The ger (in Mongolian), or the yurt (in Russian), is the traditional dwelling of the Mongol peoples and, in general, of the nomadic peoples of Central Asia. Yurts and tipis are designed to be easily assembled and dismantled so that the owner can continue their journey. The herder is constantly moving, looking for new pastureland for their animals.
The orientation and the symbolism of the yurt are valid for all of the ethnic groups of Mongolia. The yurt is not only the center of the universe, but also a microcosm itself. It is a map of the universe, and the veil of the sky is reflected in the arched form of the interior of the yurt’s roof. The entrance is always facing south. The north side, also called the hoimor, is located behind the fire, opposite the door. This is the most honored place in the yurt, where sanctuaries and altars are placed. It is here that sacred objects and other religious images are placed on a table or chest.
The center of the yurt is the most sacred place of the yurt; it is where the fire is located. The fire is the dwelling place of Golomto, the daughter of Father Sky. It must therefore be treated with respect. Just as the yurt is the center of the universe, the fire is the center of the world represented by the yurt. The vertical axis represented by the chimney rising from the fire symbolizes the tree of the world where shamans ascend to the higher world. The crown of the yurt symbolizes the gateway to the upper world. In some shamanic rituals, such as the initiation of shamans, a tree will actually be erected from the fire through the crown of the yurt, thus portraying the journey of the shaman to the higher world.
The yurt can also be compared to the native people’s medicine wheel in North America. It is a physical representation of the sacred circle with its marked orientation towards the four directions of the universe. The circular pattern and alignment to the four directions are also preserved in outdoor shamanic ceremonies, such as walking and dancing around the sacred ovoo erected for mountain spirits. Ovoos are piles of stones and other symbolic items located on the tops of hills.
Movement inside the yurt is conducted “sunwise,” in the sense of a clock. By observing the crescent of light created by the sun entering the yurt through its crown, we understand very quickly why the yurt represents the race of the sun. For this fact, each person moving inside the yurt must do so in the direction of the movement of the sun: going from the south to the north of the yurt, passing on the west side of the yurt, and going from the north to the south of the yurt, passing through on east side of the yurt. This same movement is also applicable in shamanic dances and other ritual dances.
Seating also respects a tradition still ingrained today. The west side of the yurt, on the left hand when entereing the front door, is the side reserved for men. It is also the storage place for tools, saddles, bows, and rifles. The east side of the yurt, on the right hand when entering the front door, is the side reserved for women. On this side are stored kitchen tools, food, and other female objects. Finally, the places north of the yurt, those near the altar, are the most honored. Here elders, chiefs, shamans, and honored visitors sit. Children and young adults sit in the southern part of the yurt.
A. Iron stove for cooking with chimney
B. Firewood box
C. Low table for eating
D. Stool in the guest area
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 Airag (fermented mare’s milk)
K. Saddle stand