The Naadam festival, also known as Eriyan Guryan Nadaam, means ‘the three games of men’ and is celebrated annually in July.
Celebrations kick off with an opening ceremony which includes music, a parade and a march by Mongolian soldiers. The soldiers march commemorates the revolution of 1921 when Mongolia declared itself an independent country.
The rest of the festical celebrates three competitions: wrestling, horse racing and archery. Each of these capture the ancestral roots and cultural heritage of Mongolia but have also modernised as more and more women are now competing.
What is the cultural significance of wrestling, horse racing and archery?
Wrestling signifies the belief men, and in particular soldiers, need to remain in peak physical condition. Unlike modern amateur or Greco-Roman wrestling there are no weight classes or time limits. This means all competitors need to be well rounded and able to adapt to a variety of opponents and styles.
Horse racing plays homage to what a vital part horses have played in all aspects of Mongolian history. Traditionally, horses made it easier to travel for trade and socialisation and were also an important part of Mongolian diets where due to their nomadic lifestyle and harsh winters it was not easy to grow sustainable crops. Even in modern Mongolia, many rely on horses as transportation and to support their work. Children learn to ride horses from a very early age, even some toddlers will be getting familiar with horse riding.
Archery showcases the strategy and precision of Mongolian soldiers. Over centuries, soldiers have developed their combat skills using archery and fed themselves through hunting. Archery allowed Mongolians to establish their place as great warriors and this pride continues, showcased through the Naadam festivities.
The Naadam festival features many events alongside the trip-sports, including folk dancing, exhibitions and craft fairs showcasing locally made goods. Many will even wear traditional costumes allowing you to immerse yourself even further in Mongolia's cultural heritage.
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