Page 1


WHAT IS “TRADITIONS”?

A

“Traditions” is a gallery of prose describing old Bulgarian customs that have survived until this day, and ethnic and confessional communities to be found here. It also includes unique photographs presenting the most picturesque customs and rituals selected from the classical folklore calendar of the Bulgarians and coming from Pirin, the Rhodope Mountains, the Black-Sea coast and Strandzha, practiced by Christians and Muslims, Bulgarians, Turks and Roma. In “Traditions” contemporary Bulgarians can rediscover their identity through these ancient rituals, some in danger of falling into desuetude, and foreigners can experience the festive atmosphere of centuries-long traditions practiced by TR different religious and ethnic groups. The rapid historical development of Bulgaria – a country situated on the border between East and West – has given rise to a great variety of traditional activities on local and national holidays. Ancient pre-Christian traditions have interwoven with the culture of the founders of the Bulgarian state in the Early Middle Ages. The collection presents illustrated stories about customs in different parts of the country that have survived since antiquity and are still respected. They have all been photographed in the locations concerned and catch the inimitable atmosphere of the particular celebration. Most of the ritual practices portrayed can only be seen in Bulgaria. These ancient customs remind the indigenous town dweller and foreign visitor alike of the mysticism of antiquity extant in our lands. Many such traditions, such as the fire-dancers’ oracular gifts, the Rhodope gelina (bride), the legend of the Cross of Christ saved by the monks of Rila, and the Muslims who honour icons and light candles are little known to the modern Bulgarian. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


vasilyovdeN (ST. BASIL’S DAY)

A

The nervous gleam of torches can be seen in the distance. The men’s hearty laughter merges with the sound of roaring drums and piercing bagpipes. The rhythmic clanging of hundreds of copper bells draws closer as the ringers approach at a trot. The horned dishevelled shadows have now acquired better-defined outlines. The survakari from the village of Yardzhilovtsi are already here. The gathered multitude greets them with rapturous cries. A bonfire flares up in the square. The excited masked men start performing a devil’s dance, the rhythm heavy and uniform, the noise unbelievable. The night of the 13th January, villagers around Pernik and Tran celebrate Vasilyovden (St. Basil’s Day) – New Year, according to the old-style calendar. Locals call the TR celebration Surva or Vasilitsa. It begins after sunset on the 13th and continues with colourful masquerade processions until the evening of the next day. The men, disguised as mythical creatures by wearing fur costumes and with heavy masks perched on their shoulders, call themselves survakari. What strikes the eye is a 40-kilogram three-headed dragon. They all wear brass bells tied around their waists. The heaviest costumes exceed 100 kg in weight. By tradition, only single men can be survakari, but in recent years married men have been taking part as well. With their fearful masks and the sound of brass bells they chase away the evil of the past year. During the night a big bonfire is lit in the village centre. The kukeri (mummers) jump and dance noisily around it. Later, competitions between neighbouring villages’ survakari groups are organised and the group with the best disguises and which makes the most noise wins. In the often heated process of choosing the winners, real fisticuffs sometimes break out. On the second day the survakari go from house to house, wishing the masters of the houses and the whole families’ health and happiness. Their kindness is returned by the offer of home-made wine and rakiya, and sometimes even with money. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


vasilyovdeN (ST. BASIL’S DAY)

A

During the night between January 13th and 14th, the people in the villages around Pernik and Tran celebrate Vasilyovden (St. Basil’s Day) - the New Year, according to the old style calendar. The holiday, which the locals call Surva or Vasilitsa, begins after sunset on the 13th and continues with colourful masquerade processions until the evening of the next day. The procession may also imitate a wedding where, besides the mummers dressed in furs, there are other characters as well, such as a bride and bridegroom, a priest, a Gipsy, a bear trainer and a bear, and a devil. A man in an mock military uniform of the 19th century, called bolyubashiya (leader), is leading the ritual by giving whistles. TR After the tour is over, the survakari from the different neighbourhoods gather in the village square and a dance competition between the mummer’s groups begins. While it is in progress, the bolyubashii (leaders) duel with swords. The celebration continues with folk songs, horo dances (round or chain dances), kebapcheta (grilled oblong-shaped pieces of minced meat) and plenty of rakiya. The comic parody of a wedding is a symbol of the rebirth of nature. All the participants are men. Despite the tough Pernik men’s marked virility, a typical feature of their masquerade rituals is a pronounced transvestite element. One of the most colourful survakar fairs, visited by hundreds of tourists every year, takes place in Yardzhilovtsi. The legend has it that mummers had saved the village from epidemics of the plague in the Middle Ages. That is why locals have zealously kept the tradition alive.. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


KUKERI (MUMMERS)

