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

Balbal: stones imbued with meaning

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Balbal: stones imbued with meaning
An important attribute of graves in the past were balbal - voluminous sculptural tombstones, set up at the burial sites in honor of the deceased. Kazakhs call them a stone with an image that

corresponds to Russian “stone statue”. Tombstone dwellings began to be built, judging by the mound “Shapkan Tobe,” from the time of the early nomads. By the ancient Turkic time can be attributed yurt-shaped stone domes “Kosuitas”, “Dom-baul”, perhaps to a later one - “Kozy-Korpesh and Bayan-Sulu”, based on the reliable fact that the construction of the last monument was accompanied by the installation of balbals. The word “balbal” itself is found in the Turkic runic. Consequently, balbals are an attribute of the funeral rite of nomads, mainly of the Middle Ages.

The Balbals and their ethnocultural ministry acquired special significance precisely in the ancient Turkic period. Then they played the role of rendering respect to the spirits of the dead. Valuable heritage from the stone of the history of the times of the ancient Turks - balbals. Balbal stones witnessed historical events and our ancestors' era. From the distant past, they provided us with data about culture and art, about history and life, about the religious traditions of our great Turks. Historical documents were carved on stones. Surviving from the times of our ancient ancestors - the Turks, these stone monuments can still be found in the Kazakh steppe.

Balbal is an ancient Türkic word. Bal + bal means 'to beat, pummel, or score'. According to Turkologists, this word means “labels set exactly on the ground.” Speaking of the developed culture of the Great Turks, the Balbals performed a special religious duty. The first researcher of the balbals of Kazakhstan was Alkay Margulan. In his book “The Ancient Witnesses of Culture”, the academic scientist describes balbals as a religious-traditional complex of ancient Turks. This complex consists of a special mausoleum, a kurgan, a pedestal, a slab, a stella, and also from the balbals themselves. Most of these complexes were erected in honor of the rulers or famous princes: Kagans, Tegins, Tarkhans, Tuduns. The common people also made balbals. Such customs as mourning/zhoktau were caarried out In these complexes.

When people talk about the Kazakh steppe, images appear in the head - a steppe feather grass that sways in the wind, and a crooked stone sculpture - a balbal, rising against the background of rounded, gentle hills stretching along the horizon. It seems as if some kind of longing is emanating from the wide, silent steppe, perhaps it is a longing for long-gone times. And where there is a balbal or an ancient mazar, this melancholy is felt especially strongly.

In fact, most of these stone sculptures face east. The reason for this is that the ancient Turkic tribes and peoples, in their traditions, held to the Tengrian belief - honoring the Eternal Blue Sky. The establishment of stone sculptures on ritual complexes suggests that a famous man was buried here in the ancient Turkic society, and this stone marked his military and political contribution, that he was inspired with honor and high honor even during his lifetime. Some of those depicted in the stone are sitting, with their legs tucked under themselves, others are standing, holding a ritual bowl with sacred water in their hands. And in some sculptures, daggers, sabers, and other weapons are carved on the belt, or braids are braided and even earrings are clearly depicted. As a rule, these are sculptures of military nobility - outstanding commanders and brave warriors. Among the sculptures of later times, along with male sculptures, there are monuments erected in honor of women.

The appearance of the balbals are different - most depict a person standing upright, a meter or half-meter height, often with a bowl or weapon in their hands, but some of the sculptures sit cross-legged in so called Kazakh style. Other giants in the area of ​​the belt hang weapons, and some braids are braided and even earrings in the ears are clearly carved - a sign of a high position. Most often men are imprinted in the stone, but there are also women’s balbals. According to scientists, balbal was installed as a symbol of valor and a long memory at the grave of significant human deeds. That is, these ancient monuments are literally monuments - set in memory of a bold commander, a wise ruler, a talented akyn - a person respected and respected by his surroundings. All of them belong to two main groups - the ancient Turkic balbals, erected in the during the eigth centuries, and the monuments of the Kypshaks - between the ninth and fourteenth centuries. It is well known amongst scietists that the Kypshaks, paying homage to famous people who have passed away, erected a stone sculpture on the top of the barrow depicting a man holding a bowl in his hands and turned to face east.

Balbals are for the most part facing east. During their erection, the steppe people followed the traditions of Tengrianism - the worship of the Eternal Blue Sky, the original religion of the Steppe. In the east, a new day is born, from that side the sun returns to the world, expelling darkness and granting warmth and liberation from night fears. Stone balbals are the original inhabitants of the Kazakh steppe. Time even sharpens a stone into dust, but in the steppe these fragments of the past are still preserved, containing in themselves the souls of bygone eras, once erected in memory of the khans, akyns, and djigits. You can look at them as in the company of archeologists and enthusiasts in a characteristic setting, that is, after leaving the steppe, and visiting museums.

