Udmurt - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefe and Practices. The Udmurt people's respect for their traditions is demonstrated by their long adherence to their ancient religion and mythology. In the villages, some information about their beliefs can still be collected, especially from elderly people. Their twofold, anthropomorphized mythology, which is based on nature, took its shape in Permian times; in later centuries it was enriched by only a few Muslim and Orthodox elements concerning certain persons, customs, and objects. Their supreme god is Inmar (corresponding to the Finnish Ilmarinen), and the personified evil is called Sajtan (which is a later loanword). Forests, waters, houses, and even barns have their own spirits, whose names include the word murt (man).

The most prominent person at feasts is the tuno (wise man) who, despite some slight differences, is much like a shaman. The secret locale for ritual sacrifices is a clearing in the forest, the keremet (or lud ). The clans and, later, the kindred families had their own lares and penates, a household sanctuary, and even an altar. Family and public holidays were regulated by strict rules in accord with the rhythm of everyday life activities and the seasons.

Arts. In Udmurt folklore, Turkish (especially Tatar) and then Slavic (primarily Russian) features were integrated into the original Finno-Ugrian (Permian) traditions. Two general types of folklore can be distinguished: the Southern quatrains with fixed rhythm, rhymes, and parallel structures, which bear the marks of Turkish influence, and the Northern songs, which are longer and freer in form and content. These, often improvised, have much in common with the music of other Finno-Ugrians. Folktales and legends are also popular, although the former have lost much of their Udmurt flavor and now differ only in minor ways from other typically European themes and motifs. The legends retain more references to both the Udmurt past and present. Classic historical legends recount wars between different clans and their leaders and between the Udmurt and neighboring ethnic groups (Cheremis and invading Tatars). There were also many legends about clashes with the Russians, but all traces of these were removed by the official cultural policy. There remain a great number of local legends, focusing on the past and the genesis of a settlement, a stream, a hill, or a rock. The tales and legends draw on Udmurt mythology, the vitality of which could not be blunted by Orthodoxy or the later Soviet regime. There are many individual motifs in the less well-known genres (proverbs, riddles, and dramatic customs).

The first Udmurt amateur theater companies were formed after the Revolution and—especially in villages—were essentially vehicles for popularizing new political ideas. The first permanent Udmurt theater with trained actors and directors was established in 1934.

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