A

At the beginning of this, the 21st century, folk customs all over the world are being put to the test. Traditional ritual mysticism has increasingly degenerated into staged tourist attractions. The places where authentic masquerade rituals are respected in the modern world are becoming fewer and fewer, but Bulgaria is one of them. The names given to masquerade celebrations in Bulgaria differ according to the areas they are held. The masquerading men are most often called kukeri. In the past, the mummer’s ritual revealed a profound conception of the relation between life and the elemental powers of the Universe. On some of the costumes, decorated with copper and bronze belts, TR phallic symbols can be observed. The weight of the masquerade costume will sometimes reach 100 kilograms. Noise is an important element of celebrations involving mummers because it scares away the evil of the past year. However, the role of the ritual has changed over the centuries and newcomers to the East-West crossroads that are the Balkans have kept attaching new shades of meaning to the masquerades. Certainly, the characters and their role in the celebrations have changed, but the main idea behind them remains the same. Mummers assist in promoting the growth of the new crops and vegetation. They dance and make incantations for prosperity and health during the year. Their frightful appearance scares away evil spirits. The first written source where mention is made of these fertility rights is in the second millennium before Christ. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


KUKERI (MUMMERS)

A

The masquerade rites are rooted in a pagan tradition that has repeatedly adjusted to the religious innovations in South-Eastern Europe. In places they occur during the week before Lent, if we take the Orthodox calendar, the time when spring bursts forth, in others at the beginning of the year, around Christmas or on Vasilyovden. The mummer’s masks have a pronounced animal element. Only men, dressed in furs and with masks of mythical creatures, take part in the masquerades. Phallic symbols can be seen on some of the costumes, which are otherwise decorated with copper and bronze bells. Sometimes masquerade garments may weigh up to one hundred kilograms. Noise TR is an important element of mummer’s celebrations because it scares and drives away the evil of the past year. Particular characters can be seen, in different parts of the country: bride and bridegroom, priest, devil or Gipsy. The transvestite element is clearly pronounced. Mostly the main character is an animal – a camel, a bear or a he-goat. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


KUKERI (MUMMERS)

A

Mummer’s masks have a pronounced animal element. Only men, dressed in furs and wearing masks imitating mythical creatures, participate in the carnivals. Some of the costumes, decorated with copper and bronze bells, display phallic symbols. Sometimes the masquerade garments may attain a weight of a hundred kilograms. Noise is an important element of the mummer’s activities since it scares and drives away the evil of the past year. Specific characters are presented in the masquerades in the different parts of the country, such as a bride and bridegroom, a priest, a devil, a Gipsy. A clearly pronounced transvestite element can be observed. In some places the main character is an animal – a camel, a bear or a he-goat. Mummer’s feasts, which are a colourful folk revelry to which all are welcome, are very TR spectacular. Parody is a part of this people’s theatre. In Western Bulgaria, Vasilyovden is marked with a wedding procession where the bride wears a moustache. The disguised men tease the people and make ritual scandals. While celebrating Ivanovden, a Dervish ritual is performed which requires that a man smeared with smut make a boy cry, so that the year is fertile. Symbolic “suicides” are even committed in some parts of the country. Masquerade games are played at the end of winter, around the first Sunday before Lent, and as a part of the New Year’s feasts. On the Monday before Lent, masquerading men dance in most of the Rhodope villages. Hundreds of guests from all over the country gather in Shiroka Laka on this day every year. The celebration around Burgas is known as Kukerovden (Mummer’s Day); in the Varna Region, the Jamal ritual is respected, and in Central Bulgaria people disguise themselves on Trifonovden (St. Triphon’s Day) and on Babinden (Midwife’s Day) as well. In some places dancing dervishes celebrate Ivanovden. In the villages around Yambol, the cold of January and hairy Babugeri (mummers) see in the New Year. The same ritual is practised in the Pirin Region; it has also been preserved in most modern resorts, like Bansko. The villages around Pernik and Tran celebrate Vasilyovden during the night between the 13th and 14th January. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


YORDANOVDEN (St. Jordan’s day)

A

The orange sun slowly pierces the milky haze above the frozen Tundzha. The people gathered step from one foot to the other in the hope of getting warm in the January morning. A male song resounds between the houses nestling together in Kalofer – a small town largely built during the Bulgarian National Revival period. The Bogoyavlenie (Epiphany) celebration begins in Kalofer. This day is also known as Krastovden, Voditsi or Yordanovden (St. Jordan’s Day). It is celebrated on January 6th, and is a very special one in the calendar of Bulgaria’s festive events. This is the way the Orthodox Church celebrates the Baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. According to the Bible, that happened TR when Jesus Christ attained the age of thirty, the minimum age set by Judaic Law for a teacher to preach. It was on that day the Holy Spirit appeared to Jesus as a white dove, and the voice of God proclaimed the Saviour as his son; hence the name of the holiday, Epiphany, from the Greek epiphania “manifestation”, often referring to the appearance of a divine being, or Bogoyavlenie, the appearance of God. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


YORDANOVDEN (St. Jordan’s day)

A

Yordanovden, Jordan’s Day, is the third holiday in order of importance for Christians during the year. People believe it to be the last of the so-called “Dirty Days” period which started on Christmas Day. According to the mythology of Bulgarian folklore, these “Dirty Days” are the time before the act of baptism of “Mlada Boga”, Jesus Christ, had taken place. The Great Blessing of Water cleanses the earth, sending demons and malevolent spirits back to the dark, where they belong. The people’s belief holds that water blessed on this day is healing and cleansing. That is the reason why it is thought that ritual bathing in a river or carrying a person across one on January 6th and 7th will bring good health, and this tradition is respected in TR a number of places. The cleansing power of water is corresponding in the name Voditsi (water). The solemn church service has to be performed next to water. After the service is over, a priest throws a cross into it and young men compete to save it from the flood. The one who succeeds despite the freezing water is blessed. Belief holds it that the year will be healthy and fertile if the crucifix freezes in the water. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


