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Aruaqtar: Specific Features of the Kazakh Cult of Ancestors

Nurzhan Kulumzhanov, Azhar Zholdubaeva, Soltanmurat Abzhalov, Sairash Sapargaliyeva and Serik Almukhanov


Published: 2021/03/01


The cult of ancestors (aruaqtar) occupies a critical place in the pre-Islamic Tengrian worldview of the Kazakhs. Despite obtaining some Muslim features in the process of Islamization, the cult of ancestors and faith in the aruaqtar remained fundamentally Tengrian. A cult of ancestors is based on the idea of an otherworldly reality. The souls of the dead can transit into it, still keeping connections with the real world. Aruaqtar are guardian spirits and the patrons of the family and clan. Their veneration is one of the essential principles of Kazakh culture, including the organization of tribal relations and the system of values of the nomads. The veneration of the aruaqtar gave rise to a complex semiotic system of the funeral and memorial rituals, reflected in material objects such as burials, mazars, and the stone sculptures of the ancient Turkic era (balbaltas). Myths and language reflect the specific features of the Kazakh aruaqtar cult. Their analysis shows the connection of the concept of aruaqtar with honor, dignity, and other high moral and ethical concepts. This link to morality determined the concept’s vitality in the Kazakh spiritual mentality and the preservation of many semiotic elements of the cult of ancestors in modern society.

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