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    Learning Through Doing: Visiting Real Sabantuy in Bashkir Republic

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    A day at a traditional Bashkir Sabantuy was definitely the highlight of our visit of the Bashkir Republic, the land of rolling hills, treacherous rivers and friendly people.

    Nikolai with his dog Pastushok leaving Moscow
    © Photo : Nikolai Pavlov
    Sabantuy is a Tatar and Bashkir annual summer holiday that marks the end of the sowing season. Sabantuy, which means the plough’s feast in Turkic languages of the Volga Region, initially was a farming festival celebrated in rural areas, but nowadays it’s a widespread national holiday celebrated by everyone well beyond the Bashkir and Tatar Republics.

    A Sabantuy that we visited was held on a large field near two farming communities in the rural Krasnousolskiy District of the Bashkir Republic. The flat field, surrounded by a forest and a river was a perfect spot for a Sabantuy: it had enough space for a wooden platform used as a stage for singers and dancers of the festival and a Maydan, a space where traditional sporting events were held.

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    The musical part of the festival was a fascinating concert with various performers. Traditional Chuvash songs were followed by Bashkir dancing and a Cossack choir, showcasing the multicultural face of the Bashkir Republic and the fact that every cultural group is always welcome at Sabantuy.

    However, the highlight of the summer festival was traditional Tatar-Bashkir sporting events. A great variety of athletic competitions, including wrestling, horse-racing, post climbing, blindfolded pot smashing, battling with sacks sitting on a crossbar and racing in sacks were a thrilling cultural experience.

    As a long-time athlete and the observer of numerous sport games, I was happy to take part in several traditional sporting events during Sabantuy. I raced others in a sack, slammed a couple of pots while blindfolded and knocked down a few local men off a crossbar in sack-battling.

    But by far the most exciting experience was climbing an over 30-feet (10-meters) bark-free post. The goal of this particular competition was easy – just climb up the post and grab one of the prizes hanging on the top of the post. At least that’s what I had thought initially.

    Well, the climbing part wasn’t that hard. However, once on the top, I realized just how high the post was – a lot higher than I had thought from the ground. Out of breath and with aching muscles, I had the harder task in hand – climbing down the post.

    “What the hell am I going to do now?” – I thought, clearly having no strength left for a descend.

    Fortunately, a judge of the competition saw that I had no strength left in me and helped to put me back on the ground, using a safety rope on a harness that I wore. It was a thrilling experience that I’ll sure remember for the rest of my life. Once on the ground, I found out that I won a barbecue grill, so my climbing attempt didn’t go in vain.

    Local men laughed at me, but also praised my courage for reaching the top of the post. Since I won the barbecue grill, they jokingly offered me to take part in Koras, traditional Tatar-Bashkir folk wrestling, the winner of which is given a ram. There was no way I had half a chance against the region’s top grapplers, some of whom train year-round to become the best athlete at Koras during a Sabantuy. So I politely declined.

    What I liked the most in Sabantuy sport games was the fact that everyone, regardless of the level of their physical form, was welcome to participate in them. At the end of the day, although competitive, the games are about building friendship and having a good time.

    Following the sport games, we were invited to visit yurts, traditional tents used by nomads in the Volga Region and Central Asia. Each yurt had various things to showcase, ranging from ethnic art, traditional clothes making and delicious cuisine, among other things.

    Sabantuy in southern Bashkiria was a great experience. Not only did we have an amazing opportunity to learn about the local culture, but also meet people from all across the Bashkir Republic.

    After attending a Sabantuy in the Krasnousolskiy District, I once again came to realize that the real life begins at the end of your comfort zone. We only live once, so it’s better to get the most out of it, every single day. 

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

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