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The religion always took an important place in spiritual life of the Kyrgyz people. Though Islam is considered to be official religion of the Kyrgyz, their religious representations of were not reduced to Islam substance. Pre-moslem beliefs have showed much stronger and durable than Islam as far as they found fertile ground in the patriarchal-patrimonial traditions that rooted, in turn, in features of Kyrgyz social order. The nomadic cattle-breeding depending frequently elemental forces of the nature, also contributed to preservation of pre-moslem religious-mystical representations.
The Kyrgyz became to accept Islam more active only in time of Kokand Khanat. In the most important strategic places Kokands built fortifications and as a rule mosques inside, where Kokand mullahs settled down. But the role of the mosque in the religious life of Kyrgyz has been limited, as it was built up in the fortification that the Kyrgyz tried to escape. However in XIX century the Kyrgyz have adopted the basic Islamic ceremonies, but did not penetrate into their essence deeply. Kyrgyz people were consistent with none of so-called "5 pillars of Muslim religion": practicing religion, prayer, keeping the fast, giving charity and pilgrimage to holy Muslim places. They recognized only Muslim holidays which had something in common with their early religions remainders. So, after 30-day fast they celebrated "Orozo Ait", praying for spirits of the dead ancestors. In honor of the dead Kyrgyz baked borsoks, lit candles (sham) and read the Koran. "Kurman Ait" was celebrated as the holiday for alive and attended by sacrifices.
Parallel with Islam, and sometimes mixed with it, there were deep traditions of pre-Islamic beliefs. Among them is a totemic conception, based on idea of relationship between group of people, clans and tribes with animals and birds. One of the large tribes of the Northern Kyrgyzstan is called "bugu" (deer). A number of superstitions and legends evidence of the totem deer reverence by Kyrgyz. This can be connected with widely spread superstitions of eagle, wolf and mountain goat reverence. Worship to a mythical white young camel, snake, eagle owl and bear also took place. In the religious conceptions of the Kyrgyz people, the important place was given to the nature cults, and the most ancient among them - to heavens. Being in difficult situation, the Kyrgyz appealed to the sky with the words: "Heavens, help me!". When blessing young or expressing gratitude, the Kyrgyz said: "Heavens bless you". They also connected the sky with damnation, saying: "Heavens curse you". In the nature cult great attention was given to the earth and water worship as the sources of life origin. Kyrgyz worship reverently whole earth surface as Jer-Suu deity. One of the most ancient rituals was "Jer-suutayu", when the Kyrgyz people sacrificed animals for the deity. Ancestors' cult was one of the most important in the pre-moslem system of conceptions. Ancestors' spirits, by opinion of the Kyrgyz people, protected alive and guarded them from various troubles.
Shamanism and connected with it concepts and ways of treatment were very important and stable in the Kyrgyz philosophy and their life. The shamans were black and white. The most powerful were black ones. Their main function was to heal of illness and prophesy. They "healed" and "prophesied" with the help of spirits. The shaman talent considered to be inherited. A lot of family traditions tightly interlaced with the religious-magic rituals. So, when the child was born, along with "Jentek toi" (birthday feast), "Tushoo kesuu" (hobble cut in the first child's anniversary), when parents organized celebration with entertaining and jolly games there also were rituals dealt with supernatural powers beliefs. For example, putting a child to cradle ("Beshikke saluu") and cutting child's hair ("Chach aldyruu). Wedding was one of the most important family events. It included kalym (payment for a bride), various clothes exchanging between parents of married couple, expensive dowry, farewell dancing and animal sacrifice for the couple.
Nooruz - the New Year holiday, which is celebrated on the 21st of March, can be called as the traditional holiday of the past.
The "Manas" epic
History and culture of the Kyrgyz, their economic activities, everyday life, traditions and aesthetic tastes, ethical norms, geographical and religious conceptions have depicted in the "Manas" epic. This is the encyclopedia of the Kyrgyz in a sense, their national pride. Manas's history is a thousand years old and is bigger in volume than the word's many epic. Manas is a name of the main character - hero and ideological inspirer of the Kyrgyz. All events are moved around Manas, who had the idea of establishment the independent Kyrgyz state. The epic is about the people's fight for independence, heroes' bravery in battles with invaders and about heroes who stood for independence and people's union.
The "Manas" epic from the beginning to the end is comprised by verses that make it differ from the other world's epics. The epic has been saved by talent of manaschis - ingenious akyns who can recite ten thousands lines performing all of those in specific way. The melody of "Manas" consists of different intonations. According to traditions, the epic performance could be continue during some days and even weeks. Performance of "Manas" is considered to be high art as well as it was in the past.
National horse games
Horses are everything for the Kyrgyz. Russian traveler P. Semenov-Tien-Shanskiy wrote: "The Kyrgyz spend half of their lives on horsebacks because the horse is the dearest thing they have in their lives." The Kyrgyz regards horses as their friends, believing that God created them from the same clay the human being is made of. One the horseback the Kyrgys had been working as well as had been resting. Horse games and competitions were essential part of Kygyz leisure.
Oodarysh is a fight on horses that demands strength and adroitness combined with the skillful horse control. The goal is to drag down a rival from horse. One of the most favorite among the Kyrgyz people sport is horse racing, as they are natural horsemen. The competitions are held at a distance form 4 to 50 km. The riders sometimes were 10 - 13 year old boys, without a saddle. The racers should be fast and hardy and the rider - has skillful control.
Kyz-Kuumai (catch the girl) - in past times this game was a wedding ritual. Its participants were a bride, a bridegroom and a sister in law - jene that tried to help the girl to escape from the bridegroom. The bride and bridegroom's friends also took part in the game. According to the rules the bride was given the best horse and she began racing first, having the additional 20 meters distance. The bridegroom had to catch the girl and kiss her or touch her with his hat at tilt. Thus, he proved his love and secured the right to marry her. Sometimes the bridegroom failed to catch up the girl due because of worse horse.
The wrestling between riders for a goat carcass (Ulak Tyrtysh, Kok Beru) - is a very popular Central Asian horse game. The words kok beru mean "grey wolf". The game's history goes back to the distant past, it was originated when the herds of cattle grazed all year round in the steppes and people suffered from wolves those attacked cattle. Due to the lack of firearms, the cattle-breeders couldn't deal with the wolf just in the act. Steadfast jigits (horse riders) on fast and hardy horses chased the wolf to death, beat it with sticks and kamchas (lash), and picked it up from the ground taking it away from each other. Later, leading more settled way of life, people replaced "kok beru" by "ulak tartysh" - wrestling for a goat's carcass. There are 2 teams of 2-4 people in the game. The playing ground is 200x150 meters. The opposite sides are marked with flags (10 meters) and are called "the gates". In the center of the playing ground a 6-meters in diameter circle is placed, where before the competition they put a goat's carcass weighting 30-40 kg, without a head and limbs cut to the wrists (ulak). With the signal, the team captains ride to the center and begin wrestling for the goat's carcass. As soon as the ulak is picked up, the rest members of the teams begin to participate in wrestling. The winner of this game is the team that threw ulak into the opponent's gates more times.