Oral histories are stories about events that have taken place in the recent past or are still in the process of unfolding. Stories about pre-Soviet nomadic lifestyle, the demolition of Buddhist temples in the 1930s, the deportation of the Kalmyks in 1943, the subsequent return of the Kalmyks from exile, life in post-exile period, are few examples. To this can be added stories about places, famous people, notable objects, encounters with ghosts and spirits, adventures, and many others.
Aleksey Dzhalaev, About a Livestock Thief Named Bukshan Savk
Alexandra reminisces about how her family lived in Altaiskiy krai in Siberia. Her brother used to sing the Russian songs ‘Tramp’ and ‘Katyusha’ in Kalmyk. Her mother adopted a couple of Russian children who returned with them to Kalmykia when the Kalmyks were pardoned. Altaiskiy krai had rich soil and people grew wheat, potatoes, and beets there. People also used plants to make tea or soup.
Alexandra Sangadzhieva, About life in Siberia
Alexandra reminisces about her teacher Sandzhi Alekseevich Kenzeev who taught her Kalmyk.
Sandzhi Kenzeev was born in 1913. In 2013, the centenary of his birthday was widely celebrated across Kalmykia, in particular in the Elista pedagogical college where he taught and where I was his student. When teaching the Kalmyk language, he always took examples from real life, which made his classes interesting. He also asked us not to forget our native language and pointed out that this was very important for every Kalmyk. Today when I meet with my classmates, we always remember his advice.
For his centenary we published a book titled ‘The People’s Teacher’. He really was popular among his students, open-minded, kind, responsive, and in love with Kalmyk language. He was also a very good family man, and all of his four children received a good education.
I heard that when he was young, after his wedding, he went straight to the front where he served as an officer, for he had a higher education having graduated from the Astrakhan Pedagogical College. During the war he lost his leg, and his wife must have been horrified to see him in such a state. But she did not leave him anyway. They lived together for more than 50 years. I always remember him as a very pure and nice person.
Alexandra Sanzheeva, About Sandzhi Kenzeev
In this interview Alexei talks about a temple that was in his native place, about the origin of the Bagud clan whose members used that temple and about digging wells in Lagan’.
Darina: Did you have a temple in your native place?
Alexei: Yes, we had a temple in a place called Khure, in Yandyko-Mochazhnyi ulus of Laganskiy rayon. There is a tower that stands on that spot today. Many people from the Bagud clan gathered in that temple, including members of the Iki Bagud, the Shars Bagud and the Shin Bagud. The Bagud clan originates from the 7 sons of Doida. When Doida became old, he called all his sons to give them their inheritance. The oldest son, from whom originates the Ik Bagud clan, moved in the direction of Yandyki. Another son moved to Dolbanskiy rayon to the village of Promyslovka. Today this village is called Limannyi. That place has water and a lot of wild cane. Our clan moved to Lagan’ where we built a fishery. We dried fish and sent them to Moscow, St Petersburg and Nizhniy Novgorod.
D: Where does the name Lagan’ come from?
A: According to one version, there was a man called Lag who set up a fishing brigade there and started to catch fish. According to another version, it derives from the word lagun’ which means ‘still water’. The second version is not as well-shared as the first one.
D: Is it possible that this name derives from a well called Lagan’? There must have been people who owned wells back then.
A: No, I don’t know about this.
D: Did you have wells in your place?
A: Yes, we had.
D: How did people dig these wells?
A: Back then there was no machinery. People dug wells with their hands. There were special digging brigades that transported water.
D: How did people know where to dig for a well?
A: People asked lamas and astrologists. They would approach astrologists and say: ‘We breed livestock in this or that place, we want to dig a well. Can we dig it there?’ Astrologists showed them where to dig, where the water was better and grass richer.
Alexei Naranov, About a Temple, the Bagud Clan, and Lagan’
Alexei reminisces about how farmers grew cotton in Kalmykia. In his kolkhoz, called ‘Revolyutsionnyi Trud’ (Revolutionary Labor), the farmers planted mainly cotton. First, cotton seeds were planted, watered, and when the cotton grew its leaves were trimmed. The farmers collected cotton on 1 September. Having put on aprons with pockets, they collected cotton by hand.
