Ethnic culture highlighted as Mongolians honor national hero

People pay tribute to Genghis Khan with hada during the Spring Sacrifice ritual for Genghis Khan at the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Ejin Horo Banner, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, April 23, 2011.  (Xinhua/Zhang Ling)

HOHHOT, April 23 (Xinhua) -- Tens of thousands of people from home and abroad flocked to the mausoleum of Genghis Khan on Saturday to honor the Mongolian national hero, as experts called for better preservation of this century-old custom.

About 50,000 people, including members of local Mongolian ethnic groups and visitors from the neighboring country of Mongolia, attended the annual memorial rite, said Qolubagatur, who presided over the ceremony.

"It's the 784th year that we held the sacrificial rite to our master, and the 'holy light' of the mausoleum has never gone out under the guard of our Dalhut families," said Qolubagatur. The Dalhut people are a branch of Mongolians who guard the mausoleum.

Hude, a 34-year-old engineer, said he carried on his family's duty to attend the ceremony after his aged parents could no longer make the journey.

"It has been a tradition that we have held for generations," said Hude, after presenting hada, a traditional white scarf, to the white jade statue of Genghis Khan.

To Hude and others of the Mongolian ethnic group, Genghis Khan was a national hero who united the grassland and founded the Mongol Empire in the 13th century. His grandson, Kublai Khan, established the Yuan Dynasty that ruled China from 1271 to 1368.

After the death of Genghis Khan, Mongolians placed his clothes, personal items, and a piece of camel hair that was believed to have preserved his soul in the mausoleum in the Ordos Highlands in what is now the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

The real resting place of the Khan, however, remains unknown, as ancient Mongolians followed a custom of not marking their tombs.

For nearly 800 years, as many as 60 annual sacrificial rites, with the spring ceremony being the grandest, have continued.

The practice, however, is now facing a succession crisis, as younger Mongolians show less enthusiasm for sacrificial culture, said Naqige, deputy head of the mausoleum protection committee.

"Of the 16 Dalhut clans, eight have dropped the duty of guarding the mausoleum. Some descendants refused to follow the time-honored practice and chose other careers," said Naqige.

To step up protection of the culture, China listed the memorial rites as an intangible heritage under state protection in 2005. Now, those who guard the mausoleum are entitled to the same salary and benefits as a government worker.

Naqige and many other experts are also campaigning for UNESCO to list the practice as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

"For hundreds of years, the Dalhut people fought against all odds to protect the mausoleum and preserve the culture. That's why the mausoleum is so sacred to the Mongolians," said Qimeddorji, professor of Mongolian studies at the Inner Mongolia University.

Source:Xinhua, Chinese news agency

Monks stand with giant trumpets during the Spring Sacrifice ritual for Genghis Khan at the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Ejin Horo Banner, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, April 23, 2011. (Xinhua/Zhang Ling)



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