Friday, July 31, 2015

National Naadam 2015: March of the Nine White Banners

July 11th marked the beginning of the National Naadam celebrations in Ulaanbaatar.

MIAT, the Mongolian national airline, wishes the Mongolian people a happy Naadam.
While I find the National Naadam to be a bit crowded and touristy for my taste, I was fortunate enough this year to escort the nine white banners of the Mongolian state from Parliament to the National Stadium for the opening ceremony.  On a bright Saturday morning, I raced over to Chinggis Square (originally Sukhbaatar Square), where the honor guard carried the nine banners out of their home inside the Government Palace to be marched through the city center to the stadium.

A military band waits in Chinggis Square just south of the Government Palace to provide music for the entrance of the nine white banners

The nine white banners head south from the square, carried by mounted honor guardsmen and mobbed by eager crowds
 The nine banners derive from the time of Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Empire, when hair from the tails of white horses and black horses were used to make the nine white and nine black banners, respectively.  The nine white banners were used for times and missions of peace, whereas the nine black banners were used for war.  During most of the year, the two sets of nine banners are housed inside the Government Palace, and the banners play important roles in state ceremonies for the modern nation-state.
Police and military personnel flank the honor procession as crowds march with the banners through the city

View from the head of the procession
It was hard to get a good shot of the entire honor procession because it stretched along several city blocks and kept moving at a reasonable clip, necessitating some jogging on the part of the crowds and guardsmen on foot.  What's lost in these photos is the gradation of horse colors: the standard-bearers all ride white or light-colored horses, while the rest of the cavalry honor guard are on chestnut and bay horses, fading from light to dark as you look down the column.

Standard-bearers on light-colored horses

Accompanying honor guardsmen on darker-colored horses follow behind the nine banners

Jogging to catch up to the cavalry: various military regiments in formation and full dress follow the horsemen on foot

The process comes to a halt near the back entrance to the National Stadium

Closeup of the croups and other tack of the honor cavalry

Change in formation: the standard-bearers form a single-file line in anticipation of entering the National Stadium

The honor cavalry behind them follow suit

One of the cavalry honor guardsmen rests in the saddle.  His position - slightly up and over the saddle, wresting his weight on one thigh, is a typical way that riders in Mongol rest after a ride or sitting in the saddle for a long time.

After switching to single-file formation, the honor guard entered a small enclave just outside the National Stadium filled with ballloon-vendors, street-food stands, and tricked-out old cars getting ready to parade through the stadium.  The standard-bearers eventually dismounted, presumably to march the nine banners into the stadium on foot, but it was too hot for me to wait around until they made their grand entrance.  And I wasn't even dressed in the heavy wool uniform or metal hats of the honor guard regalia!

Holding area just outside the National Stadium.  Each of the nine white banners is topped with a different trident shape

The honor guard has dismounted in order to march the banners into the stadium

Levity and contrast: military dress and shiny balloons

The Dunjingarav shopping center wishes you a Happy Naadam!  The billboard depicts the three main Naadam sports: wrestling, horse racing, and archery.

As I didn't have tickets to the coveted opening ceremony, which you can watch on TV in the comfort and cool of your own home, I walked back through the throngs of people drawn to the National Stadium for wrestling matches, archery, and shagai (ankle-bone shooting matches).  It was a lovely start to the National Naadam and nation-wide summer vacation.  But this morning was just one of many great summer adventures in Mongolia; stay tuned for more!

No comments:

Post a Comment