Alexei Naranov, About Cotton Production in Kalmykia
When Bulyash was small, Kalmyks lived in nomadic yurts. Bulyash talks about the yurt, including its structure and the traditional furniture kept inside. For example, in the middle of the yurt was the hearth. A horse harness was kept on the left side. The middle of the yurt was considered to be the older people’s area, whereas the sides of the yurt were associated with children. Dogs were not allowed in. Goat kids and the young of sheep were not kept inside the yurt either, but in special external shelters made of straw. The yurt was tied around with three ropes made of wool. The yurt was waterproof and was covered in a thick layer of felt. Bulyash also talks about how felt was processed in old times. Kalmyks used felt to make socks, but not boots. The wealthy gave their daughters bride wealth, which included a yurt and a horse with a harness.
Bulyash Chumudova: About The Yurt (Ishkya Ger) and Felt Making
Danara reminisces the time when Elista was occupied by German soldiers.
They announced on the radio that the Germans were advancing and that we should hide ourselves in trenches.
My mother witnessed how the Germans had put Jews, young women with children, teenagers and old people, in a truck. One woman with a child was asking for water, but the German soldier refused to give. They were all shot dead and thrown into a pit on the outskirts of Elista.
My parents dug a hole in the yard and buried all their books.
Danara Ungarlinova, About the Occupation of Elista in World War Two
Dmitriy talks about how in their ancestral land some people found an old box that contained the ashes of a monk. Almost all those who found it, ended up badly. Scared, people erected a stupa on that spot and prohibited anyone dig that land. After that, misfortunes stopped. Later people built a temple there, which was consecrated by Telo Tulku Rinpoche. As for the ashes of a monk, it was buried back where it was found. Today no one remembers that place anymore.
Dmitriy Mandzhiev, About a Mysterious Finding
Dmitriy talks about how people behaved during fasting days (matsg) in the Soviet period.
During that day Kalmyks read prayers and tried to abstain from doing bad deeds. Old men would warn ahead that matsg was approaching and that we should stop drinking alcohol and start behaving ourselves and praying. All this was in the Soviet times and we did not know how to pray properly. Our elders used to say that ‘Even if you can’t pray, just saying the word Dyark (i.e. goddess Tara) is enough’. Our elders also taught us that we could pray inside us, and that we did not have to know mantras.
Dmitriy Mandzhiev, About Matsg (Fasting Days) in the Soviet Period
Elza talks about the village of Dzhakuevka where she grew up.
In Dzhakuevka, my native village, life was simple. People either looked after livestock or caught fish. We did fishing. Sometimes I had to go into the cold water, deep up to the waist. At that time the men had left for the front, and we, the children, the young and elderly, did fishing. From our family, three brothers returned from the war wounded. I have survived them all. In our village lived Keryad and Tsatan people. In general, we were always divided into aimags, including Uuchjan aimak, Tyumnyakin aimak, etc. My parents, for example, were from Tyumnyakin aimag. My father was from Tyumnyakin, but of Keryad clan. We, small children, did not listen to who was from which clan. When I was 17 the war started and we had other things to worry about.
Elza Badaeva, About Dzhakuevka
Elza recounts a story about Miitr Noyn who miraculously escaped from his Russian captors on his way to execution. He fled to Korea where he married a local woman.
Elza Badaeva, About Miitr Noyn
Galina talks about how a Russian soldier who came to their home to send them into exile advised that they take warm blankets. The Kalmyks were sent to Siberia in freight carriages sitting on the floor. The warm blankets that Galina’s family wrapped themselves with, saved their lives. Upon their arrival at the place of exile, Galina’s mother sold the blankets for a sack of potatoes.
Both Galina and Klavdia’s families were deported to Omskaya oblast’.
Galina Samtonova, Klavdia Manunova, Exile
Garya recounts several ghost stories. Here are his stories:
This happened many years ago. It is possible that even today such things happen, but people are not aware of them. In the past people used to say that a pastureland that is not far from here was haunted. One day a man from our village rode his horse in that direction. When he reached that place, his horse stopped and refused to go further. Later people asked that man whether what had happened to his horse was true. He himself verified this story. This means that that place indeed was haunted.
Two people died in my family. When they died, no prayers were read, no service was carried out for them. Because of this (disrespect), the dead became offended and stayed in this place. I heard from others that the two dead sometimes show themselves to the living.
