Ganjuur Sutras Unveiled
On November 26, the day Mongolia declared independence 76 years ago, the State Central Library exhibited the Ganjuur Sutras – a collection of 111 volumes. The prize exhibit was the volume of the Ganjuur Sutras, decorated with jewels, including gold, silver, pearls and coral. It is the first time the Ganjuur Sutras have ever been displayed for the general public.
Among the Ganjuur Sutras displayed at the exhibition, the oldest was written in the Lanza script and dates back at least 2000 years. The display included Ganjuur manuscripts that were written in the 14th century, and Ganjuur Sutras that were written between 1908-1910. Each volume weighs over 20kg.
The Ganjuur Sutras are composed of Buddhist teachings, specifically about the orders of Shagjamunig Lama – for which the Tibetan name is Ganjuur, which means ‘the translation of orders’. The volumes comprise 1800 articles, including a dictionary, writings on literature, linguistics, philosophy, and geography.
It is believed that the Ganjuur Sutras were translated into Tibetan in the 7th century.
From the 14th century onward, Mongolians began to translate stories from the Ganjuur, and at the order of Ligden Khan, the complete text of the Ganjuur was translated in 1629.
About 100 years later, the Mongolian manuscript was printed on a wooden printing block. On its 80th anniversary next year, the State Library of Mongolia is planning to organize a series of public exhibitions, displaying rare and antique books.
“Many valuable and priceless books have been kept at the library for 70-80 years. However, the people are the real owners of this heritage, but don’t know about these books. The library is organising an exhibition called ‘Nomyn Hishig’”, states a library spokesman.
Limited access to the Ganjuur Sutras is assured – only those who have special permission from the library will be able to pore over its pages.
The library is home to over 500,000 such sutras that are written in Tibetan, Manchu and Mongolian, and these books are used by scholars, scientists and researchers.
The first public library was organised after the victory of the people’s revolution, by the decision of the Gaba Khural of November 19, 1921.
Since then, the number of repositories and readers has increased. Today, the State Central Library has the largest number of publications available to the public. It also is a center for librarianship, and holds volumes on the arts, humanities and sciences.
Over 3 million books and manuscripts are kept in the repositories, of which more than 2 million are manuscripts.
The Library exchanges publications with more than 100 libraries and scientific institutions in over 50 countries.
A Historical Masterpiece
The Mongolian epic Jangar is one of the three fictional masterpieces of Mongolian classic literature. Jangar, which consists of 35,000 lines, can be compared to Homer’s Iliad, which consists of 15,693 lines, or Homer’s Odyssey, which consists of 12,110 lines. The three historic creations of Mongolian classic literature are The Secret History of the Mongols, Geser, and Jangar. These prized novels are titled “The Triple Masterpieces of Ancient Literature in Mongolia”.
Jangar relays brilliant stories with fictional heroes and characters. Each chapter,a completely new story, corresponds with the nomadic lifestyle of the Mongols. The stories tell of heavenly gracelands, blissful immortality, everlasting summers, and eternal youth.
Jangar, with 26 chapters, reflects the dreams of so many Mongols. Twelve of the cherished chapters were published in 1963. Furthermore, Dr. D. Tumennasan finished translating the remaining chapters from the Kalmyk language into Mongolian, and the full epic was recently published.
The epic can also be found in some areas of Russia, along the course of the Volga River, home to the Kalmyk Mongols. It can also be located in Xingjiang, in northwestern China, and home to the Oirat Mongols.
The first Jangar ever published was during the late 1950s by the Inner Mongolian People’s Publishing House. It was printed after the 13th chapter was discovered in the Oirat version. The full epic was soon after found written in the traditional Oirat script called Tod. Today, there are several copies of the epic which have been translated into numerous languages all over the world. Due to the fact that Jangar was passed down through the centuries orally, it is unclear who is the original author of this magnificient creation.
JANGAR Epic, compiled by T. Dugersuren, Poligraf Publishing Press, Ulaanbaatar, 2000, 704 pages. 140X195mm, US$18.00,ISBN:99929-5-032-2.
Mongolian Singing Arts
The Mongols have an original art which is called hoomii, or overtone singing: a unique vocal style using the throat (the name literally means “throat music”). In hoomii, the melody is formed by changing the shape of the mouth cavity as the resonating body for the vibration of the vocal cords, which at the same time makes it easy to emphasise the tone of the melody by strongly producing vowels. It is said that hoomii is as old as nature itself, beginning when man made the first melodies imitating the murmur of streams or the echoes in the mountains. Hoomii is most common in the West of Mongolia, and this style is also known among some of the peoples of Central Asia, especially the Tuvan, the Khalkh, and certain ethnic groups in the Altai Mountains; it was formerly found also among the Bashkirs in the Urals.
