snow-covered mountain to the west. Eyes propped wide open, the two anxious contestants settled down to wait for the critical moment.

At dawn, when the great fiery ball began its slow ascent, one thin early ray glanced off the snowy western mountaintop. The mouse squealed out:
'There it is! I see the sun! I win!'

cried the camel, who knew for certain that the sun rose in the east.
'Why, you little sneak! You've cheated! You'll pay for this!'

As the terrified mouse scurried down the camel's hump to seek safety in a nearby pile of ashes, the camel charged after him trying to kill the mouse by trampling him underfoot. When this didn't work, the camel threw his heavy body on the ground and rolled back and forth on the ash pile, hoping to crush the mouse with his weight.

The camel didn't squash the mouse that time, but he's certain that one day he will. Therefore, whenever he spies a pile of ashes, he thinks that the mouse must be hiding inside. He snorts, stamps his feet, then lies down and rolls around and around, trying to flatten his tricky little foe this time.

So it happened that the little mouse entered the Mongolian twelve-year calendar while the big camel was excluded.

Feeling sorry for the camel, the wise Buddha told him gently that he would never be forgotten. No, in fact the camel would be represented in the Mongolian calendar by possessing one feature of each of the twelve different animals.

If you look carefully at the camel, you will see that the Buddha has kept his promise, because the camel has:

  • The ears of the mouse.
  • The stomach of the cow.
  • The paws of the tiger.
  • The splitted lips of the hare.
  • The body of the dragon.
  • The eyes of the snake.
  • The mane of the horse.
  • The wool of the sheep.
  • The hump of the ape.
  • The head-crest of the rooster.
  • The legs of the dog.
  • The tail of the pig.

That is it for today. Hope you enjoyed the tales. And please tell me if you would like to read more and, if so, what kind of tales you would you enjoy!


05.07.01. Front Page

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1Probably taken from the Chinese.

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