Mongolian woman making yurt decorations

The Intricate Symbolism of Mongolian Gers

Mongolian gers (or yurts) are an intricate combination of technical necessities and symbolism.

The yurt itself is a representation of the universe. You enter the yurt with the right foot first and progress clock-wise; following the sun shining in the yurt over the course of the day.

In this edition of the Groovy Yurts blog, we’ll dive into some of the wonderful symbolism of Mongolian yurts, deeply rooted in tradition and full of meaning to the Mongolian people.

Yurt Symbolism, from Top to Bottom

Beautiful blue Toono with mosquito netThe toono (dome) symbolizes the sky and the transition to the spirit and the universe. It is supported by two bagaanas (central poles) that represent the woman (east) and the man (west), who equally support the universe.

North, opposite to the door, is the most sacred place (or place of honour). The door faces south in Mongolia, although it seems that it used to face East, like most North American native dwellings.

Throughout history, the North American indigenous people have shared many symbols with the Mongolians.

The amount of roof rafters (hunis) is significant as well. The 5-wall ger, possibly the most common, supports 81 hunis, which is 9×9. Nine is the sacred number for Mongolian nomads.

Additionally, Mongolian gers are not anchored to the ground, as not to harm the earth. This is a perfect reflection of the Mongolian’s respect for and relation to the environment.

How Colour & Religion Play Roles in Mongolian Yurts

The orange colour, most often painted onto the woodwork of the yurt, represents the sun shining over the grassland, or fire.

Blue, a symbol of good luck and respect, represents the Mongolian eternal blue sky.

In the 16th century Buddhism was reintroduced to Mongolia, which brought additional symbolism to the ger.

Beginning with the toono, which has taken the shape of the wheel of Dharma and represents the 8 teachings of the Buddha.

The ulzzi (the infinity knot), which is seen in several different variations in the paint and is also often sewn into the canvas, represents the connection of everything in the universe.

Honouring & Respecting Mongolia, Its People & the Yurts

We do want to make it clear that this blog is the result of a few years working of with gers and a deep love for Mongolia. It is not the result of scientific research. We do welcome comments and additional information!

Below, we’ve included some symbols and comments from Enerel, our friend and team member in Mongolia:

white shell symbol of Tibetan Buddhism

White shell, or lavai, came to us with Tibetan Buddhism in the 16th century. The white colour means something positive and good in life, erudition.

endless knot Mongolian symbol of lifelong happiness

Ulzii, the endless knot, is for luck and means life-long happiness.

hammer pattern Mongolian symbol of long life

The hammer pattern means eternal life.

khas pattern Mongolian symbol of life power & Strength

The khas or tumen nasan pattern means eternal life, power, and strength.

Your Source for Yurts & Yurt Information

Got any questions about Mongolian yurts or the connection between yurts and the Mongolian people?

Feel free to reach out to Groovy Yurts!

We’re always happy to talk about yurts and about Mongolia.

Mongolian people constructing a yurt

Mongolian Yurts & the Traditional Felt-Making Process

 

Sheep’s wool offers amazing properties.

Nowhere can we think of a better example of wool’s many benefits than by looking at Mongolian yurts and the traditional felt that insulates the yurt against cold, harsh winters.

In this edition of the Groovy Yurts blog we’ll look at the traditional felt making process that goes into creating comfortable, sturdy yurts.

Why Sheep’s Wool Makes a Great Yurt

yurt on plains in mongiliaWhen processed as felt and used as a yurt (or “ger” as the Mongolian people call it) lining, the wool breathes and insulates the space with the varying temperatures of the summer.

Wool felt in a yurt can also accumulate a certain amount of humidity and give it back when it gets drier (an all-natural humidifier). In addition, Mongolian yurt felt made of sheep’s wool is a great acoustic insulator, which helps make the yurt very cozy.

The best part? These felts protect against almost all elements.

It’s naturally fire retardant and mold resistant and wards off wear and tear, while actively participating in the yurt’s strength.

Mongolians say that felt is the ger’s muscle.

It is certainly a fabulous product as the fibre is rapidly renewable and 100% biodegradable!

Wool Felt: Traditional Crafting in Mongolian Yurts

Felt is traditionally made by the nomads of Mongolia by cleaning the wool, beating it, carefully laying it out evenly, getting it wet, and finally, collecting it into a big roll pulled by a horse across the grassland.

This fun video describes it well:

The felt can become water resistant over time, partly from the lanolin and dirt, but mainly from the smoke produced by the open fire in the ger.

Open fires were commonly built in the yurts prior to using stoves with a chimney, which according to a few Mongolian elders, is the best improvement in 2000 years. We’ve been told that the older ‘waterproofed’ layers were then put on top of the yurt to protect from Mongolian rains.

Often the felt is mixed with cow or horsehair to improve strength. The only downsides to that material are that it is difficult to clean wool, and the felt will have a strong odor when wet. It also tends to fall apart over time if it is not felted well, or if it’s exposed to constant sunlight.

Groovy Yurts: Our Felt Is Made of 100% Mongolian Wool

Mongolian people constructing a yurt
The felts used for own yurts are made with a needle machine and 100% Mongolian wool. That means that your yurt comes with a story of the people who made it.

We previously bought yurt felt from the old state factory that uses old Soviet era machines in Ulaanbaatar.

We now source the felt for our yurts from the countryside, where a similar technique is used in Bataa’s province, but with newer machines.  We love that the profit goes directly to this rural area.

Mongolian people constructing a yurt

This new felt is denser, much cleaner, more consistent, and somehow seems to offer better insulating properties with a similar thickness. The felt that we previously bought was definitely not waterproof.

You can make your own felt as demonstrated by the amazing Sustainable Sheep and Fiber Community of Northern Minnesota.

This community created a complete layer of decorated felt for their own yurt. This incredible work of art depicts the making of felt in Mongolia. The illustrations are made with different colours of wool and felted together using a wet tapestry inlay technique!

For more questions about the wonders of yurts and their many benefits, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

Photographs taken in 2002 in Bulgan Aimag, in the northern part of Mongolia (northwest of UlaanBaatar) by Dr. Michael Gervers Turkish Felts

Mongolian yurt in Minnesota USA Mongolian yurt in Minnesota USA
Mongolian yurt in Minnesota USA