What follows is a preliminary analysis of the narrative content of five tales.
“The Story of the Tang Monk” ( Tangsuɣ / Tangseng lama-yin üliger) was performed by the bard ( quɣurči, huurchi) Rinčin, born in 1932 in Baɣarin West Banner. The Tangsuɣ in the title is a dialect form. Rinčin narrates two episodes in the story of the journey to India of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang and his three disciples in search of Buddhist scriptures. The story of their adventurous journey, fraught with danger and full of battles with demons and monsters encountered along the way, is narrated in the Ming novel Xiyou ji (西 游 记) “Journey to the West” by Wu Cheng’en (吴 承 蒽). It was translated into Mongolian in 1721. The adventures of the five heroes in the story: the Tang Monk, his three disciples Monkey, Sand and Pig as well as the white dragon horse, became widespread in eastern Inner Mongolia through oral transmission by Mongol bards, who also recount their exploits as a five-story cycle, each focusing on its particular hero.
Rinčin opens his narration by introducing the heroes of the story to his audience. Then he goes on to narrate the first episode in the story mentioning places names which have no parallel in the written Chinese “Journey to the West” and its Mongolian translation, which are used for comparison. According to Rinčin, the homeland of Sand, or Sha Wuneng, one of the disciples of the Tang Monk, is Shali Fu instead of Liusha He (流 沙 河) the “Flowing Sand River” in “Journey to the West”. Rinčin also tells of a demon king of Mount Huixiao and Huixiao Cave who carried away the Tang Monk. Although the theme of the Tang Monk being captured by a demon reappears throughout “Journey to the West”, there is no mention of any demon king of Huixiao Cave in it. Rinčin also relates the event in which Monkey, or Sun Wukong, the principal and most resourceful disciple of the Tang Monk, is defeated in combat by the demon king and goes up to the palace of Qormusta, the god of Heaven worshipped by the Mongols. The god of Heaven is of course the Jade Emperor in the Chinese “Journey to the West”. Monkey makes a journey to Heaven to find out about the demon king by looking through the heavenly files, and to obtain the help of the celestial soldiers. This particular event is similar to that narrated in chapter 51 of “Journey to the West”, in which, however, the demon who defeated Monkey in combat is the King Rhinoceros of Mount Jindou instead. What makes Rinčin’s version noteworthy is that he narrates Monkey’s journey to Heaven in sung verses, while “Journey to the West” simply mentions in prose that Monkey somersaults up on an auspicious cloud and goes to the southern gate of Heaven. In the story narrated by Rinčin the demon king is captured by a Daoist master of Gold Phoenix Mountain, who descends from the sky, while in “Journey to the West” it is Lord Laozi who subdues the King Rhinoceros.
Rinčin’s second episode begins by narrating that the Tang Monk and his three disciples are continuing on their way when a high mountain appears before them and a hurricane blows, which alarms the Tang Monk. Monkey, at this point, comforts his master in these verses: In spring / There are hurricanes. / In summer / At the first rainfall there are fierce winds. / In autumn / There are pleasant cool winds. / In winter / There are chilly winds. The same event occurs in chapter 85 of “Journey to the West”, which tells about the Tang Monk and his three disciples hearing the howling of a wind, with Monkey comforting his master with these words: “In spring there are mild winds, in summer hot winds, in autumn golden winds, and in winter north winds”. These lines are in prose in the Chinese “Journey to the West”, and do not correspond exactly to Rinčin’s verse lines, which in fact describe the condition of the winds in Mongolia in the four seasons. Interestingly, the Mongolian translation of “Journey to the West” omits these lines. It seems that Rinčin found it appropriate to place these lines at the beginning of the episode as a way of introducing the story of Monkey fighting with the three demon kings of Shituo Cave on Shituo Mountain. This is a famous episode in the adventures of Monkey, which occupies four chapters (74-77) in “Journey to the West”. Although Rinčin narrates this episode in abbreviated form, some incidents in his narrative give more detail than those in “Journey to the West”. To choose one example, chapter 76 of “Journey to the West” simply tells in prose about eight demons carrying the Tang Monk across the mountain on a palanquin, with his three disciples escorting the master on foot. Rinčin interprets this incident imaginatively. He also expands on it in sung verses, which describe eight demons carrying the Tang Monk and his three disciples across the mountain, where the four of them are seated on four separate palanquins of different colours, with the demons clad in robes that match the colours of the palanquins they carry.
