Mongolian long song

The philosophical meanings of the Mongolian long song“The Old Man and the Birds”

In Mongolia today, the traditional folk song genre known as long songs holds a very important place in our nation’s cultural heritage. Long songs are the product of our people’s close relationship with their natural environment. They were inspired by the deep feelings of awareness and the overpowering emotions felt by the nomadic herdsmen. These songs are truly ancient and have been preserved as a part of oral tradition. They were written down in the 18th centuries, but published only in the past century.

Long song lyrics may be filled by sorrow, whereas the music is permeated with happiness and awareness. Thus the study of the connection between the literal and philosophical meanings of the long songs is of crucial importance not only in discovering historical trends but also in the understanding of song lyric composition and values.

My study is part of the much larger project being undertaken by many Mongolians to expand and preserve our knowledge of the language of different cultures of the world, folklore, folk music literature, as well as the intellectual level of the society and ideas of existence and ideology. “The long song content gives us indications about the history of society, ethics, customs and traditions, beauty, philosophy and cognition. Thus the song can be defined as an intellectual means of communication, a mirror image of the particular society ” (1, E, L, 2001, p 186).

Long songs, the most important form of traditional Mongolian singing, reflect the correlation of nature and the environment, the ways of people’s thinking and self-expression, and the unique and precious outburst of the inner soul. Every long melodic line of a Mongolian long song embodies the vastness and peacefulness of the steppes, and the sorrows and happiness of human beings. The Mongolian long songs are remarkable for emphasizing human strength and the ability to overcome obstacles and for leaving deep feelings of awareness. The content of Mongolian long songs carries an air of respect, and modesty. They also describe philosophical teachings and the different roles of humans and animals. Some long songs are in the form of duets or conversations that discuss natural phenomenon and events. The emotions of human life are often expressed by specific artistic and emotional techniques of the human voice.

I will speak now about how long songs are structured, looking specifically at long songs of the Khalkha Mongols of central and southern Mongolia. We can learn a great deal by analyzing even the first line of this long song. I am going to explain an example for you, focusing on each word of the first line. The title of the song is: “The old man and the birds” 1. The first word introduces the title or meaning of the song. The first word of this song is jar gal tai which means ”joyful”

2. The second word in this long song melody says: “I am a long song.” This is the song’s motif, meaning or emotion. The singer stretches out this second word of this line for as long as the singer has air to sing. Singers with a high voice and good lung capacity sing long songs in Mongolia. The second word of the song is Del ger which means “prosperous”.

3. The third word of this melody shows the extremely sustained melody of the long song. This word is zung which means summer. You will here the melody extensions by the sounds “ha and he”.

4. The fourth word is sung with a very low tone rising upwards. The fourth word is sardaa which means month or season. The first four words of the long song are like a melodic and semantic signature for the song.

Mongolian long songs did not develop in urban settings, but evolved and lived as products of nomads singing and riding horses in wide open spaces with mountains, forests, and steppes as their constant companions. Most long songs developed in the country of the steppes. In the mountains, very deep throat singing evolved, but not long songs. The topography of the songs evolved with the topography of the land: long songs are the songs of the steppes, with the mountains far away and their echo returning from afar; in the forest, the trees answer the songs quickly and return the vowels; in the rock mountains, such as in the great Altai Mountains of the western part of Mongolia, many echoes and different sounds are returned to the singer at the same time.

The lyrics of long songs are often composed in the form of puzzles and junctions or riddles that avoid directness. The following long song lyrics, sung in the form of a duet between the Old man and the Goose, give a clear example of these riddles. In the power point presentation to follow, you will hear examples of especially fine vocal technique in conjunction with specific emotional lyrics. Only one instrument can duplicate the incremental microtones and long leaps of which the human voice is capable. That instrument is the horse-head fiddle or Morin quur. In today’s presentation, however, a keyboard will accompany the human voice. When the human voice is producing microtones, the lack of microtones on the keyboard is hidden by an “echo” tone.

“The Old Man and the Goose”
The Old man asks:
1. Goose, coming from the south
Goose, summering on high Khanggai
Goose, honking in the wide water,
Goose, will you stay here long?
The Goose replies:
2. There is no cloud, but rain has fallen
Though not kindled, smoke has swirled up
As before one’s eyes, a cliff appeared
One‘s own deeds disappear

At first reading, it appears as if some magic has happened in that it rained with no clouds to be seen and that “the smoke has swirled up though not kindled.” But when you look at the song symbolically, you come to realize that clusters of the tiny atoms can turn into mountain ranges and rocks thus suggesting an awareness of cause and effect that is reflected in the lines of the song.

