The Oirats, ancestors of the Kalmyks, participated in the campaigns of Chingis Khan and his descendants as military units. There is a widespread view among Kalmyk scholars that the names of these units turned later into various ethnonyms such as Derbet (cavalry), Torghut (guards of the khan's residence), and Khoshud (vanguard units).
The Derbets of Kalmykia are the descendants of those, who together with other Oirat tribes, came to the Volga region from Dzungaria at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The Derbet consists of various clans or lineages, including Abaganer, Chonos, Sharyad, Sharnut, Tadzhiut, Tsoros, Tugtun, Kharnut, Merkit, Kereit, Batut, Khoit, Khoshud, Tarachin, Sokhad, Tsaatan, Khazakh, Telegit, and others. Today the Derbets live in compact groups in the northern part of Kalmykia.
For more information on the Derbet click here. On this page, you can watch videos about the Derbet, their constituent clans, lineages, stories, legends, and much more.
Ais Sandzhiev, Legend About the Nornyakhn Clan
One of Ais’ ancestors was a big and strong man who weighed about 100 kilos. When in 1771 the Kalmyk Ubashi khan led the Kalmyks back to Dzungaria, people of the Tsagan Nur region decided to stay in Kalmykia. However, 12 men of the Nornyakhn clan followed the khan. Ais’ ancestor chased those men, caught them at a lake and by force brought them back. The Nornyakhn has since been the largest clan in the region.
One of Ais’ ancestors was a big and strong man who weighed about 100 kilos. When in 1771 the Kalmyk Ubashi khan led the Kalmyks back to Dzungaria, people of the Tsagan Nur region decided to stay in Kalmykia. However, 12 men of the Nornyakhn clan followed the khan. Ais’ ancestor chased those men, caught them at a lake and by force brought them back. The Nornyakhn has since been the largest clan in the region.
Ais Sandzhiev, Legend About the Nornyakhn Clan
Baatr says that his clan of Batud consist of two groups, namely Iki Batud and Baga Batud. The same can be seen among the Bukhus clan which consists of Iki Bukhus and Baga Bukhus. The Bukhus are descendants of Chingis Khan.
Baatr Mandzhiev, About the Batud Clan
In this interview Bulyash talks about her clan, including its deity-protector and stamp.
Question: Are you a Derbet?
Bulyash: Yes, I am. And you are a Torghut, right?
Q: You said something about people teasing Derbets.
B: ‘Stinky Derbets’.
Q: Why would people say this?
B: It was a kind of nick-name, or name calling. In the past old people gave nicknames to all eng/angi or torl groupings. There were many witty people who composed songs, sayings, and told fairy tales, and all sorts of other stories. Although uneducated, these people were born smart.
Q: How many sub-groups do you have inside the Derbet?
B: Our clan of Noynakhn consist of 12 sub-clans. We live in this village of Gashun-Burgusta. In the past, here there was a kolkhoz named Krasnyi Partizan (Red Partisan). The sub-clan that I belong to is called Beezhikhn.
Q: What about other sub-clans?
B: Khoshuds, Beezhikhn, Asmud, Barun Arvn, Bat’kachud, Meenchkud, Khoonud and others. All in all, 12 sub-clans. All these names are inscribed on 12 big stones that these sub-clans have. The stones are arranged in a circle in the middle of which there is a statue of Green Tara. People go to that place to worship and receive blessings. Many lamas came from Elista to read prayers there. We also have a stupa that houses statues of Buddhas. We also go to that stupa to light candles and read prayers. Lamas perform rituals there.
Q: Where did your clan of Noynakhn live and nomadize?
B: Each sub-clan had its summer station. In the past, there was one temple on the hill.
Q: What temple?
B: It was a common clan temple, named Choorya Khamra Khurul. In the archive of the Central Temple in Elista there is a photo and information available on our temple.
Q: How many clans are there inside the Derbet?
B: I do not know exactly how many. But there are many, including Noynakhn, Bagshin Shebinery, Barun, Ergeni…
Q: Clan have protectors, right?
B: We also have our protectors. All sub-clans have spiritual protectors, and ours is Ayuka Gegyan. In the same way, every person has his/her protectors. For example, my oldest son, who was born in 1955 in the year of the sheep, has Manjushri as his protector. My youngest son has Ochir Vaani as his protector. People should read prayers every morning, and receive blessings from Buddhas. All my grandsons have deity-protectors.
Q: What does the stamp of your clan look like?
B: It looks like a half-circle. We stamp our livestock with it.
Q: Which side of the animal do you put this stamp on?
B: On the right side of the horse.
Q: Which part of the animal would it be?
B: On the hip. It was like this in the past.
Q: Did you father stamp animals?
B: Yes. Every family had horses with stamps.
Bulyash Chumudova, About the Noynakhn Clan
In this video three Derbet individuals, Pavel Antonov, Baatr Mandzhiev and Nadezhda Badmaeva, talk about the Derbet tribe/clan.
Pavel Antonov: In 1771 when Ubashi Khan took the majority of Kalmyks back to Dzungaria (China), the Derbets who stayed in Russia divided into two groups: Iki Derbet (Big Derbet) and Bag Derbet (Small Derbet). I am from Baga Derbet. In the past, I spoke to our scholars about the origin of the Khashkh aimak. The Kalmyk Andrei Mitirov said to me that in our clan we had Uyghurs. When the Kalmyks first came here to the Volga from Dzungaria, they brought with them several Uyghur families. That is why we have their blood in our clan. We have a stamp in our clan that looks like a Muslim sign.
