Family Relics, Inherited Skills and Gifts

People with unusual skills and gifts are often described in Kalmykia using the following expressions: ‘he/she is repeating his/her clan’ (tohman durajana), ‘characteristics of his/her clan is showing up’ (tohmn’ tachana), or ‘he/she is keeping up with his/her clan’ (tohmar kooh). As these expressions show, traditionally it is believed that skills and gifts are inherited along clan lines. It is also acknowledged that various skills – for example, singing, dancing, craftsmanship etc. – do not appear immediately, but have to be taught or awakened. Sometimes inherited skills, especially those possessed by folk healers or medlegchis, have to be ‘teased out’ with the help of special rituals. These skills include bone-setting, healing, fortune-telling, and interpreting dreams.

Objects inherited from parents, grandparents, relatives, or spiritual teachers are not only cherished as memories of these figures, but are also believed to possess magical powers. In particular religious objects, such as sutras, statues, and healing implements, are often kept in the most sacred place in the house – on the domestic altar.

About Inherited Skills

This video features stories of three Kalmyk women, namely Ekaterina Dorzhieva, Anna Antonova, and Galina Tikeeva.

Ekaterina’s mother was an accomplished singer. Ekaterina’s two sisters, one of whom is 87 years old and the other 84, are also good singers and dancers and can skilfully play on the national musical instrument, the dombra. Younger members of the family have also inherited artistic skills. In her youth Ekaterina sang well and was even invited to join a local House of Culture. But she declined the offer and did not develop her singing skills further.

Anna’s grandfather on her maternal side was a man of many skills. He played dombra and could work with wood, metal, bones, and pelt. Anna’s maternal grandmother was also a good singer and dombra player. This skill was passed on to Anna’s mother. Anna’s husband Pavel and his siblings are good at calligraphy and writing, which they have inherited from their father. Anna and Pavel’s children have inherited the best from both paternal and maternal sides: they can sing, dance, play dombra, and are good at writing.

Galina had a famous ancestor, Nim bagshi, who was a Buddhist monk who emigrated to the US following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Galina says that Nim bagshi’s wisdom has been passed on to his descendants, including Batyr Elistaev who is a well-known Buddhist lama and scholar in Kalmykia.


Sanal Byurchiev, About the Family Altar and Relics