Q: I’m stationed out here in Kyrgyzstan, and the place is called Manas. I hear it's named after an important Kyrgyz poem, but that Manas also means other things in other languages. What’s up with that?
A: One of the most beloved parts of Kyrgyz culture is storytelling and singing, and the Manas is perhaps the touchstone combination of those two. The Manas is a three-part, epic poem that is a key element in Kyrgyz literature and folklore. The poem focuses on the hero Manas, and runs at almost 500,000 lines long — more than 20 times longer than the Odyssey and the Iliad combined. The plot focuses on Manas and his decendants, who fight for a unified Kyrgyzstan from 800 A.D. on through several centuries.
According to some sources, the poem can be traced to perhaps the 10th or 11th century, but it was not actually written down until 1885 — prior to that, it was passed down orally by storytellers, musicians and poets.
Manas still has a strong following as a hero in Kyrgyzstan — one popular tourist destination is a mausoleum near the town of Talas that is reputed to hold his remains. Each summer, traditional Kyrgyz games and demonstrations are put on at the site.
Now, Manas also means things for other cultures. In China, there’s a Manas River; there’s also a Manas National Park in India.
In Sanskrit, Manas means “the mind.” There are two kinds of manas — the pure and the impure.
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