Any place, mountain, rock, gorge, valley, river or village have their own legend, their own tale, their history decorated with the people’s creative imagination. Legends and tales of the magnificent Lake Baikal represent a special significant part of the local folklore.
The wish to investigate the mysteries of the Baikal has caused a great number of the Buryat, Evenk and Russian old-timers’ legends. The legends depict the artistic images of the lake’s origin and the Baikal basin rivers, tell the history of populating the shores of the Sacred Sea.
In the Buryat folklore the Baikal plays a great role as the people’s history cradle. “N.N. Kozmin writes: “The Buryat-Mongolian people have been formed in Pribaikalye (the Baikal land). All their national legends and traditions are connected with the Baikal as the centre of their historic development. The considerable history of the Buryat-Mongolians is as if attached to the Baikal economically, too. Their historic legends do not know anything definite about the previous life stages and about the countries they had inhabited before arriving at Pribaikalye. They may be considered to be the autochthons of the latter, i.e. the land’s aboriginals…” (Okladnikov A.P. Sketches of the Western Buryat-Mongolians History (17th-18th centuries). – Leningrad, 1937. – p. 275).
“…The Buryats, both those who used to settle at the shores of the Baikal (Tunka, Barguzin) and living near it now (Olkhon, Kabansk) as well as being at the distance of up to half thousand kilometres from it (Khorinsk, Kizhinga, Selenghinsk, Aga and others) irrespective of distances (nomads!) think of Lake Baikal as their ancient native land, sacred object of worship” (Zhambalova S.G. Profaned and Sacral Worlds of the Olkhon Buryats of the 19th-20th centuries. – Novosibirsk,2000. – p. 191).
From generation to generation the legends were passed about the fact that eleven Khori clans come from the Baikal, they are named after eleven sons of Khoridoi who used to wander along the Baikal deserted shores and who never spared anything for the lake-sea. Khoridoi got a beautiful swan as his wife from the Sacred sea as a token of gratitude. The legends about Erkhirit and Bulagat tell about the fact that Erkhirit and Bulagat are the children of the mystic bull, Bukhe-Noyon, and the shaman Usukhan; they were raised to the roaring and splashing of the Baikal waters. They became the forefathers of the north Baikal Buryats. There are also historical legends about Chinghis-Khan’s stay in different places at the Baikal. The setting of all the myths, tales and legends is always Lake Baikal or the Baikal waters.
The unity of nature and man, the fact that people could not imagine themselves beyond the ecosystem of the Sacred Sea and worshipped it, is reflected in the legends about the masters of rivers, waters or localities (the Grey-haired Baikal, the beautiful Angara, the mighty Irkut, the mistress of the Baikal Baigal Dalain ezhen Yekhe toodei, the Great Grandmother, the mistress of the Baikal sea, Baigal Dalain Ekhe Abai Khatan, the Baikal’s mother Abai khatun (Abai the tsarina) and others). Man’s attitude towards the Sacred Sea as the shrine is reflected in the Buryat wishing greetings: the Baikal was the criterion of man’s attitude towards himself and the surrounding world. In the ulighers the appearance of mountains, hills or lakes is connected with the activity of mythological monsters or heroes-bators.
The natural objects of the cult character (the images of lake Baikal, its sacred and inviolable natural landmarks) have also been reflected in the folklore and played an important role in the development of the religious and mythological views. The unique “Land-Water” cult was formed.
The Buryats were closely connected with the neighbouring peoples, particularly with the Evenk clan groups. “For example, one of the most important ethnogenetic problems of the Asian continent is connected with the Baikal and its archeological landmarks, it is the origin of the Tungus tribes and their language. Now the Tungus language people are dissolved all over the vast territories of the Northern and Eastern Asia: from the shores of the Arctic ocean to the Pacific. The mystery of their language similarity and their origin stirred the minds of the researchers’ generations. New light on the problem of the Tungus origin was thrown by archeological excavations in East Siberia.
It turned out that the remains of clothes which had preserved as decorations in the graves of the Neolithic and stone to metal transition period (i.e. Glazkov culture), at the Angara, the Lena and along the shores of the Baikal, gave an opportunity to reconstruct the clothes like the Tungus “coattails” with an apron and a characteristic cap on the head. There is also a number of other indications which allow to connect the ethnographic culture of the Tungus tribes with the Glazkov culture of Pribaikalye” (Okladnikov A.P. The Baikal Petroglyphs as Relics of the Siberian People’s Ancient Culture. – Novosibirsk, 1974. – p. 3).
The Russian Baikal old-timers included the Buryat folklore about the Baikal into their folklore, passed it from generation to generation creating their own legends about the first Russian villages at the Baikal, about the runaway prisoners from Akatui and Zerentui, about piracy on the Baikal etc.