YORDANOVDEN (St. Jordan’s day)

A

The solemn church service must be performed near to water. After it is over, a priest throws a cross into the water and young men compete to save it from the flood. The one who succeeds despite the freezing conditions is blessed. According to belief, if the crucifix freezes in the water, the year will be healthy and fertile. Another important element of this holiday in Bulgaria is the consecration of the army’s flags. This is the oldest state ritual in the country and it dates back to 19th August 917, when Tsar Simeon the Great defeated the Byzantine army in the Battle of Aheloi and thereby greatly enhanced the prestige of Bulgaria in Mediaeval Europe. TR The small mountain town of Kalofer observes the commemoration of Yordanovden in its local colour in a way that is unique. All young men from the town take part in a round dance (horo) in the freezing water of the river. The day before the holiday, the locals obstruct the flow of the Tundzha River which snakes through the town, so that a pool about one metre deep is formed for the celebration. At daybreak, people start to crowd there. Flames of fire play in the semi-darkness and a few young men in national costumes warm themselves around them. The whole town will soon gather on the two riverbanks. The sound of a drum and a bagpipe fills the surrounding area and priests start preparing for the blessing of the water. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


YORDANOVDEN (St. Jordan’s day)

A

Yordanovden is the third Christian holiday in importance during the year. People hold the belief that it is the last day of the Dirty Days’ period which starts on Christmas Day. According to Bulgarian folklore mythology, the “Dirty Days” are the time before the act of baptism of “Mlada Boga”, Jesus Christ, took place. The Great Blessing of Water cleanses the earth, sending demons and evil spirits back into the dark where they belong. The people’s belief holds that water blessed on this day is healing and cleansing. That is why ritual bathing in a river or carrying a person across it to bring them good health is performed in a number of places in the country on January 6th and 7th. The cleansing power of water is corresponding in the name Voditsi. TR In many places of the country the saving of the cross from the flood is accompanied by ritual bathing. In the small mountain town of Kalofer, dozens of men take part for hours in a horo dance in the freezing river. At about eight thirty, dozens of men walk with measured steps into the freezing water at a ford up river. A standard bearer and musicians lead the procession. With every step, they walk deeper into the water, the rythem of the drumbeats gets quicker and the shrill sound of the bagpipe even louder. The water has already reached the brave young men’s chests; a priest starts the blessing of the water and a minute later casts the wooden cross. Dozens of arms rise to catch it. In the resultant melee it is not clear who succeeds, and the men, uttering rapturous cries, begin to pass it from hand to hand and to kiss it. The whole countryside reverberates to the sound of music and a big ring dance (horo) begins in the river. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


YORDANOVDEN (St. Jordan’s day)

A

The Orthodox world has been celebrating Epiphany since the 4th century. Its commemoration in Bulgaria began after the adoption of Christianity in the 9th century. “Savingthe cross” has been practiced throughout the country ever since. In some parts of Bulgaria, the ritual bathing also continues on the next day, Ivanovden (St. John’s Day). Spectators as well as participants are infected by the euphoria of celebration. Some people from the public jump into the water with their clothes on, the children’s eyes shine with excitement and desire to plop into the water with the adults, and the women, exhilarated, applaud the brave men. Nobody feels the cold any more. There are more than a hundred robust men aged 15 to 50, who TR have joined their arms in the dance. The national tricolour banner leads the horo and homemade wine warms them up. Their dance in the ice continues for more than an hour and a half. Their faces glow red, their bodies give off vapour - but nobody behaves as if they feel cold. All of a sudden, the horo dance breaks up, as if at somebody’s command, and everybody starts sprinkling the others with water, as if it were not winter. Then the men reluctantly make for the riverbank to the constant accompaniment of the music. An even more ardent dance awaits them. Outside the sunless pool, the festival is already tinted by the sunrise above the Balkans. Most of the former spectators have already joined another horo dance. Facing each other, two bagpipers compete in playing tunes. At about eleven, the multitude calm down at last. They all line up to kiss the cross and to be given a blessing by the priests. Then everybody goes home smiling. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


RIBNOVO WEDDINGS

A

The sloping sides of the Rhodope Mountains have turned yellow in expectation of a severe winter. Ribnovo is blooming for the coming festive days. The village is 15 kilometres from the town of Gotse Delchev in the western part of the Rhodope Mountains. Its inhabitants are Muslims, which is typical of the villages in the area. High up in the mountain, Ribnovo has preserved its patriarchal traditions intact – women there wear headscarves and multicoloured shalwars (loose trousers) richly decorated with braids, and a man’s word carries weight. This place has preserved an ancient wedding ritual. Similar rites can be observed in different places of the world, thousands of kilometres far from there – among the peoples of the Far East, Africa and the indigenous inhabitants of TR America. Having traversed through millennia of pagan cults and Christian dogmas, the wedding ritual has been woven into the Islamic faith of the people of Ribnovo. In Ribnovo, winter is the season of weddings, as it is also in the Bulgarian folklore tradition. During the rest of the year, the people in Ribnovo are busy growing tobacco. In summer, most of the men work on building sites or abroad, which is the other important source of income in these places - but they all come home and stay from October to May. The bride carefully gets ready at home to meet her future husband. She has to leave her home disguised : her face is covered with a thick layer of white cream and decorated, or rather dotted, with sequins of different colours. Garlands hang from her headscarf and her clothes and adornments shine brightly. Locals call the disguised bride Gelina. Gelina leaves her home with closed eyes. She can look at nothing else but her own reflection in a mirror until she has reached her husband’s home. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


