«We need to look into the past in order to understand the present and foresee the future»
N.A.Nazarbayev

Where did Tengriism come from?

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Where did Tengriism come from?

Tengriism is a belief in a deified sky that was once widespread among the nomads of the Eurasian continent.

 In different years Chokan Valikhanov, Lev Gumilyov and Olzhas Suleimenov wrote about this religion. Qazaqstan Tarihy website, based on the researcher Bekzhan Adenuly’s works, also made an attempt to trace the history of the origin and spread of Tengriism.

The material is based on the book "The Secret History of Kazakhs" by Bekzhan Adenuly.

III millennium BC. The distant ancestors of the modern Chinese at that time inhabited the southern territories of the plains of Central China and were in strained relations with the Jundi people, who lived in the northern and western mountainous areas of the country. Even to the north of the Jundi, the Hun (Honyr) people lived in the arid steppes. 

 "In the 3rd millennium BC, the Chinese were ruled by the mythical Emperor Huang Di. The ancestors of the Chinese allegedly waged incessant wars with other tribes, such as the Xirong - "red-haired devils" and Di. The tribe "Hunyu" was marked, this tribe lived in the steppes north of the Xirong". Story of the Hun

  As already known, the Jundi people consisted of at least fourteen tribes. The boundless dense swamp forests, foggy, mountainous terrain shaped the appearance of the people, showing their reddish hair colour and blue eyes. Another distinctive feature of the people was the thick hair on their faces, for which their neighbors gave them the name "jundi" (hairy). The Jundi, by the way, also gave them the name Hun (Honir, brown). 

Apparently, the Jundi worshipped huge mountain birds of prey. As is known, scientists admit that the Wusun belong to the Jundi people. We have proved that the Wusun are the name of a princedom of a tribe Yuezhi, i.e. Uysun and Yuezhi are two names of one people. In general, "yuezhi" is the Chinese pronunciation of the word oshak. The modern Kazakh tribe Oshakty in the Wusun group is the same tribe Yuezhi. It is known from ancient Greek sources that Yuezhi who created Tokharistan worshipped the mountain bird Tazkara (translated as "bird with bald head"), in honor of which people shaved their heads bald. Because of the fact that the local population shaved their heads on the bald head their princedom received its name - Tokharistan. From all this it follows that the people of Jundi, to which belonged the tribe Yuezhi-Oshak, also worshiped the mountain bird.

Kazakhs call them "tazkara", in Russian they are called "black vulture", and in Greek and Perso-Tajik languages - "griffon" and "simurgh" respectively. These birds inhabited the highlands of Central China, the Tian Shan and Alatau mountains, laid only one egg a year, and their appearance was bald, without feathers, head, pointed tail, height exceeded one meter, and wingspan was about two meters.    

The worship of this mountain bird by Jundi people is evidenced by the Wusun (Yuezhi-Oshak) empire, which had the coat of arms of the Tazkara bird. Though its Russian historians intentionally or mistakenly distorted as "karga". Probably because "karga" and "tazkara" sound approximately the same. Apparently, people of Jundi called this bird "tanі irі" ("having a huge body"). The tradition of worshiping the bird Tani Iri later grew into worship of the "Heavenly God Тaniri". This is evidenced by the modern name of the Tien Shan mountain, which became the motherland of the Jundi, in the name of which the word "Тanir Shyn" can be clearly seen. The deformation of the word is due to the fact that the Chinese dialect does not have the "P" sound, which is why many ancient place names undergo significant changes. Even in this case, the meaning of the word has remained the same in Chinese - "Mountain of the Heavenly God".

It should be noted here that the tradition of honoring the bird of Tazkara is still alive today. For example, this bird is also present in the Russian coat of arms. Although they call it the two-headed eagle, but in reality eagles (unlike vultures) do not have a wedged tail. In addition, the coat of arms of the Russian kingdom of the XVII century clearly visible not only wedge-shaped tail, but also dark brown color and bald head of the neck. It also depicts a "horseman killing a dragon" (left photo). This is explained by the fact that the rulers of the Russian Empire from the Rurik Dynasty (Borik) come from those branches of the dynasty Asyluia that ruled the Wusun Empire, and later the Rouran Khaganate.

Kazakhs have a word "dil" close to the Arabic word "din". It is likely that some Jundi tribes that did not practice mountain bird worship called the word "dilli", which means "believers". That is why in Chinese scripts these Jund tribes were called "di" ("dilli").  