Baatr Mandzhiev: If we talk about where the Derbets come from, we came to this place more than 400 years ago from Dzungaria. In Dzungaria there was a union of four Oirat tribes, including the Derbets, Torghuts, Khoshuds and Elyuts. The Derbets were the most numerous. Upon their arrival here, they divided into two groups, Big and Small Derbets. Some people say that the wealthy who split became Big Derbets, and those who remained became Small Derbets.
Nadezhda Badmaeva: The Kalmyks consist of three groups, including the Derbets, Torghuts and Buzavas. The Derbets in their turn consist of Iki and Bag Derbets. The latter live in the northern part of Kalmykia, in Oktyabrskiy, Sarpinskiy and Ketchenerovskiy rayons. Our village, which is called Iki-Bukhus, is home to several arvn groupings, including the Syatud, Khoonud, Ik Bat, Bichkn Bat, Buurl, Serksh, Mangd. Among them the Khoonud, Ik Bat, and Syadud are the most numerous. Other arvn people are less numerous, and they also live in the neighboring villages. In general, we have many Derbets in Kalmykia, although our literary language is based on the Torghut dialect. The Buzavas live close to the Kazakhs and Russians. One can position the Derbets between the Buzavas and Torghuts. In our village, we support each other and live in friendship. Among the Derbets there are many people who sing songs and dance. There are many famous people who were born in our village, including the mathematician Pyurvya Erdniev, the Jangar singers Vladimir Karuev and Kutlan Mukubenov, the singer and songwriter Bovush Ambekova. We all love our village, and often participate in various competitions.
Three Derbet Individuals About the Derbets
Galina talks about the history of the Bogdakhin clan. The Dalai Lama V and the Panchen Lama IV gave the Kalmyk people a mobile temple as a present. When the temple was brought to Kalmykia in 1681, Ayuka Khan and Monke Temir, who was a Derbet nobleman, allocated a place for the temple along the Manych river. People from various clans were tasked with protecting and looking after the temple.
The temple was named Bogdo Dalai Lamyn Ik Khurul (Great Temple of the Dalai Lama) and people who lived around it came to be known as the Bogdakhin. The Bogdakhin clan consists of three arvn, including Bambudakhn, Mamudakhn and Danglakhn. In the past the temple housed a robe that belonged to the Dalai Lama V himself. The temple consisted of two yurts that were transported on carts. The temple had astrologists, doctors and philosophers among its stuff. In 1861 the temple was transported from Manych to Elista. There are two explanations regarding this. According to one story, the temple was brought to Elista in order to hide it, because the Russian authorities were demanding that the number of temples be reduced. According to another story, the temple was brought to the western outskirts of Elista to mark Kalmyk land. After the land reforms in Russia, Russian peasants in great numbers were coming to Kalmykia.
When Purdash bagsh became its abbot, the temple received a new lease of life. Having carried out two pilgrimages to Tibet (from 1898 to 1900 and from 1902 to 1904), Purdash bagsh brought from Tibet various relics loaded on 12 horses. Believers flocked to the temple from all parts of Kalmykia. According to Muromtsev who was a student at St Petersburg University at that time, in 1913, out of 70 relics that were kept at the temple 30 were unique.
One can read about Purdash bagsh’s pilgrimages in his Journeys of the Kalmyk Monk Purdash Dzhungruev to Tibet translated into Russian by Andrei Rudnev and Sanj Bayanov. A copy of this book is today kept at the local library in the village of Khar-Buluk.
When in 1929 the temple was closed, its big relics were handed over to other temples, but smaller relics were put into three sacks and given to a local woman called Goga. In 1942 when the Germans occupied the village, the relics were buried. Although it is known that they were unearthed after the Germans retreated, what happened to the relics next is unknown.
During the deportation of the Kalmyks, Goga and her granddaughter managed to take the statue of the Panchen Lama IV with them. The statue of the Dalai Lama V was kept by the Boldyrevs. In Siberia the Dalai Lama’s statue, however, was damaged. One day when the commandant of the settlement was passing by their house the Boldyrevs threw the statue into the oven in panic and damaged it. After exile, when the statue was brought back to Kalmykia a lama told the Boldyrevs that they should not keep a statue that is damaged. After performing a special ritual, the statue was left in a spring somewhere.
At the beginning of 1990 the elders of the Bogdakhin clan decided to open a prayer house in the old gym. The first abbot of the prayer house was Ochir Boldyrev. Every morning the elders lit candles and read prayers. In 1998 the Bogdo Gegyan visited the prayer house, read prayers and said that a new temple would be built on its spot. Later a local businessman helped upgrade the prayer house into a temple.
Galina Yavanova, About the Bogdakhin Clan
According to a legend, the Dalai Lama V and the Panchen Lama IV gave the Kalmyk people a mobile temple as a present. A group of Kalmyks (who were founders of the Bogdakhin clan) were given a task to protect that temple on its way from Tibet to Kalmykia. On their way, these Kalmyks met an oracle who gave them a flower seed and asked them to plant it. ‘When the flower blooms’, the oracle said, ‘look for a special sign on its petals’. As requested, the Kalmyks planted the seed in a pot. Soon it grew and the time came when the flower was about to open its petals. But the flower bloomed when the Kalmyks were all asleep. The pilgrims who had stayed with them the previous night had picked the precious flower and taken it away. After hearing what had happened, the monk of that temple said to that group of Kalmyks that they and their descendants would always give their labour to others for free. This prophecy turned out to be true. The descendant of those Kalmyks, who came to comprise the Bogdakhin clan, have always worked for others.
The Bogdakhin clan has another legend or prophecy which is kept in secret and only a chosen number of its members knows about the content. This legend has to stay secret, because if an outsider learns about it the prophecy will never materialize.
Galina Yavanova, Legends of the Bogdakhin Clan
Garya talks about the history of his clan and place.