“A Chapter in the Story of Pain and Joy” ( Kuxi zhuan-u nigen bölög) was performed by the bard Bai Suo (1937-1992) of ǰarud. The bard Bai Suo created his own version of the story, drawing his inspiration from three pages of prose included in chapter 21 of the book Kusi ǰuwan kemekü üliger “Story Called Pain and Joy”, which was composed in Mongolian about the middle of the 19th century. Bai Suo’s oral narration is obviously intended to hold the attention of his audiences and to capture their imagination with vivid and elaborate descriptions of the characters’ actions and the landscape where the actions take place. In the story Bai Suo narrates the parts in sung verses are by far more numerous than those in prose. Bai Suo opens his narration with a poem which describes the young Yuchi Xiande, the hero of the story, roaming the roads and wondering if General Ma Linxian, whom he calls “uncle” is alive or dead after fighting with the Tang army, and who became lost in the confusion of battle. In the episode narrated in the book it is Ma Linxian and his followers who look for news of Yuchi Xiande and cannot find him.
The reason why Yuchi Xiande and Ma Linxian fought with the Tang army is explained in the preceding chapters in the book, from which we learn that Yuchi Songxun, Yuchi Xiande’s father, comes into conflict with corrupt officials of the emperor’s inner circle and kills the emperor’s brother. In revenge for his crime, the emperor, a fictional eighth emperor of the Tang dynasty, orders that all the members of Yuchi Songxun’s clan be executed. Determined to save the life of the seven-year-old Yuchi Xiande, the loyal General Ma Linxian, flees the capital, taking the boy with him. They take refuge in Shaohua Mountain, joining bandits there. When the emperor hears about what they are doing on Shaohua Mountain, he sends an army to deal with them. Ma Linxian, his followers and Yuchi Xiande, now fourteen and skilled in arms, fight a fierce battle with the Tang troops, during which Yuchi Xiande slays tens of thousands of soldiers, but then he becomes separated from Ma Linxian.
Continuing with the story of Yuchi Xiande as narrated in the book, it is simply stated that Yuchi Xiande comes to the foot of a mountain. Before recounting this event, Bai Suo describes Yuchi Xiande as abandoned tired and hungry. He hides in ditches by day and wanders countless roads by night, fearing that his enemies might be after him. He finally reaches the foot of a high mountain, reins in his horse and observes the beautiful scenery. Bai Suo, at this point, devotes 96 verses to singing the praise of the mountain. The mountain which appears before Yuchi Xiande’s eyes has peaks soaring to the clouds, tall planes trees, lotus flowers at the edges of ponds, and is inhabited by rare wild beasts and birds. This is only the beginning of the story of Yuchi Xiande.