In response, the Old man says:
3. The cloudless rain is known as hoar frost
The enkindled smoke is known as mist
The cliff you see is known as ice
What you did is cause and effect karma.
Thus the abstract content takes the form of a puzzle with opposition or agreement in the meaning. The lyrics of the song diversify and develop further by changing into the topics of hardships and blessings, sorrows and happiness, real and abstract, dead and alive, enchantment and ordinary. It is as if the Old man says, “If you could really see this mountain, you could see the smallest dancing atoms and their interconnectedness. Once there was nothing and again there will be nothing. Between the two is the life of man.” The ancient composers of the long songs might have said, “If you could really see your life, you would see the interconnection of the smallest events. Before my life these events were nothing and after they will be nothing. The events of life are a vehicle for karma”.

The Old man asks:
4. How can one ward off cloudless rain?
How disperse enkindled smoke?
How break up the cliff before one’s eyes?
How elude one’s own chastisement?

These four lines show the desperation and immaturity of youth. Those who are still naive and inexperienced are questioning as though calling for acquisition of understanding and awareness. The Goose responds:
5. I ward off cloudless rain with feathers
I fly to escape enkindled mist
I go to hot lands away from the ice
I bear my karma and reduce it.

The mood of the response shows a transformation. The young goose has understood the old man’s teaching and his examples, which began with simple ideas from nature and move to a more complex philosophical level. She now understands that the causes of events in one’s life are decided or determined by fate. She learns that earth’s endless natural cycle of change is not effected by man’s desires.

Learning about nature as part of the lifestyle of the ancient people is obviously reflected to a great extent in this folk music. For instance, the song “The Old man and the Goose”, known in some places as “The Old bird”, is sung in several different styles. The content of this song focuses on the changes that take place in nature and the environment. Everything in the universe happens for a certain reason, on its own course, and has its own causes that do not depend on humans. Moreover, the migration of birds to warm countries on the one hand is closely linked to changes in climate; but on the other hand, it can be regarded as a symbol of rational awareness of the environment and nature.

We will now examine a different version of this song. This one comes from Inner Mongolia.

The Old man and the Birds” (Inner Mongolian version)
The Old man:
1. O my countless nestling seven geese
You came from far across the sea?
Fluttering and frolicking
How wonderful it is
2. Perhaps, back on the land
You are resting in tranquility
The fall breeze has arrived
The scent of grass has diminished
3. Oh my seven nestling geese
Move to your warmer places
And enjoy happiness and be well
I, the old bird,
4. Go to my soaring mountains behind
I, the old bird, did not wish go get old
But one can not escape it
As it is the natures will.

This version of Mongolian long song belongs to the Ordos region. Some researchers refer to it as “The Old bird” or “Aged bird.” There are assuming that the old bird embodies wisdom. In the Khalkha version (which is the central ethnic minority in Mongolia) it is known as “The Old man and the Bird” where the old man represents the elderly generation, whereas the bird represents the younger generation. Thus the Khalkha version preserves not only the style and character of Mongolian antiphonal songs, but also disseminates more philosophical knowledge. The Khalkha version is also characterized by two different melodies and contextual meanings for the man and for the bird. The famous Mongolian long song singer J. Dorjdagva sang the Khalkha version to the assembled scholars at Mongolian folk art festival in May 1976 and later it was performed by long song singer Z. Tuvshinjargal.

I will now present the Khalkha version of this song:
“The Old man and the Birds”
The old man:
1. in the passing of the four seasons
In this joyous powerful summer month
We come to this beautiful land
By the power of the ancient prayers
2. You came from far across the sea
Fluttering and frolicking
How wonderful it is
My countless birds.

