Yurt, a Connection between Home and Cosmos. Part 1

This article has been published by famous Russian ethnographer Sergei Rudenko in 1927 while he was travelling down Uil river. 

ЮртаWhat is a yurt? The snow-white dome in the green foothills of “dzhaylyau“, with its fabulous ornaments on carpets and tekemets, is an ideal structure for a nomad. True or just legend? Perhaps both, along with other miracles and sacraments are contained and were developed over centuries inside this traditional Kazakh mobile home. These houses were carried by camels in the old days, and now modern shepherds winter in them, followed by their wives, children, and herds from summer to autumn dzhaylyau to the fall kuzdeu. This unique structure, created from felt and flexible willow poles, became a great symbol of Kazakhstan and its people.  

Внутреннее убранство юрты The interior of the yurt

It’s amazing to discover the secrets of the Kazakh yurt’s structure and elegant decoration. The yurt not only reflects all the needs of everyday life and the economy of the nomad, but it also fully encapsulates the nomad’s view and understanding of the world, the cosmos, the flow of the universe. A yurt is a thoughtful adaption to the natural, private communication between the smooth surface of the steppe, the height of the mountains, meadows, and even the endless sky. Stay in a yurt for a couple of hours for a bowl of hot flavored tea, spend a night looking through the open shanyrak looking at the stars, and its particular way of life is sure to resonate with you.

The yurt is perfectly adapted to the specific terrain, and the emotional and physical sensations it causes are also inextricably linked with the cosmos. You will feel a strange, incomprehensible sense of security and comfort. This unusual way of life was probably dictated by our ancestors not only by the specifics of their nomadic economy, but also from their own “national” consciousness. Yurts as a dwelling belong to a larger whole. To live in unison with the rhythms of the universe has been a fundamental  principle of the traditional Kazakh consciousness.

The Kazakh yurt (kiiz uy) a product of traditional culture based on ecological balance. The culture, seeking its development and not to change nature, prioritized learning about nature and follow its laws throughout their daily lives. The nomad perceived nature as a house, and built his yurt as an imitation of nature. Being in balance with nature, he was in balance with his own house. He made it light to assemble and disassemble. With just one camel and two horses, he could transport all its structural pieces and interior decoration. The optimal comfort of the yurt is fully reflected in the dynamism of the nomadic life. It keeps the cool air on hot summer days, protects against piercing cold winds, and it does not get wet in torrential autumn rains.

The Kazakh created his shelter by the rules of nature and the universe. Created entirely from natural materials, the Kazakh yurt became a way of protecting the convenience of human life. The flexibility of willow was indispensable material for wooden frame – Kerege. Tight felt mats that could handle heavy rain and the scorching sun of the steppe. They were specially manufactured to cover the yurt only from wool shorn from a special breed of autumn sheep.

The principles of setting up and choosing the right place to stay is similar to universe creation. From chaos (moving from place to place) to order (set up) – this is the basic principle of traditional Kazakh yurt. It is not a temple, just an everyday home of Kazakh full of deep symbolism that evokes the universe. Only then will it give its owner a complete feeling of home.

The process of merging, being close with nature, and connecting with the Cosmos – this connection starts at the level of choosing building materials, the design of the yurt flows seamlessly into to its interior.

Stay tuned for second part…


Translated from Russian. Original taken from here

1. O. Rudenko Essay life of Kazakhs basins of Uil and Sagyz. L. 1927.