When Severe Winter with all its hardships was past"—writes a citizen of the Mongolian People's Republic about the days of Genghis and Kublai Khan—"when a green carpet covered the steppe, when work felt easier and the favorite horses stronger, the Mongolians gathered for their national games—the Eryn Gurvan Nadom."
Today, when the steppe is green, the people gather on July 11, the anniversary of the 1921 "People's Revolution," on the fairgrounds outside the modern capital of Ulan Bator for the Great Nadom. Besides traditional contests in wrestling, archery and horse racing, the Great Nadom now includes volleyball, basketball, soccer, table tennis, bicycle racing, motorcycle racing, chess and shooting, for Mongolian sportsmen are organized into five up-to-date associations—Culture, Glory, Labor, Cooperation and Road—and sing such uplifting songs as "We sportsmen climb over the hills and wade through the brooks. Through fog and white clouds we march onward."
Wrestling, however, is still conducted in the formal manner and costume of the time of Genghis and Kublai, as these rare and revealing photographs of the three-day Great Nadom on the following pages indicate. More than a thousand wrestlers strive to win five honorable titles: Invincible Titan, Titan, Lion, Elephant and Falcon. Each wrestler has a zasul, or coach, who sings his praises, announces his name and home town, coaches him during the bout and "defends his interests before the referee." After a match, in which no holds are barred, the winner receives sweets. He gives some to his zasul and tosses the remainder to the crowd. To obtain sweets from a wrestler, Mongolians say, is to acquire part of his strength and agility.
A standing-and-horseback-room-only crowd of Mongolians peer through and over Ulan Bator's blue stadium to watch wrestling.
April 6, 1959
Mongol referee in incongruous Western fedora supervises wrestlers struggling to force each other to knees, which ends match
Arms flapping like a huge, flightless bird, wrestler dances about his coach (left) in ritual which precedes bout. Some onlookers wear Western garb