Many legends abound in the settlement of Bolgar. Their heroines were Bulgar girls resolved and determined to take up arms to defend their homeland.
Bulgar princesses are a common feature in legends such as The Legend of the Black Palace, The Legend of the Gabdrahman Well, and The Legend of the Warrior Maidens. In one of the legends, the daughter of a khan immured herself and all the treasures of the khan’s treasury in a cave, to keep them out of the hands of the enemies. Another legend tells the tale that after the defeat of Bolgar by Tamerlane, forty girls dressed in armour and men’s clothing defended the town of Bilyar. They were led by the Khan’s daughter and they all died in the battle. Their burial place has ever since been known as Deviche Kladbishche (Kizlar ziarati – Girls Cemetery).
One of the most beautiful legends is dedicated to Rabigi Lake: It is a story about a Bulgar khan and his daughter.
There were once many lakes in the lands of Bolgar and beyond, few of which remain today. To the west of the settlement in the middle of a forest lies Rabigi Lake, the shores of which touch upon the modern town of Bolgar. In the 19th century, the lake was used to soak lime bark which was employed in the weaving of Russian traditional shoes (lapti). For this reason the Russian speaking population called this lake Mochailishche (Soaking place). Bark weaving was considered quite a simple process and it was done by children and old people. However, in the middle of the 20th century, the way of life changed completely when the town of Bolgar, the administrative centre of the Spassky Region, was developed on the shores of the lake and shoe weaving died out.
The old residents recount often seeing an island floating in the middle of the lake which then submerged again under the water. This place has not been forgotten – it is visited by many local residents and the Sabantui festival is held here.
According to the legend, Rabigi’s life was restricted to the boundaries of the Khan’s palace, while her girlfriends went for walks, gathered at the edges of the forest, danced and transformed into white swans. Rabigi did not want to spend all her life in the palace, she wanted to know what life was like beyond it. So one day, the khan’s daughter defied the ban and went for a walk to the edge of the forest.
On that day the Khan had gone out hunting with his entourage. The Khan had caught nothing and decided to return to the palace. On his way back, the Khan saw some white swans and decided to fire an arrow – he pulled back the bow string, and pierced by the arrow, the swan fell to the ground. When he approached his prey, the Khan was shocked to see his own daughter with an arrow in her breast.
According to the legend, the ruler spent all night sobbing over his daughter’s body, and so intense was his grief that the very natural landscape was altered – a deep lake appeared in the place where Rabigi had met her death.