Thursday, June 26, 2014

The World Tree - Kazakh Mythology

So today I'm looking at Kazhak Mythology - because that's what interested me this evening

Kazakhstan is in Central Asia.


 In my research tonight, I've discovered a really lovely mythology. 

The legend of the World Tree.


Baiterek

Baiterek is the the name of the World Tree and literally means 'original poplar or mother poplar' (poplar being a genus of tree).

From what I understand of my readings (you can check out my resource websites below) the World Tree connects the three levels of spiritual existence,  heaven, earth and the underworld, or upper middle and lower existences respectively.

Image Courtesy:http://baiterek.gov.kz/en/content/etymology-baiterek
The upper branches and leaves represent the heavenly realm.
The trunk and crown: represent the middle world (our earthly realm)
The Roots: represent the underworld.

According to myth, Baiterek is the original life form and was once considered the centre of the universe as well as the gate or door between worlds.

Legends of heroes are often found around Baiterek. One such is a hero who finds himself in the underworld and makes a long and  difficult journey to the middle world. There, he finds a tree, and saves the chicks of a giant mythological bird (Simurgh), by killing a dragon (Aydakhar) that threatened to devour them. The mother Simurgh is so grateful that she takes the hero to heaven. [FYI I did a post on the Simugh - a while ago HERE ]

Baiterek – the world tree – is according to this legend the center of the universe. It is the gateway between the astral and physical realms of existence and it is for this reason that sacred rites (including giving birth) were once performed underneath poplar trees in the region.

Kazakh shamans used to believe that the world tree appears as a material thing an ‘asa tayak’ and may be represented by the placement of a tall pole in the grown near the tomb of a holy individual.

Rather wonderfully, in Astana Kazakhstan, there is a structure that represents Baiterek. 

It is an approximately 105m tall structure that rises from within a raised plaza in the centre of town. It is made up of a narrow cylindrical shaft (which contains elevators), surrounded by white branch-like girders flaring out in a tree like fashion at the top. Within this, is a 22m-diameter sphere. Apparently, you can buy tickets at the base and visit an observation deck within the 'egg' itself. The 'egg' of course represents the eggs of that benevolent simurgh bird the hero rescued from the dragon who lurked beneath the tree.  Interestingly, the simurgh also called Samruk, are also known as the 'bird of happiness' in this particular mythology.

Unfortunately there didn't seem much else on Kazakh mythology available on the internet, but what I noticed was that many of the traditional Kazakh mythological creatures were winged. Winged horses, winged tigers and birds seem prevalent in their art.

If you're wondering about Kazakstan here's a ridiculously simplified run down. It's a large Central Asian country sandwiched between Russia, the Caspian Sea, Uzbekistan and Kyrgzystan and China. Originally inhabited by nomadic tribes people this changed in the 13th Century when Gengis Khan settled people there. Since then there have been multiple shifts in population habits. In the 19th Century it was occupied by Russia. However with the dissolution of the Soviet Republic, Kazakhstan became independent in 1991.

It looks like a fascinating place, with mythology ripe to be explored!

Enjoy your day!

References:
 http://baiterek.gov.kz/en/content/etymology-baiterek
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayterek

3 comments:

  1. An interesting read over my morning coffee. I love these obscure mythological finds. The world tree seems to crop up in many cultures including Celtic and Norse. I love how the mythos across cultures vary but also have similarities.

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  2. Absolutely Catherine, I love that mythology has themes that resound across cultures!

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