This place/village is called Gashun-Burgusta. We, Noynakhn people, live in this village. Our clan (angi) consists of eight sub-clans (torl). Our elders explain the name of our clan as follows. In the past, the noyon (lord) Danzan was riding across the steppe in search of a good pastureland. He had a big entourage, including his bodyguards and service people. When he reached this place of Gashun-Burgusta, he stopped for a rest for a couple of days. He liked this place. Afterwards, he visited Ketchenery which he also liked. After the lord left, the elders met to discuss what to do. Since the place was consecrated by the visits of a high lord and lamas, the elders decided to name themselves Noynakhn (meaning ‘people of the lord’). The name Ketchenery derives from the Kalmyk word ketch meaning ‘service people’. I asked many elderly Ketchener people about the plausibility of this etymology, and many approved it. I am now 87. We all grew up in Soviet times. When we reached an age when we started to understand things, the Soviets had already destroyed the temples. Back then we were boys of 12 or so, and we witnessed everything. Soon the Soviet power consolidated and we lived in a country without temples and religion. We cannot say exactly how things were before. We can only relay what we have heard from the elders and what we saw when we were young.
In the past in this place there was a kolkhoz named Krasnyi Partizan (Red Partisan) which bred livestock, grew vegetables, ploughed land. It was a good kolkhoz though. In the past there was an asphalt road running here from the village of Divnoe, but today it has disappeared. It was our kolkhoz that built that road. People from all parts of Kalmykia came here to build that road. There were other asphalted roads in Ketchenery and Zyod. Our kolkhoz helped to build these roads as well.
Gashun-Burgusta is also the name of our river. The water in the river is sour, that is why it is named gashun (meaning ‘sour’ in Kalmyk). In Ketchenerovskiy rayon there is a river called Amtta Burgusta where the water is sweet (amtta means ‘delicious, sweet’ in Kalmyk). The deity-protector of our clan is Buddha Shakyamuni. The Noynakhn clan keeps the statue of Buddha Shakyamuni. In 1943 when the Kalmyks were sent into exile, one old man from our clan hid this statue underneath his cloth and smuggled it with him to Siberia. After 13 years in Siberia the statue returned to Kalmykia along with the Kalmyks. Now this statue is in our house. We also have statues of Manjushri, Green Tara and Tsongkapa. I will tell you why the statue of Buddha Shakyamuni is in our house. My wife’s uncle studied Buddhism along with Namka Ochirov, whose younger sister is my mother-in-law. That is why the statue ended up in our house. My wife lights candles in front of the statue, we all bow to it, read prayers. Our clan lives well.
Garya Naminov, About the Noynakhn Clan (Angi)
In this interview Ivan talks about the Derbets, and his sub-clan.
Ivan: The Derbets live in Maloderbetovskiy rayon. Many years ago there was an old man who had two sons. The youngest son stayed to live with his father, whereas the oldest son left his parent in search of new land. He set off in the direction of the village of Bashanta, where he settled. Today his descendants are known as Iki (Big) Derbets. The descendants of the youngest son are Bag (Small) Derbets.
The Torghuts have mixed with Tatars, Kazakhs and Russians. The Derbets, by contrast, have mixed with other nationalities less, except the Russians. In contrast with the Torghuts, the Derbets are calmer. The Torghuts are quicker, smarter and more courageous. I am myself from Shorvin Kets. There are two Kets, including Mantsin Kets and Shorvin Kets.
Question: In Shorvin Kets which clan are you from?
Q: Which sub-clan (torl) in Shabiner are you from?
Ivan: Deed Lamykhn.
Q: Which grouping/family (arvn) inside Deed Lamykhn do you belong to?
Ivan: The Shabiner consist of either nine or six sub-clans. I do not know the exact number. I know only six sub-clans: Ik Khurla Shabiner (they live in the village of Arshan’-Zel’men’), Dund Khurla Shabiner (they live in the village of Khanata), Bag Khurla Shabiner, Shabiner Deed Lam (or Deed Lamykhn), Bagshin Shabiner (they live in the cattle farm No 1 of the Sukhotinskiy sovkhoz), Bag Mal Shabiner (they live in the cattle farm No 2 of Stepnoi sovkhoz). In the past, the Bag Mal Shabiner were the most numerous sub-clan. Today they are the least numerous, because many of them have left their place. The young people are getting interested in their genealogy. People should know their ancestors up to seven generations back. After the seventh generation, people are considered ‘distant kin’ (torlmud).
Ivan Modunkaev, The Derbets
Kheecha talks about his genealogy, the composition of the Bag Chonos clan, historical people and the relics of his clan.
Kheecha: I am from Avgnr grouping (arvn) of the Bag Chonos clan. My ancestors are Tek, Bamba, Zamba, Van’ka, Sandzhi and Aduchi. Aduchi is my father. My son’s name is Sergei and his son is Sanal. The Bag Chonos is an ancient clan, whose founder was brought up by a wolf. In the Bag Chonos clan we have eight arvn groupings: the Kharnud, Sharnud, Avgnr, Khozhilmud, Kelkd Arvn, Gonchkud, Marlakhn and Khadrgs.
Question: Could you tell us about the lords (zaisang) of your clan?
Kheecha: There was a zaisang named Emba. His two-storey house still stands near the spring. This building was used as a school and then a boarding school. Emba married a Russian girl from Astrakhan gubernia, but they did not have children. One day a big prayer was held in which lamas read prayers so that Emba’s Russian wife left her Kalmyk husband of her own accord. As a result, the Russian woman did not quarrel with anyone and left her husband quietly, taking with her only her black cat.
Q: Why did she take a black cat?
