The origin of Naadam festival is closely related to the history and culture of the country. Mongolians have abundant military history; especially, it is renowned for its conquest, great Emperors and the warriors. The core reason of the success and unity of legendary Chinggis (Genghis) Khan’s army was its sophisticated structure. The whole army was composed of groups of 10 soldiers and each group was led by a selected man.
The leader of groups chose their warriors based on their strength, movement and flexibility revealed in their wrestling skills, their eye-sight and hand-orientation shown in their spear-throw and archery skills, their patience and bravery exposed in their horse training and horse racing skills during public competitions. Furthermore, before and after major battles, the three manly sports - wrestling, horserace and archery - were exercised as an organized event, which later adopted its present name - Naadam.
However, during the double-century ruling of Qing Dynasty (from the late 17th century to the early 20th century), Manchu leaders applied the rule that no monks were allowed to practice traditional sports like wrestling or archery. This is an example of how Manchu leaders pursued the policy to segregate the unity of Mongolians by decreasing the number of participants in mass events, namely Naadam, and subsequently setting barriers over Mongolian men to get physical training and form united action for independence. Fortunately, Mongolians managed to preserve their traditional sports by organizing mini-Naadam type events, including the wrestling, archery and horseracing, on various occasions like worshipping sacred areas, weddings, and religious rituals.
Consequently, later in the 1920s, Naadam started to take place as a nationwide celebration honouring the victory of the People’s Revolution and forming the independent nation of Mongolia. From that time, dominant image of Naadam has shifted from mass battle or physical training to national celebration.
Nowadays, it is celebrated as the largest celebration and a national holiday which officially lasts 3 days. Because the event articulates traditional arts and sports in harmony, it is celebrated in a festival manner. The major festival, enjoying the presence of the State heads – the President, Prime Minister and the Parliament speaker, as well as the leading artists and performers, is held in the second week of July in Ulaanbaatar. However, some regions, provinces and villages set up their festival dates differently. Almost everyone is dressed in amazingly colorful, and comprehensive traditional costumes called ‘dell’ during the festival.
During the Naadam festival, in addition to the three main games – archery, horserace and wrestling, ankle-bone shooting competition is annually held in the sideline. Khuushuur, fried pancake with meat, is also inseparable part of the festival, and thus the favourite food of the festival crowd.