The Soyombo

Drawing of the Mongolian flag, complete with Soyombo.
Drawing of the Mongolian flag, complete with Soyombo.

The Soyombo has its roots in the rule of Zanabazar. During his reign, he created his own alphabet system, known as Soyombo. The modern Soyombo symbol, as we know it now, was actually the first letter in Zanabazar’s script. It was adopted by the new Mongolian government in 1911. Each part of the Soyombo has a special meaning.

Image courtesy of welcome2mongolia.com
Image courtesy of welcome2mongolia.com

The three flames on the top represent the past, present, and future. It also symbolizes growth and progress.

The circle and crescent below represent the sun and the moon.

The downward facing triangles are spears that represent death to Mongolia’s enemies.

The horizontal rectangles represent honesty and fairness.

The vertical rectangles are walls that represent the strength of friendship.

The yin-yang in the center is known to most Mongolians as the two fish, or the pair of fish. Each dot is one of the fishes’ eyes, and since they are always open, they symbolize eternal vigilance. The symbol as a whole represents much of what yin-yang does: The masculine (male) and the feminine (female). The two fish also each represent wisdom and fairness, although I have not been able to determine which attribute is assigned to male and female respectively.

Furthermore, the yin-yang symbol plays out in traditional Mongolian life. Yin is known more commonly as bileg (symbol) and Yang as arag (practice). A ger is usually divided into two halves: The West being the arag (Men’s) side and the East being the bileg (Women’s) side. It should be noted that Mongolians typically orient South as the forward-facing direction (as opposed to our Western notion of North being forward-facing). As such, when visiting a ger, men sit on the right (west) half of the ger, while women sit on the left (east). The mouth of the stove usually faces east, so it is the woman’s job to keep the fire of the home going. Women are meant to take care of the home, and as such, the feminine bileg also symbolizes stability and passivity. Mean are expected to take care of all of the outside chores, leading the masculine arag to symbolize movement and activity.

It’s always interesting to see how symbols play out in our everyday lives and how they influence our behaviors. Needless to say, the Soyombo has a special place in Mongolian life and culture.

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One thought on “The Soyombo

  1. I definitely remember describing it as “something that looks like a palace” before I came here and learned what the soyombo actually represented (in parts and as a whole). I’d hate to try to use Zanabazar’s script if all the symbols are this complex!

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