Poprzez caly kraj, kraj (Through the country do so)
Lajkoniku, laj, laj (Go Lajkonik, go, go)
Poprzez caly kraj (Through the country go)
Who in Poland wouldn't know this popular folk song? Everyone knows it. Since when do Polish know it? Forever.
The Lajkonik, formerly known as Zwierzyniec's horse rider has its own holiday once a year. This is particular date, kept regardless of other events - the first Thursday after Corpus Christi. On that day, disregarding the weather, the wooden horse rider in exotic clothes in a company of twenty and a few drafters, flag and a band is going along traditional route through Kraków.
Around 1 PM from the Rudawa riverside, he is riding through the yard of St. Norbert's Sisters monastery in Zwierzyniec to dance in a traditional way with the flag in the middle of the circle made up by his company and to pay the respect to Mother Superior.
Then through the Kosciuszko, Zwierzyniecka, Franciszkanska and Grodzka streets, he is following to the Main Square. At the sounds of an old melody, he is dancing around the Square, visiting shops and restaurants, hitting people gently with his baton and gathering bounties. The whole play is accompanied by laughs, and by centuries lasting mystery.
The Lajkonik is going through the crowd. There can be seen his wooden horse and a pointed, Tartar's hat with a golden crescent.
The move, dance, baton hits believed to bring luck and a music, especially deep, steady drum beat are causes for extraordinary aura of the event.
Until the end of the 19th century, Lajkonik's outfit was very different than today's one, the band and residue have been using random clothes, what can be observed at paintings of: Michal Stachiewicz from 1820, Hipolit Lipinski from 1880 and photos from the end of 19th century. Stanislaw Wyspianski has designed the current outfit in 1904. Within period 1950-1966, the residue and the band have been using costumes designed by Arts Academy professor Witold Chomicz. Since 1997, they are wearing clothes designed by Krystyna Zachwatowicz.
During his ride, the Lajkonik and his residue form a ceremonial circle and provides magical dance with a flag - at St. Norbert's Sisters monastery, philharmonic, and in front of City Hall tower. On the stage build at City Hall Tower, there comes a culmination of the ceremony. Around 19:00 (7 PM), surrounded by crowd of Kraków citizen's, tourists, mostly children Kraków's mayor pays a symbolic, traditional tribute to Lajkonik and both are making a toast for city's and its citizens' fortune.
It is quite difficult to find the origin and meaning of this custom. Legend refers it to one of three documented Tartars invasions. In 1287, during the reign of Leszek Czarny (Leszek The Black) the last invasion of Tartars at Kraków occurred - the only one where city defeated invaders. According to legend, the victory was achieved thanks due to the rafts men (oarsmen), which were having right over the centuries to float wood down the Wisla (Vistula) river. The bravest of them, wearing spoiled outfit of Tartars Chan came into the city in the aura of triumph and joy. This legend is also related to other threads: about cut off bugle-call and a Tartars' prince died in the fight against the rafts men.
Since timing of that is hard to define, Kraków's citizens were passing from one generation to another the above story along with ritual custom, until the time the wooden horse rider became an attraction of Kraków and interest of serious scientists. A research done in archives shows this tradition had already been known in the 18th century, when the ceremony was organized.
There were many thoughts about the Lajkonik's origin. It may be a relict of pagan ceremonies of gods Swiatowid or Trzyglaw riding around the world on the horse.
Stanislaw Wyspianski in Achilleis made a suggestion that rider is related to prehistoric times, relating him to Indo-European worship of water. Others refer the custom to medieval mysteries and guilds' ceremonies, and its oriental outfits to 17th century trend in fascination with the Far East cultures. The Lajkonik also has some "relatives" around the whole world (Europe, Asia, and Southern America). These types of customs are commonly observed within agricultural societies during spring. Custom like this would have some magical influence on plants vegetation. The customs of strange riders on manmade horses ("koniarz", "kobyłka") can even be found today in various parts of Poland.
The fact is that unfortunately there are no significant documents on Lajkonik's origin and history. Although many scientists are researching this strange phenomenon, nonetheless the Lajkonik is still popular in the particular time, annually, with the same bang riding the same route, arousing admiration, affection and even amazement.