The Shanyrak Crystallizes Kazakh Culture and History

If The Golden Warrior symbolizes the independent Republic of Kazakhstan, then the shanyrak crystallizes Kazakh culture and history. The shanyrak is the circular opening at the top of the yurt, the traditional portable home of pastoral nomadic peoples inhabiting Inner Eurasia. You have probably seen it on the official Emblem of the Republic of Kazakhstan as well as on the national flag. We at KazakhWorld are particularly fond of the shanyrak symbol, as it is the namesake of our supporting organization, the Shanyraq foundation.

A yurt, is made of a wood frame topped with a cloth and animal hide, while the inside is lined with layers of hand-woven carpets, tekemet.Historically, steppe nomads compressed the component parts of yurts_into portable packages that would then be thrust on the top of a Bactrian camel while embarking on seasonal migrations. Despite the fact that _yurts are constructed without a single nail, they are sturdy, waterproof and quite cozy.

The shanyrak_possesses symbolic meaning and functional value. The shanyrak is formed by the intersecting wooden beams at the top of the yurt, rendering it the center of the _yurt _structure. The _shanyrak_is formed by the linking of the _kerege_or _uyks, wooden poles, and kanattar, the latticework of wooden wings, are secured. The larger the yurt, the more number of kanattar are required to secure the structure. Moreover, the shanyrak is the most noticeable and durable feature of the yurt that does not require constant repair and is rarely replaced. Some families pass on the pieces of the shanyrak for generations.

The shanyrak appears in the center of the coat of arms of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

As the top opening of the yurt, the shanyrak allows for air and light to ventilate through the portable home. Smoke generated by the stove used for cooking and preparing kumys, fermented mare’s milk, escaped through the shanyrak’s opening. The shanyrak thus allowed for the smoke and steam to escape the_ yurt_. On a clear night, one can sleep in the yurt and admire the stars. Given their history as pastoral-nomadic peoples, Kazakhs value the pristine, natural world.

Daily life for pastoral nomads required the division of labor between family members as well as a certain degree of interdependency. Paralleling the circular shape of the shanyrak, Kazakh families traditionally enjoyed meals seated in a circle on the yurt floor. The most honored guests sat the farthest away from the entrance and the closest to the stove. During non-meal times, the_yurt’s_floor space was divided up to include a children’s area, a work and cooking area and an area for the married man and wife to sleep.

As eloquently described by the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan to Canada,

_Shanyrak is a main backbone part of the yurt that resembles a blue sky. It is also one of the key elements of Kazakh family dwelling in the traditional culture of Eurasian nomads. The image of shanyrak on the State Emblem of the republic is a symbol of common home and common homeland of all people living in Kazakhstan. The stable development of Kazakhstan depends on welfare of each citizen just like the strength and stability of shanyrak depends on reliability of all its uyks. _

The Shanyrak is a main backbone part of the yurt that resembles a blue sky, and it symbolizes well-being of family, peace and calmness. Photo credit: [](

Interestingly, the flag of the Kyrgyz republic, Kazakhstan’s southern neighbor, also contains the image of a shanyrak, called a tündük, flanked by forty rays of the sun to symbolize the forty tribes that united to oust the Mongol ruler.