It is a rite of spring nearly as ancient as the windswept steppes of Central Asia.
Nauryz, a holiday celebrating the end of winter, the cycle of the seasons, the return of the sun’s warmth and life’s new beginnings, will be celebrated with a cultural festival hosted by Kazakh Ambassador to South Korea Dulat Bakishev at Hangang Park in Yeouido on April 5.
“Nauryz is both an old and a new holiday for Kazakhstan: Old, because people of Central Asia have been celebrating Nauryz for a long time, since ancient times, but people more or less stopped celebrating in the 20th century,” Bakishev said in an interview with The Korea Herald at his office in Itaewon, Seoul, on Monday. “It is a new holiday, because people started celebrating it again from after independence.”
|Performers wearing a traditional Kazakh hat called a “saukele” pose for a photo during last year’s Nauryz celebration at Hangang Park in Yeouido in Seoul. (Kazakh Embassy)|
Bakishev described treats and traditional delicacies that revelers enjoy during Nauryz, which is celebrated on March 22 in Kazakhstan.
There is chakchak, which is sometimes called the “Rice Krispie Treat of Kazakhstan.” It is made from fresh noodles fried in butter and coated with sweet honey, and then made into acorn-shaped balls.
And then there is baursak, puffy fried bread. Baursak is not everyday bread, but something for important parties, weddings and, of course, Nauryz celebrations.
Legend has it that the aroma of frying baursak floats into the air attracting deceased loved ones so they can enjoy the delicious bread with the revelers.
And then there is Nauryz koje. Nauryz koje is a special stew and the main dish of this spring holiday in Kazakhstan. It has seven main ingredients symbolizing the vital elements of life. The number seven is considered auspicious.
The Nauryz koje is usually prepared from meat, salt, fat, onions, wheat and two traditional Kazakh cheeses: kurt, which is made from pressing thick sour cream and then drying it until white and salty; and irimshik, which is processed from boiled, unskimmed milk and sour cream.
Bakishev said his wife has a special recipe of her own.
“That is her secret. I need to ask her before I can describe her recipe to the press,” he said with a chuckle. But he did divulge that in some Kazakh families, people add yoghurt.
One reason people did not celebrate Nauryz in Kazakhstan through most of the last century was because the Soviet Union did not recognize the existence of national identities and traditional practices were considered an anachronism and a remnant of a feudal past. Nauryz was cancelled altogether in 1926.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev revived the holiday in the late 1980s. Officially, Nauryz was recognized on March 15, 1991, by a presidential decree.
The two most popular games during Nauryz holiday season are horse racing and Kazakh traditional wrestling, kures.
The traditional Kazakh sport of kures is gaining international recognition. Last year in December, Mongolian professional athlete Boldpurev Sugarjargal emerged the winner in the 100-plus kilogram weight category of the Kazakh-Kures World Championships in Minsk, Belarus.
The Kazakh government plans to promote Kazakh kures when it hosts the 2017 Expo in Astana.
Horse racing is the biggest event during Nauryz in Kazakhstan, but putting on thunderous demonstrations of horsemanship might prove difficult in the crowded urban environs of Seoul. But will visitors at this year’s Nauryz celebration witness the riding acumen of the Kazakh athletes this April 5? “We will try,” Bakishev said. Perhaps South Koreans eager to witness something as dramatic as a horse racing competition may have to travel to Kazakhstan.
Some 300 people celebrated Nauryz here last year.
“Many Koreans joined us at Hangang Park in the Yeouido area last year. That was very meaningful for us, because we got to share some Kazakh traditions with our Korean friends,” he said.
This year’s Nauryz cultural festival is organized by the Silk Road Foundation, Hankook University of Foreign Studies, APRC of Hanyang University, KD Medical Training Center and Kazakhstan Students Community in Korea.
Visitors at the cultural festival will be able to experience Kazakh music performed with a kyi, a traditional Kazakh instrument, as well as traditional dances and games. There will also be free samples of traditional Kazakh delicacies and Nauryz treats.
The celebration here in Seoul takes place on Saturday at Hangang Park. By subway, get off at Line 5’s Yeouinaru Station, walk straight from Exit No. 2, and follow the smell of delicious chakchak and the sound of festive crowds.
By Philip Iglauer (email@example.com