"...There were attempts to identify "Xirong" with "Xiongnu", but we see that everywhere in the sources "Xirong" appear together with "di", so maybe Bichurin correctly interprets them in his translation as a single people - "jun-di". The question about the Wusun is quite complicated. The disagreement arose because Uspensky considered "Xirong" to be Tibetans, whereas in reality they were a special people, and "Wusun" were originated from Xirong. (History of the Xiongnu / L.Gumilyov)  

Under the influence of the Jundi, the Chinese came to believe in "Tanir" the latter meaning "heavenly deity". Due to the lack of the R sound, the word "taniri" in Chinese sounded like "tian". This happened at a time when the connection of this word with a mountain bird was lost, so the Chinese, along with the worship of the god Tian, have preserved the tradition of honoring the dragon.

Already then, in the III century B.C., when as a result of the "Five Hundred Year War" with the Chinese people broke up, their lands passed to the Chinese Empire, and the Chinese began to neighbor with the steppe people Honir (Hun). The Chinese Empire, to protect itself from the Honir (Hun) people, connected mountain fortifications built by the Jundi people, now known as the "Great Wall of China".  

"The period of Eastern Zhou, in turn, is divided into two periods: Chunqiu (VIII - V centuries BC); Zhanguo (V-III centuries BC). In the period of Eastern Zhou, the power of the central ruler - Wang, the son of Heaven (Tian-zi), ruling the Celestial Empire according to the Mandate of Heaven (Tian-min), gradually weakened. Having joined the neighboring kingdoms one after another, in 221 BC the ruler of Qin - the future Emperor Qin Shi Huang - united all China under his rule. Under Qin Shi Huang the defensive walls (ramparts) of northern Zhou kingdoms were joined and the Great Wall of China was created". History of China  

Chinese sources reported that in the 2nd century B.C. after the defeat most of the Jundi went west (i.e. towards Central Asia), the second group went north-east to the lands of the Hu tribe. However, there was also a third group that reached the steppes of the northern Konyr (Hun) people. Of the Jundi people in their homeland remained only Yuezhi tribe in Xinjiang da Jundi in Tibet. Those who stayed in Tibet, later, through the adoption of Buddhism mixed with the Chinese ethnoses and formed a Tibetan nation. The Chinese chronicles claim that part of the Jundi people who stayed in their historical homeland formed a union of seven tribes.

In the chronicles, the jundi left on the territory of Hun (Honyr) were shown as Dingling and Dele. Above, we have already said that some jundi tribes were called the Dilli. The Chinese adopted the Tian (Tanir) religion from the Jundi people, that some Jundi tribes called themselves "dilli" ("having faith"), and that the latter were called "di" by the Chinese. A part of the Jundi Baidy tribal union is found in the Dilling form "Bayegi", which indicates that the Diling (Dingling) that formed part of the Hun Empire were part of the Di Jundi people. Chinese sources reported that the Dingling people were worshipped as the people of Central China, which means they worshipped like the Chinese who confessed the Tian (tanir) at that time. From the above, it turns out that it was the Dilling Jundi who spread the Hun (Honyr) faith of the Taniri (Tengri) among the people.

Scientists say that the "hegu" tribe in the Diling tribes is actually the "Kyrgy" tribe (Kyrgyz), while the "uhu" we consider the "uak" tribe. The Kyrgyz, Bashkirs and Khakas evolved from the Diling tribe. Utigur, Onogur and Kutrigur, who lived in the territory of the former Hun Empire in the 6th century, were members of the Kyrgyz tribe. The Uak tribe of Diling Jundi people survived as part of the Kazakh people. In the V-VI centuries, the Diling were found under the name "diele" ("tiele"). Many Altai Turkic-speaking peoples were also formed by the Tiele (tieleut) people. A large group of tiele-tieleut people later became part of the Kazakh tribe Nayman under the name tolegetai. 

 "The Dingling are an ancient people of Southern Siberia and Mongolia, mentioned for the first time around 202 B.C. The sources unambiguously emphasize the Dingling’s Turkic speaking. Several times it is mentioned that they speak like the Huns, but with slight differences: "They love the beats of thunder. At each stroke of thunder they shout and shoot in the sky, and then leave this place and move to another. Next autumn, when the horses get fat, they visit the place where the thunder rumbled again, bury them in the ground of a black ram, make a fire, take out the daggers, and shamans cast spells, like they pray in the Mid State to repel misfortune. In the middle of the 1st millennium the tribal confederation of Gaoche dingling included Kyrgyz (hegu). There are many tribes. To the east of the West Sea, through mountains and valleys everywhere. A number of elements of spiritual and material culture, social structure and history of the Dingling allow to find close analogies among the medieval Sayan-Altai people. The history of the Dingling  

Thus, the Jundi, who went to the northern regions, spread their faith in Taniri (Tengri) among the peoples inhabiting the territory of the Hunnish Empire. In turn, through them, the faith in Тaniri came to the Sakas (Scythians) first through the Kingdom of Kangyu, vassals of the Hunnish Empire. Later in the 1st century already the Huns, who left their lands after the collapse of the Hunnish Empire, mixed with the Sak people living in the steppes of today's Kazakhstan and Russia, spread their faith in Тaniri among local people.  