In 1959 I worked in a shop in a place called Salbur. One day I prepared a couple of horses and a cart and set out on a journey to the third farm. On my way back, I took a passenger with me who was an old man. In our clan’s territory there is a place called Khurla Nur. People say that in the past there stood a temple in that place. So, we were riding near that place. It was night. All of a sudden, my horses became tense and set themselves free of the cart. What happened? I got out to check the cart. The straps underneath the harness got loose and were dangling. How did it happen? I fastened the straps and got back on the cart. When I whipped the horses, the harness again got loose. This went on like this for some time. The old man said to me: ‘Oh dear, it is a horrible place. Why are they torturing us? What have we done, oh dear? Let’s pray’. He started to read prayers. I got off the cart and pulled the horses. While pulling them I had a feeling that they were pulling something very heavy. They were so tense. When we passed that place I got back on the cart. Nearby we saw a cattle farm. When we told the farmers about what had happened to us, they said: ‘It is a dark place. Things like this happen there’.
When we were in Siberia, my mother went to see her friends who lived on the other side of a ditch across a small vegetable garden. She left the house in the evening and walked all the night long. At dawn, she saw that she had been walking near the house never being able to reach it. Something was making her walk in circles. In those days there were no temples. When you go to a temple, lamas read prayers for you, and everything falls back into place. Nowadays I do not hear such stories anymore.
Garya Naminov, Ghost Stories
Leonid talks about his native land and the importance of living in one’s native land.
Old people used to say that one’s native land is as soft as a fur coat. Even If you lie on the ground, it warms you up. When we arrived in this place, there already were many Kalmyks living here. We have stayed in this place since. My ancestors are buried here. Even if I have to leave this place in the future, I will return to perform prayers. There was one woman who had left to Elista, but returned later to die here. Why should one ever leave their native land?
Leonid Khochiev, About My Native Place
In Maloderbetovskiy rayon there is a hill or mound called Khar Kurya which is a burial place of a Kalmyk nobleman who died in a war. The nobleman was buried along with military equipment. It is also believed that this mound is where the spiritual master of that place resides who looks after livestock and crops. Buddhist monks perform rituals of offering in order to appease all the local spirits. It is said that during such rituals all local spirits come, including the one from the burial place.
Lidzhi Amikov, About Khar Kurya
In this interview Maria recounts her encounter with a big snake that she claims was the spiritual master of a local place.
Maria: We have a place called Ar Khar which is not far from here. There I saw a snake with horns in 1957. The female of that snake lived in Chernaya Balka.
When we, Kalmyks, were on our way back from Siberia, we stopped in Yarlovoe. The next day we moved on to our native places. I arrived here on 6 June 1956.
I narrowly escaped death from a snake in Ar Khar. We were in a car with a Russian driver. The snake attacked the car from behind and broke it. I survived.
Bair: Was the snake big?
M: It was huge! Later my brother saw its female in Chernaya Balka. When you see a snake with horns, do not get afraid. Put a white cloth in front of it. It crawls to the cloth where it sheds its horns. But we did not know about this back then. We got scared, cried, and ran away. I was crying. The driver also saw it and got scared. The snake attacked the car from the behind and broke it.
B: Where did the snake have its horn?
M: The snake was this big (shows). Its head was stretched out and it had a horn a bit smaller than that of a cow. We were collecting sorrel (for a soup) for a sanatorium. Later Vaska Molokanov also saw that snake.
B: How did you know that the female of that snake lives in Chernaya Balka?
M: When I went home, my mother’s girlfriends told me that similar snakes lived in the vicinity. Our elders rebuked me: ‘Why didn’t you put a white cloth on the ground? The snake would have shed its horn and left you in peace’.
B: What happened afterwards?
M: I got married, and in 1958 gave birth to my oldest daughter. In 1959 Badma’s relative worked in a dairy sovkhoz Buratinskiy. When he was riding a horse, he heard the milkmaids cry that they had seen a snake. He chased the snake on his horse. After that, no one saw the snake again.
B: Again, how did you save yourself from the snake?
