For Kalmyks, Zul is equivalent to New Year’s Day in that it marks the first day of a new year according to Kalmyk lunar calendar. In Kalmyk ‘zul’ means a candle. On this day people make a number of candlewicks (zulyn gol) according to their age and stick them on small boat-shaped candles made of dough. Each person has their own candle. The candles are lit up when the first stars appear in the sky. On this day Kalmyks add a year to their age. According to some local beliefs, however, it is only women and children that add a year to their age on Zul day, whereas men do so a few days after the holiday.

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 (jomba) and bake traditional biscuits (bortsg). Before partaking of food, fresh tea and some biscuits are placed on the altar as an offering to gods and ancestors. It is believed that the aroma of the biscuits drives all the bad and negative things from the house and brings good luck and prosperity.

Given Buddhism is intertwined with every aspect of the life of Kalmyks, Zul is also a holiday to commemorate the birth, life and ascent of Tsongkapa (1357-1419), the founder of the Gelugpa school of Buddhism, to nirvana. Prior to Zul the Kalmyks go to monasteries for a special ritual called nas uttullgn to prolong life. On the day of Zul itself monasteries carry out prayers, including those dedicated to Tsongkapa, and light candles as an offering to the great Buddhist teacher.

Five to six days after Zul, Kalmyks celebrate the arrival of the Master of the Year (jilin ezn), which is believed to be a ritual of shamanic origin. In order not to create obstacles in his way, Kalmyks do not take out rubbish for several days. During the celebration of jilin ezn, families invite their older relatives to their homes and also congratulate their men on becoming a year older. During this period people try to avoid making long journeys.

A Concert Dedicated to Zul

This video features a concert dedicated to the national holiday of Zul held in Elista in December 2017. The performers are singers and dancers of Oiraty, the state dance theatre of Kalmykia. The concert starts with a religious ceremony performed by the monks from the Central Temple in Elista.


Baira Goryaeva, Kalmyk Holidays: Zul and Tsagan Sar


Larisa Shoglyaeva, About Zul


Maria Kamandzhaeva, How to Celebrate Zul


Nadvid Ubushiev, Zul and Tsagan Sar


Namdzhl Putaeva, About Zul and Tsagan Sar


Sangadzhi Kononov, About Zul


Vera Doldaeva, About Zul