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Naadam Festival: the Mongol’s Annual Olympic, Carnival and Trade Festival

Reputed as the intersection between heaven and earth,  Inner Mongolia boasts picturesque landscape, diverse culture, mouth-watering cruise, exotic dancing and singing, nomadic lifestyle and especially the enticing world-renowned traditional festival: Naadam. Imbued with distinctive ethnic flavor, distinguished by grand atmosphere and rich with various festivities, it is the most thrilling and widely watched festival among the Mongols. Existing for centuries in one fashion or another and ranking as the Mongol’s top festivals, it is famed as their annual Olympic, Carnival and trade event.
2014 Naadam Festival : July 11 to 13 , it will last for a week   Venues: Gegentala Grassland /Ordos

 The Picturesque Inner Mongolia Grassland

Overview of the Naadam Festival

Naadam means “amusement and entertainment”. With history dated back to 1225AD, it is initially known as "the three manly sports" (Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery), among which only wrestling is man’s “privilege”. It is held by the Mongols each July to August when the pastures are lush and the horses well-fed.
The biggest one is Naadam of the Country, which is held in Ulaanbaatar (the Mongolian capital) during the National Holiday (July 11 – 13) in the National Sports Stadium to commemorating the revolution in 1921 when Mongolia declared to be an independent country. Other areas across Mongolia and China’s Inner Mongolian, Ganshu, Qinghai and Xinjiang province, hold their own smaller scale Naadam celebrations with flexible schedules. In the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, it is usually held from June 4 to 9 (lunar calendar), and it is one of their most exciting and colorful festivals. The past centuries has witnessed its dramatic evolution. In ancient times, it is held on grand occasions involving one of “the three manly sports” only. Gradually, “the three manly sports” took root and became the dominating and indispensible part of this festival. By now, it is famed as the Mongols’ annual Olympic, Carnival and trade event with many festivities added to it.
On May 20th, 2006, Naadam was inscribed on the National Representative List of the Intangible Culture Heritage by the State of Cousil of the People’s Republic of China, andIn 2010, it was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO due to its significant culture value.
Opening Ceremony of Naadam Festival

  the Majestic Marching on the Opening Ceremony of Naadam Festival

The Mongols dress up for this festival


 The Mongolian Grils in Traditional Costume

 the Young Musicians

In general, the festivities kick off with a colorful parade of athletes, horse riders, monks, soldiers, musicians and dancers marching in perfect uniformity, musicians performing mighty military tunes, and Mongolians dressed in warrior uniforms or uniforms which representing Mongolia's numerous ethnic groups. In Northeastern China’s Da Xing’An Ling area, the traditional open ceremony customs and contents of Naadam festival are well preserved. Naadam epitomizes the Mongalian culture, customs from multi-dimension and enhances the cohesion of ethnic groups as well as fosters the patriotism spirit.
 Naadam of Three Scales

Nadam falls into three category: the big-sized one, the medium-sized one and the small-sized one. 512 wrestlers and 300 horses qualify for a big-sized Naadam which usually lasts 7-10 days; 256 wrestlers and 100-150 horses qualify for a medium-sized Naadam, which usually lasts 5-7 days. 64 or 128 wrestlers and 30 or 50 horses are necessary for a small-sized Naadam, and it will last 3-5 days. Everyone can apply to compete in Nadam, regardless of his or her ethnic origin and religious belief.

Festivities of Naadam Festival :The Three Manly Sports

“The Three Manly Sports” – horse racing, wrestling and archery are the prevailing and dominating part of Naadam. Another popular activity held in Naadam Festival is the playing of games using sheep anklebones that serve as game pieces and tokens of both divination and friendship. In the larger Nadaam festivals, tournaments may take place in a separate venue. Here follows the detailed introduction:

Speaking of wrestling, some assume it was initially aimed to train young kids to tame wild animals, and the Mongols regard it highly as a sport demanding strength, intelligence and tactics. Wrestling was a popular practice among the noble Mongolian families to choose their sons-¬in-law and it is one of the Mongol’s favorite sports nowadays. Now, wrestling usually comes first in the Naadam Festival. 

The Wrestlers Dance before the Contests Kick off

At Ulaanbaatar, a number of 512 or 1024 wrestlers will make a grand entrance to fight in a no weight-classes single-elimination tournament that lasts nine or ten rounds in the stadium, for the ultimate title “State Titan”. The participants usually wear two-piece costumes consisting of a tight shoulder vest made of cow leather (zodog) and shorts (shuudag) which outline their well-built body. The special tight-fitting costume leave their chest bare, proving the wrestler is male. Legend has it that long ago many men were once defeated by a woman, thus the costume had to expose the chest. They also put on the Mongolian boots reinforced with leather strings around the edges, and wearing the red-yellow-blue silk ribbon around the neck. Assuming an air of pride and confidence, they perform the eagle dance, and sing the inspiring march song before they spare no efforts to win the contest. The whole scene is a marvelous and stunning one.

