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Of Gods and Goddesses

At the intersection of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and China, there rises a stunning, pyramid-shaped peak called Khan-Tengri.  

The name of this peak comes from the Turkic god of sky and creation: Tengri.  The pantheon of Turkic gods of which Tengri ruled was worshiped by people throughout the Central Asian region, from Turkey across to parts of Russia and Mongolia.   A nomadic people, deeply connected to the natural world, it is no surprise that there was a strong belief in a pantheon of gods who ruled over the different elements of the earth and sky.  

A few of the primary deities include:

  • Tengri, the supreme deity, was the god of the sky and creation.  On occasion Kyrgyz people would sacrifice horses, a prized possession, in attempts to sway his will.  With mountain peaks reaching up into an eternal expanse of sky and the heavenly majesty of the celestial lights, it is easy to understand the worship of the sky.  The sky, from which come the rain, the snow, the sun, and the moon.  From the sky comes the anger of thunder, the promise of rain.  The sky brings the warmth and power of the sun, and so too from the sky comes the restoring blankets of snow under which the earth can slip into a deep slumber.  
  • Umai, the goddess of earth and fertility, received supplications and sacrifices around the time of harvest, and during the cycle of births.   She represents the mother figure, and all organic life that relies on the nutrients of the earth are said to come from her.  
  • Erlik/Erglig, the god of the underworld, is said to roam the earth, looking for souls.  He is the balance to Tengri, and one of the oldest gods in the pantheon.

A list of all the gods can be seen in this blog from fairychamber

The gods of the Turkic pantheon are not so prevalent in Kyrgyz religious practice today, but the reverence for the natural elements prevails.  Ask youth of the current generation about Tengri and Umai and they will likely not be able to tell you much, but bring up environmental concerns or an admiration for Kyrgyzstan’s beauty and a deep resonance will result.  Snow and sun are loved with equal passion.  Flowers, trees, and water are pursued for their beauty.  Care for animals and children is of the highest priority.  A instinctual attunement to the seasons and agriculture resembles the Native American’s development of a lunar calendar.

Perhaps lasting evidence of Kyrgyz connection to the Turkic pantheon is seen in the use of the symbol for Tengri, or Tengrism.  It is reflected in the most Kyrgyz of symbols: the tunduk.  Situated at the top of the boz-ui, the tunduk represents the sun, the months, and the four seasons.  This cross-shaped symbol is used on the national flag and prevalent in decor throughout the country.  

Ruby Mitchell

Online Content Editor @ White Leopard Travel Co.

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