Kheecha: Maybe the lamas read special prayers to this effect, who knows. Afterwards, the Kalmyk lord was poisoned by Gypsies.
Q: Do you know anything about Lora and Maani from the Bag Chonos clan?
Kheecha: I myself saw Lora Aduchiev in 1958. In 1934 when the Germans occupied Kalmykia, he opened a temple. He was a learned man.
Q: Do you know about Maani?
Kheecha: Maani healed me when I had a fever, but I do not remember him. He lived in a place called Tsagan Elsn.
Q: Where did the Bag Chonos clan live?
Kheecha: The land of this clan is the kolkhoz Balkovskiy, sovkhoz Zapadnyi, Ar Nur (where Anatoliy Kichikov lived), and Shatta. The Bag Chonos is not a populous clan anymore.
Q: What does your clan’s stamp look like, the one you stamp the animals with?
Kheecha: It looks like a square with a cross in the middle. We put this stamp on horses, cows and camels.
Q: What are the olgts (colours) of your clan?
Kheecha: Each arvn grouping has its colour. During weddings we in our arvn use red, white and blue ribbons or threads.
Q: Who is your deity-protector?
Kheecha: White Tara.
Q: Do you have old statues of gods?
Kheecha: When the Kalmyks were deported to Siberia, an old Russian man called Egor Danilovich Sinarev from the sovkhoz Zapadnyi kept all our statues until we returned from the exile. He was Russian, but spoke Kalmyk. He was also a Communist, an atheist, but kept our statues. He handed them over to Nyudlchi Gil’dzhiev who in his turn gave them to Zhizha Ochirov who passed them on to the Lidzhievs. We received these statues from the Lidzhievs.
Q: Do you keep these statues in your clan’s temple now?
Kheecha: Pel’dzhi Byurchiev handed them over to the temple.
Q: Do you perform rituals to appease the spiritual lords of lands and waters?
Kheecha: We performed such rituals near the spring or on the hilltop. After these rituals it rains. Today nobody does it anymore.
Kheecha Sandzhiev, About the Bag Chonos Clan
In this interview Konstantin talks about the history and composition of the Bagud clan.
Konstantin: Our clan, Bagud, descends from the younger brother of Ayuka Khan. Ayuka Khan had many sons, and his youngest son was Galdan Danzhin who contested with his older brother for the throne. After an unsuccessful assassination attempt on his older brother, Galdan Danzhin fled to a place near Saratov. He ordered his subjects not to reveal their affiliation but to say that they simply were people ‘of the youngest brother’. Bagud means ‘youngest’ in Kalmyk. In fact, we belong to the larger clan of Keryad which consists of Iki Keryad, Bag Keryad, Keryad and Bagud. Galdan Danzhin had three sons: his oldest son was Batla, the middle son was Doida, and the youngest was Erdni. When half of the Kalmyks returned to Dzungaria in 1771, Erdni was among them. Today his descendants live in a place called Xing in Xinjiang. In Kalmykia the Batla people lived in Batlayevskaya stanitsa. Doida, who moved to Lagan, had two sons, namely Khavtkha and Sharsa. Sharsa’s mother was a Tatar woman. When his two sons started to quarrel to inherit their father’s title, Doida, an old man by then, divided his people into three groups. The descendants of these three groups came to be known as Ik Bagud, Shars Bagud and Doida Bagud. There is another group among us called Shine Bagud (meaning ‘New Bagud’) who joined us later, and worshipped our gods.
Question: Which sub-group do you belong to?
Konstantin: I am from Doida Bagud. Inside we divide into arvn groupings, including the Arshakhn, Manzhikhn, Khamrakhn and Chavgakhn. I am from the Khamrakhn arvn. In the past, the arvns lived together. Even today in Lagan our street is home to Khamrakhn people. The next street is where Arshakhn people live. We know each other from childhood. When we started school, I remember children asking each other: ‘Which arvn are you from?’
Konstantin Naktanov, About the Bagud Clan
My husband’s clan is called al’chkud. The Karmanovs, the Kardonovs, the Basangovs, the Shovarikovs are the members of this clan. There is another clan called bokin aldrmud, their members are the Bembeevs. The other clans are baatr choktyankhn, their members are the Lantsynovs, baldrmud – the Mandzhievs, khasgud – the Shovunovs and the Khakhlashovs, bazgudakhn – the Muzraevs.
Ksenia Kardonova, The Names of Clans That Live in Dogzmakin
The Ik Khurul (Big Temple) was situated in the village of Arshan’-Zel’men’, the Dund Khurul (Middle Temple) in the village of Khanata and Ungn Teryachi, and the Bag Khurul (Small Temple) near Khargata lake. Among them the Bag Khurul had the smallest territory.
According to a legend, the three temples were built by three brothers (there is also a version according to which, the founders were a father and his two sons). Upon receiving the smallest territory and the smallest inheritance, the youngest brother, who had a magical power to jump on his horseback to the skies, became cross with his father. In order to lure his youngest son back home, one day the old father pretended to be ill and called all his three sons to come and visit him. ‘For me to? recover’, the father asked his sons, ‘I need you to kill a 6-year old bull, and boil its meat until only a cup of soup remains’. Two older brothers could not accomplish the task, while it was the youngest brother who could, because he had extraordinary powers.
Lidzhi also says that in the territory of the Ik Khurul lived the Deed Lamakhn clan. The representatives of this clan were also powerful and they could call in the rain and controlled thunder as well as other aerial phenomenon.
During meetings, people from the Ik and Dund Khurul always sit in more respectable places. Those from the Bag Khurul should show their respects to the two ‘older’ clans.
Lidzhi Amikov, A Legend About the Origins of Ik, Dund and Bag Khurul
The video contains an interview with Maria where she talks about the Derbets. Being a Derbet herself, she talks about her place of birth, exile, and about the Derbets of Kalmykia and Mongolia.