"The main deity of the Huns was Tengri. The Huns annually made a sacrifice in spring to their ancestors, the Nebu-landspirits. Every day, "chanyu" worshipped twice. In the morning the rising sun, in the evening the moon. "As a sacrifice to wars", apparently to great-grandfathers, brave captives were offered, and spirits demanded sacrifice through the mouths of wise men. From here we can see that the human sacrifices were connected with the Siberian jet of Hun religion, with very ancient Chinese shamanism. (History of the Xiongnu people / L.Gumilyov)  

Ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote that in the first millennium BC, the Sako-Scythian people living in Central Asia and modern Kazakhstan worshipped Ares and the "special sword" through which the rite of sacrifice of the prisoner is performed. In turn, in later centuries, Kazakhs called their best swords "Aldaspan" (from Kazakh "aldy" - accepted, "aspan" - the sky), which means "sky accepted". This creates parallels with a special Sako-Scythian sword to sacrifice a prisoner to the Heavenly God. It follows that the Sako-Scythian people sincerely believed that Heaven accepts their offering through the holy sword. The name of the sword "Aldaspan" was formed in ancient times by the Sako-Scythian people, which indicates the community of Kazakhs and their language with the Sako-Scythian people. As for Herodotus' words that the Sako-Scythian people worshipped the name Ares, it can be interpreted as a tradition of people worshipping the spirits of their ancestors, the Arys tribe.  

"Herodotus noted that in every region of Scythia there was a sanctuary Ares, which on top of a huge pile of tails symbolized by a sword. Herodotus lists the names of the following deities: Tabiti, Papaios, Api, Oitosir, Argimpasa, Fagimasad; he also mentions Heracles and Ares. Tabiti, the deity of the family, the home, was especially respected and was considered the patron saint of the Scythians. The image of the god of war was a sword; once a year he was sacrificed - various animals and prisoners. The kinship of nomads with the god of war was also mentioned by Dionysius Periegetus. His works date back to the I-II centuries AD. The Latin author describes the nomads living in the vicinity of Meotida, and among them "tribes of Savromats, a glorious kind of belligerent Ares". History of the Scythians and Sarmatians.

We see that the belief in Тaniri spread in the modern Kazakh steppe (including the present steppes from the Volga River to the Don River) only during the Kangju Kingdom and with the advent of most of the Huns in the 1st century AD.

In Central Asia, the belief in Taniri began to spread first in the 3rd century B.C., with the advent of the people of Jundi led by the ruling tribe Aryn (Argyn), during the emergence of the Parthian kingdom and in the 2nd century B.C., when under the support of the Chinese Empire Central Asia was conquered by the tribe Yuezhi-Oshak or people of a small princedom, which left the territory of today's Xinjiang. The latter established the Wusun Empire in Central Asia, whose name under the influence of Russian historians went down in history as the Kushan Kingdom. Thus, the Parthian kingdom lost Central Asia, retaining only the territory of present-day Iran and Transcaucasia. That is why the main state forming nation of the Parthian kingdom became Iranians, whose folk beliefs prevailed over those of the Arinshak (Argyn) tribe of new rulers. As is known, part of Yuezhi-Oshak also conquered the territory of modern Tajikistan, creating there an independent principality of Tokharistan.

In II century B.C., the Chinese empire considerably strengthened. The Chinese abandoned the Tian faith and moved first to Confucianism, and later most of them converted to Buddhism. Most likely, closer to the II-IV centuries Buddhism spread on the territory of Wusun Empire, which was in close relations with the Chinese Empire. 

 Under Emperor U-di (140-87 B.C.) another philosophy was adopted - restored and reformed Confucianism, which became the dominant official ideology instead of discredited legionism with its rigid norms and inhuman practices. At the same time Buddhism is strengthening its position here - tens of thousands of monasteries with more than 2 million monks have been built in the north and south. History of China  

The belief in Taniri again spread in Central Asia only during the times of Rouran and the subsequent Turkic Khaganate. This belief in which there were some elements of Uniformity became convenient for fast transition of Turkic peoples of Central Asia and modern Kazakhstan to Islam in VIII-IX centuries AD.

Author: Ayan ADEN