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Discovering Naadam: A Festival of Mongolian Culture

Naadam is a vibrant festival celebrated in Mongolia. The event showcases the rich cultural heritage of Mongolia through its three main sports: wrestling, horse racing, and archery, often called the “Three Manly Games.”

Celebrated annually from July 11-13, Naadam is a time of national pride and joy, filled with traditional costumes, music, and festivities. It is inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


Mongolian wrestling, known as “Bökh,” is a highlight of Naadam. Wrestlers wear traditional costumes, including a tight-fitting jacket and briefs, and compete in elimination rounds until a winner is crowned. The sport emphasizes strength, skill, and tradition, with wrestlers performing an eagle dance before and after each match.

Horse Racing

Unlike Western horse racing, Mongolian races during Naadam are long-distance endurance races, often spanning 15-30 kilometers. Horse jockeys are typically children aged 5-13, showcasing their remarkable skills and bravery. Giingoo, a special song to encourage and relax the horses, is an important part of the tradition. The horses and jockeys are meticulously trained, and winning a Naadam horse race is a prestigious honor.


Mongolian archery has deep historical roots, with men and women now participating in the competition. Archers use traditional bows and arrows, aiming to hit small leather targets called “surs.” Those who hit the most targets win. The competition requires precision, focus, and a steady hand, embodying the essence of Mongolian craftsmanship and skill.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – June 11, 2007: A traditionally dressed woman archer aiming with her bow and arrow at the Naadam Festival female archery competition. Photo by pius99

Clothing, Food, and Performing Arts

During Naadam, participants and spectators often wear traditional Mongolian clothing called “deel.” The deel is a long, loose-fitting robe made from colorful and durable fabric, fastened with a sash at the waist. Both men and women wear deels, with the styles and colors varying based on regional and individual preferences.

A variety of traditional Mongolian foods are enjoyed during the festival, including “buuz” (steamed dumplings filled with meat), “khuushuur” (fried meat pies), and “airag” (fermented mare’s milk).

The celebration also features traditional music and dance performances, parades, costume contests, and opening and closing ceremonies.

Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia Visiting a nomadic family of horse trainers in southern Mongolia, the Lewins join in the celebration of Naadam, the summer festival where boys and girls are the jockeys in traditional horse races across open desert.

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