Tengrism, also known as Tengriism or Tengrianism, is a Central Asian
religion characterized by shamanism, animism, totemism, poly- and
monotheism and ancestor worship. It was the prevailing
religion of the Turks, Mongols, Hungarians,
Xiongnu and Huns,
and the religion of the five ancient Turkic states: Göktürk
Khaganate, Western Turkic Khaganate, Great Bulgaria, Bulgarian Empire
and Eastern Tourkia (Khazaria). In Irk Bitig,
Tengri is mentioned as
Türük Tängrisi (God of Turks).
Tengrism has been advocated in intellectual circles of the Turkic
Central Asia (including Tatarstan, Buryatia,
Kazakhstan) since the dissolution of the Soviet Union during the
1990s. Still practiced, it is undergoing an organized revival in
Tuva and other Turkic nations in Siberia.
Burkhanism, a movement similar to Tengrism, is concentrated in Altay.
Khukh tengri means "blue sky" in Mongolian, Mongolians still pray to
Tengri ("Eternal Blue Sky") and
Mongolia is sometimes
poetically called the "Land of Eternal Blue Sky" (Munkh Khukh Tengriin
Oron) by its inhabitants. In modern Turkey,
Tengrism is known as the
Göktanrı dini ("Sky God religion"); the Turkish "Gök" (sky) and
"Tanrı" (God) correspond to the Mongolian khukh (blue) and Tengri
(sky), respectively. According to Hungarian archaeological research,
the religion of the
Hungarians until the end of the 10th century
(before Christianity) was Tengrism.
4 Central Asia
5 Arghun's letters
6 Muslim opposition
Nestorianism and Tengrism
8 See also
Old Turkic script
Old Turkic script (written from right to left as
Kırk banyosu, the good fortune-bringing "bath of 40" pebbles
collected from forty separate places, together with a gold coin,
performed in Turkey
Kurşun dökme in Turkey
Tengrists view their existence as sustained by the eternal blue sky
(Tengri), the fertile mother-earth spirit (Eje) and a ruler regarded
as the holy spirit of the sky. Heaven, earth, spirits of nature and
ancestors provide for every need and protect all humans. By living an
upright, respectful life, a human will keep his world in balance and
perfect his personal Wind Horse, or spirit. The
Huns of the northern
Caucasus reportedly believed in two gods: Tangri Han (or
considered identical to the Persian Aspandiat and for whom horses were
sacrificed, and Kuar (whose victims are struck by lightning).
Tengrism is practised in Sakha, Buryatia,
Tibetan Buddhism and Burkhanism.
Kyrgyz means "we are forty" in the Kyrgyz language, and Kyrgyzstan's
flag has 40 uniformly-spaced rays. Tengrist
reportedly sending 40,000 soldiers during a joint Byzantine-Göktürk
operation against the Persians.
Several Kyrgyz politicians are advocating
Tengrism to fill a perceived
ideological void. Dastan Sarygulov, secretary of state and former
chair of the Kyrgyz state gold-mining company, established the Tengir
Ordo (tr) (Army of Tengri): a civic group promoting the values
and traditions of Tengrism. Sarygulov also heads a Tengrist
Bishkek claiming nearly 500,000 followers and an
international scientific center of Tengrist studies.
Tengrism have been published in social-scientific journals
Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan President Nursultan
Nazarbayev and former Kyrgyz president
Askar Akayev have called
Tengrism the national, "natural" religion of the Turkic
Flag of the Sakha Republic
Otukan is the home of
Tengri and capital city of the Turks in Irk
The tree of life on a flag and coin
Gun Ana - the sun (featured in most flags)
Umay – Goddess of fertility and virginity
Bai-Ulgan – Greatest deity, after Tengri
Erkliğ – God of space
Erlik – God of death
Flag of Sakha Republic
Flag of Kazakhstan
Flag of Chuvashia
Tree of Life
Main article: Tengri
Further information: Shamanism, Mongolian shamanism, and
Tengrism was brought to Eastern Europe by the early
Bulgars. It lost importance when the Uighuric kagans proclaimed
Manichaeism the state religion in the eighth century.