the wrestlers

special tight-fitting costume ensuring participants are male

The Mongolian wrestling differentiates itself not only by its unique costume, but also its tactics and rules: the number of participants much be the times of 2, such as 8, 16, 32, 64,128, 256,512 and 1024. The tactics of wrestling consist of thirteen basic skills such as pushing, pressing, pulling which developed into more than one hundred tactics later. You can attack your opponent by seizing his shoulder, or holding his waist or seizing his clothes as well as waist belt. But you are not allowed to hold your opponent’s legs or hit his face or push him to the ground through the back of him. Eyes or ears attacks are not allowed. Pulling hairs or kicking belly or any part upper of knees is forbidden also. The rule is simple and it varies slightly: the wrestling area is unrestricted, there are no weight-classes, in Mongolian wrestling, you have to force your opponent to touch the ground with his upper body or elbow to win, while for Inner Mongolia wrestling, the opponent is defeated if any body part other than the feet touches the ground.

In Inner Mongolia wrestling, any part of the body other than the feet touches the ground will lose in the game

During the first few rounds, the wrestlers can choose opponents, while the most famous wrestler enjoys more privilege to choose his own opponents. The following days’ final matches are more thrilling compared to first day. Each wrestler has an "encourager" or “trainer” called “zasuul”. At the beginning of the third, fifth and seventh rounds of the match, the trainers sing the inspiring praise songs to the wrestlers of their group, and of the titles that they have previously won, to cheer them up. The winning wrestler will imitate the flight of an eagle, swinging his arms around and touches the muscles of his legs with his hands. The loser has to stand under the wings of the proud winner.
Titles awarded to top wrestlers are Falcon, Harw, Elephant, Garuda, Lion, and Titan, and their prizes are silk scarves and horses. The wrestlers who defeated 5 partners (that is, winners of the fifth round), will be titled as “Falcon” (Nachin); Winners of the Six round will be promoted to “Hawk” (Khartsaga); Winners of the Seventh or Eighth round, (depending on whether the competition features 512 or 1024 wrestlers) will earn the title of “Elephant” (Zaan); Winners of the Eighth or Ninth round, will be titled as “Garuda ” (Garid ); Winners of the Ninth or Tenth round, will become the ultimate winner of the competition, and titled as “Lion” (Arslan ); The wrestler who wins the national Naadam more than once, (the twice “Lion” winner) is called “Awarga” (means Titan).


Archery follows wrestling as an essential part of the Naadam festival, it enjoys long history. Since ancient times, the bows and arrows were the dominant weapons used by their forefathers to hunt animals (the Mongols hunted hares with bows and arrows while riding at full speed in sixth century) and to fight in the endless tribe wars (Thanks to the unparallel archery skills of his formidable armies, Genghis Khan united all the scattering tribes and established a great kingdom.). Thus the Mongols feel emotionally attached to the bows, and deem it as the token of man, a sign of social status. They carry it around, not just as a weapon, but as a mascot meanwhile.

Field Archery

 Mongolian bows are very tight ones, so that it requires a pure strength to stretch it out. Excellent eyesight, exact measurement skills, patience and strength are necessary merits for a qualified archer. Practice makes perfect, and experience matters. No wonder though the Mongols practice archery since childhood, the top archers are often those at their 40s or 50s.
The traditional Mongolian Archery contest falls into three categories: field archery, archery on horseback, and far distance archery. It can be divided into 25 steps, 50 steps and 100 steps considering distance between the archer and the target. The archers, no matter compete in field or on the horseback, hit the target most accurately and most frequently will be the winners. Participants of all gender and ages are allowed to join in the archery contest. They are requested to bring with them arrows and bows, and there is no special requirement regarding their style, tension, length and weight. The rule is 9 arrows per 3 rounds, each round with 3 hits, the one hit the targets most time will be the winner.

Archery on horseback

The rule in nowadays’ Naadam festival varies slightly. Different with archery elsewhere which has only one target, the Mongolian archery has hundreds of targets or “surs” on a huge wall. The team consists of ten men or women has to hit 33 "surs". Men stand 75 meters away from the target while women from 65 meters away. The judge will utter hooray when the archer hits the target. The team, winning over first all archers qualifies for the next round. Only the top three archers can compete in the final round. During the championship, judges will stand next to the target and sing a song called Uukhai before the archer is ready for a shot. As soon as the arrow hits the target, the song's melody changes and an experienced archer immediately learns about how many cylinders were hit. The winners of the contest will be honored the titles of "national marksman" or "national markswoman".