Stone balbals are widespread. They are found in the vast, ranging from the Orkhon River in Mongolia to the shores of the Caspian Sea. After the Kypshak era, stone sculptures spread to the North Caucasus, Russia, Ukraine, and further to the west, to the Danube. As it moved westward and over time, the shape of the sculptures also changed. The current gravestones are kulpytas common in the West of Kazakhstan, a continuation of the tradition of balbals. They clearly show the influence of the Islamic religion, which also had a great influence on the development of the stone art of nomads.

The question of the origin of stone sculptures makes us turn to the earliest periods of human history. The presence in the Paleolithic art of sculptural-volumetric images of a person gives some reason to perceive the ideological motifs of the humanoid megalithic figures of the Neolithic, Bronze and subsequent time, including the traditions of the late nomads, as a continuation of the same ideological installation. According to some sources, whose conclusion is based on the newly involved material and modern methods of research of existing traditional archaeological data. According to him, stone sculptures are generated by very ancient religious ideas with clearly established canons. “The earliest carriers of these representations are the tribes go back to Scythian times.” Such an assumption is indisputable, since the culture of burials with stone sculptures covers a long period of time. However, in the medieval world, the nomadic Balbal culture is in the most developed form.

There are some controversies with respect to balbals. While the stone depicts an enemy, then this is somewhat contrary to common sense, since the people who installed these sculptures could not help but assume that they thereby perpetuate the enemy, making him honors. How to explain in this case, embodied in the stone of women, even children. However, an understanding of how the enemy derives from the content of ancient texts. Two points of view have been established in the literature explaining the purpose of the monuments. Despite the known disagreement, both directions reflect, complementing each other, the historical picture. Their undoubted weakness is the relative absolutization of individual, though true, sides of the issue and, therefore, the complete character of the conclusions drawn.

Without engaging in controversy, we will try to uncover the universal ideological motives of this culture. Only after determining the ideological motives that prompted people to put monuments on the graves of their dead relatives, can one quite reasonably answer the question: who are they after all? Themselves dead or their enemies? In any case, we take stone sculptures as works with a generalized artistic image that carry a certain visual content and perform certain public functions. The expressive side of the image conveys, with rare exceptions, deep sorrow. The artists managed to show this state in a few mean strokes in various nuances of the position of the eyebrows, whiskers, mouth, eyes, nose of the stone sculpture. Almost all the balbals died in the posture of silence. Expressing grief is the main goal of the balbals and their social purpose. This was what the customers demanded from the artist, which can explain expressionism in the iconography of the sculptures. For example, against the background of general schematism and conventionality, there is nothing like the unjustified naturalization of completely minor details: the hilt of a sabre, the details of cosmetics, a dress and certain decorations for women, etc. Therefore, it can be assumed that balbals were constructed as an artistic and generalized embodiment of the grief of the whole race for the deceased and not a conditional portrait of anyone. But, despite the obvious pressure of conventions, certain forms of reality are found in meager visual motifs: race, age, occupation.

A careful study of the visual aspects eliminates the assumption that they display enemies as slaves and servants. So, among the balbals there are many gentlemen in full arms, and some attributes can be perceived as a symbol of power, but this does not help to determine who is depicted on the stone, although Mongoloid features reflect only her statues. This feature is very important, since in the case of the construction of the sculptures of enemies on the graves of deceased ancestors, among the balbals, at least several specimens bearing non-mongoloid features must have been encountered. It is well known that many of them were established in the traditional habitats of the Caucasoid race. Written testimonies say that the fields of bloody battles, in which nomads often became victors, often became the area of ​​sculptures. In this case, the leaders of the European teams could be reflected in the statues.

Balbals can be interpreted as twins of the dead, who from the kurgan uplands, as it were, followed the lives of their fellow tribesmen, vigilantly guarding the herds and pastures from extraneous attacks. In this interpretation, stone sculptures acquire the meaning of an object of conditional feeding - a custom that existed, starting from the Scythians and ending with the Kazakhs.  Feeding balbals was an ethnographic fact that took place among the Kazakhs. This is also noted by other researchers. In almost all balbals, the image of the eyes and mouth is naturalized — for example, the mouth has a hollow. On the areas of the face around the mouth, it was easy to see fatty spots with sticky dirt. All this testifies to the fact that balbals could recreate the appearance of the dead. One does not deny the other. For example, at the burial site of Kultegin, statues of both the deceased himself and the enemies he fought were installed. Any thing does not exhaust its substantive purpose with any one function. In interpreting their purpose, all parties should be taken into account equally. Stone sculptures, of course, served as a means of art-generalized reproduction and image-aesthetic development of reality.

They could not bear the social and moral burden, because they represented a socialized product, carrying in itself certain social values. The one who carved the balbals or for whom they were carved, might not be aware of the social significance of the statue, although they arose as a result of purposeful activity. The main purpose of the balbal is to symbolize the deceased. Therefore, they contained subject data only on some sides of the deceased, for example, gender, age, nature of occupation, race. In the future, the culture of the balbals, degenerating, loses these properties and becomes a simple tombstone depicting the sign of tribal affiliation. Such pillars, but with the repetition of the silhouette of a man, were built by the Kazakhs until the end of the nineteenth century. Some of them have graphic images of generic tamgas of the Kazakhs.

 

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