The Kalmyks have a rich fairy-tale tradition. Fairy-tales were composed by tuulchi, or story tellers, who lived in great numbers in Kalmykia until the mid-20th century.
In the study of Kalmyk folklore there is a convention to divide fairy-tales into the following genres: magical, heroic, every-day fairy-tales and those about animals.
Although many Kalmyk fairy-tales are universal, they have their specificity stemming from the nomadic lifestyle, traditions, worldviews and history of the Kalmyks. In terms of story length, which correlates with the number of events in a given fairy-tale, Kalmyk fairy-tales are divided into 'long' (ut tuul') and 'short fairy-tales' (ahr tuul'). Magical and heroic fairy-tales usually belong to the former category, with everyday fairy-tales and those about animals to the latter.
Many fairy-tales start with stories originating in the real world – for example, at the khan’s court or in the steppe – and then shift to the afterlife or to other worlds, such as the so called 'upper' and 'lower' worlds, or to the 'water kingdom'. The central character or hero of a story is sent off on a difficult mission to carry out the orders of, for example of the khan himself, an evil step-mother, his parents or those of his older brothers. The fairy-tales have happy endings, with good triumphing over evil, a poor man becoming wealthy, a fool becoming wise, an ugly man becoming handsome, etc.
Heroes in Kalmyk fairy-tales are blessed with extraordinary skills, can move between different worlds with ease, can understand the language of animal and birds, and can transform themselves into creatures of various types.
Regrettably, the tradition of telling fairy-tales and their oral transmission are gradually disappearing, being increasingly replaced by other forms of entertainment and methods for imparting knowledge.
Among Kalmyk fairy-tales a genre called the '72 Fables' stands out with its originality and humour. Uttered either in poetic or prosaic form accompanied by short poems, this genre has enjoyed great popularity among the Kalmyks. It has the following content. The khan announces that his daughter is to be married to a man who can tell seventy two fables in the most entertaining manner. A commoner takes up the challenge and does a brilliant job in storytelling. The khan, however, refuses to give his daughter away, arguing that the commoner had told seventy three fables instead of only seventy two.
The fables consist of a series of absurd, impossible, comical situations and events. The happenings, actions and objects in the fables do not reflect earthly reality. For example, time runs backwards, both animate and inanimate objects share the same characteristics, etc.
Alena Lidzhieva, A Fairy Tale
Once upon a time a Buddhist monk set out on a journey to a distant settlement. The road was long and the weather smoggy. As he had been travelling longer than it usually took to get there, the monk began to think that he must have got lost in the smog. Finally, he arrived at a camp full of people that he did not recognize. On his horse, the lama looked through the window of a house to see women playing on the dombra instrument. Soon the women came out of the house running and greeting him, ‘Dear brother, is it you that has arrived?’ They took away his horse for him, invited him in, and offered him a cup of kumis. ‘What settlement is this?’ asked the monk. ‘Makhs makh bard, it is called’, was the reply. After a drink, as soon as the monk began reciting prayers the people around turned into shulmus-spirits and scattered in all directions. Only the head of a ground squirrel and a shoe heel was left lying on the floor.