Naadam is a traditional type of festival in Mongolia. The festival is also locally termed “eriin gurvan naadam” (эрийн гурван наадам) “the three games of men”. The games are Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery and are held throughout the country during the midsummer holidays. Women have started participating in the archery and girls in the horse-racing games, but not in Mongolian wrestling.
Imagine a carnival crossed with a peculiar kind of Olympics. People dress up in their finest deel, the traditional long colourful silken robe, the men adding the local touch of a cowboy hat and boots. The younger women put on perilously high stilettos, even though they may well end up on the back of a horse or walking in the mud.
The biggest festival is held in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar during the National Holiday from July 11 – 13, in the National Sports Stadium. Other cities and towns across Mongolia and those with significant Mongolian populations population in China, have their own, smaller scale Naadam celebrations. It begins with an elaborate introduction ceremony featuring dancers, athletes, horse riders, and musicians. After the ceremony, the competitions begin.
Naadam is the most widely watched festival among Mongols, and is believed to have existed for centuries in one fashion or another. Naadam has its origin in the activities, such as military parades and sporting competitions such as archery, horse riding and wrestling, that followed the celebration of various occasions. Now it formally commemorates the 1921 revolution when Mongolia declared itself a free country.
Another popular Naadam activity is the playing of games using shagai, sheep knuckles that serve as game pieces and tokens of both divination and friendship. In the larger Nadaam festivals, tournaments may take place in a separate venue.