M: I fell, cried and became ill. We were on our way to the first farm. There were three Kalmyk and one Russian girl with us. When I got ill, my uncles brought the lama Pyurvya Bovaev on their cart. He was already an old man. He looked at me and said: ‘Don’t worry. She will live a long time’. It turned out that I had polluted a place. I wanted to urinate, which I did behind the bushes. I was shaking off my dress when the snake came out. It is forbidden to urinate near water. After this incident, I stopped urinating in ditches. Snakes are the masters of land.
Maria Dordzhieva, About Snakes with Horns
Maria says that the first train with Kalmyks from Krasnoyarskiy krai arrived in Divnoe, Stavropol oblast, in 1957. There are no documents left today pertaining to this event. Maria, who was on that train herself, recalls that the journey took 17 days which she spent singing with the others. Among the passengers was the singer Ulan Barbaevna Lidzhieva who was sick. Everyone in the train tried to help her. At Divnoe station they were welcomed by the ensemble Tyulpan (Tulip). The arrivals were transported to Elista by car.
In Elista Maria worked as a stonemason. She built houses, a post office, the Drama Theatre, the cinema Druzhba and many other buildings. In 1960 several builders from Kalmykia, including Maria, were invited to work on the construction of the Palace of Pioneers in Moscow. Maria worked in Moscow for a month.
Maria Lidzhigoryaeva, Return from Siberia in 1957
Maria recounts three stories about a legendary man called Bok Tukha who was famous for his strength.
Maria: I am from the arvn Mu Chons of the Byargyas clan. My husband is from the Iki Chonos clan. Bok Tukha was from the Byargyas clan. Recently Dordzhi relayed a story to me about Bok Tukha, about how he stole a 4-year old horse from a place called Zergntya. He was a man of unbelievable strength. He was a hunter and worked for no one. One day Bok Tukha was walking in the steppe and came across 10 horses in Zergntya. He looked around – no one was to be seen in the vicinity. He took off his boots, grabbed a horse by its tail, pulled it down, and carried it to his place in Bakhan. In the evening he butchered the horse, and called his relatives to have a feast. The next day the herdsman who was looking after the horses noticed that a 4-year old horse went missing. He reported the theft to his master. The master said: ‘Look, it is obvious from the foot prints that the thief was barefoot. He must have carried the horse away on his shoulders. Who else can it be other than Bok Tukha?’ When the men approached his tent, Bok Tukha’s wife warned her husband. Bok Tukha quickly drank up the fat that was left from the horse, swallowed the remaining knee bone, and sat on his bed as if nothing had happened. Soon the men entered his tent, enquiring: ‘Good day, Bok Tukha, we are looking for a horse that went missing since yesterday. You walk across the steppe. Did you see anything suspicious?’ Bok Tukha replied ‘No’, to which the guests said: ‘If you have not seen anything, no one has. There is nothing we can do now’. After a cup of tea, the guests left the tent empty-handed.
Another story. There were two men. One had good hearing and the other good eyesight. One day Bok Tukha along with these two men went up the hill to learn about what was happening around them. The man with a good eyesight said: ‘Over there in Bakhan I see a horse with many spots. It has one shoulder worn out. A young woman is going from one tent to another.’ Bok Tukha: ‘Okay, let’s go and see what is really happening down there. How can you see from such a distance?’ When they arrived at the spot, indeed there was a horse standing that had spots. Its shoulder was worn out too. There was also a young woman, a newly married daughter of a wealthy man. Seeing how wealthy she was, the three men decided to rob her. The bride was unusual though. She said to her father-in-law: ‘I saw a shadow. Be careful and keep an eye on your horses. There are many thieves around. Ask your herdsman to keep a horse ready in case you need to chase thieves’. The herdsman brought a fast horse to the door of the tent, but soon fell asleep. Seeing that the herdsman was sleeping, the three men galloped toward the bride’s tent. Inside, while Bok Tukha was holding a knife at her chest, the other two set out stealing her gold. All of a sudden, the bride, who was pretending to be asleep, grabbed Bok Tukha’s knife with her two fingers so that the intruder could do nothing but shout to the other two: ‘Quickly put everything back and don’t touch anything!’ In panic, the thieves fled. Thinking to himself ‘Very strange. That woman squeezed my knife with her two fingers so tight that I could not even move it. What a powerful woman! I’ll go and see what kind of woman she really is’, Bok Tukha galloped back to the tent. Later Bok Tukha said to his two friends: ‘I am a strong man, but she is stronger’.