Maria: We have the Buzavas, the Torghuts, and the Derbets. The Derbets are divided into Big Derbets (who live in Gorodovikovskiy rayon) and Small Derbets (who live in Maloderbetovskiy rayon). The customs of the Torghuts who live in Gorodovikovskiy rayon have a Russian influence. We have a saying that Torghuts of each settlement have their own customs. By contrast, we, Derbets, have retained our Kalmyk customs in purity.
I was born in Malye Derbety where I grew up and from where I was sent to exile in Siberia. After exile, I returned to my native place of Khanata. There I lived, worked, and retired. When my children moved to Elista, I followed them here.
People never forget their native place however far away they may be. Whenever something happens in Malye Derbety, we always go there. Now in Khanata they are building a Buddhist temple. When prayers are held there, we all go. In the past, many talented people lived in our village, some of whom composed songs. By contrast, today people cannot compose new songs, but they sing old songs and melodies.
Today Kalmyk clans have mixed with each other. Torghut girls married Derbet boys, and Derbet girls married Torghut guys. We are all united under the name of Kalmyk. During exile we could not call ourselves Kalmyk. Missing their native land, old men would cry. Many of them died in Siberia. Now that we are back in our native land, we are really happy. You see, temples are being erected and science is developing in our republic. We are witnessing what our elders could only dream of. We pray for our dead elders and live happily with our children.
Q: Can you talk about Derbets of Mongolia? What are the differences and similarities (between Kalmyk and Mongolian Derbets)?
Maria: A long time ago Kalmyks lived in Mongolia. After a Civil War broke out, those who got the chance migrated, but many were left behind. This is how we were divided into two groups. Only now we begin to learn about it, about our relationship with them. When I went to Mongolia, I told everyone there that I am a Derbet and that I came to see my relatives. We have common roots, but due to historical separation we have developed different ways of life. Every year people from Mongolia come here, we also go there. We call each other brothers.
Maria Mukhlaeva, The Derbets
There are no pure clans among Kalmyks, only mixed ones. My clan of Kazhikhn belongs to Abganer, which is a bigger clan. As Erdniev wrote, among the Kazhikhn there are also Merkits, which is another clan. Each Kalmyk clan had its own land, lords (noyons) and temple. The Chonos clan was the biggest landowner, comprising 6-7 large settlements. Kalmyks had a semi-nomadic way of life.
I lived in Matrosovo village. The Chonos clan is comprised of many families, including the Menkenovs, Dzhapovs, Marminovs, Seperovs, Setenovs, Shurginovs, Zurumkhinovs, Bembeevs and others.
One Alexei Chudenov of the Chonos clan went to war when he was 16, killed four Germans with a shovel, for which he received a medal. He was sent to Siberia with his medal. There when he went to register at the commandant’s office, the commandant did not believe that a young Kalmyk guy could have a medal and accused him of theft. Alexei picked up a bench and smashed the head of the commandant, which killed him. For this he could have been shot. Alexei fled on a train to Western Ukraine to his uncle Zurumkhinov, where he had himself recorded as a Bashkir and lived until 1992 under the surname Soloviev. He could not receive his medal back from the military enlistment office until he changed his surname back to Chudenov.
Mikhail Erentsenov, About Clans of Bolshederbetovskiy Ulus
Nadvid recounts two legends about Gyunktn (Solong Donru) and Zhizhetn bagshi.
Question: Could you tell us about Dundu Khurul? How were the Ik, Dundu and Bag Khurul temples built?
Nadvid: People from these three khurul were all subjects of lord Chitrt who had two sons, Avdzha and Gyunktn. Gyunktn is his later name when he became famous, but his original name was Solong Donru. According to a story, it was predicted that Solong Donru would defeat three evils, including a black wolf, a black castle and a black snake. This prediction was fulfilled. After his last victory over the black snake, he was on his way home, accompanied by 12 warriors. Solong Donru ordered that his warriors galloped ahead, saying that he would catch up with them later. Left behind, Solong Donru, however, died from the snake’s poison. Worried, the next day the warriors sent one of them back to find their lord. When the warrior arrived at the place where they had previously left Solong Donru, he saw a house, and inside there was a boy sitting on the floor playing with ankle bones. That boy, in fact, was the reincarnation of Solong Donru. The moment the warrior looked at the boy, he disappeared without a trace. Unable to complete his reincarnation, thus Solong Donru died forever, and with him the name of his clan died out. All this happened because Solong Donru’s warriors did not listen to him, and interrupted his reincarnation process.
Solong Donru’s older brother Avdzha was a rather simple man. Despite this, he received from his father many people, while Solong Donru, when he was still alive, received only 10 households. Solong Donru became cross with his father. Pretending to be sick, one day his father called Solong Donru and asked his son to cook soup from the frozen leg of a bull. When Solong Donru broke the leg into small pieces with his bare hand, his father said: ‘You see, you are such a strong man, which your older brother is not. People will follow you’. As it was predicted, soon eight arvns, consisting of about 200 people, followed Solong Donru. Dundu Khurul has 16 arvns, Ik Khurul has 8 arvns. I also heard people refer to Ik Khurul as ‘Akh Khurul’ or ‘Etsk Khurul’ (meaning ‘older brother or father Khurul’).
Q: Could you tell us about places where people perform clan rituals? How did settlements come about?
Nadvid: Dundu Khurul was founded by a powerful Khambo Lama (who educated 300 lamas). The Khambo Lama allocated land among people and appointed elders/heads (akh) to each nomadic settlement. The head of our arvn, called Lamyn arvn, was an old man, Muuzra Lavtsanov, whom I knew. Today there is no one from his family. His last descendant was a woman who was the mother-in-law of Vaska Tsebekov. Dundu Khurul, as I said, consists of 16 arvns.
