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Udmurtia

UDMURTIA


Location. The republic of Udmurtia is situated in the very heart of Russia in the picturesque region between the Kama (a tributary of the Volga) and the Vyatka rivers to the West of the Ural mountains. The capital of the republic is Izhevsk, a city of about 700.000 inhabitants, one of the major industrial centers in Russia. The distance between Izhevsk and Moscow, the capital of Russia, is 1325 km. Distances to other well-known Russian cities: St.Petersburg - 1904 km, Ekaterinburg - 800 km, Kazan - 395 km. Udmurtia has all forms of transportation (railway, motorway, waterway, and air) with other regions of Russia. The Izhevsk airport is certified for the first category of ICAO. Sarapul, a large river port on the Kama, is just 40 km from Izhevsk. The port provides access to the Baltic and Black Seas.
Udmurtia covers an area of 42.100 square kilometres and is bigger than some European countries (for example, Switzerland). The main natural resources are timber and oil. Oil deliveries make up 46 % of the export structure. The republic is also rich in peat, medical mud, and mineral water. Udmurtia is the land of silver springs and fascinating woods which are wonderful for fishing and hunting. About 44% of the territory of the republic is covered by forests. Local forest animals are wolves, bears, foxes, martens, elks, and hares. Hunting is permitted in specific periods of the year. You can fish for the bream, pike, perch, trout. The climate of Udmurtia is temperate continental with long cold and snowy winters and short warm summers. The climate and nature of the Udmurt Republic allow it to successfully develop multi-branch agriculture, produce foodstuffs and agricultural raw materials for processing. The main agrarian crops grown in the republic are grain forage, potatoes and other vegetables, flax-fibre and forage grasses. The productive branch of agriculture is cattle-breeding. Its share in the gross volume of agricultural production amounts to 68 %.

Population - ethnic mix. Udmurtia has an interesting ethnic mix; 31% Udmurts, 58% Russians and 7% Tatars. The republic is also home for representatives of almost 100 nationalities and ethnic groups. Udmurtia has never seen ethnic conflicts or nationalist redivision of its territory. The peaceful coexistence of the peoples did not affect their ethnic features, traditions or beliefs. The different cultures flourish and contribute to each other. There are still villages with a strong ethnic mix, where residents communicate in two or three languages. Interfaith and intermarriages are quite common. Anthropologists relate Udmurts to the Urals branch of the large European race which has some features of the Mongolian race. The Udmurt people are distinguished by a large number of red-haired people who (together with the Irish) are probably one of the most `gold-haired` ethnic groups in the world. Most of them are of the middle size, often have blue or gray eyes, high cheek-bones and wide face. The Udmurt people are not of an athletic build but they are very hardy. The division into the Northern Udmurts and Southern Udmurts came about fairly long ago. The former were strongly drawn towards the Russian North`s culture traditions. The Southern Udmurts experienced the impact of the Steppe Turks.

Talking about the traits of Udmurts, people usually note their goodwill, hospitality, delicacy, shyness, restraint of feeling, thrift, patience. Many experts are delighted with the exceptional diligence and hard-working of the Udmurt people. Udmurts were very lucky hunters trading mostly in fur-bearing animals, squirrels in particular. The Udmurt word `kondon` (`money`) literally means `price of a squirrel`. `Pelmeni` (dumplings), originally known as hunter`s preserved meal and later on as a guest dish, became well-known all over the world. `Pelnyan` literally means `ear-shaped bread`. Bread was considered sacred. To take an oath to bread meant for Udmurts the most solemn way.

The Udmurt Language. The Udmurt language belongs to the Finno-Ugric family including also the Mordva, Mari, Estonian, Karelian, Finnish and some other languages. It is an agglutinative language, which means that in most Udmurt sentences you will find at least one word with three or four affixes, and it is not too unusual to find a word with five or six affixes. After removing all affixes it is hard to determine which is the true word stem: `verb` or `noun`, `doing` or `being`; which idea is primary in Udmurt: `action` or `substance`, `energy` or `matter`. Verbs are very productive, generating verbal nouns and participles. The verb is usually placed at the end of a sentence. Nouns in the Udmurt language change in number and case, there are 15 cases. The grammatical category of gender is absent, even with third person singular pronouns. The stress in most words falls on the last syllable. Approximately 500 words originally used in the Finno-Ugric community have been preserved in the Udmurt language such as `fire`, `snow`, `tree`, `blood`, `son`, `butter`. The Udmurt written language was developed in the 18th century (the first Udmurt grammar was published in 1775) on the basis of the Cyrillic alphabet. Among Udmurt literary figures most prominent are: Kedra Metrei, Kuzebai Gerd, Ashalchi Oki, Gennadi Krasilnikov, Flor Vasiliev.