“The Story of the Wise Emperor Ögedei” ( Ögedei mergen qaɣan-u üliger) was performed by the bard Balǰinima (1941-2000) of Aru Qorčin. In 1980, the bard Buyan-nemekü (1903-1981) of Aru Qorčin passed the tale on to Balǰinima orally, and Mr. Nima recorded it on tape from Balǰinima’s performance . Unfortunately, Mr. Nima could only record nine hours of the whole tale. It took Balǰinima 56 hours to perform the tale, which is currently preserved at the radio station of the city of Chifeng, in Inner Mongolia. The story goes that, in 1936, Mongol pilgrims of Aru Qorčin found two Chinese books in a bookshop of the city of Datong, in Shanxi province, on their way to Mount Wutai. When they returned home, they gave the two books to the bard Buyan-nemekü, and since Buyan-nemekü could not read Chinese, he had a man whose surname was Wu to read them for him. Buyan-nemekü transformed the stories in the two books into the Mongolian “tales of the fiddle” known as “The Story of (the bird) Garuda Kalpinka” ( Γarudi ɣalbingɣa-yin üliger) and “The Story of the Wise Emperor Ögedei”, respectively. The two Chinese books that Buyan-nemekü kept in his home were burnt during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1976), and only in the years which followed did scholars succeed in tracing the books on which the oral tales are based. Now we know that the source of the “The Story of the Wise Emperor Ögedei” is the Chinese book Tianbao tu (天 宝 图) “Image of the Heavenly Treasure” by an anonymous author. A comparison of the content of the Chinese book Tianbao tuwith the Mongolian oral tale “The Story of the Wise Emperor Ögedei” performed by Balǰinima reveals that the two texts correspond to each other only in their general outline.
Balǰinima greatly expanded on the tale Buyan-nemekü had handed down to him orally, introducing Mongol heroes and forty episodes dealing with the history of the Mongols into the story. He created a new composition which developed from his desire to create a true Mongolian story. Balǰinima’s tale adheres to the Chinese book when presenting Činggis Khan as the founder of the Yuan dynasty, rather than his grandson Qubilai, and Ögedei (1229-1241), Činggis’ third son, as the second emperor of the Yuan dynasty. The tale narrates how during the reign of Ögedei, the traitor Hua Dingyun and his son, Hua Zilong, plot to overthrow the Yuan dynasty and restore the defunct Jin dynasty in Shandong. Historically, the Jurchen Jin dynasty (1122-1234) was overthrown by the Mongol army in 1234 in the southern capital of the Jin, what is now Kaifeng in Henan.
The discovery and possession of the jade seal, the symbol of imperial authority is the central theme of Balǰinima’s tale. The story has it that Su Huiding, a loyal official to the Yuan dynasty, takes out a square white object resembling a jade stone from a lake. He shakes the stone, and it cracks open to reveal a jade seal which radiates a rainbow-like light of five colours with five words inscribed on it.
It is worth noticing that in Mongolian tradition the jade seal of Činggis Khan is closely linked with a stone, and the Mongolian chronicles of the 17th century provide written evidence of this. One version relates that seven days after Činggis was born, a small black-coloured bird circled over a stone singing. Thinking that the bird was an auspicious augury, Yesugei, Činggis’s father, split the stone and saw a jade seal inside it. Another version describes a small bird of five colours which sat on a square white stone. The stone split by itself, and a jade seal emerged from it. An auspicious omen like this occurred when Činggis was elected the emperor of the Mongols, and a seal emerging from a stone marks the foundation of the Mongol empire. The Mongols regard stones as life-givers, and stones play a role in stories of the origin of the ancestor of a community or a nation, or the hero who will protect the land and people from danger. The image of the birth of the hero emerging from a stone is continually evoked in the Mongolian epics.
The story narrated by Balǰinima, involving the discovery of a jade seal shares some features with an episode described in the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” (三 国 演 义) by Luo Guanzhong. It recounts that Sun Jian, the father of the founder of the Kingdom of Wu, is in Luoyang when a soldier draws his attention to a rainbow-like light shining from a well. Sun Jian orders soldiers to descend into the well to find out the source of the light, and they take out a woman’s body with a brocade pouch around the neck. In the pouch there is a vermilion box, and inside the box a jade seal with eight characters on it. An advisor explains to Sun Jian that the seal has been handed down through succeeding reigns until that day. As with Balǰinima’s story, which has Su Huiding telling the soldiers who escorted him not to tell anyone about the discovery of the seal, Sun Jian also imposes a vow of silence on the soldiers who have recovered the seal, according to the “Three Kingdoms”. The jade seal dos not bring blessing to those who find it. Instead, it brings disaster. In Balǰinima’s story the traitor Hua Zilong and his men murder Sui Huiding and steal the seal he kept on his person to use it to accomplish their plan to restore the Jin dynasty, but they too are eventually eliminated. The same fate befalls Sun Jian, who lies about taking possession of the seal, and is killed in battle. Balǰinima’s story, by contrast, portrays Su Huiding as a sincere man who would not take the seal for himself, but he is nevertheless killed while on his way to the capital to bring the seal to the Emperor Ögedei, to whom it belongs.