RIBNOVO WEDDINGS

A

The sloping sides of the Rhodope Mountains have turned yellow in expectation of a severe winter. Ribnovo is preparing for the coming festive days. The village is 15 kilometres from the town of Gotse Delchev in the western part of the Rhodopes. Its inhabitants are Muslims, which is typical of the villages of the area. High up in the mountains, Ribnovo has preserved its patriarchal traditions intact – women there wear headscarves and multicoloured shalwars (loose trousers) richly decorated with braids. This vilage has preserved an ancient wedding ritual. In Ribnovo, winter is the season of weddings, as is also in the Bulgarian classical folklore wedding tradition. During the rest of the year, the people TR in Ribnovo are busy growing tobacco. A wedding in Ribnovo continues for two days and the whole village takes part in the festivities. The first day is dedicated to the girl who must be a virgin. If she is not, the boy’s family may send her back. She lays out her dowry, most of which she has made herself. It consists of multicoloured rugs, clothes with glittering sequins, tsedilki used by local women to carry their babies on their backs and trimmings for her new home. The girl has started getting ready for this day since her early age and has made most of the things herself. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


RIBNOVO WEDDINGS

A

The village square resounds with the shrill tones of the zourlas and the beating of drums. The swarthy musicians are real virtuosos and the horo dance, which only unmarried girls may join, continues for a whole day. On the first day of the wedding, the horo is led by the bride and the bridegroom, who is the only man having the right to dance with the maidens. In the evening, the bride meets with her future husband’s family. His mother smears her hands with henna as a sign of acceptance by the lad’s family. After the celebration the girl is accompanied with torches back to her home. The second day is dedicated to the young man. Oriental rhythms TR of a Romany band accompany the lad’s procession to the bride’s home. The bridegroom’s relatives, waving his dowry as if it was a flag, make a tour of the village. The bride carefully gets ready at home to meet her future husband. She has to leave her home disguised – her face is covered with a thick layer of white cream and decorated, or rather dotted, with sequins of different colours. Locals call the disguised bride Gelina. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


RIBNOVO WEDDINGS

A

Weddings in the Rhodope village of Ribnovo continue for days. The locals have preserved a unique wedding ritual rooted in ancient Eurasian folklore traditions. On the firstday of the wedding, the horo dance is led by the bride and the bridegroom, who is the only man having the right to dance with the maidens. In the evening, the bride meets with her future husband’s family. His mother smears her hands with henna as a sign of acceptance by the lad’s family. After the celebration the girl is accompanied with torches back to her home. The bridegroom’s family make a present to their in-laws of a sacrificial ram, which has been specially decorated for the occasion and TR painted with ritual henna. The second day is dedicated to the young man. The oriental rhythms of a Romany band accompany the young man’s procession to the bride’s home. The feast ends with the marriage ceremony proper, officiated by an imam, according to the tradition of Islam, and is called nikyah. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


SIRNITSA (FIRST SUNDAY BEFORE LENT)

A

In the Bulgarian folklore calendar, the first Sunday before Lent (Nedelya Siropustna) is a holiday known as the Cheese-Fare Sunday or First Sunday before Lent, or Forgiveness Sunday. It is commemorated 7 weeks before Easter and a week after Meat-Fare Sunday or the Second Sunday before Lent. On this day everybody visits their older relatives, and young people ask their parents’ forgiveness for the mistakes they have made during the year. This is how the long Orthodox Lent begins and only Lenten food cooked without fat should be eaten until the Resurrection of Christ or Easter. The cleansing power of fire is an important element of the rituals performed on this day. After sunset, big bonfires are lit and festivities are organised TR around them.. In some places people call this holiday Pokladi (from ‘klada’, meaning fire) and the bonfire fair, Orata-Kopata. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


SIRNITSA (FIRST SUNDAY BEFORE LENT)

