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Category: History

Funeral ritual of Ossetians in the past and the present

o. L. Tsakhilov


Work is presented by department of ethnology and anthropology of Seeero-Osetinsky institute of humanitarian and social researches of V.I. Abayev of the Vladikavkaz scientific center RAS and the Government of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania. The research supervisor - the doctor of historical sciences, professor of A.A. Tuallagov

In article changes in a funeral ceremony of Ossetians from 19th century are considered up to now. The author came to a conclusion that some elements of a ceremony disappeared in connection with social changes, and many of them, having transformed, remained.

The article outlines the changes in the funeral ritual of Ossetians from the 19th century up to nowadays. The author concluded that some elements of the funeral rituals disappeared because of the social changes whereas some of them still exist in the transformed form.

The systems of funeral rules (before - mi ceremonies, rituals, customs. Poe-pisaiy) usually are called pogrebalny-the grebalno-funeral ceremony is


A funeral ritual of Ossetians in the past and the present

ordered set a stereotype - but - symbolical (real, expedient, rated) the actions which are carried out according to the certain norms bearing ideological loading in the course of preparation and commission of burial of the dead and also later certain time after burial 1.

In complex structure of religious ceremonialism the funeral and funeral ceremonies are least subject to innovations: their many elements which are going back to an extreme antiquity exist and now.

Based on the considered sources and literature, it is possible to draw a conclusion that a funeral ceremony of Ossetians since the beginning

XIX century up to now underwent significant changes.

Family crypts, sometimes the general for two or several surnames were the place of burial in the majority of the regions of Ossetia earlier.

Construction of crypts stopped in the 18th century, but old crypts were used to the middle of the 19th century, and in a number of settlements and to

XX century 2. Coffins entered the use in the second half of the 19th century and were borrowed, most likely, Russians. With resettlement on the plane the cemetery became the place of burial.

The funeral table in day of a funeral to the middle of the 19th century in most cases was arranged quite modestly and with the active help of neighbors. From the middle of the 19th century up to the beginning of the 20th century expenses on a commemoration in day of a funeral considerably increased. Tables were laid only after return from the cemetery; visitors sat down at a table first of all; women remained to mourn the dead on kladbishche3. Now it is often possible to meet a picture when right after carrying out of a body the funeral table, and both for men, and for women is laid.

According to researchers, in the middle of the 18th century during commission of a ceremony of dedication of a horse to the dead in a grave together with an ear of a horse put also an ear of his wife; at the beginning of the 19th century in a grave put an ear of a horse and

the wife's braid, by the end of the 19th century together with the dead the scrap of hair of horse and seldom a shred of hair zheny4 buried. Presently this ceremony is not observed.

For determination of features of funeral ceremonialism of Ossetians at the present stage we conducted a field research in various settlements and the cities of North Ossetia as a result of which it is possible to specify the following having kept - shiyesya and the changed features of holding a funeral ritual:

1. Bathing of the dead man - is made by two persons (respectively, men or women), whenever possible - peers of the dead. Subsequently to them make gifts.
2. Ossetians try to dress the dead man as it is possible more magnificently that it was not a shame to seem to the died people in the next world. The researcher of the Ossetian life B. Gati-ev wrote: "Family of the dead man, wishing to dress it as it is possible more magnificently, sells everything that it comes to it to hand" 5.

Custom to dress the dead man in the new clothes sewed whenever possible from expensive fabric is confirmed by numerous finds in crypts of mountain Ossetia. So, the research of crypts of the known "City of the dead" at the village Dargavs (late Middle Ages) showed that on the dead sometimes there were about five dresses, sometimes and more, and many dead men were in expensive silk attires 6.

