The Bashkir people are a Turkic ethnic group, primarily residing in the Republic of Bashkortostan, a federal subject of Russia. With a rich history and unique culture, the Bashkirs have developed an intricate system of beliefs, mythology, and rituals that continue to shape their identity.

Pre-Islamic Beliefs and Deities

Before the introduction of Islam in the 10th century, the Bashkirs practiced a traditional belief system known as Tengrism, which was centered around the worship of a supreme sky god, Tengri. The Bashkirs believed that Tengri was the creator of the universe and ruled over other deities, spirits, and natural forces. Some of the key deities and spirits in the pre-Islamic Bashkir pantheon include:

  • Umay: The goddess of fertility, childbirth, and protection of women and children. Umay was often depicted as a beautiful woman with a radiant face, riding a white mare.

  • Erlik: The god of the underworld, death, and misfortune. Erlik was responsible for punishing the souls of the deceased who had committed sins during their lifetime.

  • Kubar: The god of abundance and prosperity, often associated with cattle and agriculture.

  • Tulpars: Mythical winged horses, considered sacred and closely linked to the sky god Tengri.

Heroes and Mythological Creatures

The Bashkir mythology also features numerous heroes and mythological creatures, who played significant roles in the stories and legends passed down through generations. Some noteworthy figures include:

  • Yarat: A legendary hero who was believed to be the first ancestor of the Bashkir people. Yarat possessed incredible strength and wisdom and was known for his courageous deeds.

  • Akbuzat: A legendary horse with supernatural powers, often associated with the Tulpars. Akbuzat was believed to have the ability to fly and breathe fire.

  • Zilant: A dragon-like creature with serpentine features, the Zilant was considered a symbol of wisdom and power.

  • Karanoks: Shape-shifting spirits, often taking the form of animals or birds, which could bring either good fortune or misfortune to humans, depending on their actions.

Rituals and Unique Beliefs

The Bashkir people have developed various rituals and practices that reflect their unique beliefs and spiritual connections. Some of the most noteworthy rituals include:

  • The Cult of the Ancestors: The Bashkirs revered their ancestors, believing that their spirits continued to watch over and protect the living. Rituals such as the "Uraz aye" ceremony involved the offering of food and drinks to the ancestors to maintain their favor and seek their guidance.

  • The Cult of Trees: Trees held a special place in Bashkir mythology, as they were considered to be the abodes of spirits and natural forces. Sacred groves, known as "yurt," were preserved, and certain rituals were performed to honor and appease the tree spirits.

  • Fire rituals: Fire was regarded as a purifying and protective force in Bashkir culture. Rituals involving fire, such as the "Sabantuy" festival, celebrated the end of spring sowing and included lighting bonfires, dancing, and singing.

  • Shamanism: The Bashkirs believed in the existence of shamans, who were spiritual intermediaries between the human world and the spirit realm. Shamans performed rituals and ceremonies to communicate with spirits, heal illnesses, and provide guidance to the community. Their practices included the use of drums, chants, and trance states to enter the spirit world.

  • Totemism: The Bashkirs practiced totemism, where they identified with specific animals, birds, or plants as their spiritual symbols or protectors. Totem animals were believed to embody the qualities and attributes of the clan or family, and their symbols were often used in clothing, jewelry, and other personal items.

The history of Islam's influence on the Bashkir people can be traced back to the 10th century when the Bashkir tribes started to come into contact with Muslim missionaries and traders from the Middle East and Central Asia. The gradual process of Islamization took place over several centuries and was facilitated by various factors, including trade, diplomacy, and intermarriage.

The influence of the Volga Bulgars, a Turkic state that converted to Islam in the 10th century, played a significant role in introducing Islam to the Bashkir people. As the Volga Bulgars expanded their influence and established trade routes, they also encouraged the conversion to Islam among neighboring tribes, including the Bashkirs. Additionally, the Golden Horde, a Mongol khanate that ruled over much of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, further contributed to the spread of Islam among the Bashkir people in the 13th and 14th centuries.

The process of Islamization was not uniform among the Bashkirs, with some tribes adopting the new religion more readily than others. As a result, the extent of Islamic influence on Bashkir beliefs and practices varied significantly. In some cases, the adoption of Islam led to the syncretism of pre-Islamic beliefs and Muslim traditions, creating a unique blend of religious and cultural practices.

The introduction of Islam to the Bashkir people has had a lasting impact on their beliefs and culture. Some of the most notable effects include:

  • The integration of Islamic concepts into Bashkir mythology: The supreme sky god Tengri, central to pre-Islamic Bashkir beliefs, came to be identified with Allah, the one God in Islamic theology. Additionally, some of the pre-Islamic deities and spirits were reinterpreted as Muslim saints, prophets, or angels.

  • The adoption of Islamic practices and rituals: As the Bashkirs converted to Islam, they began to observe Islamic religious practices such as prayer, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca.

  • The influence of Islamic ethics and values: The teachings of Islam, such as the importance of charity, justice, and compassion, became integrated into Bashkir moral values and social norms.

  • The development of Islamic art and architecture: The influence of Islamic artistic and architectural styles can be seen in the construction of mosques, mausoleums, and other religious structures throughout Bashkortostan.

  • The spread of Islamic education and literature: The Bashkirs started to learn Arabic, the language of the Quran, and became exposed to Islamic literature, philosophy, and sciences.

Despite the significant influence of Islam, the Bashkir people have managed to preserve many of their pre-Islamic beliefs, myths, and rituals, which continue to coexist alongside Islamic practices. This fusion of pre-Islamic and Islamic elements has created a unique cultural identity that distinguishes the Bashkirs from other Turkic and Muslim communities.