There was one wise lama called Zhizhetn bagshi who was from Dundu Khurul. He wanted Shemnr arvn people to live separately from the others. When Zhizhetn was 16, he was among the 30-people strong Kalmyk delegation that set off to Tibet. Since he was the youngest lama of the getsul rank, he walked at the very end of the delegation and ate the leftovers. When the delegation entered Tibet, they saw a white house whose owner was the grandfather of the Dalai Lama. The delegation spent the night in that house, and the next day continued on their journey to the capital of Tibet. In the morning, the Dalai Lama’s grandfather sent off his guest, but asked Zhizhetn to stay in the house. When the rest of the Kalmyks had gone, the grandfather gave Zhizhetn his white horse to ride it to Lhasa. On this horse Zhizhetn reached Lhasa a week earlier than the rest of his delegation. In Lhasa, the Dalai Lama was duly informed of the appearance of a foreigner riding the horse that belonged to his grandfather. During his audience with the Dalai Lama, Zhizhetn told him his story. Zhizhetn spent about six years studying in Tibet, becoming a lama. One hot summer he and his classmates set out on a trip across Tibet. They became thirsty, and entered a house where they were offered tea by a couple of girls. As the students drank tea, the small teapot would get replenished by itself. Then one of the girls handed over her cup with tea to Zhizhetn, to which he angrily commented: ‘I have never drunk leftover tea from other men’s cups, let alone from women’s cups’. The girl only said: ‘Study well and you will become a great teacher, but because of a woman one day you will lose your position’. Zhizhetn only waved away at her. Upon his return to Kalmykia, Zhizhetn was appointed as abbot of the Dundu Khurul Temple and started to build new temples. One day a group of people, including Zhizhetn, went to pay their respects to one Kalmyk lord. Since the lord held Zhizhetn in high regard, he invited the lama to sleep in his own tent. At night Zhizhetn woke up to see a snake crawling towards the lord’s wife who was sleeping on the floor in front of her husband’s bed. Seeing that the snake bit the woman, Zhizhetn jumped off his bed and set out sucking the poison out of the woman’s cheek with his mouth. The lord soon woke up to see the lama, as it seemed to him, kiss his wife. Although his wife explained the situation, the lord refused to believe her and ordered that the lama be executed. Zhizhetn dashed out of the tent. He died on the run, and was buried in Khomutnikovo. The two girls who offered tea to Zhizhetn and his classmates in Tibet were White and Green Tara.
Nadvid Ubushiev, Legends About Gyunktn (Solong Donru) and Zhizhetn Bagshi
Nikolai talks about his clan, its history, place of habitat and famous people from his clan (including the lama Baazra bagshi, the lama Zhizhetn bagshi, and others). This is his story:
I, Nikolai Edlyaevich Oshaev, am from Lamyn arvn (grouping) of the Shabiner clan of Dundu Khurul. I would like to tell you about my arvn, which descends from three brothers. Our Lamyn arvn (meaning ‘arvn of lamas’) derives its name from the fact that many lamas came out from our arvn. The Khambo Lama of Three Hundred Disciples, who was from our arvn, built the Dundu Khurul Temple. The most famous among our lamas was Baazra bagshi. He was born in 1846. When he was six, his father sent him to a temple. Being a smart student, Baazra was quickly promoted. In 1891 he travelled to Tibet, taking with him a document that had been brought to Kalmykia by Zhizhetn 135 years earlier. A person who had this document was obliged to travel to Tibet for an audience with the Dalai Lama three times in seven years. So, with this document Baazra bagshi came to see the Dalai Lama XIII. In the two years that he spent in Tibet Baazra bagshi visited all major temples, making notes of his travel. In Tibet Baazra bagshi was acknowledged as the reincarnation of Tsongkapa and received gifts, including 103 volumes of Ganjur, from the Dalai Lama. Baazra bagshi boarded the boat ‘Saratov’ in China that took the route Singapore – Constantinople – Odessa. In Odessa he got on a train to Sarepta from where he arrived in Kalmykia. Based on his journey notebooks, he wrote a book, which was printed in Russian by Andrei Pozdneev in 1896. Following the publication of this book, Baazra bagshi was elected a member of the Russian Geographical Society. In 1902 Baazra bagshi sent his robe to the exhibition of traditional dresses held in St Petersburg, after which his dress was handed over to the Russian Museum in the same city. For his contribution to the exhibition Baazra bagshi received a Silver Medal. After the Bolshevik takeover of the power, Dundu Khurul was headed by three lamas, all from Lamyn arvn, including Suuman Gavsh bagshi, Monkin Bor bagshi and Ovsh Ernzhene bagshi.
There were many famous people from Dundu Khurul. For example, Gavril Davaev joined the Red Army in 1939, and fought in the Far East, for which he received the Medal of Red Star and the Medal of the First Rank. After the war, in 1947 he went to Siberia in search of his family (in 1943 the Kalmyk people were sent into exile to Central Asia and Siberia). When the Kalmyks were allowed to return to Kalmykia, in 1957 Gavril Davaev worked as the director of a secondary school, and in 1963 he became an Honoured Teacher.
Another famous people from Dundu Khurul are the writer Aleksei Badmaev, the Hero of Socialist Labour Gakha Andreev, the receiver of all three Medals of Glory Khutsa Sandzhiev, the receiver of the Medal of Red Banner of Labour Donda Nadvidov, Sandzhi Badmaev, the writer Nadvid Ubushiev, the dean of the Biological Faculty of the Kalmyk State University Nina Lidzhieva.
