The Ysyakh Festival

Ysyakh celebrations have had many forms and functions over the centuries. They share many features with rituals conducted by other Turkic and Mongolian peoples, as well as with those of Eveni and Evenki peoples. The central purpose of the contemporary Ysyakh is to thank the deities and upper spirits in the Sakha shamanic pantheon for the coming of the new year, signalled by the summer solstice, while asking for their benevolence to continue. A ritual specialist sacrifices fermented mare’s milk (kumys), horse-hair and festive Sakha food to the spirits, while addressing praise and supplication to them in the form of a sung prayer-poem.

Algyschyt

The ritual is accompanied by eating, dancing, sports contests, and celebration. The larger Ysyakh festivals can last for a couple of days, incorporating pop concerts, fashion shows, markets, and a ritual greeting of the sun at dawn. As was the case in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Ysyakh holidays are heavily marked by the prevailing political hierarchy. Local politicians deliver speeches after the main ritual, and hold banquets for prominent guests.

An early twentieth-century Ysyakh