Mongol creation stories: man, Mongol tribes, the natural world,
and Mongol deities. (brief analyses of several stories)

Nassen-Bayer; Kevin Stuart

Asian Folklore Studies
Vol.51 No.2 (Oct 1992)

COPYRIGHT Asian Folklore Studies (Japan) 1992

            The translators introduce a loosely connected series of Mongol 
            stories about the creation and the beginning of the world. The 
            interest of the stories lies in particular with the parallels they 
            offer to stories that are widely known in East Asia such as that of 
            the Swan Maiden, the Heavenly Archer, and the victory over the 
            devilish black Dragon King. Key words: creation stories -- Sakyamuni 
            -- creation from a frog -- Swan Maiden -- Ursa Major -- Heavenly 
            Archer -- deified humans -- Dragon King 
            Full Text: COPYRIGHT Asian Folklore Studies (Japan) 1992 
            AMONG the folklore accounts collected in recent years by scholars in 
            Inner Mongolia have been a number of stories that portray the Mongol 
            view of creation. This paper presents several of the published 
            folklore accounts pertaining to the origins of man, the Mongols, the 
            natural world, and various Mongol deities. 
            In one tale the creation of the world is attributed to a lama named 
            Long ago there lived a lama named Udan who created everything 
            in the world. When he was five hundred years old, heaven, earth, 
            and everything else had yet to appear. When he reached the age 
            of one thousand Udan divided heaven and earth into separate 
            creating a nine-story heaven, a nine-story earth, and nine rivers. 
            Finally the lama made a man and a woman out of clay. They 
            married and had children, and the entire human race descends 
            from them. (BAJAR 1988, 27) 
            The foreign influence of Lamaism is at work here. The word lama, for 
            example, was probably added to the tale after the spread of Buddhism 
            to Mongol regions. It should be noted, however, that many Buddhists 
            and Lamaists consider the Buddha to have been the creator of the 
            world, so that this account is somewhat at odds with this Buddhist 
            Another creation story, "Why Man Has No Hair," explains why man is 
            not hirsute and also hints at why he became mortal. The creator god 
            in this story is Burqan Tenger. 
            Long long ago God descended to earth and made a man and a 
            woman out of clay. Before returning to heaven to get some holy 
            water with the power to animate anything, he ordered his dog and 
            cat to protect the clay people from the devil. After God ascended 
            to heaven, the devil came to harm the people. The dog and the 
            cat protected them, though, thwarting the devil's plan. Finally, 
            the devil deceived them by giving a piece of meat to the dog and 
            a bowl of milk to the cat. While the dog ate the flesh and the cat 
            lapped the milk, the devil urinated on the people and fled. 
            When God returned with the holy water and discovered what 
            had happened, he was enraged. Scolding the dog and cat for 
            neglecting their duty, he forced the cat to lick the hair off the 
            of the people whom the devil had defiled (God created humans 
            with hair all over their bodies). The cat licked off the hair 
            except their heads, armpits, and crotches, since the former 
            had not been dirtied and the latter two were hard for the cat to 
            reach. God then put the hair that had been licked away by the 
            cat onto the body of the dog, so that humans are now naked and 
            dogs have hair. The Mongol saying that the tongue of the cat 
            and the hair of the dog are dirty has its origin here. Man and 
            woman, who were animated by drinking the holy water, should 
            have been immortal but became mortal instead because of their 
            defilement by the devil. (GADAMBA and CERENSODNOM 1984, 742) 
            In this account, everything made by Burqan Tenger has both positive 
            and negative aspects. There is duality in all that is created: 
            beauty is tempered by ugliness, joy with suffering. 
            The following account offers an explanation for why the Chinese 
            population is so much larger than the Mongolian: 
            God made many people from clay and placed some in the north and 
            some in the south. After many years God, thinking that man 
            must have multiplied, came down to take a look. When he found 
            that the population had not increased, he recalled that he had made 
            males but no females. He therefore put many hens in the south 
            and seven ewes in the north. The men and hens of the south are 
            the ancestors of the Chinese. Seven men in the north received the 
            seven ewes. One of the men, out of greed, killed his sheep to eat 
            at once. But after seven days the remaining ewes turned into 
            beautiful girls and married the men. These are the ancestors of 
            the Mongols. The Mongols' population growth is very slow because 
            they are descended from ewes, and the Chinese multiply 
            rapidly because they are descended from hens. (MANDAQU 1981, 
            This tale probably springs from nomadic culture, since the nomadic 
            Mongols commonly keep sheep but not chickens, which are raised by 
            farmers and are used in the story to symbolize the Han Chinese. 
