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ART & CULTURE

The Culture of Mongolia has been heavily influenced by the Mongol nomadic way of life. Other important influences are from Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, and from China. Since the 20th century, Russian and, via Russia, European cultures have had a strong effect on Mongolia

Melodies of Nomads

Nomads have a musical mindset and their melodies are an intrinsic part of their lifestyle. Nomads have developed various ways of calling, whistling, whooping, and practicing rituals such as “chuugii,” “khuus” and “toig” to communicate with their herds.

However, the most prestigious forms of nomad music are “khuumii,” throat singing, and “urtiin duu,” long songs. Khuumii and long songs can help you understand the uniqueness of Mongolians as well as their understanding of the world. As they mimic their surroundings, you can hear the mountains, wind and water, the sounds of birds and other animals, the unity of man and nature, and the echoes of inner souls.

Accompanied by melodies played on a horse-headed fiddle, Mongolian long songs make you feel the timeless freedom and the serene composition of harmony between man and nature. It is not a surprise that any concert hall is too small to fully appreciate khuumii and long songs.

-Nomadic by nature

Morin Khuur

Morin khuur or Horse headed fiddle is a Mongolian national music instrument. Up to 1990’s instrument was mainly used to perform national melodies which imitate animals and nature’s appearance and behavior, especially the horse.

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Nowadays, it is also used to perform world classical melodies. Many of the Mongolian and foreign spectators are impressed and delighted about the instrument’s potential. Morin Khur which represents the greatest symbol of the national musical instrument was created by the nomadic Mongolians, and it is registered into the world cultural heritage. A new player of Morin Khur, first of all, learns to imitate the amble gait of a horse. This shows that the horse-headed fiddle is inseparable from the Mongolians and their horses. The horse has been the pride of Mongolian cavalryman, and the mainstay of their unity.

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Khuumii

The Khuumii involves producing two simultaneous tones with the human voice. It is a difficult skill requiring special ways of breathing. One tone comes out as a whistle-like sound, the result of locked breath in the chest 

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  being forced out through the throat in a specific way, while a lower tone sounds as a base.  The Khuumii is considered musical art not exactly singing, but using one’s throat as an instrument. It doesn’t occur in other national cultures.

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Urtiin duu

Long song is a unique traditional singing style known as Urtiin duu. Its miracle is unrepeatable elsewhere. A herder taking herds to pasture sing a song which involves extraordinarily complicated, draw-out vocal sounds. 

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 It is evocative of the boundless steppe.  While the people from other countries live in relevancy of each other, the Mongolians are comparatively independent people. This specific of life is formed into majestic profound songs, demanding great skill and the breathing abilities. Long songs are produced in the depth of people’s real life, that is why there is no author and composer. They represent one of the oldest genres of Mongolian musical art, dating to the 13 century.

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Bielgee dance

Bielge is particular to the people of western Mongolia. The dancers make practically no use of their feet. Instead, the dancers use only the upper part of their body. There are more than ten types of Bielge distinguishable by the movement of arms, especially shoulders, wrist and fingers.

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Mongolians have performed Bielge since childhood. In olden days the herding neighbors used to get together in their Ger to have fun of dancing BIelge. This way the traditional manner of performing Bielge has been handed down from generation to generation and reached the present time in a somewhat modified form.

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Contortion

Mongolian contortion is a unique circus art and a national intangible heritage since 12th century and has been rapidly developing since 1990. The contortionist’s dance is called “Uran Nugaralt,” which means artistic bending. Mongolians like to say that contortion art and Tara sculpture is connected 

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and Mongolian artist, Buddhist leader Zanabazar inspired the unique features of traditional Mongolian contortion, which combines arduous physical movement with harmony, rhythm, and synchronization. The contortionists are gifted natural flexibility and trained under many hours’ exercise. Most contortionists are generally categorized as “front benders” or “back benders”, depending on the direction in which their spine most flexible. Nowadays, Mongolian contortion performance is very famous in all around the world. At the Tumen Ekh Ensemble and State Academic theatre, you are able to see contortion performance every day at 6pm in June-Sep

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Epics & legends

This ancient genre, enriched by generations, combines poetry, songs, music and the individuality of each performer. Singers may sing with or without a musical instrument. These sung stories are told from memory and may have thousands of quatrains.  Such long stories are usually 

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performed on a long winter night. By combining stories, music and drama, herders organized a kind of home school. The children, while playing various collective games with ankle bone and wooden toys, listen to the songs and learn about the history, life and folklore. “Geser” “Jangar” “Khan Kharkhui and “Bum Erdene” are classic legend and story songs. Each is a library of folk wisdom and national heritage.

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Traditional Costumes

The main garment is the Deel, a long, one-piece own made from wool or silk. Most Mongolians have several different Deels, appropriate for different seasons, as well as a more decorative Deel for special occasions. Winter Deel often lined with sheepskin.