Tengrism also played a large role in the religion of the Gok-Turk and
Mongol Empires. Gok-Turk translates as "celestial Turk". Genghis Khan
and several generations of his followers were Tengrian believers until
his fifth-generation descendant, Uzbeg Khan, turned to Islam in the
The original Mongol khans, followers of Tengri, were known for their
tolerance of other religions. Möngke Khan, the fourth Great Khan
of the Mongol Empire, said: "We believe that there is only one God, by
whom we live and by whom we die, and for whom we have an upright
heart. But as God gives us the different fingers of the hand, so he
gives to men diverse ways to approach him." ("Account of the Mongols.
Diary of William Rubruck", religious debate in court documented by
William of Rubruck
William of Rubruck on May 31, 1254).
A revival of
Tengrism has played a role in
Central Asian Turkic
nationalism since the 1990s. It developed in Tatarstan, where the
Tengrist periodical Bizneng-Yul appeared in 1997. The movement spread
during the 2000s to
Kazakhstan and, to a lesser extent,
Buryatia and Mongolia.
Since the 1990s, Russian-language literature uses
Тенгрианство ("Tengrism" or "Tengrinity") in the general
sense of Mongolian shamanism. Buryat scholar Irina S. Urbanaeva
developed a theory of Tengrianist esoteric traditions in Central Asia
after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the revival of national
sentiment in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.
Tengrism has few active adherents, its revival of a national
religion reached a larger audience in intellectual circles. Presenting
Islam as foreign to the Turkic peoples, adherents are found primarily
among the nationalistic parties of Central Asia.
Tengrism may be
interpreted as a Turkic version of Russian neopaganism. A related
phenomenon is the revival of
Zoroastrianism in Tajikistan.[citation
By 2006, a Tengrist society in Bishkek, an "international scientific
centre of Tengrist studies" and a civic group (Tengir Ordo, the "army
of Tengri") were established by Kyrgyz businessman and politician
Dastan Sarygulov. His ideology incorporated ethnocentrism and
Pan-Turkism, but did not receive strong support. After the Kyrgyzstani
presidential elections of 2005, Sarygulov became state secretary and
set up a work group dealing with ideological issues. Another
Kyrgyz proponent of Tengrism, Kubanychbek Tezekbaev, was prosecuted
for inciting religious and ethnic hatred in 2011 with statements in an
interview describing Kyrgyz mullahs as "former alcoholics and
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Arghun Khan's 1289 letter to Philip the Fair, in classical Mongolian
script. The letter was given to the French king by Buscarel of
Arghun expressed the association of
Tengri with imperial legitimacy
and military success. The majesty (suu) of the khan is a divine stamp
Tengri to a chosen individual through which
the world order (the presence of
Tengri in the khan). In this letter,
"Tengri" or "Mongke Tengri" ("Eternal Heaven") is at the top of the
sentence. In the middle of the magnified section, the phrase
Tengri-yin Kuchin ("Power of Tengri") forms a pause before it is
followed by the phrase Khagan-u Suu ("Majesty of the Khan"):
Under the Power of the Eternal Tengri. Under the Majesty of the Khan
Arghun Our word. To the Ired Farans (King of France).
Last year you sent your ambassadors led by Mar Bar Sawma telling Us:
"if the soldiers of the Il-Khan ride in the direction of Misir (Egypt)
we ourselves will ride from here and join you", which words We have
approved and said (in reply) "praying to
Tengri (Heaven) We will ride
on the last month of winter on the year of the tiger and descend on
Dimisq (Damascus) on the 15th of the first month of spring." Now, if,
being true to your words, you send your soldiers at the appointed time
and, worshipping Tengri, we conquer those citizens (of Damascus
together), We will give you Orislim (Jerusalem). How can it be
appropriate if you were to start amassing your soldiers later than the
appointed time and appointment? What would be the use of regretting
afterwards? Also, if, adding any additional messages, you let your
ambassadors fly (to Us) on wings, sending Us luxuries, falcons,
whatever precious articles and beasts there are from the land of the
Franks, the Power of
Tengri (Tengri-yin Kuchin) and the Majesty of the
Khan (Khagan-u Suu) only knows how We will treat you favorably. With
these words We have sent Muskeril (Buscarello) the Khorchi. Our
writing was written while We were at Khondlon on the sixth khuuchid
(6th day of the old moon) of the first month of summer on the year of
the cow.[this quote needs a citation]
1290 letter from
Arghun to Pope Nicholas IV
Arghun expressed Tengrism's non-dogmatic side. The name Mongke Tengri
("Eternal Tengri") is at the top of the sentence in this letter to
Pope Nicholas IV, in accordance with Mongolian Tengriist writing
... Your saying "May [the Ilkhan] receive silam (baptism)" is
legitimate. We say: "We the descendants of Genghis Khan, keeping our
own proper Mongol identity, whether some receive silam or some don't,
that is only for Eternal
Tengri (Heaven) to know (decide)." People who
have received silam and who, like you, have a truly honest heart and
are pure, do not act against the religion and orders of the Eternal
Tengri and of Misiqa (Messiah or Christ). Regarding the other peoples,
those who, forgetting the Eternal
Tengri and disobeying him, are lying
and stealing, are there not many of them? Now, you say that we have
not received silam, you are offended and harbor thoughts of
discontent. [But] if one prays to Eternal
Tengri and carries righteous
thoughts, it is as much as if he had received silam. We have written
our letter in the year of the tiger, the fifth of the new moon of the
first summer month (May 14th, 1290), when we were in Urumi.[this quote
needs a citation]
Turkic worship of
Tengri was mocked by the Muslim Turk Mahmud
al-Kashgari, who wrote: "The infidels - may God destroy them!"