            There are at least two popular accounts concerning the origin of the 
            Mongolian tribes, one involving the Dorbed tribe and the other the 
            Buryat tribe. 
            Long long ago the Dorbed tribe lived near Nidu Mountain. The 
            mountain towered so tall that its snow-covered top was perpetually 
            lost in clouds. A spring of water gushed forth and flowed into a 
            lake near the mountaintop. The lake was surrounded by forests. 
            One day a young hunter went up the mountain and reached 
            the lake. There, to his great astonishment, he heard the sound of 
            laughing voices. Curious, the young hunter approached and 
            found four goddesses playing and dancing. He watched them, 
            spellbound, as they frolicked in the lake one moment and rested 
            in the sky the next. Returning to his senses, the hunter hurriedly 
            descended the mountain to his home. Taking his catch-pole, he 
            returned to the lake and hid behind a bush. As the unsuspecting 
            goddesses played he tossed his pole and caught one. The other 
            goddesses flew up into the sky. The young hunter voiced his love 
            to the goddess he had captured, and with great pleasure she accepted 
            They led a happy life, but because goddesses cannot live long 
            on earth she eventually returned to heaven. Once there, however, 
            she realized that she was pregnant, for her body grew heavier and 
            heavier. Flying down to the side of the lake, she gave birth to 
            a boy. She made a cradle and hung it from a tree branch, then 
            placed the baby boy inside. She then put some of her own milk 
            into a pot and hung the pot from a branch above the cradle, all the 
            while missing the young hunter. The goddess found a small yellow 
            bird that lived in Tang[gamma]ud and had it perch in the tree to 
            day and night and look after the baby. Having prepared everything, 
            the goddess returned to heaven. 
            At that time the Dorbed tribe, being without a good leader, 
            asked a fortune-teller how to find one. The fortune-teller told 
            them that if they looked in the bushes by the lake on Nidu Mountain 
            they would surely discover what they sought. Delighted, the 
            Dorbed expressed their appreciation to the fortune-teller and, on 
            a good day, went up the mountain. There, drawn by the yellow 
            bird's song, they found the baby. The Dorbed took the infant 
            home, believing him to be from heaven and the one destined to 
            be their future leader. The small yellow bird flew around the 
            cradle, unwilling to leave, but at last was forced to fly away into 
            the blue sky. 
            When the boy grew up, he achieved great deeds and became 
            an outstanding hero. He was the forefather of the present Dorbed 
            tribe. (OBOR MONG[gamma]OL-YIN KELE UTQA JOQIJAL SUDULQU [gamma]AJAR 
            1963, 10) 
            Many years ago, Bar[gamma]utai, hunting around Lake Baikal, found 
            seven beautiful girls playing in the lake. Bar[gamma]utai silently 
            the lake and stole the clothing one of the girls had removed 
            and placed there. After swimming in the lake, the girls 
            went to get their clothes as Bar[gamma]utai watched stealthily from 
            a tree. All of the girls but the youngest, whose clothing had 
            been stolen by Bar[gamma]utai, put on their clothes, became swans, 
            soared up into the sky. Bar[gamma]utai then grasped the sobbing 
            They married and had eleven children, but the woman was unable 
            to reclaim her clothes from the hunter no matter how often she 
            begged him. One day, the woman found her clothing and put 
            it on. She then became a swan and flew away through the yurt 
            skylight. The children were the Buryat's ancestors. (GADAMBA 
            and CERENSODNOM 1984, 1023) 
            The above two stories trace the origins of these two tribes to 
            goddesses and hunters, both of which were venerated in ancient 
            times. These two accounts likely originated in ancient times because 
            of the role played by the swan and the yellow bird. Among ancient 
            Mongol tribes the swan was a totem, and the Buryat and Bar[gamma]a 
            tribes sacrificed to it (ZHAO 1988, 32). 