Written by the ancient lama poet and scholar, (Uridyn mergen gegen ) Lubsandambijalsana (1717-1766), this version preserves the style and character of the Mongolian antiphonal songs. In the book “The Infinite Commandments of Existence” (8.1962: 80-81), the song has two different contextual meanings. The name of the song is “Happy abundance”, but the antiphonal text is between the old man and the birds. Scholar Kiripolska , M, 2003, 225-246) “collected and compared works of two Mongolian lama poets, Mergen gegen Lubsangdambijalsan (1717-1766), (10.1986:186-189) and Noyon qutugtu Danjin Rabjai’s (1830-1856). The song was published in the twentieth century and contains a poem generally known as “Ebugen sibaγu qoyar” (“The old man and the Birds”). This poem also called “Jarγaltai delger” (“Joyful and prosperous”), which is also its first line. It is a qarilcaγa daγuu or “conversation song” between the Old man and the Birds”. The transcription and translation by Kiripolska M, 2003, 225-246 are as follows: (Appendix A)

“Jarγal-tai delger”
The old man asaγurun:
1. Jirγal-tai delger zun-u-ban sar- a -du
Jigurten sibaγu-qai ta mini
Γadaγadu yeke dalai-yin jaqa-aca
Γangginan derbegseger yaγun irebe?
The birds: ucirun
2. Ergiku dorbεn caγun ularil-du
Egelitu qalaγun zun-u sar-a-du
Erten-u uile-yin salkin-iyar degdeju
Osogsen tungγalag naγur-taγan irele
asaγurun:
3. Sanaju kusegsen naγur-taγan ireged
Sadun amarag nokor-tegen jolγa-γad
Sayiqan cenggen saγuju bayital-a
Sarayin ecus-iyer yaγun- daγan uyidba?
Ucirun:
4. Ondur aγula- yin orgil degegur
Egule casu budaraqu-yin uy-edu
Ularin ireku kuiten ularildu
Ebuljigsen dulaγan γazar-taγan yabun-a
Asaγ urun:
5. Ebuljigsen dulaγan γajar-taγan qariγad
Engke mendu-ber saγuju bayiγad
Ergiju ireku qabur-un sar-a-du
Egeju bucaju yaγun-daγan irebe?
Ucirun:
6. Jaγur-a jam-un ayan yabuqu- daγan
Jadaγai naγur-taγan toγlaju bayiγad
Jalaγu sayiqan ider nasun-aca-ban
Jilciju otelugsen ni yaγun-aca bui.

“Joyful and prosperous”
Question:
1. You, winged creatures, my little birds,
Why did you come to gaggling and flapping your wings?
From the shore of the west ocean
In the month of summer, the joyful, the prosperous?
Answer:
2. We came to our limpid lake where we grew up
In the turn of the rotating four seasons
In the month of the lucky hot summer
Flying in the winds of former deeds
Question:
3. After you came to you lake you longed for
And met with your relatives,
Loved ones, companions,
(While) you lived well rejoicing,
Why did you feel lonely by the end of the month?
Answer:
4. At the time when clouds and snow are swirling
Over the peaks of the high mountains
In the cold season which arrives in turns,
We go to our warm country
Where we (usually) pass the winter
Question:
5. Why did you come back in the month of the spring?
After you went back to your warm country
Where you passed the winter
And lived [there] safe and sound?
Answer:
6. After we played at our open lake,
While migrating on our long way,
Why have you grown old, aging?
From your young, pleasant and vigorous age? (9. 2003, 227) The main features of the Mongolian long song are not limited to human nature. Much emphasis is given to the essence of the natural settings and communities, to the correlations of change and transformation, and to their impact on both humans and nature. Thus, the philosophical aspects of teaching prevail in the content of long songs. The connection between nature and humans is described in the Lubsandanjangrabjai’s (1830-1856) song of the “The Five signals”.

“The Five signals”
1. Tepid wind is blowing
The earth is thawing
Birds are coming back
Signaling the spring
2. The rightful sun is rising
The rain is pouring
Grassland is thriving
Signaling the summer
3. The slight wind is blowing
Turning leaves and flowers yellow
The sounding cry of these returning
Signaling the fall
4. Vast clouds are mounting up
Topping the high mountains
With falling snow flakes
Signaling the winter
5. The noon sun is retreating
The times are flying by
The thick hair is graying
Signal of aging. (10. D.R, 1991, p42)

This Mongolian long song relates the changing seasons to certain stages of human life and shows their correlation to five seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter and the end of winter. This song demonstrates that seasonal changes of nature are in harmony with human birth, growth, development, aging and mortality. The “Five signals” of nature are connected to the accumulated and combined five stages of life. The song speaks about the connection of the causes of the “Five signals” and the five components of human lifespan and how they come together in the five natural biological elements.