According to Kashgari,
Muhammad assisted in a miraculous event where
700,000 Yabāqu infidels were defeated by 40,000 Muslims led by
Arslān Tegīn; fires shot sparks at the Yabāqu from gates on a green
mountain (the Yabaqu were a Turkic people).
Nestorianism and Tengrism
Tengrism has been called
Nestorianism by Christian sources.
Turkish Nestorian manuscripts with the same rune-like characters as
Old Turkic script
Old Turkic script have been found in the oasis of Turfan and the
fortress of Miran. It is unknown when and by whom the
Bible was first translated into Turkish. Most records in
Central Asia are written in the Old Turkic language.
Christianity had followers among the Uighurs. In the
Nestorian sites of Turfan, a fresco depicting
Palm Sunday has been
Manzan Gurme Toodei
Religion in China
^ The spelling
Tengrism is found in the 1960s, e.g. Bergounioux (ed.),
Primitive and prehistoric religions, Volume 140, Hawthorn Books, 1966,
p. 80. Tengrianism is a reflection of the Russian term,
Тенгрианство. It is reported in 1996 ("so-called
Tengrianism") in Shnirelʹman (ed.), Who gets the past?: competition
for ancestors among non-Russian intellectuals in Russia, Woodrow
Wilson Center Press, 1996, ISBN 978-0-8018-5221-3, p. 31 in the
context of the nationalist rivalry over Bulgar legacy. The spellings
Tengriism and Tengrianity are later, reported (deprecatingly, in scare
quotes) in 2004 in Central Asiatic journal, vol. 48–49 (2004), p.
238. The Turkish term Tengricilik is also found from the 1990s.
Mongolian Тэнгэр шүтлэг is used in a 1999 biography of
Genghis Khan (Boldbaatar et. al, Чингис хаан, 1162-1227,
Хаадын сан, 1999, p. 18).
^ R. Meserve, Religions in the central Asian environment. In: History
of Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume IV, The age of achievement:
A.D. 750 to the end of the fifteenth century, Part Two: The
achievements, p. 68:
"[...] The ‘imperial’ religion was more monotheistic, centred
around the all-powerful god Tengri, the sky god."
^ Michael Fergus, Janar Jandosova, Kazakhstan: Coming of Age, Stacey
International, 2003, p.91:
"[...] a profound combination of monotheism and polytheism that has
come to be known as Tengrism."
^ "There is no doubt that between the 6th and 9th centuries Tengrism
was the religion among the nomads of the steppes" Yazar András
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^ Tekin, Talat (1993). Irk bitig (the book of omens). Wiesbaden: Otto
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^ Buddhist studies review, Volumes 6-8, 1989, p. 164.
^ Osman Turan, The Ideal of World Domination among the Medieval Turks,
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^ Irina S. Urbanaeva (Урбанаева И.С.), Шаманизм
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тенгрианской эзотерической традиции
Центральной Азии ("
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in the Republic of Macedonia
in Western Thrace
Timeline of the Göktürks
Tian Shan / Altai Mountains
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus1
Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic
Old Turkic alphabet
International Organization of Turkic Culture
International Organization of Turkic Culture (TÜRKSOY)
Organization of the Eurasian Law Enforcement Agencies with Military
World Turks Qurultai
1 State with limited internat