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Post  Admin on 10/27/2008, 2:50 am


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Coat of arms of Kazan guberniya (1730).

Zilant is a legendary creature, something between dragon and wyvern, which has been an official symbol of Kazan since 1730. This winged snake is a part of Tatar and Russian folklore, mentioned in legends about the foundation of Kazan.


Nomenclature and etymology
The word Zilant is the English transcription of Russian Зилант, itself a rendering of Tatar yılan (i.e., "snake", sometimes pronounced as /ʓɨlɑn`/). For Kazan Russians, Zilant has but negative connotations, being represented as a Slavic dragon rather than a snake.
The Tatars, on the other hand, frequently refer to this creature as Ajdaha (/ʌʒdɑhɑ`/ Dragon) or Ajdaha-yılan (Dragon-snake). For Tatars, it is also a negative personage, corresponding to European dragons and to Persian dragon. According to Tatar beliefs, every snake, on attaining the age of 100 years, turns to Ajdaha dragon.
Zilant/Ajdaha should be distinguished from Aq Yılan (White Snake), which is a king of snakes. Aq Yılan (or Şahmara) used to advise or give presents to epic heroes, batirs. As a positive personage, the White Snake is similar to Chinese dragons.


There are several versions of Zilant legends, sometimes contradicting each other, as are most of the legends related to Kazan.
According to the first story, one beautiful damsel married a resident of Old Kazan. Coming for water to the Qazansu River, she complained to the local khan that his capital was situated at the uncomfortable place. She advised to move the city to the neighborhood of Zilantaw Hill. Khan agreed. But the hill was infested with numerous snakes, "stout as a log". Their leader was a two-headed giant snake, i.e., Zilant. His first head swallowed young fellows and virgins only, while the other one was nourished by grass. A wizard advised to store up a straw and wood near the hill. At spring snakes came out from their burrows and creeped to a pile of straw. One knight errant was sent to set the pile of straw on fire, and the snakes were burned out, "killing people and horses with their stink". A gigantic two-headed snake-dragon escaped, however, to Qaban lakes. As the story goes, he still lives in the lake's waters and takes vengeance on citizens from time to time. According to other stories, he was transformed to Diw, a person who founded an underwater kingdom.
Other people say that Zilant didn't escape to the lake but tried to avenge the knight, who had ridden some 50 çaqrım away from Kazan. During a fight that followed, Zilant cut a hero into six parts. The knight, however, had managed to stab the dragon with his poisoned pike, and Zilant eventually died of poison.
There is also a story about Zilant's return to Zilantaw. They say that Zilant established his residence in a big cave near the hill. Sometimes, the dragon would fly over the panic-stricken city and drink water from the Black Lake. At first people paid tribute to him, but later they managed to kill him with a wizard's help.


The popular historian Lev Gumilyov pointed out that the Kypchaks, being one of the ancestors of modern Tatars, came from the Jelang Valley in Altai. In his opinion, the nearby Jelang Mountain was named after Zilant. If there is some grain of truth in this idea, the dragon of Kazan should be regarded as a remnant of once popular Turkic totem.
The flying snakes were also known in Bolghar, Suar, Bilär and other cities of Volga Bulgaria. These snakes were good, for the most part. On the other hand, legends about dangerous monsters abounded in boundary fortresses, such as Kazan, Alabuğa and Cükätaw. One fortress on the Shishma River, for example, was known as Zilantaw, russified as Yelantovo.
Zilantaw at Kazan's map

It is likely that Zilant, like other flying snakes, was a symbol of neighboring pagan peoples and their rulers. The burning of snakes could symbolize a victory of Islam over paganism. Sceptics say that the Bolgars spread those legends in border areas on purpose, in order to dismay their neighbors.

Zilantaw in Kazan

Zilantaw Hill, associated with Zilant legends, was formerly situated on the bank of Kazanka River. Some researchers advocate a view that Kazan was founded here, citing ancient Tatar legends for support. But there are other legends, placing the city foundation at Iske Qazan, Qaban settlement, an Old Tatar settlement from the 16th century - and totally ignoring the Kazan Kremlin, which is actually the oldest part of the city.
It is probable that a small settlement had existed at Zilantow in the Bulgarian epoch (12th-14th centuries), but it wasn't the city of Kazan. In 1560 the Zilantov Monastery of Assumption was established on the hill. In recent centuries, the hill was covered with an old Russian cemetery, attested since the Khanate's epoch. During the 1970s excavations, some vestiges of the original monastery were unearthed. The most ancient layer contained indications of great fire, thus lending support to the legend about the burning of snakes here.
Actually, Zilantaw used to be a high and waterless island, the best place for snakes to pass winter on. The nearest lake was called Zmeinoye, i.e., Snake Lake. But in 1957 Qazansu's course was changed, so that the old riverbed, separated from the Kuybyshev Reservoir, was swamped. Nowadays, Zilantaw is an impracticable, depressive area, surrounded with plants and depots.

Zilant as a state symbol

Modern flag of Kazan.

Like Aq Bars, Zilant could have been one of the symbols of Volga Bulgaria prior to the Mongol invasion of Volga Bulgaria. Some also speculate as to whether Zilant was featured in the Kazan Khanate's insignia.
After the conquest of Kazan in 1552, Ivan the Terrible adopted this image with the title of Kazan's khan (tsar) and Bulgarian prince. Zilant was also featured in a seal of False Dmitry I as well as a flag of Tsar Alexis. Early Russian images represent Zilant with one head, 4 chicken legs, a bird's body and snake's tail. It is a cockatrice rather than a dragon.
In 1730 Zilant was established as a coat of arms of Kazan guberniya. It was decribed in the decree as a "black snake, crowned with the gold crown of Kazan, red-winged at the white field". After 1917 this coat of arms was abolished together with guberniya itself.
Discussions about restoring Zilant as a city symbol were resumed in the 1990s. Supporters of Zilant referred to the state insignia of the Khanate of Kazan. Some Tatar nationalists dismissed the use of Ajdaha-Zilant, an evil symbol of agression, as derogatory to the Tatars and their statehood. They also pointed out to possible associations of Zilant with a dragon killed by Saint George and represented on the Coat of arms of Moscow. According to popular interpretation, Saint George would symbolize Muscovy, and the dragon would symbolize Kazan.
Finally, it was decided that Zilant should be associated with Aq Yılan (White Snake), a positive Turkic spirit. During the Millenium of Kazan in 2005, Zilant was reinstated as a symbol of Kazan. Nowadays, it is featured in the Kazan coat of arms and Kazan flag.


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