Another story. One day there was a competition between the Kalmyks and the Kazakhs. The khan called Bok Tukha and said to him: ‘There is no one stronger than you…’ ‘No, there is one woman who is stronger than me’, replied Bok Tukha. The khan ordered that Bok Tukha brought that woman to him. When Bok Tukha arrived at the bride’s tent (whom he tried to rob previously), she had given birth to a baby who was 10 days old. Bok Tukha explained everything to her, to which the woman said: ‘If I have to spill my blood for my brothers, bind me tightly, for I have recently given birth’. The soldiers wrapped her belly tight with a calf’s and foal’s skin and put men’s clothes on her. Her competitor was a strong wrestler. The bride easily beat him, ran to her tent, changed her clothes into that of a woman, and hid among the women folk. The defeated wrestler only said: ‘I have never been beaten by a man, let alone a woman’.
Darina: Where was Bok Tukha from?
Maria: From our land.
Darina: Does he have descendants?
Maria: Ubushiev Pavel Mukhonovich lived in Tsaritsyn. In Derbets, there lives an old man, Sandzhiev Muutl. He is Bok Tukha’s descendant in the 7th generation.
Maria Mukhlaeva, About Bok Tukha
Mergen recounts a story about his legendary grandfather, Vasiliy Khomutnikov, who travelled to Tibet in the early 1920s.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, Tibet was a difficult place to visit, and there was not much information available about that country. Ovshe Norzunov’s pictures that he had brought from Tibet sparked public interest in Russia. Before the Bolshevik Revolution, the Russian government tried to establish contact with Tibet. This continued even after the Bolsheviks came to power. Being blockaded by the West, the Soviet Union was interested in enlisting the support of the Tibetan government. With this purpose they sent an expedition to Tibet, which was headed by the Buryat lama Yampilov. Among the participants was the Kalmyk Vasiliy Khomutnikov who spoke Mongolian languages, was a communist and had personal connections in Tibet. At that time the Kalmyk monk Lobsan Sherab Tepkin, who lived and worked in Tibet, was the State Secretary of Tibet and supporter of the Dalai Lama XIII. In September 1921 the expedition, disguised as pilgrims, left Urga, capital of Outer Mongolia.
The expedition joined the caravan of one Gegen Lama, with whom they reached Tibet. On the way, when Yampilov died, Vasiliy Khomutnikov headed the expedition. In the Kobdo aimak of Outer Mongolia they had to appeal to Gegen Lama, the head of the local Torghuts, for protection and safe passage through the territory.
In a place called Nagchu the expedition was detained by a Tibetan military outpost. Upon learning that Khomutnikov was Agvan Dorzhiev’s messenger, the Tibetan soldiers let them proceed to the country’s capital. At that time Agvan Dorzhiev was a very famous person not only in Tibet but among the Buddhist peoples of the Russian Empire.
In Tibet Khomutnikov met with the Dalai Lama, handed him gifts and talked about why the Soviets were persecuting Buddhists in Russia. Wary of anti-Buddhist activities carried out by the Soviet government, Tibetan temples were holding special prayer services aimed at the fall of the Soviet power. Khomutnikov, however, could convince the Dalai Lama that the Soviet government was tolerant. In the early 1920s, the Soviet government’s policies regarding Buddhism were indeed tolerant and different to what they would become in the late 1920s. As a result, anti-Soviet prayers were stopped in Tibet.
On his way back, Khomutnikov travelled through India to Calcutta. There is a legend that he made a large offering in a monastery in Burma. Later Khomutnikov arrived in Shanghai, where he boarded the train to Beijing, and from there he travelled to Urga, Outer Mongolia. Khomutnikov wrote a detailed account of his expedition, which included such chapters as ‘The Dalai Lama and His Mood’, ‘The Delegation of Ungern to Tibet’, ‘The Tibetan Army’ and so on. For his expedition Khomutnikov was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. Not all data from his expedition have been declassified, because of their relevance even today.
Mergen Ulanov, Vasiliy Khomutnikov’s Expedition to Tibet
Mikhail talks about what happened in the 1930s in Kalmykia through the example of several manuscripts that were appropriated by a NKVD-linked scholar.