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The Deel has a high collar, is often brightly colored, is worn with a multipurpose sash, and is worn by men and women year-round. Ethnic groups are differentiated by the color, decoration, and shape of their Deel. The Khantaaz is a shorter traditional jacket, often made of silk, which also buttoned to the side, and usually worn over the Deel. With regards to hats, the fur-trimmed hats, mostly made of sable, are popular. The Gutal is a high boot made from thick leather and sometimes decorated ornately. They are easy to put on-both the left and right boot are the same shape. There exist many explanations for the curled, upturned toe.

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Fine arts

Before the 20th century, most works of the fine arts in Mongolia had a religious function, and therefore Mongolian fine arts were heavily influenced by religious texts.[5] Thangkas were usually painted or made in applique technique. Bronze sculptures 

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usually showed Buddhist deities. A number of great works are attributed to the first Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, Zanabazar.
In the late 19th century, painters like “Marzan” Sharav turned to more realistic painting styles. Under the Mongolian People’s Republic, socialist realism was the dominant painting style,[6]however traditional thangka-like paintings dealing with secular, nationalist themes were also popular, a genre known as “Mongol zurag”. Among the first attempts to introduce modernism into the fine arts of Mongolia was the painting Ehiin setgel (Mother’s love) created by Tsevegjav in the 1960s. The artist was purged as his work was censored. All forms of fine arts flourished only after “Perestroika” in the late 1980s. Otgonbayar Ershuu is an important painter of the time, he was portrayed in the film “ZURAG” by Tobias Wulff.

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Mongolian Ger

Before the 20th century, most works of the fine arts in Mongolia had a religious function, and therefore Mongolian fine arts were heavily influenced by religious texts.[5] Thangkas were usually painted or made in applique technique.

» read more

Bronze sculptures usually showed Buddhist deities. A number of great works are attributed to the first Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, Zanabazar.
In the late 19th century, painters like “Marzan” Sharav turned to more realistic painting styles. Under the Mongolian People’s Republic, socialist realism was the dominant painting style,[6]however traditional thangka-like paintings dealing with secular, nationalist themes were also popular, a genre known as “Mongol zurag”. Among the first attempts to introduce modernism into the fine arts of Mongolia was the painting Ehiin setgel (Mother’s love) created by Tsevegjav in the 1960s. The artist was purged as his work was censored. All forms of fine arts flourished only after “Perestroika” in the late 1980s. Otgonbayar Ershuu is an important painter of the time, he was portrayed in the film “ZURAG” by Tobias Wulff.

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The Tumen Ekh Ensemble comprises artists who perform all types of Mongolian song, music and dance. They play traditional instruments including the morin khuur (horse head fiddle) and perform Mongolian long song, epic and eulogy songs, a ritualistic shaman ritual dance, an ancient palace dance and a Tsam mask dance.

The Morin Khuur Ensemble of Mongolia is part of the Mongolian State Philharmonic located at the Chinggis Khan Square. It is a popular ensemble featuring the national string instrument Morin Khuur and performs various domestic and international works.

The Ulaanbaatar Opera House, situated in the center of the city, hosts concerts and musical performances as well as opera and ballet performances, some of them are in collaboration with world ballet houses such as Boston Theatre.

The Mongolian State Grand National Orchestra was found in 1945. It has the largest orchestra of traditional instruments in the country with a repertoire going beyond national music, encompassing dozens of international musical pieces.

The State Academic Drama Theatre, a first contemporary professional performing art establishment, performs more than 400 world and national classic works, which have become a mirror of the national language, Customs and life on its stage, and enriches its repertoire with new works year by year.

The Khusugtun Band

Khusugtun is a group of Mongolian folk musicians with the objective of bringing Traditional Mongolian music to the world. They are inspired by the nomadic ancestry and by the historic civilization. They consist of the traditional instruments of the group and the breath taking throat singing of their forefathers. We hope you can feel the passion and pride in their music as strongly as they do.

View more: The Khusgtun band

The Altai Band

The Altai band was established on November 11th 2011 at the Association of Mongolian Traditional Music with the intention to carry on the torch for the promotion and development of ancient nomadic culture and music. Altai band mostly create their performances with the Western Mongolian region’s bii biyelgee dance, khuumii, ikhyel khuur and the unique tatlag technique on the morin khuur. Altai band is very special by their inherited 3 to 14 generations tangible and intangible heritages. For example, the khuumii singer Davaadalai Munkhbat is a 4th generation singer, who has inherited the throat singing from his ancestors and a 1400-year-old bow harp Altai -Yatga instrument was entrusted to Altai band in 2014.

View more: Altai band

List of Mongolian Intangible Cultural Heritage

ElementYear Inscribed
The Traditional Music of the Morin Khuur2008
Urtiin Duu - Traditional Folk Long Song2008
Biyelgee dance2009
Traditional epic poem2009
Tsuur end-blown flute2009
The Traditional Naadam festival2010
Falconry, a living human heritage2012
ElementYear Inscribed
Mongolian throat singing2010
Folk long song performance technique of Limbe (flute) performances - circular breathing2011
Mongolian calligraphy2013
Traditional craftsmanship of the Mongol Ger and its associated customs2013
Mongolian knuckle-bone shooting2014
Coaxing ritual for camel 2015