Bata Chygaruu Ritual in Kyrgyzstan: From Traditional Practices to New Age Spirituality
Author: Nestor Manichkin
Formulas expressing good wishes spells and blessings have long become one of the traditional objects of scientific attention. While folklorists consider these ethical or religious speech formulas a ritual folklore genre, ethnologists and anthropologists see them primarily as socially conditioned and culturally loaded practices. Traditionally, blessings were of great importance in the Turkic-Mongolian world, and they remain the tool for everyday and sacred communication nowadays. Kyrgyz people are no exception. Their traditional blessings are known as bata.
The Kyrgyz practice of blessings given by reputable and respected people is known as bata beruu (‘to give bata, to bless’). It remains a vital ritual component of traditional and modernized urban life (Kebekova 2001, 1). People give and receive bata in connection with a variety of life situations. Batasare also heard at public prayer meals tulөө, where blessings are usually spoken by a Muslim cleric, mullah (moldo), or one of the old or respected community members. A bata is usually an improvisation. Such a blessing can be done in verse or prose. Usually, the people say it at the end after a Muslim prayer (reading sura al-Fatiha).
The traditional practice of bata beruu is well-studied compared to the spiritual practice of bata chygaruu. It is the blessing given to people by spirits through their mediums who maintain contact with the occult world. Often such people call themselves ayanchy (sacred messengers), bakshy (male shamans), or bүbү (female shamans). All of them consider themselves part of the kyrgyzchylyk, the primordial ethnocultural tradition inherited by contemporaries from ancestors who owned sacred arts both in pre-Islamic times and after the adаption of Islam (Manichkin 2019). Spirits that give blessings are called arbak. These are ancestral spirits. Their presence is associated with unique holy places in Kyrgyzstan called mazars. In contrast, the practice of bata chygaruu I would like to discuss in the blog post, is almost not studied.
Bүbү Marzhan’s Message: Blessing Is Not for Everyone
Marzhan Egemkulova is bүbү (shaman lady), and she is a member of the informal community of spiritual practitioners Er Manas Zholu (The Way of Manas) headed by the resident of the Talas region Dinara Davletalieva. She has been taking suffering people and pilgrims at one of the country’s most famous cultural and historical places, the Manas Ordo complex, for several years. Bүbү Marzhan explains the difference between ordinary and spiritual blessings. Bata beruu are blessings given on different occasions: at a feast, on holidays, on the road, on the eve of an important matter, at the birth of a child, etc. Marzhan says this skill “should be mastered by all aged people.” There are persons whose good wishes of bata are always realized among them. “This is also a special gift,” she said. As for bata chygaruu, “this is not bata which is by people who pronounce bata but by ancestors through these people.” The spirits transmit their assignments or covenants (amanats) and predictions through these bata. “This is a special gift, and not many, not even all, who practice kyrgyzchylyk, have it. Moreover, it is a dangerous, difficult way to give such a bata. However, visits to mazars and working with the suffering people cannot be done without bata chygaruu. We give such a bata to direct a person in her life situation. More precisely, arbaks give them through us. Not everyone gives, and not everyone is given these bata” (Field research 2014).
Based on field research and available data, I have identified the structure of the bata chygaruu ritual. Firstly, the opening surah of the Quran (al-Fatiha) is pronounced in Arabic. Then, bakshy or bүbү call the ancestral and then helping spirits. Finally, bata is spoken on behalf of one of these spirits.
Dinara-eje: “I Received the Seal on My Tongue.”
It is necessary to indicate the semantic difference: The ordinary bata blessings are ‘given’ (beruu) while spiritual blessings are ‘released’ or ‘let out’ (chygaruu). Remarkably, the verb chygaruu is also used when people say that a genie (evil spirit) comes out of a person during the rite of exorcism: zhin chygaruu.
Achieving high mastery in spiritual blessings, Dinara-ezhe can say rhymed or rhythmic blessings, sometimes for hours. Bata texts are always different and depend on individual cases. At this time, one of her assistants outlines the bata or records it on a dictaphone for detailed analysis in the future. The mediums who transmit the spiritual bata claim that they do not remember well what they have said. They explain that they were in spiritual possession at that time.
Dinara-eje admits that she received the gift of speaking bata from the famous Kazakh mystic Kadyrali Tarybaev who “put an invisible seal on my tongue.” This happened in the Kazakh city Turkestan that is one of the Sufi centers of the region. Tarybaev and his followers were active in Kazakhstan in the 1990s and early 2000s. They created a new religious movement Ata Zholy (Way of the Ancestors). Their practice mixed some elements of the mystical Sufism, some folk traditions, the selected fragments of shamanism, the cult of holy places, and some aspects of modern esotericism. Movements like Ata Zholy or other Central Asian communities descended from it create the so-called ordo – spiritual centers dedicated to one or another patron (arbak). Therefore, practitioners perform their rituals, including bata chygaruu (Aitpaeva 2015, 172f). Ata Zholy movement spread to Russia, especially to regions inhabited by Turkic peoples, such as Bashkortostan and Tatarstan. In Russia, branches of this movement known as Orda were prohibited as “destructive.”