Today on the territory of Dundu Khurul we have a temple dedicated to the lama Tsongkapa, which was built by Zungru lama from Lamyn arvn.
Before the exile in 1943, in Kalmykia people from Lamyn arvn lived in three villages, including Ik Khoton, Bichkn Khoton and Manzhin Kol. The total number of families in these villages was about 50. After the war, the number of families in Lamyn arvn was 82, and the head of the arvn was Muzra Lantsaev. Today Lamyn arvn has 130 families, excluding families headed by single parents.
In 1719 when lord Chitrt divided his property and people among his three sons. The oldest son Chagdr received 780 families (today their descendants live in Arshan’- Zel’men’), the middle son received 1000 families (today they live in Khanata, Zurgan and Teryachi), and the youngest son received 250 families (they live in Malye Derbety). The sons built a temple each. The subjects of the oldest son were named Ik Khurul people, that of the middle son – Dundu Khurul, and the people of the youngest son came to be known as Bag Khurul people. Dundu Khurul consists of 16 arvn groupings. In 1852 there were four wooden buildings on the territory of Dundu Khurul. The first wooden building was built by the Germans who came from Sarepta. The biggest temple housed the Buddha Monkin Zu. The second wooden building was a temple dedicated to Tsongkapa. The third temple was that of Zhizhetn bagshi, and the fourth temple housed a prayer wheel.
The temple of Zhizhetn bagshi has the following story. In 1756 a Kalmyk delegation of 60 people set off for Tibet. Among them were 30 people from Dundu Khurul, including a 16-year old lama named Tevkya. Having studied for six years in Tibet, this lama received the name of Zhizhetn bagshi from the Dalai Lama himself and was acknowledged as the reincarnation of Mahakala. The Dalai Lama also gave him gifts, including 108 volumes of Ganjur, five statues of Buddhas, books and a special document with a stamp. Any person who had that document was supposed to come to see the Dalai Lama three times in seven years. 135 years on, Baazra bagshi took that document and went to see the Dalai Lama in Tibet.
During World War Two many men from Dundu Khurul joined the Red Army, and many returned home with medals and honours, including Ivan Zhigreev who was the personal adjutant to the Marshal of the Soviet Union Konstantin Rokossovskiy.
Today the following people from our arvn are Doctors of Science: Pyurvya Erdniev, Evdokia Khabunova, Nina Lidzhieva, Boris Okonov, Muutl Okonov, and others. There are famous architects and sculptors as well.
Nikolai Oshaev, About Lamyn Arvn
Pavel relays a legend about the origin of his clan, and talks about the composition and some unique characteristics of his clan. This is his story:
In the past, when two Kalmyks would meet in the steppe they would ask each other the following set of questions: ‘Who are you? What place are you from? Which clan do you belong to?’ If someone asked me these questions, I would have said: ‘I am from Malyi Derbet, from the clan of Batrgud of Khashkhnr aimak, from a place called Mantsin Kets. I am the youngest son of Sandzhi Antonov’. Today we do not follow this tradition any more. Khashkhnr aimak lives in the village of Verkhniy Yashkul’ in Tselinnyi rayon. Each aimak has legends. Ours is as follows.
Once upon a time on a hill there lived a boy named Khashkh who was protected by a god called Och Cheedzhi. One day Khashkh descended from the hill, got married and had seven sons who were the founders of the seven clans, namely the Batrgud, Baazhdud, Choludikhn, Chavgud, Kitdud, Syadud and Momngud.
I am from the clan of Batrgud. Och Cheedzhi is still the protector of the Khashkhnr aimak. We worship this god. Since he is a furious god, we do not include vodka in our offerings to him. We have a custom to make offerings on a hill in which only men are allowed to participate. Women from our aimak cannot go to the top of hills. We do not utter the word tolga (Kalm. ‘the top of hill’), but use another word instead – e.g. ora. For us it is forbidden to dig hills. Each clan in our aimak has its tradition. When we go to weddings to other places, we say beforehand that we do not use a sheep’s head as an offering (to gods, which is widespread among other Kalmyk clans).
Pavel Antonov, About My Clan
In this interview Ulyumdzhi talks about the Chonos clan, including its history, composition, and a legend about its origin.
Ulyumdzhi: I will talk briefly about the Chonos. The Chonos came from north-western Mongolia a long time ago. Our ancestors still live there. We have a relationship between Kalmykia and Mongolia. A couple of years ago about ten Mongolian students came to study in Kalmykia. When our ancestors left Dzungaria (for what is today Kalmykia) there were 30,000 warriors among them, and each warrior had five family members on average. Having lived here in the Volga region, some of them later returned to Dzungaria. When I was in Xinjiang, China, people addressed me as ‘older brother’ (akh). In Xinjiang people speak Kalmyk well. One day after when we had vodka together, they started to tease me by asking: ‘Why did you come here? Is it because the Volga is already small for you?’ I was in Mongolia last year. I travelled with a Mongolian guy whose father was a member of the Central Committee of Mongolia. His father celebrated his 75th birthday last year. That Mongolian guy was a smart one, and we talked with each other all the way to Mongolia. He told me that the number of Derbets is small in Xinjiang, which I know from my trip there.
In the early spring of 1771 the Kalmyk Ubashi Khan moved to the left bank of the Volga (to flee to Dzungaria), but our ancestors remained trapped on the right bank, because the ice was melting in the river. On his way to Dzungaria, Ubashi Khan had to fight the Kazakhs, to bribe them. The Kazakhs also poisoned the water along his route. In Kazakhstan there are Kalmyk diasporas that descended from the Kalmyks who stayed among the Kazakhs back then. When the Kalmyks were moving back to their historical motherland, their flanks were defended by Derbets who died in large numbers because of hostile raids.