I. Spring (time of birth and blossoming)
1. When the spring signals its arrival
With sweet singing of numerous birds
We stop thinking about the nature’s course
As it seems go on and last forever
2. Growing up wrapped up in one’s parents love
Being spoiled and taking everything for granted
Enjoying yourself at celebrations and plays
We stop thinking about the rotating four seasons
When we forget about rotating seasons
It seems like (it) will last forever.
II. Summer (youth)
3. During happy and prosperous summer
When five colors of the lotus are rocking
When migrating birds are gathering in the lake
Leaving behind the frosty winter
4. Ignoring the blessings of the masters
Following the teachings of his own lower nature
Dashing somewhere not knowing where
Unconscious of the knowledge of four oceans

III. Fall (aging)
5. When tepid winds of fall blow
Dazzling colors of flora lessen
The swaying flowers are rich in seeds and fruits
And the heat of the sun ray is receding
6. with happy little pride
Oppressed by the unreliable five poisons
Having obtained a body with the eight freedoms
Let us waste with the glorious prime of life
IV. Winter (time of passing)
7. When frosty winter claims its arrival
When snow flakes cover peaks of the ranges
When cold wind gusts pick up
The earth’s colors fade
8. When time comes of growing old
The temple of the body changes
The strength and mind weakens
Leaving us to follow what powerful karma brings us.

Thus the changes of nature are closely tied to stages of human life and the basics of being or not being; eternity and mortality are bound together to life in this song. The two lines of the above song

”When cold wind gusts pick up
The earth’s color fades” on one hand shows the weakening of earth’s color and, in the intensifying strength of the wind, the ancient Mongolian long song concept of cause and effect. On the other hand the process of aging is understood in the concept of intense bodily changes and a weakening of the human body. The philosophical meaning of the song is expressed through this duality and its expression in antiphonal song.

Conclusion In my presentation today, I have shared with you some basic background information about the Mongolian long song. For centuries the long song has held an honored and revered place in festivals and celebrations. Most national holyday festivals begin with long song. The long song reminds the people of the endless cycle of human beings and nature and their relationships and interconnectedness. Mongolian long song expresses the inner beauty and holiness of the human being. The hidden philosophical meanings of life are presented in this lyrical word puzzles. Today’s long song researcher gains a new appreciation for the national heritage and spirit of the Mongolian people. Notes

1.Erdenechimeg, L, 2001, “The sounds harmony of the meditation guru -song” UB, p 186;

2. According to the Dashdorj, D and Gurrincen, R, 1956, “Ardyn aman jokiolyn emhetgel” UB; and Bandihuu, S, 1991 “Ulemjiin chanar”, Sainshand.

3. Charles, R, Bawden, 2003, “Anthology of Mongolian literature” p701-702)

4. Horloo, P, 1981, “Lyrics of the Mongolian song” UB. p 322)

5. Seven geese-ondgon doloon galuu. This song is new collection, not before published. [Gereltu, 2000]

6. Dorjdagva. J . 1976, Mongolian famous long song singer’s audio record, UB,

7. Tuvshinjargal,.Z, 2003 “ Mongolian long song singer’s audio record,

8. Samphildendev, H, 1984, “Mongolian long song “ UB, p120;

8. Mergen gegen Lubsandambiijalsana, 1986, “ Bum zarlig kemeegdeh orshiba, Beijing, 186-189;

10. Kiripolska M, 2003, “ The old man and the birds in the Mongolian poetry”: Questioning the authorship of the song” Acta Orientalia, Ediperunt, Danica Fenica Norvegica, Vol 64, p225-246;

11. Cagaan, D 1962, (“ Collected works”) “Y- Noyon kutuqtu Lubsandanjinrabjai “ Duuny tuuver” , UB; Naranbatu, 1986, “Collected song”, Beijing, p-186-189;

12. Ta minu- olon toony utgyg zaaj bui,

13. Uchiruun- doroi buurai hun hariulah ug um, 14. According to Naranbatu, author of the introduction to Galuu and Jirantai, 1986, and 2003:123,

15. When youngest time, if you are do not study, do not know how about will future.

16. The five poisons are: lying, anger, shallowness, jealousy, and carelessness. Also included body, language, feeling is bad actions are to poison human minds.

17. The eight freedoms are: to study, research, teach, describe, read, preach, mature and meditate.

18. Do not waste your breath.

May good deeds blossom

Click here Mongolian long song to go back to Dr. Erdenechimeg's page.