            Some folklore accounts are concerned with the sun, moon, stars, 
            wind, and earth. This suggests the interest the ancient Mongols had 
            in the origins, transformation, and development of natural 
            phenomena. Let us first examine accounts dealing with the earth. 
            In ancient times, the earth was submerged in water and formed a 
            boundless ocean. When the lord of the universe, Buddha Sakyamuni, 
            was flying over the ocean to find a way to create the earth, 
            he saw a frog swimming from north to south. Observing the 
            golden-bodied frog, Buddha used his fingers to divine that the 
            earth would be created on the back of the golden frog. Buddha 
            unslung his bow and arrows and shot the golden frog's east side, 
            turning the frog in a northerly direction. Fire gushed from its 
            mouth and water spouted from its rump. Buddha threw golden 
            sand on the frog, which became the earth where we now live. The 
            part of the arrow protruding from the frog's east side became a 
            forest, while the arrowhead that had passed through the frog to the 
            west became a metal area. Because of the fire which gushed from 
            the frog's mouth, the north became an area of fire. Because of the 
            water spouting from the frog's rump, the south became a watery 
            area. So our earth consists of the above five elements (fire, wood, 
            water, metal, sand) and exists on the body of the frog. When the 
            frog moves its legs or shakes its head, earthquakes result. (SECEN 
            1987, 119) 
            In Mongol folklore there are also descriptions of how the world came 
            to have form. A few examples: the edges of sky and earth came 
            together in the way two pots are set against one another; there are 
            ninety-nine golden columns holding apart the sky and earth; the 
            world has three stories, the upper one being heaven where gods and 
            goddesses live, the middle one being earth where man dwells, and the 
            lower one being the place where man goes after death; heaven (sky) 
            is the father and earth is the mother of man, animals, etc. 
            Some scholars have argued that the ancient Mongols created simple 
            stories because of a lack of a broad explanatory base of knowledge, 
            while other scholars argue that they were longer and more 
            complicated when initially created and subsequently lost various 
            elements under the influence of Buddhism and other philosophies 
            (SECEN 1987, 116). Other stories lost various parts in the process 
            of being retold from generation to generation over a long historical 
            period. The following are two brief examples dealing with the origin 
            of the earth. 
            In the beginning the world was covered with roiling gas. The 
            temperature increased and dampness was generated from the 
            warm gas, causing it to rain heavily. The world became a vast 
            ocean, and at last dust and sand rose to cover the ocean surface and 
            become earth. 
            The primordial world was dark gas with no separation between 
            earth and sky. After many years, brightness and darkness separated, 
            with brightness becoming the sky and darkness becoming 
            the earth. After many more years, fourty-four tenger (gods or 
            buddhas) appeared in the east and fifty-five tenger appeared in 
            the west, south, and north, and the Great Bear was taken as the 
            standard. Thus there were ninety-nine tenger in heaven. At that 
            time the earth was floating and had not stabilized, and there were 
            neither animals nor vegetation. The tenger then created man and 
            had them descend to earth to plant vegetation. At last the earth 
            stabilized. (SECEN 1987, 120) 
            From the foregoing we infer that ancient Mongolian thought saw the 
            world as generated from dark gas. There were also explanations 
            concerning the origin of wind, stars, the sun, and the moon. The 
            following stories explain how the wind, Ursa Major, and the sun took 
            There is an old woman in heaven who has a skin sack containing 
            the wind. If she is angry, she opens her sack and the wind blows 
            on earth. If she is furious, she opens the sack wider and wider 
            and the wind becomes stronger. When she is in good spirits, she 
            closes the sack and the wind stops. Thus, people shouldn't willfully 
            offend the old woman. (ANONYMOUS 1984, 16) 
            Long ago two brothers met a man as they set out hunting one 
            morning. "What are you doing?" they asked him. The man 
            answered, "I am waiting for a bird I just now shot to fall from 
            the sky." When noon came, the bird dropped from the sky, impaled 
            by an arrow. The three then became (sworn) brothers. 
            They went on and met four persons in succession, the first a man 
            who could hear any sound on earth and in heaven, the second a 
            strong man who could pile mountains on top of each other, the 
            third a runner who could catch antelopes, and the fourth a magician 
            who could drink up the sea. These seven men became (sworn) 
            brothers and defeated Magpie Khan by employing their skills. 
