An epic tale worth telling

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A depiction by Elzati Eshantol of Manas leading the Kirgiz tribes against marauders. [China Daily]

Kirgiz folk hero comes back to life with courageous deeds portrayed in gripping detail.

It takes a warrior to not just win a war, but to organize peace in times of conflict, Greek polymath Aristotle once said. A shining example of this is the Epic of Manas, which extols the virtues of one Kirgiz man who, according to legend, united 40 indigenous tribes against bloodthirsty invaders.

Said to be 20 times longer than Homer's Odyssey, the Epic of Manas spans eight chapters in 18 volumes and boasts more than 234,000 lines. It is among the greatest folklores of the Kirgiz people, one of China's ethnic groups, and has become the subject of modern-day music and art.

The epic is named after the warrior Manas and covers the life of his descendants for eight generations. Manas not only led Kirgiz tribes against marauders, but also brought traitors to justice and empowered the weak.

"While large tracts of wasteland have turned into lakes, the lakes and seas have turned into mulberry fields; when the hills have turned into gullies and the snow peaks have changed their appearance, the story of the hero Manas has been passed on from generation to generation. The story of the lion Manas has linked people in flesh and blood"´╝Źreads a roughly translated excerpt from the epic.

The original tale was passed orally from performer to performer, who were known as manaschi. However, the epic's spirit of solidarity and perseverance has been presented in various literary forms, including narrative poetry, lyrics, proverbs and aphorisms.

The Epic of Manas records nomadic life in the Middle Ages, the historical developments, the customs of the Kirgiz people, nature's beauty in the form of icebergs and grasslands, and also exchanges between the East and the West in ancient times. Together, it is a well-rounded encyclopedia covering history, geography, religion, economy, marriage, customs, music, painting and language.

For thousands of years, performers have sung the Epic of Manas, processing and embellishing ancient wisdom. The talent of past generations has been consolidated, and its content and form have become richer.

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