“The Story of the Golden Horse” ( Altan morin-u namatar) was performed by the bard Damrin (1939-2001) of Baɣarin West Banner. As Damrin explains in an interview, the tale was handed down orally to him by his teacher, whose family name was Wang. Apparently, no book is known on which the tale is based. Damrin’s tale describes the country of the Mongols as a good place where people live happily under the benevolent King Kökege, and the capital of the country is the imaginary city of Saran-mandal. It also narrates how, one day, a golden horse comes out from a rock cave in Mount Panshi (Reclining Lion) shining a golden light. The golden horse becomes the mount of the king’s daughter, Tolitoɣos who is also skilled in arms. When the news of the discovery of the golden horse reaches the Tang Emperor Li Songke, he sends an army of ten thousand soldiers led by General Shi Jingtang to steal the horse. The bard Damrin pronounces the emperor’s name Li Songke instead of Li Congke, and the transcriber of the text follows the bard’s pronunciation. Historically, Li Congke 李 從 珂, or Modi (末 帝 934-937), is the last emperor of the Later Tang dynasty, while General Shi Jingtang is the founder of the Later Jin 后 晋 dynasty (936-947). As in other tales in the genre, Damrin’s tale also narrates fictional events involving real historical figures. Mongol bards ( quɣurči , huurchi)often mention the existence of a cycle of twenty-four oral tales which is based on stories set during the reigns of twenty-four emperors of the Tang dynasty, viz. the twenty emperors of the Tang dynasty and the four emperors of the Later Tang. Since not all of the twenty-four tales have been recorded, many of them remain unknown to us. Damrin’s tale “The Story of Golden Horse” which sets the event of the story during the reign of the Emperor Li Congke of the Later Tang, testifies to the existence of the twenty-fourth story of the cycle, which is as yet unknown, but it obviously was circulating among the bards of Baɣarin. In Damrin’s tale Li Congke is described as a corrupt and greedy emperor, who sends an army of ten thousands soldiers against the Mongols only to take possession of the golden horse that had appeared in their country.
Judging from the plot of “The Story of the Golden Horse” we can also infer that legends about a magic golden horse, or foal, also served as a source of inspiration for Damrin’s tale. Legends of this kind originated in a nomadic pastoral environment and are known in different versions, though all of them tell the story of a magic golden foal that brings good fortune and prosperity to the herdsmen. One legend is especially pertinent to our discussion. It narrates that, one night, herdsmen who are looking after a herd of horses for a rich man see a golden light shining from a mountain. Then the mountain breaks open and a golden foal comes out from a crevice in the rock. The legend relates that golden ingots are left behind on the ground which has been trampled on by the golden foal. Herdsmen find the golden ingots and rejoice at the discovery. When the owner of the herd of horses hears that a magic golden foal has appeared, he becomes greedy for it. He attempts to capture the golden foal, but he perishes in the process. The events narrated in the legend show similarity to those in Damrin’s tale in describing how a golden horse emerges from a rock cave shining a golden light. The greedy man in the legend, who attempts to capture the golden foal and dies as a result, is reminiscent of the figure of Li Congke, who also wants the golden horse for himself. He sends General Shi Jingtang with ten thousand soldiers to capture the horse, but they do not succeed. The Tang army is defeated by the Mongol warriors, and the decline of Li Congke’s court reaches its limits. This how Damrin closes his tale.
