The Culture of Mongolia has been heavily influenced by the Mongol nomadic way of life. Other important influences are from Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, and from China. Since the 20th century, Russia and European culture have had a strong influence on Mongolia, making it a unique culture in Asia.
Horses have always played an important role in daily life as well as in the arts.
Mongols have a lot of epic heroes from the ancient time. The Mongolian word for hero, baatar, appears frequently in personal names, and even in the name of Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar (Mongolian: Улаанбаатар, Ulan Bator).
The ger (yurt) is part of the Mongolian national identity. The Secret History of the Mongols mentions Genghis Khan as the leader of all people who live in felt tents. Nowadays a large portion of Mongolia's population still live in gers, even in cities. Ger also means home, and other words are derived from it, such as gerlekh, which means to marry.
Tengrism has been the dominant belief system of the Mongols since ancient times, and it still retains significant importance in their mythology. During the era of the Great Khans, Mongolia practiced freedom of worship and is still a defining element of the Mongol character. In the 17th century,Tibetan Buddhism became the dominant religion in Mongolia. Traditional Shamanism was, except in some remote regions, suppressed and marginalized. On the other hand, a number of shamanic practices, like ovoo worshiping, were incorporated into Buddhist liturgy.
After the Stalinist purges in the 1930s, both Buddhism and Shamanism were virtually outlawed in the Mongolian People's Republic. In Inner Mongolia, traditional religion was heavily affected by the Cultural Revolution. Since the 1990s, a number of Christian sects are trying to gain a foothold in Mongolia. About 4% of the Mongolian population is Muslim.
Customs and superstitions
Mongolians are generally very superstitious and believe in good and bad omens. Be mindful of their customs, beliefs and traditions and try to minimize cultural differences.
The most important and famous Mongolian festival is the Naadam (English: game). The biggest one is held each year on July 11–13 in Ulaanbaatar, but there are also smaller ones at the aimag and sum levels which are more approachable and less crowded. A Naadam involves horse racing, wrestling, and archery competitions.
For families, the most important festival is Tsagaan Sar (English: white month), which is roughly equivalent to the Chinese New Year and usually falls into January or February. Family members and friends visit each other, exchange presents - very popular presents for all opportunities are the khadag - and eat huge quantities of buuz.
Under the Soviet influence, Christmas and the western calendar New Year also became celebrations in Mongolia.
Mongolia has a very old musical tradition. Key traditional elements are throat-singing, the Morin Khuur (horse head fiddle) and other string instruments, and several types of songs. Mongolian melodies are typically characterized by pentatonic harmonies and long end notes.
Mongolians also have a long standing tradition and count as some of the best contortionists in the world. Many of Japan's top Sumo wrestlers are also Mongols.
The Mongolian cuisine is primarily based on meat and dairy products, with some regional variations. The most common meat is mutton, supplemented in the desert south by camel meat, and in the northern mountains by beef (including yak). Dairy products are made from mare's milk (Airag), from cattle, yaks, and camels. Popular dishes include buuz (a type of meat dumpling), khuushuur(a meat pastry), khorkhog (a meat stew, usually a special meal for guests), and boortsog (a sweet biscuit).
The meal commonly known as "Mongolian barbecue" is not Mongolian at all, but of Taiwanese in origin.
Vegetables are increasingly becoming a part of the Mongol diet as well. In Ulaanbaatar, it is now possible to find a wide range of imported products and food.
The Mongolian deel (Mongolian: дээл) is an item of traditional clothing commonly worn by both men and women outside major towns, especially by herders. In urban areas, deels are mostly only worn by elderly people, or on festive occasions.
It has changed little since the days of the empire, because it is supremely well-adapted to the conditions of life on the steppe and the daily activities of pastoral nomads. However, there have been some changes in styles which distinguish modern Mongolian dress from historic costume. The deel, or kaftan, is the Monglian traditional garment worn on workdays and special days. It is a long, loose gown cut in one piece with the sleeves; it has a high collar and widely overlaps at the front. The deel is girdled with a sash. Mongolian deels always close on the wearer's right and traditionally have five fastenings. Modern deels often have decoratively cut overflaps, small round necklines, and sometimes contain a Mandarin collar.
The famous bogtag headdress worn by women seems to have been restricted to married women of very high rank.
Each ethnic group living in Mongolia has its own deel design distinguished by cut, color, and trimming. Before the revolution, all social strata in Mongolia had their own manner of dressing. Livestock breeders, for example, wore plain deels, which served them both summer and winter. The priests wore yellow deels with a cape or khimj thrown over it. Secular feudal lords put on smart hats and silk waistcoats.
Popular board games are chess and checkers. The chess figures are noyon (noble = king), bers (cp. bars "tiger" = queen), temee (camel = bishop), mori (horse = knight), tereg (cart = castle), khüü (boy = pawn). The rules used today are the same as in European chess, although there are differing versions called 'Mongolian Chess' and 'Daur Chess'.
Dominoes are played widely. Indigenous card games existed in the 19th century but are now lost. One of the popular card games that is played is Muushig.
Sheep anklebones, or shagai, are used in games, as dice or as token. Rock, paper, scissors and morra-like games are also played.Wood knots and disentanglement puzzles have traditionally been popular.
Mongolian children were known to have played an ice game on frozen rivers that is similar to curling.
The importance of preserving the culture and traditions of Mongolia has been recognized internationally, and several Mongolian traditions have already been added to UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists:
- The Traditional Music of the Morin Khuur
- Urtiin Duu - Traditional Folk Long Song
- Biyelgee dance
- Traditional epic poem
- Tsuur end-blown flute
- The Traditional Naadam festival
- Falconry, a living human heritage
- Mongolian throat singing
- Mongolian limbe flute
- Mongolian calligraphy
- Mongolian knuckle-bone shooting