Among the many ways the pastoralists interact with and represent their aural environment, one stands out for its sheer ingenuity: a remarkable singing technique in which a single vocalist produces two distinct tones simultaneously. One tone is a low, sustained fundamental pitch, similar to the drone of a bagpipe. The second is a series of flutelike harmonics, which resonate high above the drone and may be musically stylised to represent such sounds as the whistle or a bird, the syncopated rhythms of a mountain stream, or the lilt of a cantering horse.
(Dan and Sun-duk’s note: We saw a performance of throat singing at the National Theatre, and it can often be seen on television, as well. It’s an incredibly strange and beautiful art, much stranger than the bagpipe mentioned above.)
There are different techniques of performing the hoomii ovetones, usign the nose, throat, chest, or abdomen. It is only performed by men, because it needs much physical strength, though there is no particular taboo against its use by women.
Some contemporary Western musicians also have mastered the practice and call it overtone singing or harmonic chant. Such music is at once a part of an expressive culture and an artifact of the acoustics of the human voice. Trying to understand both these aspects has been a challenge for Western students of music.
Among the pastoralists, emulating ambient sounds is as natural as speaking. Throat-singing is not taught formally (as music often is), but rather picked up, like a language. A large percentage of male herders can throat-sing, although not everyone is tuneful. A taboo against female throat-singers, based on a belief that it causes infertility, is gradually receding, and younger women are beginning to practice the technique as well. The popularity of throat-singing among Tuvan herders seems to have arisen from a coincidence of culture and geography: on the one hand, the animistic sensitivity to the subtleties of sound, especially its timbre, and on the other, the ability of reinforced harmonics to project over the broad open landscape of the steppe.
The most virtuosic practitioners of throat-singing are concentrated in Tuva (now officially called Tyva), an autonomous republic within Russia on its border with Mongolia, and in the surrounding Altai region, particularly western Mongolia. But vocally reinforced harmonics can also be heard in disparate parts of Central Asia. Among the Bashkirs, a Turkic-speaking people from the Ural Mountains, musicians sing melodies with breathy reinforced harmonics in a style called uzliau. Epic singers in Uzbekistan, Karakalpakstan, and Kazakstan itnroduce hints of reinforced harmonics in oral poetry, and certain forms of Tibetan Buddhist chant feature a single reinforced harmonic sustained over a fundamental pitch. Beyond Asia, the vocal overtones in traditional music is rare, but not unknown. It turns up, for example, in the singing of Xhosa women in South Africa, and, in an unusual case of musical improvisation, in the 1920s cowboy songs of Texan singer Arthur Miles, who substituted overtone singing for the customary yodeling.
The ways in which singers reinforce harmonics and the acoustical properties of these sounds were little documented until a decade ago, when Tuvan and Mongolian music began to reach a worldwide audience. Explaining the process is best done with the aid of a widely used model of the voice, the source-filter model. The source – the vocal folds – provides the raw sonic energy, which the filter – the vocal tract – shapes into vowels, consonants, and musical notes.
This additional source is another fascinating aspect of throat-singing. Singers draw on organs other than the vocal folds to generate a second raw sound, typically at what seems like an impossibly low pitch. Many such organs are available throughout the vocal tract.
Another cultural preference is for extended pauses between breaths of throat-singing. (These breaths may last as long as 30 seconds.) To a Western listener, the pauses seem unmusically long, impeding the flow of successive melodic phrases. But Tuvan and Mongolian musicians do not conceive of phrases as constituting a unitary piece of music. Rather, each phrase conveys an independent sonic image. The long pauses provide singers with time to listen to the ambient sounds and to formulate a response – as well as, of course, to catch their breath.
The stylistic variations all reflect the core aesthetic idea of sound mimesis. And throat-singing is just one means used by herder-hunters to interact with their natural acoustic environment. Tuvans employ a range of vocalisations to imitate the calls and cries of wild and domestic animals. They play such instruments as the ediski, a single reed designed to mimic a female musk deer; khirlee, a thin piece of wood that is spun like a propeller to emulate the sound of the wind; amyrga, a hunting horn used to approximate the mating call of a stag; and chadagan, a zither that sings in the wind when Tuvan herders place it on the roofs of their yurts. Players of the khomus, or Jew’s harp, recreate not only natural sounds, like that of moving or dripping water, but also human sounds, including speech itself. Good khomus players can encode texts that an experienced listener can decode.
Yet it is throat-singing that Tuvans recognise as the quintessential achievement of their mimesis, the revered element of an expressive language that begins where verbal language ends. For the herders, it expresses feelings of exultation and independence that words cannot.