When I was working in the Supreme Council, I received a complaint from one old man from Chonos. His father was a doctor in the Cheerya khurul (temple). In 1934 Baatr Basangov arrested his father, and confiscated all his books on Tibetan medicine. The doctor was sent to Stalingrad, but after a month returned home. It turned out that there he had treated some important people and as a reward was released. In his complaint the old man requested that his father’s books should be found and returned to the people of Kalmykia. I invited the director of the local KGB and asked him to find the books. A month later the KGB director reported to me that there was no interrogation protocol available, and opined that the books must have been destroyed.
The former People’s Commissar for Education, Khonin Kosiyev’s wife Valentina Dmitrievna told me that her husband was working on a Russian-Kalmyk dictionary, compiling a card file, and preparing the publication of the epos Jangar. Baatr Basangov, who at that time worked in the NKVD, helped him by doing copies. In 1937, when after Kosiyev’s arrest his wife and two children were thrown out of their apartment into the street, Baatr approached them to reassure that everything would be fine. He also asked whether he could take Kosiev’s manuscripts. The woman gave the manuscripts to Baatr, and soon was exiled to Western Kazakhstan. Kosiyev himself was shot in Stalingrad. Upon returning to Kalmykia, Valentina Dmitrievna learnt from her acquaintance about a dictionary that had been published under the editorship of Baatr Basangov. She immediately understood that it was her husband’s work.
Mikhail Erentsenov, About Some Manuscripts
In this interview Purvya talks about spiritual masters of lands and ghosts.
Purvya: In our land we have a hill called Kerm Tolga where malevolent forces reside. Many years ago, it was a very rich hill, but was robbed later. Only a hole remained after the robbery. Later some scientists arrived to do digging. The head of the expedition was a man called Steklov. Upon his return to Moscow, he died. When we were children, grown-up people told us not to pass by that hill at midnight. It is said that a man riding a horse appears from that hill at midnight. He is believed to be the master of that place. In the past, there were many big snakes that were the masters of lands. Today, no one sees these big snakes any more. People build their houses wherever they like.
Tsagan: If one sees a snake - the master of land - is it a good or bad sign?
Purvya: If one sees it, that person needs to offer butter and milk to the snake. Not every person can see these snakes.
Tsagan: Does a snake show itself to a person who is supposed to see it?
Purvya: Yes. People used to say ‘If it is fate, even the best person will not see a snake but the worst person may’.
About ghosts. In our land lived a man called Dordzhi who attracted ghosts. In the past, education consisted of four classes. I was studying in Iki Bukhus. In 1941, on weekends Dordzhi used to come to Iki Bukhus and we three would walk home together. One day, Dordzhi said to us: ‘There is a big white man standing over there’. He stayed behind to wrestle with that man. Later he relayed a story to us about how during the war he was riding a camel up the hill only to come across an old woman who was blocking his way. He got off the camel and started to wrestle with her. It was thanks to the consecrated coins that he had sewn in the right shoulder of his shirt that Dordzhi managed to beat her (who was a powerful ghost).
Purvya Volod'kina, About Spiritual Masters of Places
Purvya talks about how nomads lived in the early 20th century. This is her story:
In October families stayed on low grounds, since it was warmer this way for their livestock. In spring after Tsagan Sar all families moved up to higher grounds. People stayed in each pastureland for up to 10 days so that their livestock did not finish off the grass. People nomadised by following their animals. I lived in a nomadic tent until 1938 in a place called Lola where there was also a stationary sanatorium housed in white buildings. Those buildings belonged to Duke Gari Balzanov. My parents worked for him. When the Duke was sent to exile, our family moved in to live in a wooden communal house. We milked mares and made kumis for guests. Men wore leather trousers or white cotton trousers. They would clean their greasy hands on their leather trousers and laugh at how shiny their trousers became. As far as I remember, the Kalmyks did not prepare fodder for their animals in winter. The livestock found grass from underneath the snow. Today people prepare fodder. The Kalmyk steppe is wide. People nomadised in tents. When the wealthy people were expropriated and sent to exile, the number of sheep went down. When there are no sheep, there is no felt around. Having no felt to cover their tents, people started to build wigwam-like structures. People lived in dugouts. They put a brick stove in the middle of the room.