Another version of the last part of the tale is available which was recorded later on. In the closing verses, Damrin narrates that the golden horse bathes in the water of Jinlong “Golden Dragon” Lake once a year. When the horse is bathing and a light rain falls no calamity will befall the Mongols. These verses lead us to infer that Damrin, a native of the West Baɣarin Banner where the cult of Geser is still a living tradition, composed these verses thinking of the ceremony of the bathing of Geser’s horse. The ceremony takes place every year on the 13th day of the 5th lunar month in Sibartai, in Baɣarin West Banner. To celebrate the day of the bathing of Geser’s horse, worshippers make offerings to Geser in the temple devoted to him. People in Baɣarin say that if rain falls on the day of the ceremony, the livestock will multiply, the crops will grow well, and there will be no disease.
“The Holy Geser” ( Geser Boɣda) was performed by the bard Uuɣanbayar (1930-2004) of Baɣarin (Baarin) West Banner. Uuɣanbayar’s tale about Geser, the famous hero of the Tibetan and Mongolian epics, is not a well narrated story. Its language is unpolished and the poetry monotonous. It also contains narrative inconsistencies. According to Uuɣanbayar’s words, when he was twenty-three he learned the tale from an old herdsman, whose name he forgot. He also stated that the tale incorporates orally transmitted legends. Uuɣanbayar also admitted that he did not frequently perform “The Holy Geser”. This may be the reason for his imperfect performance. Despite its flaws, the tale does have merits. It recounts new adventures of the hero Geser and his battles with a twelve-headed monster ( mangɣus, mangas), and in doing so it reveals how the figure of Geser came to be transformed in the course of the cultural changes occurring among the Mongols of Baɣarin. As a matter of fact, Uuɣanbayar’s tale is one of the few stories known to us which narrate the adventures of Geser following the structure and style of the “tales of the fiddle”. These types of tales are the result of the cultural influence the Han Chinese exerted on the Mongols of Inner Mongolia, and are characterised by the alternation of prose and verse, to the accompaniment of the four-string fiddle ( quɣur, huur). In his tale, Uuɣanbayar also uses themes and formulaic phrases characteristic of this particular genre. This can be seen in the passage in sung verses which describes Geser wearing armour and weapons. Another noteworthy aspect of the tale is that it contains narrative material of varied origin which testifies to the rich oral and written traditions existing among the Mongols of Baɣarin. “The Holy Geser” developed among the Mongols of Baɣarin who possess a rich body of oral and written traditions centred on Geser, and closely linked with the worship of Geser. The cult of Geser is still a living tradition among the Mongols of Baɣarin, and a temple dedicated to Geser is located in Sibartai, in Baɣarin West Banner. The cult of Geser also played an important role in the evolution of the Geser epic in Baɣarin, where it assumed its own distinctive local features in the course of the dissemination of the Mongolian Geser epic. Memories of Geser permeate the landscape of Baɣarin, and legends abound in this place which associate the origin of mountains, rocks, rivers, lakes and springs with the person of Geser, and they came to be named after Geser’s heroic deeds, mainly Geser’s battles with a many-headed monster ( mangɣus, mangas). The Baɣarin singers of the Geser epic inserted legends about Geser in their narratives, adapted them to the poetic style of the epic, and disseminated them in this form.
Uuɣanbayar’s tale “The Holy Geser” recounts that Geser was born in northern Mongolia, the son of a poor elderly couple, and spent his childhood tending the cattle in the Golden Qangɣai (Hangai) Mountains, a place the Mongols regard as the land of their ancestors. No other story about Geser from Baɣarin known to us places the birth and actions of Geser in northern Mongolia. The Baɣarin epics narrate that Geser lived and performed his deeds in Baɣarin, where he also built his palace. Unlike the Mongolian Geser epic which was printed in 1716, which describes Geser as a son of the God of Heaven, Qormusta, who is sent by his father from heaven to combat evil and restore peace and order on earth, in Uuɣanbayar’s tale Geser does not have a celestial family. Nor does he pray to the gods for help in difficult situations. The sole deity in the tale is Geser himself. We learn this only at the end of the story when Geser has accomplished his mission of eliminating the suffering of the people, is invoked as “holy”, becomes an object of veneration, and a temple is built in his honour.