A

In the Bulgarian folklore calendar, the first Sunday before Lent (Nedelya Siropustna) is a holiday known as Cheese-Fare Sunday or the First Sunday before Lent, or Forgiveness Sunday. It is commemorated 7 weeks before Easter and a week after Meat-Fare Sunday or the Second Sunday before Lent. On this day, everybody visits their older relatives and young people ask their parents’ forgiveness for the mistakes they have made during the year. This is how the long Orthodox Lent begins and only. The cleansing power of fire is an important element of the rituals performed on this day. After sunset, big bonfires are lit and festivities organised around them.. In some places people call this holiday Pokladi (from ‘klada’, TR meaning fire) and the bonfire fair, Orata-Kopata. This noisy and colourful is celebrated with a lot of homemade wine; rakiya is more typical in the regions around Kyustendil and Tran. Luckily the modern way of life has not extinguished the magic of fire even in the capital city. It is possible to watch the ritual just a few kilometres away from the shining business buildings in Sofia, in the neighbouring villages of Lozen, Gorublyane, Novi Iskar, etc. Pirin Region has kept the tradition, too. In a number of towns in different parts of the country such as Kostenets and Ruse, festivals are organised to celebrate Pokladi, and they attract folklore groups from all over the country. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


SIRNITSA (FIRST SUNDAY BEFORE LENT)

A

The February wind races along the cobblestone-paved streets of the mountain village. The sun has already sunk beneath the horizon. The sky grows dark in expectation of the holiday. Tonight, rotating torches, called uralii will shine in the dark, and children’s laughter will pierce the dark around the burning Shrovetide bonfires. In the Bulgarian folklore calendar, the first Sunday before Lent (Nedelya Siropustna) is a holiday known as Cheese-Fare or the First Sunday before Lent, or Forgiveness Sunday. It is commemorated 7 weeks before Easter and a week after Meat-Fare Sunday or the Second Sunday before Lent. On this day, everybody visits their older relatives and young people ask their parents’ TR forgiveness for the mistakes they have made during the year. This is how the long Orthodox Lent begins. The cleansing power of fire is an important element of the rituals performed on this day. After sunset, big bonfires are lit and the festivities take place around them. In some places people call this holiday Pokladi (from ‘klada’, meaning fire) and the bonfire celebration, Orata-Kopata. In the villages of Varna Region, the height of the flames reaches 10-15 metres. In the western parts of Bulgaria, the flames of fire are lower and people either jump over them or rotate special torches called oratnitsi. Oratnik is a fireball suspended on a chain. Children tour the village and rotate the oratnitsi, which draw figures in the dark. This holiday commemorates the times when the sun was honoured. In the past, unmarried men courted their beloved ones by shooting burning arrows into the yards of their houses. In some regions of the country, the celebration is accompanied by masquerade games. In the past, bachelors put on shabby women’s clothes and wore fearful masks. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


TODOROVDEN (ST. THEODORE’S DAY)

A

The people’s holiday “kushiya” celebrates the memory of the Bulgarians’ nomadic past. The cavalry had been the backbone of the Bulgarian state that emerged at the end of the 7th century in the lands alongside the Danube River. In the early Middle Ages, the end of winter was marked by an assembly of the army, during which young men raced their horses and demonstrated their battle skills.. Besides being of key military importance, the horse was also respected as a totem and mediator to the world beyond. That respect for the horse has been kept to this day and can be seen in the traditional commemoration of St. Theodore’s Day (Todorovden). About the TR middle of March, horse races are organised and different rituals for ensuring the health of the animals are performed. On Todorovden, horse races and big live-animal markets are organised throughout Bulgaria. The day is for celebrating the health of the horses. The date changes every year, depending on Easter, and does not coincide with the church holiday of any of the canonised Orthodox saints with this name. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


TODOROVDEN (ST. THEODORE’S DAY)

A

In the early Middle Ages, the end of winter was marked by an assembly of the army, during which young men took part in horse races and demonstrated their battle skills. Besides being of key military importance, the horse was also respected as a totem and mediator to the world beyond. Respect for the horse has been retained and is evidenced by the traditional commemoration of Todorovden (St. Theodore’s Day). About the middle of March, horse races are organised and different rituals to ensure the health of animals are performed. The day is known as ‘Horse Easter’ and is celebrated on the first Saturday ofLent. Ritual bread in the shape of a horseshoe is kneaded for the TR holiday. Horses are decorated with multicoloured ribbons, their manes and tails are plaited and different figures are attached to them. According to folklore, the bright trimmings of stirrups protect the animals against the evil eye and black magic. On St. Theodore’s Day, the horse owners take out and show their best stallions; then big liveanimal markets and popular horse racing events, kushii, take place. Organised in this amateur way, kushii have preserved a part of the magic of nomadic freedom. They are not only attractive because of the traditional races, but also because of the acrobatic skills demonstrated by the bravest riders. There are also cart competitions where the cart-horses can compete in pulling logs. The Romany kushii are the most picturesque. These days the Roma breed a large number of horses and use them to pull carts even in the centre of the capital and in the big cities. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


TODOROVDEN (ST. THEODORE’S DAY)