Religion. 21 religious teachings are represented in Udmurtia. Udmurts were converted to Christianity in the 18th century. The Russian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchy is the largest denomination. It is represented by Izhevsk and Udmurt Eparchy led by Archbishop Nicholas. In Udmurtia members of the Russian Orthodox Church organised 80 parishes, 2 convents and 1 monastery. There are also two congregations of Old Believers. They have prayer houses and 2 churches. Protestantism is the second largest denomination. Its spreading in the region began in the 19th century. Now there are 47 communities of different Protestant denominations. The protestants actively collaborate with religious centres in the USA, Finland, Sweden, Canada and other countries. They are sharing the experience in religious and missionary activity. Muslim organizations make up less than 10% of the functioning communities. There are 14 Muslim groups. The main mosque in Izhevsk has a Muslim school where people study the Koran and the Arabic language. Muslim organizations have business links with Islamic countries of the middle East. In ancient times Udmurts worshipped the powers of nature and pagan gods. Their beliefs remain in Udmurt folklore - myths, legends and fairy tales.

Udmurt Culture. Handicrafts. Udmurt people have a rich and original culture. Decorative pieces and articles of practical use produced by Udmurt artisans are notable for diversity, original patterns and design. Udmurt women are famous for their art of patterned weaving and men - for artistic wood processing. Specialists try to unravel the profound significance of the Udmurt patterns and designs. The favorite motifs of the Udmurt ancestors were the solar symbols and the favorite colours were red, white, green, and black. These motifs and colours are the basis for the state symbols of the Udmurt Republic. From the earliest times the art of Udmurt masters had its roots in the national soil. When they borrowed something that came from the outside, they reworked it in their own way. Popular art is a mirror in which the national character, people`s concepts of the world, their beliefs and ideals are reflected. The art created by folk masters exists and functions in man`s immediate environment. This is primarily his home, with its specific organisation of the space. It was always a peculiarity of the Udmurt interior that it included very few pieces of furniture. The space was mostly occupied by utensils and ornaments.

Traditional Dress. Objects of popular art could be found everywhere: in the interiors, as domestic utensils, in details of the costume. The Udmurt traditional costume is especially worthy of admiration being universally recognized as one of the most complicated and colourful in the Volga-Kama region. On the women`s costume embroidered or woven patterns were placed in a definite order on the breast, the sleeves and the hem of the skirt. The ornament included some complicated and labour-consuming types of needlework. The patterns were arranged so densely that very little plain space was left. In the women`s clothes of the Southern Udmurts figured weave was a prevalent type of decor. In the Southern districts the women`s costume had distinctive features which had no analogues anywhere else. The Sunday best of the Southern Udmurt women was decorated with some pieces of jewelry. As a rule, the jewels were simple in design. A popular kind of dress ornament were strings of silver coins. An original kind of breast decoration were silver necklaces (monistos).

Udmurt Folk Music. Udmurts have a very interesting musical culture too. Early steps in the development of Udmurt music are based on the rich folklore tradition of the Udmurt people. They are considered to be one of the singingest people in the world. To sing, Udmurts say, is as natural as to speak. Song accompanied an Udmurt from birth to death. They exchanged songs as expensive gifts. Many songs were written about the eternity of the world. Singing contests were often held. Udmurt music developed as both song tradition and instrumental tradition. Ancient ceremonial and ritual songs are still alive in some rural areas of Udmurtia. The history of Udmurt folk music is also represented by a rich set of unique musical instruments, among them are wind, string and self-sounding instruments, such as chipchirgan, krezh, and vargan.

