Kriashen Tatars - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religions. Although the Kriashens were members of the Russian Orthodox church, it was not until the end of the nineteenth century that church authorities made any effort to introduce Christian dogmas into Kriashen practices. The few resident Russian priests in Kriashen villages rarely commanded the local languages. Traditional Kriashen religion was characterized by agricultural rites, ancestor worship, the cult of heroes (Kirämätlär), and animal sacrifices. Kriashen communities that resisted Christian and Islamic influence in their practices referred to themselves as "Chey Kräshenlär" (real, or pure, Kriashens). The community, both living and dead, was the focal point of religious life; the most important rituals involving the entire village were held in the fields, cemeteries, or sacred groves. Religious specialists ( küräzä ) consisted of seers and healers. The former would practice divination and recover lost articles. Village elders, in some communities including women, officiated at the major sacrifices. Kriashens would frequently enlist the aid of powerful religious specialists from neighboring, non-Kriashen, villages. There were also important ancestor-worship ceremonies at the family level. Important festivals were Nardughan (New Year's), Olï Kön ("Big Day," Easter), and Sabantuy (the summer plow festival). These practices were retained well into the 1930s, and some certainly continue to exist to some degree.

The chief deity, corresponding to the Christian god, was called Koday. The spirit world was quite populous; spirits existed for all natural phenomena. The most important of these were spirits of the house, fields, forest, and water. Adults were considered to have at least two separate and distinct souls.

Arts. Very little Kriashen folklore has been recorded, except for wedding songs and certain other folk melodies. Kriashens have a tradition of intricate carving and embroidery. Kriashen embroideries contain many Finno-Ugric and Turkic elements, which are not evident in those of the Islamic Tatars.

Medicine . Traditional medical techniques consisted of spells and incantations, since it was believed that most illnesses were caused by spirits or spirit possession. Modern empirical medicine was probably not consistently available in the Soviet period, and, consequently, traditional techniques remain in use.

Death and Afterlife. The community was traditionally believed to consist of both the living and the dead, and great care was taken to see to the needs of the latter. Death and burial rituals were complex and carefully followed. Funeral repasts, at which the soul of the deceased participated, were held on the third, seventh, ninth, and fortieth days after burial. Annual memorial feasts were also held in both the house and in the cemetery for family and village ancestors. The Kriashens had no concept of heaven; they believed spirits resided in the spirit world and yet could interact with the living.

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