Zul is a national holiday to commemorate the ascent of Zongkhapa (1357-1419), the founder of the Gelugpa school of Buddhism, to nirvana. Prior to Zul the Kalmyks go to the monasteries for a ritual called nas uttullhn to prolong life. The holiday itself is celebrated on the 25th day of the month of the cow, according to the lunar calendar. On this day prayers, including those dedicated to Zongkhapa, are recited in all monasteries across Kalmykia. This holiday is called zul, which in Kalmyk means candle, because on this day people light candles as an offering to their great Buddhist teacher.

Zul is equivalent to New Year’s Day in that it marks the first day of a new year. On this day all Kalmyks make a number of candlewicks (zulyn gol) according to their age and place them on small boats made of dough. Both candles and the candlewicks on the boat are lit up when the first stars appear in the sky. On this day all Kalmyks add a year to their age.

During Zul people are encouraged to perform good deeds, wish each other well, and abstain from alcohol and meat products. In the morning Kalmyks brew traditional tea (dzhomba) and bake traditional biscuits (bortsg). Before partaking of food, fresh tea and some biscuits, which are the main food of the day, are placed on the altar as an offering. It is believed that the aroma of the biscuits drives all the bad and negativity from the house and brings good luck and prosperity.

Five to six days after Zul, the Kalmyks celebrate the arrival of the 'master of the year' (jilin ezn). In order not to place obstacles in his way, the Kalmyks do not take out rubbish for several days after Zul. During the celebration of jilin ezen, families invite their older relatives to their homes and congratulate the men on being a year older. During this period people try to avoid making long journeys.

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