Musical instruments. The Chipchirgun, a wind instrument, has become a symbol of Udmurt culture. Chipchirgun is a long hollow tube of about 100 cm long., made of a plant stake. To produce sounds the performer had to blow air inside. The instrument could produce some very high pitch sounds reminding of birds`singing. The Krezh reminds of the traditional Russian instrument - gusli. The Krezh is a string instrument traditionally made of fur-tree struck with a lightning. The Krezh was played both as a sacred instrument during the ritual of and as an instrument for daily entertainment. The vargan is a plate with the cut out wedge-shaped reed. The vargan can be of a rectangular shape with the base side of the reed broadened at the end. The length of the plate may vary from 46 to 70-80 mm, the width - from 4 to 9 mm, the thickness is about 0,5 mm. According to the materials they are made of, the vargans can be divided into two groups: the vargans made of animal bones and those made of non-ferrous metals. The performer clamps the instrument by lips, the mouth serving as a resonator. The quiet vibrating sound of the instrument is produced by the stream of air coming to the vargan reed. Skillfull performers can enrich the sound using sibilance and aspiration. They quickly touch the vargan with their tongue causing trills. They articulate complete phrases by a hardly heard voice.

Museums. There are many historical and cultural landmarks in Udmurtia. The outstanding actress, Olga Knipper-Chekhova and the house of Knipper have brought fame to the town of Glazov. There are several museums in Izhevsk: the National Museum of Udmurt Republic, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum in the Open Air and the Armory Museum. The city Armory Museum exhibits unique samples of the earliest models of arms and the recent designs of arms. The Museum in the Open Air demonstrates the visitors a long-standing Udmurt tradition of meeting the guests with bread, butter and honey. They offer to the visitors home-made drinks and the dishes of the traditional Udmurt cuisine, washing in banya (steam bath) and entertainment with folk ensemble dressed in traditional old fashioned Udmurt dresses. Here you can watch the production of domestic art souveniers and if you wish you can buy something. Every summer people, living in the villages, organise their big national holidays, devoted to the end of planting works. Here the tourists can watch and take part in some old traditional ritual ceremonies of addressing to the God and to the Nature. The ancient settlement `Idnakar` (IX-XIII cent.) situated near the town of Glazov is very popular among the scientists and students, studying the way of life, culture and traditions of ancient Finno-Ugric peoples.

Theatres. Nowadays there are 8 professional theatres in Udmurtia and the Philarmonic Society. For many years the `Italmas` ensemble of Song and Dance, the theatre of Folk Song `Aikai`, folklore and ethnographical ensemble `Chipchirgan`, the folk ensemble of Song and Dance `Tanok` enjoy popularity and have a great success both within the country and abroad.

Sports. Among famous people of Udmurtia there are many great sportsmen: Galina Kulakova, Tamara Tikhonova, Valeri Medvedtsev, Vasily Chizhov, who won world and Olympic champion titles. There are many more people in Udmurtia who are sure to make it prosperous and world famous.

Literary figures.
Kedra Mitrei (pseudonym of D.I.Korepanov, born in 1892- died in1949) - one of the founders of Udmurt literature, the author of the first novel in the Udmurt language `Hard Joke`. The novel was published in Russian in Moscow in 1932 in the author`s translation.
Ashalchi Oki (Akulina Vekshina, 1898 - 1973) - the first Udmurt poetess, began her literary career in 1919, in the late 1920-s she gave up writing because of her medical career. During World War II she was a front-line surgeon. From 1945 ( until she retired) she worked as an oculist in the village of Alnashi, where she died in 1973.
Krasilnikov G.D. (1928-1975) - a novelist, the founder of a psychological trend in Udmurt literature, created very natinal and vivid characters in the novels: `Old House`, `I Stay with You`.
Flor Vasiliev (1934-1978) - a poet, the author of several collections of poems, wrote mainly lyrical and philosophical poems. Many songs were written on his poems.
Kuzebai Gerd`s poem (translated into English by John Coats, a professor from Great Britain, Cambridge University):

`By the Highroad`


By the highroad -
A lonely spot,
A four-cornered
Grass plot.


Under a willow
Hallowed ground
Three paces long
A narrow mound.


Under the mound,
In a dark grave,
Sleeps a red warrier,
Young and brave.


He does not hear,
He does not see,
The willow branches
Weave cunningly.


In seven fold wrath
Balls of lead
In brazen fury
Burst his head


And pierced his heart.
Bayonet and knife,
Ravished away
His young life.


For happiness,
For beauty, light,
For a new life
He dared to fight.

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