The Epic of Manas is a traditional epic poem of the Turkic peoples, especially the Kyrgyz people. Manas is the name of the epic’s hero. The poem, with close to half a million verses, is twenty times longer than Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad combined, or about twice as long as the Mahabharata. It is a patriotic work recounting the exploits of Manas and his descendants and followers, who fought against the Uyghurs in the 9th century to preserve Kyrgyz independence. Although the epic is mentioned as early as the 15th century, it was not set down in written form until 1885. Different opinions abound regarding the origin of the epic: the 7th—10th centuries, the 11th and 12th centuries, and the 15th through 18th centuries.
The epic is the classic centerpiece of Kyrgyz literature, and parts of it are often recited at Kyrgyz festivities, in a melodic chant accompanied by a three-stringed komuz. The manachis (traditional reciters of the epic) are held in high esteem. A revered manaschi who recently visited the United Kingdom is Rysbek Jumabaev.
Manas is said to have been born in the Ala-Too mountains in Talas region in northwestern Kyrgyzstan (Talas Alatau). A mausoleum some 40 km east of the town of Talas is believed to house his remains and is a popular destination for Kyrgyz travelers.
There are more than 65 written versions of parts of the epic. An English translation by Walter May was published in 1995, in commemoration of the presumed 1000th anniversary of Manas’ birth, and re-issued in two volumes in 2004.