What is a yurt

The ger (the original Mongolian term), or the yurt (in Russian), is the traditional dwelling of the Mongols and, in general, that of nomadic people in Central Asia. It is constructed of a framework made of poles (uni) radiating from a center smoke hole ring (tono), which is lashed on top of a circular latticework wall. Many Siberian tribes like the Tsataan, the Altai-Uryankhai and the Tungus (Evenks) are reindeer nomads who live in tshum, which is similar to the tipis or hooghan of the Navaho people in Southwestern North America. Anyway, orientation and symbolism of the yurt are valid for all Mongolian groups. yurts and tipis (yurts) are designed as to be easily assembled or taken down as the nomadic owner resumes his travel; the imayurty and meaning of the yurt, however, stays the same, no matter where it is being erected.

The yurt is not only the center of the universe but also a microcosm within it. In fact, it is a map of the universe at large, and the vault of heaven is reflected in the arched shape of the interior of the yurt roof.

The entrance is always to face South, since that is the front of the yurt. The North side, also called the hoimor and located behind the fire, is the most honorable spot in the yurt (place of the shrines – altars). It is here that the sacred objects, ongon spirit dwellings and other religious images are placed on a table or chest. The sitting place next to the hoimor is the most honored place, and it is occupied by elders, chiefs, shamans, or other respected guests. The Western side on the right is the male side, and thus it constitutes the sitting place for men and storage place for mens tools, saddles, bows, and guns. The left and Eastern side is the sitting place for the women, and it comprehends the storage area for cooking utensils, cradleboards, and other women’s objects. Since the Southern side is the least honored spot, young people are usually seated on the Southern part of the left and right sides.

Movement is “sunwise”, i.e. in a clockwise direction. The reason why this is regarded as the path of the sun becomes readily apparent if one watches the track traced by the circular patch of sunlight entering through the smoke hole through the day. Whenever moving inside the yurt, one must always move in a sunwise direction. This same movement is also required in shamanic dances, worship, and ritual.

The center of the ger is the most sacred place of all, the gal golomt, the place of the fire. It is the dwelling place of the daughter of Father Heaven, Golomto, and it is to be treated with utmost respect. As the ger is the center of the world, so the place of the fire is the center of the universe represented by the ger itself. The vertical axis represented by the column of smoke rising from the gal golomt also represents the World Tree which shamans ascend to the upper world, the smoke ring (tono) corresponds to the gateway to the upper world. In some shaman rituals, such as the initiation of shamans, a tree will actually be erected extending from beside the gal golomt to beyond the smokehole. As the shaman ascends the tree in his ecstatic state, he describes his journey to the upper world. Also, even in the absence of the toroo tree (birch or willow), the shaman will still travel to other worlds after exiting through the smoke hole, often after his spirit has metamorphosed into a bird.

mongoliangeryurt

A. Iron stove for cooking with chimney

B. Wood box (will be stowed with the kitchenware when not used)

C. Low table for eating

D. Stool in the guest area (the family area is on the right)

E. Beds for sleeping and sitting

F. Storage chests for personal items

G. Chest/cupboard with altar and Buddha image/statue

H. Pantry for kitchenware and food

I. Water bucket

J. Equipment for manufacturing Airak (fermented mares milk)

K. Saddle stand

The ger, therefore, can be seen as a parallel to the Native American medicine wheel, a physical representation of the sacred circle with a definite orientation towards the four directions and the universe at large. The circular pattern and alignment towards the four directions is also retained in outdoor shamanist ceremonies, such as the walking and dancing around the sacred ovoo (hill) cairns erected for the mountain spirits, or the yohor dance (circle dance) around a toroo tree by means of which the dancers raise a spiral of energy to carry the shaman to the Heavens. Sunwise circular movement is also used in the dallaga blessing ceremony and in all types of shamanistic dances performed by the shaman.

Evolution of a yurt

Outer picture of a yurt

Inner picture of a yurt

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