Horse Racing

The Mongol horses roam around the grassland and forest, surviving and thriving in the harsh environment with temperature ranges from 30°C in the summer to -40°C in the winter and feed on their own, famous for their duration and strength. The Mongols, esteemed as “race on the horseback”, has live a Nomadic life style for centuries and depends on horses on various aspects deeply. They ride to hunt, to fight, to trade, and horse is their key transportations means, they also associate horses with power, strength and loyalty and value excellent horsemanship as one of the necessary skills of a man. Nowadays “the three manly sports” have enriched the Naadam festival, making it more charming. Colorful silken tunics, fresh-faced nomads, thundering hooves, flying arrows, wrestling bouts, thousands of thrilled spectators is the common scene typical of Naadam festival, big or small.
 The Mongolian horse racing falls into three categories regarding to different content: The first is the speed contest, the horses compete along the straight track which lasts 20, 30, 40 kilometers, the one reaches the destination soonest will be the winner. The second is the pace contest, the horse with the most stable and light steps will be the winner. The last is the contest of acrobatics performance on horse. 
In National Naadam horse racing contest, the participants usually are all children with ages from six to thirteen, aiming to enhance the horses’ endurance and to guarantee that the race tests the horses’ skill most accurately. The horse racing covering cross-border courses ranging from 5 to 30km. Sometimes people of all ages compete in the horse racing; it is a mass competition activity. 

The horse racing is heating up

Several months before the Naadam, the training of both horses and their riders (jockeys) begins. (Though riders are an important part of this contest, the aim of the contest is to test the ability of horses). The horses are fed on a special made diet, and trained to get used to hungry and high heat situation. They young riders are trained to handle various problems probably occur during the contest. The distance of horse racing varies with the age of the horses. Two-year-old horses race for 15 km, three-year-old for 20km, four-year-old for 22km and horses older than five years old 30km. Regarding the number of participating horses, there is no limit. In each race, usually a mass of 200 to 1000 horses are chosen to compete. 
 Accompanied by the thunderous and high-spirited song from the audience, the horse races kick off, and the young jockeys will sing a song named Gingo. After tense competition, top horses and jockeys will be awarded with prizes. The top three horses will be granted Gold, Silver and Bronze medals, while the top five horses will win the title of Airgiyn Tav. The jockeys will be honored title of “Aldart uyach” (Famous trainer) also. Horses that finishes last of each race is given the title ‘’Bayan khodood’’ (full stomach), in the hope that it may be more successful next year.
Further Reading:The Origination and Development of the Naadam Festival

According to history record, this festival came into its own in 13th century. In year 1225 AD, Genghis Khan mounted an expedition to the west and conquered Khwarezm after a bloody and fierce battle. To celebrate the painstaking victory, they held a magnificent archery contest, the prototype of today’s Naadam. Since then, the thriving Mongolian tribe holds the Naadam Festival on various occasions include selection of chief generals, celebrating war victory, the inauguration of a clan leader, the enthronement of a khan or on the Banner tribes’ gathering. Gradually, “the three manly sports” integrated into the traditional Naadam Festival and became its indispensible part. Since the Mongolian’s emperor Kublai Khan had established the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Naadam took deep root and gained more popularity. In Qing Dynasty (1636-1911), Naadam became a government-run and organized event, its content and forms had undergone dramatic changes. It is held twice per year, or annually or every two years. The winners are awarded with horses, camels, cows, sheep or tea and silk as prizes. Nowadays, with activities such as horsemanship, Judo, motorcycle performance, marksmanship, chess, reciting epics, polo, film, drama, singing, dancing, track and field competitions like basketball, volleyball integrating into the festival, it has evolved into a grand and comprehensive event catering to celebration, sacrifice ritual, sports competition, cultural entertainment, domestic and cross border trade needs perfectly. In a word, it is a mass artistic, sports and trade event participated in by people of all ages. Boys and girls also take the opportunity to show their love, i.e. the so-called "meeting at Aobao".
Further Reading:The Significant Culture Value of Naadam

Passed down from generation to generation in the past 800 years, the Naadam Festival gains popularity among the Xilingol Grassland and spreads to other areas. It is adorned by people of all ages and is the most important transmitting channel of the Mongolian traditional culture. The festivities typical of Naadam embody beauty, strength and intelligence of the Mongols, mirroring their mentality, culture, philosophy in an all-round way. Characterized by profound and expansive culture content, the Naadam Festival showcases and represents the Mongolian ethnic group’s value orientation and aesthetic taste, To explore, protect and preserve the Naadam Festival’ s customs ,contents and forms is of significant value to the enrichment of sport history of both China and worldwide.

Yammy roasted lamp



 Organic Milk

 well cooked lamp

Cannot wait to experience the Mongols’ annual Olympic, Carnival and trade event? Join the Naadam with us to immerse yourself with its culture, to indulge yourself in the pleasure it will bring, to feast your eye on the marvelous dancing and sports competition scene, to stay in the local herdsmen’s’ family or a well-decorated 5 star Mongolian yurt overnight and watch the stars in the crystal dark blue sky, to taste the delicious specialty food like milk tea, finger mutton, roast lamb, cheese ,to breathe the most fresh air and let your mind wonder freely around, in the place, bridges paradise and earth, soothing your nerves and purifying your soul.


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