            In the end they became Ursa Major. (GADAMBA and CERENSODNOM 
            1984, 735) 
            Long ago an old man's cow gave birth to a calf, the front part of 
            which resembled a man and the rear part of which resembled a 
            cow. Its name was Ama-ca[gamma]an. The calf grew up and performed 
            many good deeds on man's behalf and so went to heaven and met 
            Ca[gamma]an (White) Khan. The khan told the calf, "You did many 
            good deeds for man but they dealt with you in an ill manner. I 
            struggle with the khan of the devils every day and am going to 
            defeat him with the (fighting) style of bulls, so please aid me." 
            In order to help the khan, Ama-ca[gamma]an disguised himself as a 
            went to the palace of Devil Khan, and slew him. But the wife 
            of Devil Khan, a mangrus (monster), realized what had happened 
            and threw an iron scraper at Ama-ca[gamma]an's back as he was 
            to heaven. Am-ca[gamma]an was cut into seven pieces, and these 
            later became Ursa Major. (CERENSODNOM 1987, 40) 
            Long long ago, seven suns rose in the sky so that the rivers and 
            vegetation on earth dried up and men and animals had great 
            surviving. At that time, there lived a famous archer named 
            Erkei-Mergen. People went to his home and said, "Please shoot 
            the suns in the sky and let us live in happiness." 
            Erkei-Mergen was a brave, young, and proud man. He 
            promised, "I want to shoot the seven suns using only seven arrows. 
            If I can't accomplish this I will cut off my thumbs, never 
            drink again, and live as an animal rather than as a man." The 
            archer then began to shoot the suns from east to west. He shot 
            down six, but while he was taking aim at the seventh a martin flew 
            in front of the sun and was shot in the tail. From then on, the 
            martin's tail has pointed in two different directions. The last sun 
            was frightened of the archer and fled behind West Mountain. 
            Angry at the martin, the archer decided to catch it using his fast 
            horse, Qarcagai-Alag. The horse vowed, "If I can not catch the 
            martin before dusk, you can cut off my four limbs and abandon 
            me on the open steppe. I will not live as a horse any longer." 
            But when dusk came, the horse had still not caught up with the 
            martin. Erkei-Mergen, angry at his horse, cut off its front feet 
            and left it on the steppe. The horse then became a jerboa, 
            why the jerboa's forelegs are shorter than its hind legs. 
            This also explains why the martin always flies around those who 
            ride horses with a chirping sound that translates as "Can you 
            catch me?" Erkei-Mergen cut off his thumbs as he had promised 
            and became a marmot, living in a dark hole. This explains why 
            the marmot has only four claws. Marmots exit their holes in the 
            morning and the evening because Erkei-Mergen still remembers 
            his vow and desires to shoot the sun. And man does not eat the 
            flesh of marmots because they evolved from Erkei-Mergen. From 
            then on day and night have appeared in turn, since the sun flies 
            behind West Mountain in fear [when the marmot exits its hole at 
            dusk]. (GADAMBA and CERENSODNOM 1984, 735) 
            God decided to punish the crafty monster, Raqu, but could not 
            find him because Raqu had gone into hiding. God ordered the 
            sun to find Raqu, but the sun could not do so. The moon found 
            the place where Raqu was hiding and told God. Raqu was thus 
            arrested and punished. From that time on, Raqu has been feuding 
            with the sun and moon and always chases them. Solar and 
            lunar eclipses occur just as the sun and moon are about to be 
            And when this happens, people shout and play musical instruments 
            in order to frighten Raqu away. (SECEN 1987, 121) DEIFIED 
            PERSONALITIES Deified personalities are human in appearance but 
            divine in ability and power. The following three examples 
            demonstrate this. 
            Long ago a herdsman tending a herd of horses for a prince lost the 
            animals. He couldn't find them no matter where he looked. 