A

The celebration of Todorovden is a result of the accumulation of millennia-old cultural layers. Elements of animal cults practised in the Bulgarian lands date back to the Thracians of antiquity. According to the folklore calendar, the second week of Lent is one of the most dangerous in the year, especially for women, and it is called Tudorishka week or Tudoritsa. Monday sets the beginning of a three-day strict fast for believers. Neither washing nor having a bath is allowed during the whole week. Women are most strictly forbidden to work on Wednesday and Friday; sexual relations are a taboo during this time, and if a woman conceives on one of these days, her child will be an invalid. There is a belief that in St. Theodore rides a white horse in the night during this TR week,. The saint is presented as a dead horseman, a vampire - just one of the numerous and, at first sight paradoxical, combinations of the old beliefs with the later, Orthodox ones. However, Christianity in Bulgaria has got accustomed to the old practices, placing them under the aegis of some Christian patron saint . A typical example of this is Todorovden, which is celebrated for the health of the horses, and at the same time as St. Theodore’s Day. The honouring of St. Theodore by the Bulgarians, historically attested as far back as the early Middle Ages, combines the cult of two saints – Theodore Stratelates and Theodore Tyron. On icons St. Theodore is shown as a dragon killer on a white horse. The oldest preserved Bulgarian icon is an image of St. Theodore Stratelates of the 9th century in the mediaeval Bulgarian capital Preslav. The unique paintings in the Boyana Church, built in the capital in 1259, contain images of three saints with the name Theodore: St. Theodore Tyron, St. Theodore Stratelates and St. Theodore the Studite. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church honours two more saints with the same name besides them. The people’s holiday Todorovden does not coincide, however, with the patron day of any of the five saints. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


TODOROVDEN – KALDERASH ROMA’s BRIDE MARKET (ST. THEODORE’S DAY)

A

Again on Todorovden, a visit to the Kalderash Roma’s “bride market” cannot be missed. This incredible wonder can be seen near the railway station in the town of Stara Zagora. Kalderash tinsmiths comprise about 5000 Romany people dispersed throughout Bulgaria. Not only are they craftsmen, but animal breeders as well. Until the middle of the 1950s, they were nomads and travelled from place to place across the country, setting up big Gipsy camps. They are a closed patriarchal community with strict internal regulations that have been honoured and observed until this day. They only marry among themselves, and follow the tradition of paying a dowry– a tradition seen in the Bulgarian folklore wedding TR as well. Every year, on Todorovden, around Palm Sunday (Tsvetnitsa) and the Assumption of the Mother of God – three holidays of fertility – their clan gathers and the unmarried men have the chance to choose their future bride. In their dialect, “Laachi chore pikindavol li Zaara!” means “The most beautiful lasses are sold in Stara Zagora”. This is where the biggest tinsmith’s fair of the year takes place and the town starts shining with the colours of the rainbow. Attention is focused on the young women’s livelycoloured clothes. Their snow-white and heavily rouged faces are outlined by the traditional pink and lilac headscarves. The girls bleach their faces especially for the occasion. The lighter the skin, the higher the price to be paid by the future husband. The bride’s smile reveals glittering gold teeth – a sign of the clan’s prosperity. The girls will often put the gold crowns on their completely healthy teeth, as is practised among some Arab peoples. The men wear a thick shaggy moustache and heavy bracelets and rings of massive gold. Paying a larger dowry to the maiden’s family means that the bridegroom is well-off and will take care of his future family. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


TODOROVDEN – KALDERASH ROMA’s BRIDE MARKET (ST. THEODORE’S DAY)

A

The tinsmiths are a Romany clan of about 5000 people who live dispersed throughout Bulgaria. They are craftsmen and animal breeders. Until the middle of the 1950s, they were nomads and travelled from place to place across the country, setting up big Gipsy camps. They are a closed patriarchal community with strict internal regulations that have been honoured and observed until this day. They only marry among themselves, following the tradition of paying a dowry – a tradition seen in Bulgarian folklore wedding as well. Time out of mind, tinsmiths have paid for their bride, and this is still the rule in the 21st century. An obligatory condition for the dowry to be paid is TR that the lass should be “honest”, i.e. a virgin. If she is not, her price falls dramatically. The girls marry young – the bride is usually not older than 20. Divorces are rare. If somebody from the clan becomes widowed, tradition obliges them to marry another widowed person and never a young unmarried man or lass. The tinsmiths are Christians and their wedding follows the Orthodox canon. Besides Stara Zagora, another big fair of the clan takes place near Bachkovo Monastery on the Assumption of the Mother of God holiday in August and people from the whole of Southern Bulgaria come to this place. On the days around Palm Sunday, the Romany people gather in Yambol. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


NESTINARI (FIRE-DANCERS )

A

The culmination of the fire-dancing holiday is the dance on live coals, but preparations for it start early. Assimilated into the Orthodox Church calendar, the ritual is associated with honouring the holy Constantine and Elena, who are the equals of the Apostles, and is performed on 21st May. After the morning church service, the procession led by the priest heads for a small chapel called konak. This is where the icons that the fire-dancers carry when stepping onto the glowing embers are kept, as well as the sacred drum and the bagpipe reserved for this occasion. After the prayer in the chapel, the icons are taken out and the procession moves further to the sound of the ritual instruments. Everybody makes TR for the holy spring outside the village. There they perform an animal sacrifice and play round a very old tree. At nightfall, festivities continue again in the village square. Before the dance, the fire-dancers cleanse themselves in the konak and go round the local church three times. Finally, the chosen ones step onto the glowing embers, whose temperature reaches 600-8000C, but the fire-dancers’ feet are insensitive to the pain. There are many theories that seek to explain this phenomenon. The culmination of the dance comes when the leading fire dancer, who is also the oldest woman, takes the icon of St. Constantine and St. Elena, and starts predicting what kind of future awaits, prosperous or poor. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


