In the Middle Ages during long winter evenings Western Mongolians gathered at the storyteller and listened to his fascinating epic song about the exploits of Jangar, loyal and brave ruler of the fairy Bumba kingdom. From the storyteller-jangarchi’s mouth, people learned that Jangar was orphaned at the age of two when a cruel devil Guljin with 10,000 warriors on black horses treacherously attacked and captured Bumba kingdom. Uizen Aldar khan of Bumba, with his queen and his son Jangar, were besieged in the palace.
Trying to save his son’s life, Uizen Aldar khan put a piece of white jade in his son’s mouth, mounted him on his best horse and sent his servant Munkhbayar to take the child to place. He also gave the servant the sacred spear, a weapon that had been passed down for generations. Then Uizen Aldar khan fought the invaders until he and his wife were cut down.
The servant took the child to Big Black Mountain and hid him in a cave, then walked back to the palace. Discover that everything was destroyed and khan was killed, he decided to take the revenge and attacked the invaders, but was soon killed by enemies.
In the mountain cave, the boy sucked the white jade to reduce the feeling of hunger or thirst for a few days. But eventually he began to cry. A strong wrestler Mungun Shigshreg was hunting nearby and he noticed the horse grazing. He wanted to see what the horse was doing there, went closer, and heard the cry of baby.
He followed the noise and discovered the cave. At first Mungun Shigshreg wanted to take the boy, so decided to give him the name Jangar. The boy immediately agreed with his name and declared that he would become master of the world. This frightened Mungun Shigshreg, because he was worried that Jangar might dispossess his own son, Khongor. So he decided to leave Jangar there with some food and water and left alone.
After a while small Jangar went outside and roared, and all the animals living nearby came to see what the noise was. He became friends with them and they fed him and taught him their skills.
One day an old man appeared while Jangar was sitting under the tree. The man told him about what had happened to his parents and trained him in martial arts and magic. But no sooner had Jangar learned these things than he woke up—it was morning, and it had all been a dream. Nonetheless, he felt strong, and discovered that he could uproot a tree and smash a camel-sized rock with it. He mounted his horse and went home to kill devil Guljin.
Three-year-old Jangar fought his way to Guljin’s palace and thrust his sacred spear into the devil’s chest and killed him. After which Jangar climbed up on the roof of the palace and called back all the people who had fled after the invasion. He became khan of Bumba kingdom, which had flourished again.
Jangar with the help of his loyal and brave warrior friends successfully defended the kingdom from all terrible enemies. His closest assistant and the wisest adviser was Minian the Beautiful.
Jangar had 6012 great warriors. The right wing of his army was led by Altantseej who knows what happened in the last 99 years and what will happen in the next 99 years, while the left wing was commanded by the wrestler Mungun Shigshreg’s son Khongor.
In the epic it is said that Jangar’s great grandfather Takhi Zul khan first led his people to a land, called Bumba, where he hoped to create a place where there would be no suffering or death. His tribe settled in Bumba and after 10 years of struggle, they managed to build a paradise there.
Bumba kingdom is a wonderful country where it is never hot or cold, where no one is sick or hungry, where everything is enough for everyone, where there is no injustice and where from the ten-storey, nine colored golden palace the wisest khan Jangar, who is forever twenty-five years old, rules the kingdom.
This is a short summary of the Mongolian epic poem “Jangar” which has survived to our days in both written and verbal form and still told throughout Mongolians in Mongolia, China (Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region) and Russia (Kalmykia).
“Jangar” epic was first told to the outside world by the German traveler Benjamin Bergmann at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He encountered the nomadic Kalmyks in the Astrakhan province of Russia during 1802-1803. In his publication (Bergmann B., Nomadische unter den Kalmüken/ Bd. II, Riga, 1804) he retells two stories about the hero Jangar.
In 1854, Russian mongolist A.Bobrovnikov conducted the first study and translated the epic into Russian. In 1862 the Russian linguist K.Golstunsky published two chapters of “Jangar”, which were found written with the Old Kalmyk alphabet (Oirat Mongolian Tod bichig or Clear script).
Famous Finnish philologist Gustav John Ramstedt elicited many great dictated texts of “Jangar” during his several journeys to the Mongol regions of Central Asia in the beginning of 20th century, including modern Mongolia in 1911.
Russian mongolist L. Kotwicz visited the great Kalmyk jangarch Eilen Ovlaa in December 1908 and in two days managed to take down the singer’s entire Jangar repertoire of nine cantos via dictation and later published them. Eilen Ovlaa’s family was well known among Kalmyks for its association with the epic tradition of “Jangar” singing.
According to the Kalmyk scholar A. Kichikov’s research, the family’s singing genealogy proceeded in this way: 1st generation – Jintemür (1690-1720), 2nd generation – Jinceg (1720-60), 3rd generation – Chagan Emegen (1760-1800), 4th generation – Khusmu (1800-80), 6th generation – Eilen Ovlaa (1880-1920).
In the Soviet period, the famous scientist V.Vladimirtsov in 1924, while studying the oral folk art of different ethnic groups of Mongolia, discovered that the “Jangar” spread among them in various versions.
Currently, there are three main versions of the epic “Djangar” – Kalmyk, Xinjiang and Mongolian. About twenty chapters of this epic were found in Mongolia, about thirty in Kalmykia, and over 70 in Xinjiang.
It is believed that it originated in antiquity (some scholars suggest that few chapters of the epic were composed in the first millennium BC); “Jangar” acquired definitive features in Jungaria, the state of the western Oirat Mongols in 15th century during the period of the small khans after the Great Mongol Empire disintegrated. Therefore, in the Soviet Union, the 500th anniversary of “Jangar” was celebrated in 1940.
When a part of the Oirat Mongols, under the direction of Hoo Urluk Khan, moved to the banks of the Volga and created the Kalmyk Khanate, “Jangar” became their most revered epic. “Jangar” and the jangarchs who perform it, receive immense love and respect among the kalmyks.
Oirat Mongols of Mongolia, Xinjiang and Kalmykia believed that “Jangar” has magical power, raising the spirit of men and giving good luck. The princes and aristocrats in these regions maintained the tradition of preserving “Jangar” manuscripts in Oirat Mongolian Clear script.
This epic epitomizes the desire of the people to defend their homeland and make it a country of happiness and prosperity and along with “The Secret History of the Mongols” and the epic “Geser” is considered one of the three peaks of Mongolian literature.