Traditional Mongolian Symbols

There are many patterns and symbols present in Mongolian life that have existed in the country for hundreds of years. You see them everywhere: On clothes, cookies, doorways, buildings, etc. Knowing what they mean and why they are put where they are can give you a rare insight into the inner workings of Mongolian culture.

Door with hammer pattern.
Door with hammer pattern.

Hammer Pattern (alkhaan khee): The legend goes that the pattern is derived from the shape of a hammer or that of the cross-shaped ropes used to tie horses. It is a pattern that symbolizes always moving, as evidenced by the fact that the pattern can continue on indefinitely. Since Mongolia has a long history of nomadism, it is thought that continuously moving is good for one’s life and livelihood. You can find this pattern on buildings, doorways, and some furniture.

Ulzii between two fish.
Ulzii between two fish.

The Knot of Eternity (ulzii): This pattern has a variety of incarnations: Single, double, half, and so forth. It represents eternal happiness and life. It reminds me a bit of Celtic knots, given its similar symbolic meaning and shaping. Historians have placed this symbol in use as far back as the Huns. This pattern is just about everywhere: On key chains, wallets, purses, hats, jackets, etc.

Swastika (khass): It is unfortunate that to many in the West, this symbol was hijacked by the Nazi Regime before and during World War II. The symbol is used to represent a strong home in Mongolia, and many owners would place them in various spots in their buildings. Nowadays, many Nationalist groups, such as the White Swastika (tsagaan khass), use it as a symbol of Mongolian strength and nationalism. Many groups also take cues from Neo-Nazi groups in their usage of the symbol.

On the gate and government building in Ulaan Baatar.
On the gate and government building in Ulaan Baatar.

Age of Ten Thousand Years (tumen khas): This pattern is like an extension of the khas, having the pattern extend at the ends and reform multiple times, going on, in theory, forever. This is a common symbol for a never-ending life. This pattern is very popular for deels, shirts, and dresses amongst Mongolians.

Carpet Phaaz.
Carpet Phuuz.

Phuuz and Laanz: These symbols are Chinese in origin (known as the shou ideogram in China) but are very popular in most art forms in Mongolia, and have been for a great length of Mongolian history. Both symbols represent a long life. You can find these symbols everywhere: clothes, stickers on cars, baked goods, cups, dishes, etc.

Soyombo.
Soyombo.

The most popular symbol in Mongolia is undoubtedly the Soyombo. You can find the Mongolian flag pattern proudly displayed all across Mongolia. It is truly the most “Mongolian” of all the symbols.

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