Purvya Volod'kina, About Nomadic Life in the Past
Sangadji says that when he was a child, his grandfather told him stories about the Siberian exile of the Kalmyk people. His grandfather was deported to Omskaya oblast. Unable to recall many stories when his grandfather died, Sangadji decided to videotape old people who could still remember the exile period. With this aim in mind, in 2014 he and his friends set up a video documentation project called ‘They Could, and We Can’. Today the project has a wide collection consisting of around 1,000 video interviews. All the interviews are different from each other: some are tragic, others uplifting. Many interviews are in Kalmyk. By watching these videos the viewers can get knowledge first-hand. Sangadji concludes that, ‘our grandmothers and grandfathers could survive and keep our culture, language, spirit, national identity and memory. Therefore, it would be a crime for us, Kalmyks, to forget all these’.
Sangadji Tarbaev, About Exile
My mother used to say: ‘Do not spend too much time on the street. Ghosts walk there. You have been on the street for too long, that is why ghosts entered your belly!’ What happens? Ghosts enter our bellies and heads, and as a consequence we do bad things. That is the whole story about ghosts.
Sergei Muchiryaev, About Ghost Stories
Sergei talks about how Kalmyks chewed tobacco in the past. This is his story:
In Siberia when you walked early in the morning you would see yellow spit on both sides of the road. The Russians used to say: ‘The Kalmyks must have passed here before, spitting to the right and the left’. Garya Tserenovich Mandzhiev, Honoured Artist of Russia, also worked with us. He also chewed tobacco. He chewed it in Moscow when he was studying. What can you do? It is a habit. The majority of old women chewed tobacco. I saw it in Siberia when I was a child. People did not have tobacco pouches, and they kept their tobacco in their pockets. When my daughter was born, old women came to visit us. Back then people kept sugar blocks in their pockets to treat children. So, everything would get mixed up in their pockets. An old woman took a piece of sugar from her pocket and gave it to my daughter, saying ‘Take it’. My daughter would take the sugar (mixed with tobacco) and eat it with pleasure.
Sergei Muchiryaev, About Tobacco Chewing
Viktoria talks about a hat that belonged to Kuukn Noyon. This is her story:
Kuukn Noyon lived in Tsatkhl. After her death, her hat was turned into an object of worship. Boris Bazyrov keeps the hat on his domestic altar. When I was a child, my maternal grandmother used to take me to the house where the hat was kept. At the beginning of each spring my grandmother always filled a bottle with liquid butter, took tea and went to bow to that hat. We did this every year.
Viktoria Mukobenova, About Kuukn Noyon of Tsatkhl
Yuriy recounts the Kalmyk names for Kazakhs, Tatars, Circassians, Kabardians and other neighboring peoples. He talks about Kalmyk ethnonyms.
Yuriy Bembeev, About the Kalmyk Names of Neighboring Peoples
In this video Yuriy talks about how he is related to the Dzhogaevs, who were of noble zaisang origin, and how this title was inherited among the Torghuts. If a ruling zaisang did not have an heir (i.e. a son), the right to inherit his ulus territory passed to his relatives, which is what happened between the clans of the Bembeevs and that of the Dzhogaevs.
Yuriy Bembeev, On the Right to Inherit the Title of a Zaisan
Yuriy relays a story about a secret mantra. When the Dalai Lama XIV visited Kalmykia for the first time, a certain Kalmyk lama was asked to go and see the Dalai Lama. Although in the beginning the Kalmyk lama did not want to go, after a lot of persuasion he agreed. With a cigar in his mouth and clad in a shabby robe, the Kalmyk lama turned up before the Dalai Lama. Then he clapped his hands, turned around himself and started to read a mantra, stopping in the middle. In response, the Dalai Lama also clapped his hands and finished the mantra. In this way, the Kalmyk lama was convinced that the person who was standing in front of him was the real Dalai Lama.
From old times a certain prediction circulated among the Oirats that there would be many fake Dalai Lamas in the future. In order to distinguish the real Dalai Lama from the fakes, chosen Kalmyk lamas were initiated into learning a part of a secret mantra, the other part of which was known only to the Dalai Lama himself.