Avars - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religion. In the more distant past the Avars preferred their ancient religion with its pantheon of pagan gods located on mountaintops (the Avar "Olympus" was Mount Tlili Meer), including the chief god Ts'ob. Between the fifth and twelfth centuries Georgian Orthodox Christianity penetrated Avaria; its remnants include the temple of Datun, crosses with Avar-language epitaphs from Khunzakh, and the names of the days of the week. The prevailing religion since the thirteenth century has been Sunni Islam. Two important holy places are situated in Avar territory, and there are many Quranic schools, countless houses of prayer, and a generally high level of religious observance (Bennigsen and Wimbush 1986, 179). The religious functionaries— dibir (mullah) and budun (mosque official)—were paid not from the property of the mosques but from communal funds. There were mosques in every settlement. Attached to large mosques were parochial schools. Pagan beliefs were interwoven with those of Islam.

Ceremonies. Ancient ceremonies were preserved, among which the most popular was the New Year's festival of ots bay ("bull harnessing"), celebrated during the vernal equinox. A festival is always accompanied by athletic contests. Today innovations are giving these ceremonies new content, and only the basic elements of the past are being preserved. Avar wedding ceremonies are quite elaborate, accompanied by folk dances and folk music. There also exists an established genre of keening and singing by women during funerals ( mau ) .

Medicine. Sorcerers using magic amulets and other such objects held a significant place in folk medicine. At the same time village mullahs would write out special incantations and prayers, as recommended in books of home cures in the Muslim world. The remedies of Eastern medicine were closely integrated with magical methods. Those who specialized in physical trauma were highly skilled; masters of traditional medicine are known to have performed trephination. The Alibutaev lineage from Sogratl had seventeen generations of healers. Today all large populated areas have medical stations and there are modern clinics in regional centers and cities.

Death and Afterlife. Avar believers imagine a life after death in accordance with Islamic eschatology, with elements of superstition from earlier religions. Funeral rituals are also carried out in accordance with Islamic prescriptions.

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