Uuɣanbayar’s tale portrays Geser as a compassionate hero who takes upon himself the task of eliminating evil and ending the people’s suffering, relying on his courage and strength alone. As we learn, many times Geser fights alone against a twelve-headed monster that is causing suffering to the people, but without success. It is only when Geser’s wife, Aǰu-mergen, joins him and fights alongside him that the two of them find ways of killing the monster. All the Mongolian epics of Geser describe Aǰu-mergen as a warrior maiden, whose skill in archery surpasses that of Geser. The brave warrior Aǰu-mergen is especially praised in the Baɣarin versions of the Geser epic, which often describe her setting out with Geser to defeat the monster.
Returning to Uuɣanbayar’s tale, this also recounts that a certain King Altan-gereltü, who rules over the City of Wood in the north-eastern part of China, summons Geser and gives him the task of subduing the monster. The City of Wood (Mongolian: Modon qota, Chinese: Muyang cheng) is an imaginary city, which is described in different ways in the Mongolian “tales of the fiddle”. The oral tale entitled Modon qota/ Muyang Cheng (牡羊成)- ün üliger. Mongolian: “The Story of The City of Wood“ / Chinese: “The Story of The City Where Sheep Are Herded“ as performed by the bard Nimaodzer, describes the City of Wood as the capital of the North Liao and the site of fierce battles fought by the generals of the Tang Emperor Li Shimin against the Liao enemies, with the young Luo Tong as its chief hero. The story is is based on the Chinese adventure novel Luo Tong sao bei (罗 通 掃 北) “Luo Tong Wipes out the North” by an anonymous author. It was translated into Mongolian as “Luo Tong of the Tang Dynasty Pacified the North” ( Tang ulus-un Luo Tong qoyitu tübsidkegsen).
Uuɣanbayar’s tale’s most significant passage is the one which describes King Altan-gereltü allowing Geser to wear armour, helmet and sword, which once belonged to his father. They were kept and worshipped in the family temple, and nobody would use them. These sacred objects were destined for Geser so that he could defeat the monster. In these accounts we find the old and universal motif of the hero finding or obtaining armour and weapon to accomplish his mission. It also reflects the Mongolian tradition of preserving and worshipping objects which belonged to an ancestor in a family temple. Uuɣanbayar’s tale also tells us how Geser chooses his horse from among the innumerable horses of the king. The horse is the Wise Chestnut, Geser’s horse known from the Geser epic cycle. The tale also stresses that, after finding armour, helmet, weapons and horse, Geser is no longer the person he was before. He becomes the hero Geser, who has the ability to defeat the monster.
The tale also narrates how Roɣmo-ɣoa, who plays the role of King Altan-gereltü’s daughter in this story, is abducted by a twelve-headed monster. She will be rescued by Geser and Aǰu-mergen, who succeed in entering the monster’s cave and killing the monster. Before they can do this, Geser and Aǰu-mergen meet with Roɣmo-ɣoa, who has lived in the monster’s cave for many years and has gained the monster’s confidence by means of flattery and trickery. Roɣmo-ɣoa tells them how the monster has revealed to her that he cannot be killed unless the head in the middle of his twelve heads is not cut off. After this, Geser and Aǰu Mergen are able to kill the monster. Although the tale does not elaborate on it, it seems clear that the head in the middle is the seat of the monster’s life-soul. Only when the life-soul is extinguished can the monster be considered completely destroyed. The motif of the wife tricking the monster into revealing how he can be killed in Uuɣanbayar’s tale can be traced back to an episode contained in chapter 4 of the Mongolian Geser epic of 1716. It narrates how Geser’s wife, Tümen-ǰiraɣalang, is abducted by a twelve-headed monster, and how she is forced to become his wife. She persuades the monster to reveal to her the locations of his many life-souls by means of flattery and trickery. Then she tells Geser how the monster can be killed. Chapter 4 of the Geser epic enjoyed vast popularity among the Mongols, and the “tricking the monster” motif found its way into many other Mongolian epics.