            Later, an old man named Jayaci, a horse breeder for the prince, 
            told the herdsman, "Your lost horses ran to Altan-Bumbai Mountain 
            and Erdeni-Bumbai Mountain located twenty kilometers southwest 
            of here." The herdsman went there and found the horses just 
            as Jayaci had said. Even when Jayaci was on the verge of death 
            he still would not leave his horses. One day the prince asked him, 
            "Why are you unwilling to leave?" Jayaci replied, "I hope that 
            after I die, you will bury me between Altan-Bumbai and Erdeni-Bumbai 
            mountains dressed in the clothing I wore when herding, 
            and put my catch-pole beside my head. I also wish to be carried 
            to my burial on my yellow horse." When the prince agreed to 
            this, Jayaci stopped breathing. He was buried in accordance with 
            his last request. After a few months had passed, some of the 
            prince's herds of horses were stolen and driven to Altan-Bumbai 
            and Erdeni-Bumbai at midnight. A pestilence then spread among 
            the horses and they began to die. The prince went to Jayaci's 
            grave, offered sacrifices to him, and said, "You have gone away 
            and must be tired. The children in our home place are frightened 
            of you. I suggest that you not leave here again. I will draw 
            your image on a cattle skin and put it in my yurt to worship. This 
            way you can see the horses and other domestic animals every day 
            and you will feel very happy." Returning to his home, the prince 
            drew an image of Jayaci on a cattle skin and worshipped him. 
            From the following day horses were never stolen or taken ill again. 
            And Jayaci, who had been seen at night, never appeared again. 
            After a few months, Jayaci's wife also died. Soon after, some 
            children became ill. People understood that this was because she 
            missed children, since she had loved children very much during 
            her lifetime. As soon as they drew her image on a clean white 
            piece of felt and worshipped it the children recovered. Later, 
            people worshipped Jayaci as the protecting deity of livestock and 
            his wife as the protecting deity of children. When people came 
            to use cloth, herdsmen moved the images of Jayaci and his wife 
            from cattle skin and felt onto white cloth. (OBOR MONG[gamma]OL-YIN 
            KELE UTQA JOQIJAL SUDULQU [gamma]AJAR 1963, 6) 
            Qobolta stole a heavenly cow while in paradise and killed it to eat 
            a snowy mountain. The Lord of Heaven noticed this and sent 
            an emissary to arrest Qobolta. Qobolta told the emissary, "The 
            fact that I have stolen a heavenly cow is proof of the fact that I 
            have been in heaven. I killed the cow in order to make a god 
            image." The emissary replied, "I will not punish you if you 
            really can make a god image," and returned to heaven. Qobolta 
            cut the skin of the cattle into strips as wide as a finger, and 
            each cattle bone with one of these strips. Next he distributed the 
            images to everyone on earth, telling them, "This is the deity Bumal. 
            If you sincerely believe in him, you will surely be healthy and 
            happy all year and your domestic animals will breed and multiply." 
            Qobolta was the first to believe in the deity. From that time on, 
            Bumal became the embodiment of God for the Mongols. They 
            always drew his image on cattle horns and put it outside their 
            yurts to worship. (OBOR MONG[gamma]OL-YIN KELE UTQA JOQIJAL SUDULQU 
            [gamma]AJAR 1963, 6) 
            Many years ago, the brutal black Dragon King lived on the land 
            and not in the sea. His constant attacks made him a dangerous 
            enemy to man. At that time, there lived an old man who was only 
            one span high but had a beard two spans long. He had a sack 
            made from camel-neck skin, a spoon made of wild buck horn, 
            and a billy goat. One day the old man set off to subdue Dragon 
            King. On the way, the old man came to the sea. The sea asked, 
            "Where are you going?" "I am going to vanquish the Dragon 
            King," replied the old man. "How can you defeat him?" the sea 
            inquired in an arrogant and contemptuous tone. The old man was 
            very angry, and drew the entire sea into his spoon with a single 
            dip, leaving the seabed dry. Putting the sea into his sack, he went 
            on until he met a fox. "Where are you going?" asked the fox. 
            "I am going to defeat Dragon King," answered the old man. 
            "How can you do that?" the fox mockingly inquired. The old 
            man was furious at this question, scooped up the fox, and put him 
            in his sack. Next he met a wolf. "Where are you going?" asked 
            the wolf. "I am going to defeat Dragon King," replied the old 
            man. "How can you defeat Dragon King?" the wolf asked in a 
            ridiculing tone. The old man was infuriated at the wolf, beat it 
            with his spoon, and threw it too into his sack. He then continued 
            his journey and arrived at the rear of Dragon King's palace. 