3. The grave device - early in the morning in day of a funeral the group of several (usually 5-6 people) young people - neighbors of the dead - goes to the cemetery. The sepulchral hole about 1.2 m in depth is laid over by a brick 8-9 ranks high from within. After the coffin is lowered in a hole, concrete slabs or metal sheets are put on bricks, i.e. the coffin remains not covered with earth - "air" burial (analogy to Alania catacombs, crypts). The grave is associated with the house - grave-diggers are thanked for the fact that "built the house to the dead man".
4. Without what it is necessary the dead man especially badly in a next world, so without


food. That is why in day of a funeral it is necessary to arrange a good lunch as everything that is eaten for the peace of the dead, is eaten not for own saturation and to satisfy hunger pokoynika7.

During the commemoration before getting on tables, treats have to be devoted to the dead man - seniors deliver a posvyatitelny speech in which they wish to the dead to get to Heaven, wish that treats turned out before it then salt everything and touch with a knife (did not touch - will not get to the Kingdom of the dead - a belief). Besides, sharp allegedly frightens off devils.

Also the order of carrying out a traditional meal in the studied villages attracts attention: at the men sitting separately from women long lines, toasts were said by the most ancient old man sitting at the head of a table, at the same time it was necessary to say even quantity of toasts, from them the first three: Hutsaua tykhkhay (in honor of God), ziana tykhkhay (for the dead), binon-you tykhkhay (for family of the dead).

5. The next morning after the funeral on a grave make fire (now - symbolical, and earlier - a big fire), at the same time address the dead man with words: "Warm the cold hands over this fire, the sun does not shine you any more".

Poe-pisaiy to smoke of a primogilny fire was judged life of the dead in other world. So, the smoke going vertically up meant that gods granted to the dead eternal the UAV-zhenstvo8.

It should be noted that the number of the ruinous commemoration celebrated in

the current of year, was considerably reduced: from more than ten in the 19th century the commemoration in day of a funeral, a Friday, forty-day and annual commemoration is widespread today.

Also the reasons of observance by Ossetians of a ruinous commemoration changed. If earlier the belief in an afterlife, that the dead really needs food was the main reason and everything eaten on a commemoration passes to him, then today trusting in an afterlife it is much less. For many Ossetians the commemoration is a tradition tribute.

Innovations in funeral and funeral ceremonialism of Ossetians are: participation of orchestra in a funeral ceremony, the notices on death transferred on television, use of modern building materials (concrete slabs, a brick, etc.) at the grave device installation of tents for bigger convenience of comers to divide a grief, use of a catafalque for delivery of a body deceased into the cemetery (only in the cities) it.

Process of evolution of a funeral ceremony of Ossetians happens not rectilinearly. As a result of ethnic contacts, social and economic, political changes in society, technical progress the funeral ceremony constantly develops. In the course of its changes along with emergence of new elements some old remain.

Thus, it is possible to draw a conclusion that some archaic elemen - you a funeral ceremony completely disappeared in connection with the happened social changes, and most of them, having transformed, remained.

1 V.S. Olkhovsky. Funeral ceremonialism (contents and structure)//Russian archeology. 1993. No. 1. Page 85.
2 Historical folklore / Lane on russk. language of G. Kazbekov. SOIGSI scientific archive. T. 112. Item 89. Page 263.
3 B.A. Alborov. Funeral ceremony and funeral poetry. SOIGSI scientific archive. T. 19. Op. 1. 150. L. 10.
4 A.M. Shegren. Religious practices of Ossetians, Ingushs and their tribespeople at different cases//the Caucasus. 1846. No. 27-30. See also in prince: Periodicals of the Caucasus about Ossetia and Ossetians / Sost. L.A. Chibirov. Tskhinvali, 1981. T. I. Page 74.
5 B. Gatiyev. Superstitions and prejudices at Ossetians//the Collection of information about the Caucasian mountaineers. Tiflis, 1876. Issue 9. Page 67.
6 V. Tmenov of X. City of the dead. Ordzhonikidze, 1979. Page 53.
7 V.F. Miller. Ossetian etudes. Vladikavkaz, 1992. Page 287.
8 V.K. Totrov. From history of family ceremonies of Ossetians//Izv. SONII. T. XXIV. Ordzhonikidze, 1964. Page 178.
Angela Maxwell
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