Join in merrymaking, Tatar style, as RT looks closer at an ancient Tatar celebration that is one of the most flamboyant festivities in modern Russia.
Every year Tatars across Russia celebrate one of their favorite traditions called “Sabantui” (slang for party). The event never fails to draw a big crowd.
“It’s such a joyful celebration, full of positive emotions, my heart sings when I’m here,” one of the participants told RT.
With a history that goes back 1,000 years, Sabantui has its origins in pagan rites. Initially a farmers’ feast, it means “a celebration of the plough” and marks the end of sowing season. Sabantui does not have a set date. Festivities usually take place at the end of June or beginning of July. What used to be a humble rural event is now a symbol of Tatar traditions.
“It’s a very important tradition,” a participant told RT. “It’s been part of my life since I was little, and it always brings back happy childhood memories.”
A true blend of cultures and religions, Russia is one of the world’s most diverse societies, with as many as 160 ethnic groups. The country is home to more than 5 million Tatars. Apart from Russians, the Tatars, who are mostly Muslim, are the largest of the country’s peoples.
Most of them live in Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan. While Sabantui may be an occasion with an ethnic feel, it has long been popular all over Russia, turning it into a true international festival.
“This festival brings friends and families together,” Ildar Khalikov, prime minister of the Republic of Tatarstan, told RT. “It’s a great opportunity for people who haven’t seen each other for a while to meet up. And it unites not just us Tatars, but all of Moscow, all of Russia.”
Since ancient times, people took great care to prepare for the big day, making and collecting prizes for winners of various competitions and games carried out during the celebration. It is indeed traditional games and competitions that Sabantui is about, like the Tatar form of wrestling called “kuresh.”
“A wrestler uses a special belt to grapple with his opponent and has to throw them off their feet without letting go of the belt,” Rushan Ramazanov, the world champion of Tatar wrestling, told RT. “It’s been practiced since ancient times, and we certainly hope that one day it will become an Olympic discipline.”
The festival would not be complete without one of the greatest passions of the Tatar people: horses. Even songs are sung on horseback.
Anyone can also try their luck in the tug-of-war or sack race – or some even more offbeat competitions, like crashing a clay pot while being blindfolded, catching a fish in muddy water, and plenty others.
The flamboyant festivities last throughout the day. For those who take part, merrymaking Tatar-style really is a time to let their hair down and celebrate.