            Climbing a hill behind the palace, he shouted, "I want to vanquish 
            man's enemy, Dragon King." His voice was so loud that it shook 
            the hill and Dragon King's heart. The proud Dragon King replied, 
            "If you offend me so openly, I will release my ten thousand 
            sheep to raise a dust that will settle upon and kill you." The ten 
            thousand sheep then ran forth, but the old man set free the wolf 
            from his sack. The sheep saw the wolf and fled, scattering in all 
            directions. Then the Dragon King said, "I will send my two dogs 
            to devour you," and set free Qasar and Qusar, his two dogs. The 
            old man let the fox out of his sack. The fox fled from the dogs, and 
            the dogs chased it far away. Dragon King began to be afraid, and 
            ordered his ten thousand soldiers to attack the old man. But the old 
            man wasn't worried and waited for the troops to approach. When 
            they came near he opened his sack, and the sea poured out and 
            rushed in with powerful waves upon Dragon King, his soldiers, and 
            his palace. From then on Dragon King never lived on land but 
            only in the sea. (OBOR MONG[gamma]OL-YIN KELE UTQA JOQIJAL SUDULQU 
            [gamma]AJAR 1963, 3) 
            Mongols living in the eastern part of Inner Mongolia made sacrifices 
            to Jayaci and Bumal until the 1940s. Jayaci was venerated as the god 
            who guarded livestock and Bumal as the protector of children. In 
            general, it is thought that the two accounts related to Bumal and 
            Jayaci are uninfluenced by Buddhism and arose from ancient Mongol 
            society and culture. 
            The brutal black Dragon King may be understood as the embodiment of 
            natural catastrophe. In the defeat of the King, the Mongols express 
            their desire to surmount the difficulties imposed by Nature. 
            ANONYMOUS 1984 Mong[gamma]ol uran joqijal-yin teuke [A history of 
            Mongolian literature]. Hohhot: Obor Mong[gamma]ol-yin Sur[gamma]an 
            Kumujil-yin Qoro. BAJAR 1988 Mong[gamma]ol kitad-yin [gamma]alab 
            egusul-yin sidatu uliger-yin qarici[gamma]ulul [A comparati study of 
            Mongolian and Chinese myths concerning the creation of the world]. 
            Obor Mong[gamma]ol-yin Ba[gamma]si-yin Jike 
            Sur[gamma]a[gamma]uli-yin Erdem Sinjilegennu Setgul 2: 25-42. 
            CERENSODNOM, D. 1987 Mong[gamma]ol-yin uran joqijal [Mongolian 
            literature]. Ulan Bator: Mong[gamma]ol Ulus-yin Keblel-yin 
            [gamma]ajar. MANDAQU 1981 Mong[gamma]ol domo[gamma]-yin ucir [On 
            Mongol myth]. Mong[gamma]ol kele utqa joqijal [Mongolian language 
            and literature], 101-116. OBOR MONG[gamma]OL-YIN KELE UTQA JOQIJAL 
            SUDULQU [gamma]AJAR [Inner Mongolian Institute of Language and 
            Literature], compiler and publisher 1963 Mong[gamma]ol utqa 
            joqijai-yin materijal-yin emetgel [A collection of Mongol literature 
            materials]. Vol. 1. Hohhot. GADAMBA S. and D. CERENSODNOM, 
            compilers. 1984 Mong[gamma]ol arad-yin aman joqijal-yin degejibicik 
            [Cream of Mongolian folk literature]. Hohhot: Obor Mong[gamma]ol-yin 
            Arad-yin Keblel-yin Qoro. SECEN 1987 Mong[gamma]ol sidatu uliqer-yin 
            ulamjila[gamma]dal-yin [gamma]orban jam [Three ways by which Mongol 
            myths have been handed down]. Obor mong[gamma]ol-yin ba[gamma]si-yin 
            yike sur[gamma]a[gamma]uli-yin erdem sinjilegen-nu setgul 1: 
            116-131. ZHAO Yongxian 1988 Shenniao jiangpei hua zuyuan [On the 
            myth of tribal origins divine birds]. Minzu Wenyibao 2: 32-33.