With regard to the Iki Chonos and Bag Chonos clans. These two clans descended from two brothers. Historically, the former comprised 4,500 families, whereas the latter had 800 families. Today the number of Bag Chonos population is bigger than that of Iki Chonos.
Question: How many arvns are there in the Iki Chonos clan?
Ulyumdzhi: Seven, including the Khasgud, Boodshnr, Syan Avgnr, Mu Avgnr, Yandyg Arvan, Orud Arvan, and others. The Baga Chonos has 11 arvns, including a Russian one called Molokanovy, if I am not mistaken. There is one story about the origin of the two clans. A long time ago a Kalmyk settlement was raided by enemies, and all the people were killed, except for two brothers. A female wolf found these brothers and brought them up. The descendants of these two brothers came to be known as Iki Chonos (Big Wolves) and Bag Chonos (Small Wolves). These are ancient clans known to have existed in the times of Chingis Khan.
Ulyumdzhi Mandzhiev, About the Chonos Clan
Vera talks about her clan, its history, composition, legends and people. This is her story:
Our clan of Bagshin Shabiner is now called Bagshin Shabiner of Elista. In the past, our ancestors lived in the territory of Plodovitoe village. Today Bagshin Shabiner of Tyunguta, who are related to our clan, live there. In the past these two clans were one. Under the Tsarist regime, peasants from the Voronezh province, the Central Chernozemelskiy district, and from Ukraine were brought to the Kalmyk land. This created a shortage of land to graze livestock. In relation to this, there is a legend about how our clan was divided. When there was a shortage of pasture land, the men of our clan set out on a search of a new land. That is how they found the land where we live today. Today our village is called Shin-Mer. In order to move to the new land, our ancestors had to get permission to do so from the Tsarist government. Why is our clan called Bagshin Shabiner? Because we were servants (in Kalmyk ‘shabiner’ means ‘servants of a Buddhist temple’). Our ancestors served in the temples, looked after the temple livestock, and read prayers. Here is how our ancestors obtained that permit. In our family we had an ancestor who was a learned monk. Sick people from different places came to see him for treatment. At that time, a Russian man who worked for the Astrakhan governor had a son who stopped walking. That official took his son to various doctors, but no one could cure him. As a last resort, that official approached our ancestor who cured the crippled boy by using Tibetan herbs. As a reward, the Astrakhan official signed a special permission for us to move to another place.
In our clan we had a temple, which was housed in two tents. We were organized nomadically into 5 khotons (nomadic settlements) each of which had an arvn (lineage) The names of the 5 arvn lineages are as follows: Etyasud, Mongl, Kovud, Zod, and Avgnr Shevnr. Our ancestors also raided Russian peasant settlements in Central Russia to steal livestock. By doing this in the new land, our ancestors gradually pushed out the Russian peasants. As a result, the Russians abducted two of our monks and took them to Kazan. On the way, the monks came across a Kalmyk boy whom they told to deliver the following message to the rest of our clan: ‘Don’t get offended (for us being abducted). Don’t move anywhere from your current place’. Hence, we still live in the same land.
We had a lot of good people in our clan. Although many did not have a formal education, they were wise and talented people, including Basanov Baatr Mandzhievich (Hero of the Soviet Union), Ochirov Boris Dorzhievich (Hero of Socialist Labor), Kekeev Sergey Mandzhievich (holder of three Orders of Labor Glory), Viktoria Bambaeva (poet), Kushev Zamba Erendzhenovich (song writer) and many others.
Vera Povaeva, Stories About the Bagshin Shevnr Clan
Yuriy recounts a legend about the origin of his maternal lineage.
This happened sometime in the 18th or 19th century, during the reign of tsar Paul I, when order in the Kalmyk land was being restored after the exodus of the Kalmyks to Dzungaria. A nobleman from Iki Tsokhur arrived at our settlement and stopped at the tent of the widow of our nobleman. He stayed there for a week or so and then left. After his departure, in 9 months the widow gave birth to a son, who was named Baavin Khar. That is how the Khoshut tribe acquired a new arvn (lineage) named after Baavin Khar. My mother is from this lineage.
Yuriy Nurdaev, A Legend About the Origin of the Baavin-Khar Clan
In this short interview, Zoya talks about the history of the Derbets and compares them with Torghuts in terms of their respective dialects, customs and dress.
Zoya: A long time ago, Kalmyks lived in Dzungaria among other peoples including the Mongols, the Uighurs, the Bashkirs, and the Buryats. Since there was not enough land for everyone to graze their livestock, some Torghuts and Derbets decided to migrate to the banks of the Volga. The Derbets were headed by Khan Dalai-Batyr. Later the Derbets divided into Bag Derbet and Iki Derbet. Today Bag Derbets live in Ketchenerovskiy, Iki-Burulskiy, Tselinniy, Oktyabrskiy, Maloderbetovskiy, and Sarpinskiy rayons. Iki Derbets, by contrast, live in Gorodovikovskiy and Yashaltinskiy rayons.
Q: Are the Derbets different from other sub-ethnic groups in Kalmykia?
Zoya: We are different from the Torghuts with regard to our dialect. If in their dialect words are pronounced softly, in the Derbet dialect we have more reduced vowels and consonants. That is how I hear it anyway. Also, we have different rituals. For example, during weddings Torghuts put a scarf over the head of their brides. By contrast, we do not do this.
Q: Are the Derbets and the Torghuts different in terms of character?
Zoya: Probably different. People say that Torghuts are more cunning, whereas Derbets are more straightforward
Q: Are Derbet costumes different from those of the Torghut?
Zoya: They are the same, not different.