NESTINARI (FIRE-DANCERS )

A

The Christian calendar honours Emperor Constantine and his mother Elena who legalised the faith in the Roman Empire. Local legend has made them into the first fire-dancers. This takes us back to the times when Our Lord was still walking the earth. He decided to find his “deputy” among the people and put them to the trial. He built up a fire with flames reaching the sky and called together all the young men; he who dared play in the fire without getting burnt would be the chosen one. Only the young man Constantine stepped on the glowing embers and did not get burnt, which was a sign of his sinless nature; therefore he could become God’s friend. When Constantine wanted to get married, God chose his wife, Elena, in the same way. TR During his pagan period, Constantine identified himself with the god of the sun, Helios. He introduced Dies Solis (the Day of the Sun) as a public holiday in Rome. However, even after the adoption of Christianity, the cults of the sun preserved their vitality, not without the participation of the Emperor himself. Until the Balkan War at the beginning of the 20th century, fire-dancing had been familiar to nearly all the villages in the Strandzha Mountain area. While on the living coals, the fire-dancers went into a trance and predicted the future. Today, the biggest fire-dancing fair is only 15 km from the Bulgarian Black- Sea coastline, in the village of Bulgari, where thousands of visitors assemble every year. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


NESTINARI (FIRE-DANCERS )

A

Dancing on glowing embers is the culmination of the fire-dancing festival, but preparations for it start early. Assimilated into the Orthodox Church calendar, the ritual is associated with honouring holy Constantine and Elena, the equal of the Apostles, and is performed on 21st May. This Christian holiday honours Emperor Constantine and his mother Elena who legalised the faith in the Roman Empire. Local legend has made them into the first fire-dancers. This takes us back to the times when Our Lord was still walking the earth. He decided to find his “deputy� among the people and put them to the trial. He built up a fire with flames reaching the sky and called together all the young men. He who dared play in the fire TR and did not get burnt would be the chosen one. Only the young man, Constantine, stepped on the glowing embers and did not get burnt, which was a sign of his sinless nature; therefore he could become God’s friend. When Constantine wanted to get married, God chose his wife, Elena, in the same way. During his pagan period, Constantine identified himself with the god of the sun, Helios. He introduced Dies Solis (the Day of the Sun) as a public holiday in Rome. However, even after the adoption of Christianity, the cults of the sun preserved their vitality, not without the participation of the Emperor himself. Until the Balkan War in the beginning of the 20th century, fire-dancing had been a familiar practice in nearly all the villages in the Strandzha Mountain area. While on the living coals, the fire-dancers went into a trance and predicted the future. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


DEMIR BABA TEKkE

A

The entrance to the temple is narrow for the crowd jostling to get in The June sun and the humidity add to the discomfort of the bustling worshippers. A nervous man glares, poked by somebody’s umbrella. A little old woman is scolding her impatient grandson, while changing her headscarf soaked in sweat. However it is different inside. The line of worshipers advances slowly in the half-light of the stone tomb. The glimmering candle flames merge into the whisper of prayer, and the images of saints painted on the walls can be seen in the flickering light. The atmosphere is like that in an Orthodox chapel – but the worshippers are Muslims. This is the tomb of Demir Baba near the town of Isperih – a holy place TR for Casalbash Muslims, nestling in a shaded forest gorge near the archaeological site of Sboryanovo. This place has been a cult centre since antiquity. Here the Thracian tribe of Getae built a temple in honour of chthonic deities, which existed until the beginning of the Christian era. The sacrificial rock altar next to the entrance of the inner courtyard has been preserved until this day. Channels bearing witness to past sacrifices and enchantments can be seen on it. The huge pieces of rock built into the northern and southern walls of the temple date back to the same period. Visitors lie down on them for health and strength even today. A Christian chapel continued the tradition of the holy place in the Middle Ages. During the Ottoman domination, at the beginning of the 17th century, a Muslim tomb was built, known as Demir Baba tekke. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


DEMIR BABA TEKkE

A

This is the tomb of Demir Baba near the town of Isperih – a holy place for Kazalbash Muslims, nestling in a shaded forest gorge near the archaeological reserve of Sboryanovo. To reach it, a visitor has to descend a steep path through the forest. The trees around are decorated with multicoloured bits of rag tied there by worshippers for health. Behind the tomb, there is a huge lime-tree. Worshippers touch it for health, or break off a small piece of its bark as an amulet. Legend has it that Demir Baba’s spirit is embodied in the tree, which worshippers call “the Iron Lime-Tree”. The whole area surrounding the tekke is rich in legends. The Kazalbash TR people believe that the spirit of Demir Baba protects the place and that it wanders about transformed into a tortoise. During the Second World War German soldiers wanted to cut down trees for lumber. According to the legend their instruments started to break and all the soldiers of the platoon were overtaken by a curse and died in horrible agony. Demir Baba was a Muslim missionary who preached in these lands in the late Middle Ages. The Bulgarian translation of demir (from Turkish) means “of iron” and baba – teacher, father, elder. In Kazalbash myths, he is the master of thunder, like the Christian holy prophet Elijah. On St. Elijah’s Day there is a big fair round the tekke and Christians and Muslims celebrate the holiday there together. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