Inga Stasevich, who studied the development of Ata Zholy, noted that the movement “demonstrates one of the ways to implement the traditional religious experience as a special form of the worldview and thinking.” Despite some features of a cult, this movement reproduces the characteristic shamanistic ritual forms, combining it with several innovations that contradict the traditional local culture (Stasevich 2011, 484f). These are constant references to New Age concepts of chakras, energy channels, space, astral bodies, and the gradual spiritual evolution of humanity (Levin 2022), as well as a widespread statement about the advent of a new era when previously secret knowledge is revealed to an increasing number of people (Hanegraaff 1996, 333f). According to Dinara-eje, there are chakras and energy channels in the human body that can be activated through spiritual practices. “Earlier, adepts used the secret knowledge that was kept in India, Tibet and among the Sufi masters of Central Asia. It is not necessary to practice yoga to open the chakras. Our arbaks can change your aura if you follow their instructions and make pilgrimages to the mazars,” Dinara-eje says. “Now the arbaks have decided to give a sacred gift to many people. Almost whoever asks can be given. Nevertheless, somebody has less, and somebody has more. And they give the greatest gift to those chosen by themselves and who do not ask for anything,” explains she. Thus, she mixes the ideas of the New Age with the traditional belief of the Central Asian shamanists in the compulsory delivery of a sacred gift to their special chosen ones. She gives spiritual blessings not only on behalf of the local spirits but sometimes on behalf of the Christian saints or other actants of other cultures and other worlds too: “The different beings come to me, even those who live on the other planets.” The shaman received information about the COVID-19 pandemic from one of these creatures, who called himself Robert, in 2020 (Field research 2020).
The term bata chygaruu appeared as late as in our time, and the so-called practice was shaped due to the new religious and neo-shamanic organization activities. Practitioners are inside the global information sphere, which allows them to use occult terminology and appeal to different cultures. At the same time, the practice of bata chygaruu is based on the traditional Kyrgyz ideas about the ability of spirits to speak with the help of their servants. It is accompanied by new attributes (incense sticks, crystals) and traditional ones (whips, staffs, rosaries, knives). New things brought by globalization and transculturation coexist with the archaic but modernized tradition. Contemporary shamans of Central Asia unite in communities or informal circles, they are active on the Internet, and their pilgrimages to mazars sometimes include elements of esoteric tourism.
Field research materials of the author, 2014, 2020.
Hanegraaff, Wouter J. New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996.
Levin, Jeff. New Age Healing: Origins, Definitions, and Implications for Religion and Medicine. Religions, 13 (9), 2022. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13090777.
[Aitpaeva] Айтпаева, Гульнара (ред.) Святые места Севера Кыргызстана: природа, человек, духовность [Holy Places of Northern Kyrgyzstan: Nature, People, Spirituality]. Бишкек: КИЦ «Айгине», 2015.
[Kebekova] Кебекова, Батма. Кыргыз элинин каада–салт ырлары [Kyrgyz Folk Ritual Songs]. Бишкек: Шам, 2001.
[Manichkin] Маничкин, Нестор. Шаманизм и духовно–магические практики кыргызов [Shamanism and Spiritual-Magical Practices of Kyrgyz People]. Москва: Смарт Ивент, 2020.
[Stasevich] Стасевич, И. В. “Дороги предков. Традиционные и современные религиозные течения в Казахстане” [Routes of Forefathers. Traditional and Modern Religious Currents in Kazakhstan], 482–488: Лавровский сборник: материалы XXXIV и XXXV Среднеазиатско-Кавказских чтений, 2010–2011: Этнология, история, археология, культурология [Lavrov Compendium: Proceedings of the 34th and 35th Central Asian-Caucasus Readings, 2010–2011: Ethnology, history, archeology, culturology]. Санкт-Петербург: Музей Антропологии и Этнографии Российской Академии Наук, 2011.
Featured Image: Pilgrims receive a bata blessing. Jalal-Abad region, Kyrgyzstan. 2016. Photo by Asel Isayeva.
Cite this article as: Nestor Manichkin, “Bata Chygaruu Ritual in Kyrgyzstan: From Traditional Practices to New Age Spirituality,” in New Age in Russia, 16/01/2023, https://newageru.hypotheses.org/6825.