Republic of Mordovia is one of republics of the Russian Federation. It's located in the center of Russian Plain, between the rivers Oka and Sura. The capital of Mordovia is Saransk, its population is 339 500. Mordovia's population is about 888 000 (2002).
State languages are Russian and Mordvin (Moksha and Erzya languages).
The area of Mordovia is 26100 sq. km. Its length from West to East is 280 km, and from North to South is from 55 to 140 km (from 53°40'N to 55°15'N, from 42°12'E to 46°43'E). Borders: west - Ryazan region, north - Nizhny Novgorod region, east – Ulyanovsk region, south - the Penza region, north-east - Chuvash Republic.
Distance from Moscow to Saransk is 642 km. Mordovia is included in the Volga Federal District.
Mordovians is the largest Finnish-speaking ethnic group of the Russian Federation and one of the largest ethnic groups of the Volga region. There are two main Mordvin ethnic groups – Erzya and Moksha. Mordovians-moksha live mostly in western and southern parts of the republic in the area of Moksha river. Mordovians-erzya live in the eastern and north-eastern area of Sura river. There are three more smaller Mordvin ethnic groups - Shoksha, Karatau and Teryuhane. Language of Mokshas is Moksha language, of Erzyas – Erzya language, which is related to the Finno-Volga group of Ural family of languages.
There're lots of arts and crafts of Mordovians: jewellery making, embroidery, art wood processing, choreography, poetic and musical art, fairy tales, sayings and riddles.
Ancient goldsmiths owned metal processing techniques, they often applied molding, brazing, flattening gold sheets, punching, stamping, forging; they knew methods of ornamentation (encrustation, enamelling, etc).
In ancient times, metal processing, as well as spinning, weaving, embroidery and molding pottery, was occupied by women, and only from the first centuries of the 2nd millennium AD blacksmithing completely becomes a male occupation.
Ancient Mordovian embroidery decorated mostly people's clothes, especially festive ones. It was like a carpet, because of tight put stitches background of the canvas is almost translucent, made of wool strings, which Mordovian girls spun themselves from sheep's wool and colored them using vegetable dyes.
Decorative wood carvings are traditional arts of men, applied ornament on the front of houses, wedding chests, trim, textile mills, spinning and other utensils. The folk traditions of woodcarving reflected in the work of world-renowned Mordvin sculptor S.D. Nefedov-Erzya (1876-1959)
Mordovian beleivers are Orthodox. But there are visible features of ancient paganism. In pre-Christian religious beliefs Mordovian's attention was drawn to a large number of female deities. Their names are usually composed of two words: god of the forest ("vir") – Vir-Ava ("ava" – woman, mother), water ("ved") - Ved-Ava, land ("moda") - Moda-Ava, wind ("varma") – Varma-Ava, light ("tol") - Tol-Ava, home (kudo) - Kudo-Ava, etc.
Along with the female deities there are deities in the male image: Vir-Atya ("atya" – man, father), Ved-Atya, Moda-atya, Varma-Atya, Tol-Atya, Kudo-Atya and others. They were husbands of female deities.
It was believed that the deities can make a lot of troubles and hassles if not to appease them, so prays ("ozkst") arranged in honor of them, where graces ("oznomat") were pronounced and sacrificed offerings made. Praying can be public where the whole village took part, when it was one interest of the entire rural community (the beginning of plowing, sowing, harvesting, etc.). Also praying can be family, if there were interests of an individual family. Some prayers were attended by men only, others – by women only, third were attended by both. Family prayers were committing by misstress of the house, and at public prayers special old man and old women were chosen to pray – "inyatyat" and "inbabat" ("ine" - great, "atya" – old man, "baba" - grandmother). All the prays were addressed to the east. For pre-Christian beliefs and practices of Mordovians it was not typical worship of idols. The supreme god in pre-Christian Mordovian beliefs was called Shkay, Nishku. In connection with the Christianization these names were deferred to the Christian God. Although Mordovians considered to be the most Christianised peoples of the Volga, it still retained some remnants of paganism, some of which merged with the Orthodox Church.
Traditional Mordovian costumes are very original and colorful. It is divided at Moksha and Erzya subtypes, which consist of at least half a dozen varieties. Coloring Mordvinian embroidery includes black with a blue tint and dark red as the main colors, yellow and green for the colorization of the pattern.
Women's shirt was worn with a belt or a special complex hip decoration ("pulay", "pulagay", "pulaksh"). The first time girls put it on the day of full age and pulay became an obligatory element of female dress up to the old age. The festive pulay was particularly richly decorated with shells, chains, brass buttons, plaques and colored beads.
Decorative center of pectorals is the clasp, which connects collar ("syulgam", "sul-gamo"). Chest is decorated with beads of silver coins and beads and complex breastplate called "krgan-pirf" (moksha) where a grid of small colored beads, woolen tassels and coins attached.The larger of beads are located close to the neck and smaller - on the periphery of the decorations.
Jewellery - earings, bracelets, rings were made of copper and its alloys or from the gold and its alloys.
High hats on a solid footing with long canvas going down to the back were typical for Erzya. Moksha wore antlered hats or turban bandages. Hairstyles of married Moksha consisted of two twisted hair at the temples, which also looked like horns. They wore earings with silver coins, beads or balls of goose fluff.
Leather boots of Mordovians were tightly fixed folds and sharp noses. Casual shoes were basts. Later Moksha wore striped knee of wool with a geometric pattern.
Elements of Mordvin folk costumes are developed in a creative Mordvin fashion.
Traditional food consisted mainly of agriculture products - sour bread that was baked in the oven melted, liquid porridge from millet, lentils, peas, seasoned with hemp oil, thick millet pancakes and cakes with different fillings. Liquid dish is cooked in meat or mushroom broth with the addition of sauerkraut or cereals. Summer food was "okroshka" - soup made of sour kvass. Meat consumed in boiled form, also it was prepared for the future, salting or smoked, and it was used in the manufacture of dumplings. Soft drinks were kvass, sour milk and birch sap. Alcohol drinks are – "pura" based on honey and "poza" of rye flour or sugar beets. There were many ceremonial foods: porridge "na rodinakh", wedding cake "luksh" and "health bread", which took matchmakers, going to the girl's house, etc.
Settlements of Mordovians varied. Russian chronicles describes villages and graveyards of 13th-14th centuries, later cities appear. For the northern regions of Mordovians the cluster type of settlement was typical – villages were arranged in groups. The layout of settlements has been varied - messy, circular, series, radial and outdoor. There were different sizes of settlements - from 150-300 yards in the forest zone and up to 1000 households in the southern regions. The buildings were carcass construction mostly of a pine tree. The main roofing material was straw. Houses were two-parted - the living area and porch, or three-parted, if these two facilities were supplemented by an upper chamber.
Planning of the the living part of houses was of Middle-Russian type: furnace was located in a corner near the door. Along the walls wide benches were made, a bench at the side of the door ended with a vertical board carved in the form of a horse's head. Under the ceiling it was made a loft for sleeping, next to the stove was a case-bin for dishes on the wall beside the stove it was a special shelf for spoons called "lozhkarnitsa" and made of twigs or bark or wood. Moksha had an open courtyard, and Erzya had closed, sometimes double-floor, one. The composition of the housing complex includes sheds, barns, stables and a bath with the furnace and other buildings. On the street in front of the house raised "vihod" - a cellar with ground superstructure.