DEMIR BABA TEKkE

A

The tekke dome, located in the middle of a small yard, shines in the forest silence. On the right of the gate there are five water spouts. Water flows into a tiny pool with a bottom glittering with coins.Legend has it that, in times of drought, Demir Baba pierced the rock with his hand and five springs were formed with “live water” gushing out. A few metres from the spring, a stone is built into the wall and a human face is chiselled into the stone. This is a witch. Believers stand three paces in front of her with outstretched arms. If they are pious, they have to be able, to “gouge out” her eyes without looking. Kazalbash Muslims are a closed community with rituals differing TR considerably from those of traditional Sunni Islam. They respect the equality of the sexes, do not forbid consumption of alcohol, light candles in their temples and venerate saints and their images. According to the canon of the Coran, the image of Mohammed is sacred and nobody has the right to reproduce it with a drawing. Candles are a phenomenon untypical of Islam, let alone the lighting of candles, which is characteristic of Christianity. In the Middle Ages, Kazalbash Muslims were subjected to severe persecution in the Ottoman Empire as heretics and fire-worshippers. In literature, they are often referred to as Alevi or Aliani. This is incorrect in a way because the Aliani are a part of Shia Islam and a number of elements characteristic of the Kazalbash Muslims are missing in their culture. Some researchers relate the Kazalbash people’s religious practices to the Bogomil movement and the ancient pagan cults in our lands. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


KRASTOVDEN (THE ELEVATION OF THE CROSS)

A

Night covers the Rhodope Mountains in an indigo shroud. Hundreds of candles flicker on Krastov Peak (Peak of The Cross). Headlights from the cars of late pilgrims can be seen all along the winding road leading to the Holy Trinity monastery, not far from the town of Luki. On the night of the Elevation of the Cross, worshippers from all over the country flock to the Krastova Gora (Mountain of The Cross) area in the mid point of the Rhodope Mountain to partake in a vigil. Legend has it that a part of The Cross on which Jesus was crucified was buried in this spot. Every year, thousands of people gather on Krastov Peak near the Holy Trinity monastery during the night between the 13th and 14th September. The divine TR service begins at midnight and continues until 3 a.m. Before that, the worshippers tour round the monastery to see its holy relics and drink healing water from the holy spring. Then they bow to the place where they believe a part of the most sought-after relic in the Christian world , part of the cross used for the crucifixion,is hidden. On this day, the Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of “The Elevation of the Honorable and Life-Giving Cross”. It was established in relation to significant events in church history – the wonder-working appearance of the Holy Cross of Emperor Constantine the Great, the finding of the relic and its being saved from Persian captivity in the 7th century. The legend has it that, in the troubled times of the Ottoman Empire, a small bit of the Lord’s Cross was hidden in the middle section of the Rhodope Mountains near today’s Holy Trinity monastery. There had been a nunnery in this area at Bachkovo Monastery since the 10th century. Later this developed into an independent monastery. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov


KRASTOVDEN (THE ELEVATION OF THE CROSS)

A

Every year, thousands of people gather on Krastov Peak near the Holy Trinity monastery during the night between the 13th and 14th September. The divine service begins at midnight and continues until 3 a.m. Before that, the worshippers make a tour of the monastery to see its holy relics and drink healing water from the holy spring. Near the ‘Hushed Water’ holy spring on Krastov Peak people keep a deathly silence because there is a belief that the healing water stops flowing when it is noisy near the spring. Then they bow to the place where they believe a part of the most sought-after relic in the Christian world – a part of the cross used for the crucifixion – is hidden. 1838 saw the arrival of the Athonite hieromonk Gregory (Grigorii), who was later honoured as a saint. In his sermons, father Gregory called Middle Rhodope “Krastogorie” “Krastova gora” TR (both meaning “Mountain of the Cross”). He persuaded Christians that the Holy Cross protected them. In the 1930s, the clairvoyant preacher Yordan Dryankov from the region of Nevrokop appeared. People called him “brother Yordancho”. He was an educated stranger – a poet, artist and builder. He could speak four languages, of which one was Latin. He was interested in archaeology and was famous for his gift at discovering holy places. Brother Yordancho felt divine power in the Krastov area. He had a vision of the place of the hidden relic and started sending sick people to spend the night with the True Cross – and they recovered. The sister of Tsar Boris III, princess Evdokia, spent the night on Krastov Peak, too. The tsar raised a thirty-three-kilogram bronze cross as a sign of respect. After the establishment of the communist regime, hard times followed for the faith. Krastova Gora was transformed into a reserve, and nearby the Kormisosh government residence was built. Going on pilgrimage was strictly forbidden. In 1988, the ban on visiting Krastova Gora was lifted. A year later, the Shroud of the Mother of God church was erected with the aid of donations and, at the beginning of the nineties, the building of the renovated monastery began. DITIO

N

S Photos Alexander Mihaylov

Traditions  

“Traditions” is a gallery of prose describing old Bulgarian customs that have survived until this day, and ethnic and confessional communiti...

Advertisement