Udis - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. The Udis are Christians (Orthodox and Armeno-Gregorian), although they continue to observe many pagan practices. There are cults of saints ( pir ), the sun ( bïgh ; cf. the Udi word for "God," bikhajukh ), the moon (the chief deity of Caucasian Albania), fire, the heart, and ancestors. The ruins of certain churches are considered especially sacred: Saint Elisey (named for a saint who preached Christianity to the Udis) and Saint Egishe Arakela (at which people of many different faiths worship).

Arts. As a result of assimilation a distinctive Udi folklore and folk music has not been preserved. At the beginning of the twentieth century some folk songs were still recalled, a few of which were recorded by the noted Caucasologist A. Dirr. At that time Udi tales, proverbs, and sayings were still known. In present-day Vartashen and Nij the Udis sing Azerbaijan and Armenian songs and Azerbaijan and Armenian tunes are played at their weddings. The young generation of Udis dwelling in Georgia know Georgian songs. Most dances are of Azerbaijan origin ( uzundara , shalakho ), and Georgian Udis dance the Georgian lek'uri.

Death and Afterlife. After death the body was traditionally washed and wrapped in a shroud; the gathered relatives and neighbors mourned, and a priest chanted the funeral rites. The dead person was brought out to the courtyard on a mattress and set on a special wooden stretcher, like a ladder, covered with silk clothes. The priest made the sign of the cross over the deceased, and all those present crossed themselves and gave gifts of money to the priest. The corpse was buried on the day following death. Four men carried the body to the church, where the funeral rites were sung, and then to the graveyard. The women thereupon returned home, and the men accompanied the body to the cemetery. After interment all gathered at the home of the deceased for a funeral banquet. Since food was not to be prepared in that house, each family brought pilaf, wine, and other food from their own homes. Memorial banquets were held on the seventh and fortieth days and the first anniversary after death. Mourning lasted forty days. Caucasian mourning practices, such as the wearing of black and letting one's beard grow out, were not obligatory. Nowadays only women closely related to the deceased wear black dresses, kerchiefs, and stockings; men affix a small photograph of the deceased to their clothing.

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