Lajkoniku, laj, laj
Poprzez cały kraj, kraj
Lajkoniku, laj, laj
Poprzez cały kraj
Who does not know this song?
Everyone knows it.
Yet for how long?
Since time immemorial...
How many mysteries are linked to Lajkonik?
In the first place the name. Yet where does it come from and what does it mean?
Then there is the custom. When did it originate? And why?
Lajkonik, once known as The Litlle Horse of Zierzyniec, has its festival just once a year. It is a date that is strictly defined and carefully observed, this being the first Thursday following the Corpus Christi holiday. On this day, regardless of what the weather may bring, an exotically attired rider atop his admittedly entirely artificial white horse, travels a time-honoured route through Cracow. He is assisted by over twenty companions; the włóczkowie [an ancient Polish term for raftsmen- note from the translator], who are equipped with a banner and a band of eight players, mlaskoci.
At around one o`clock in the afternoon, Lajkonik gallops into the courtyard of the Norbertine Convent in Zwierzyniec, which he approaches from the side of the River Rudawa. He enacts a traditional wild dance,
banners aloft, and all the while he moves in a magical circle that is formed by his companions. He enters the courtyard above all to pay homage to the Abbess of the Convent. Following this he labours his way down Franciszkańska and Grodzka to the Main Market Square. He frolics about to the sound of ancient ditties, not forgetting to enter a good many of the shops, restaurants, bars and other establishments that are on his way... He beats people with his mock golden mace and collects the traditional ransom. All this is accompanied by lots of laughter and good humour... but there is a distinct air of mystery as well.
Lajkonik makes his way through the crowds... one sees the magnificent white plumes that adorn the mane of his swift, albeit two-legged horse. One also catches sight of Lajkonik`s own high-pointed Tatar hat, which is crowned by a golden crescent. But ohmy word! Has he disappeared! Where is he? Ah, there he is, in a completely unexpected place...
The movement, the exotic costumes, the wild dance, the music - especially the deep, strong, rhythmical beating of the drum- all create the unusual atmosphere of the Lajkonik parade. Until the close of the 19th century, the costume of Lajkonik looked completely different to that of his attire today. What is more, his compnions and band wore rather randoms costumes. This can be observed in the paintings of Michał Stachowicz (1820) and Hipolit Lipiński (1880) as well as in early photographs. The image of Lajkonik as we know him today was designed in 1904 by Stanisław Wyspiański, one of the most important Polish artists of all time. In the years 1950-1996 the companions and the band performed in costumes that were designed by Witold Chomicz, a Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, while since 1997 they have worn clothes that were proposed by Krystyna Zachwatowicz, an eminent stage designer.
During his journey to the Main Market Square, Lajkonik stops three times to draw a ceremonial circle and to enact his magical dance with the banner. This takes place at the aforementioned Norbertine Convent, in front of the Philharmonic Hall and next to the Town Hall tower. It is by the tower that the ceremony draws to its close. It is usually at around seven p.m that the Mayor of Cracow hands the traditional ransom to Lajkonik, in the presence of both native Cracovians and somewhat bewildered foreigners. Finally, both personages raise a chalice and make a toast to the well-being of the city and its people.
The origins and significance of this dazzling custom are difficult to fathom.Tradition has it that Lajkonik derives from one the three historic invasions by Tatar hordes on Cracow. The last of them took place in 1287, during the reign of Prince Leszek Czarny. hat was also the only one in which the Tatars failed to sack the city, and when they were indeed defeated. According to the legend, this victory was to be owed to the brave włóczkowie of Zwierzyniec- who for centuries had possessed the right to float timber down the River Vistula. The tale has it that the most valiant raftsmen decked themselves out in the spoils of their victory- the splendid clothes of the Tatar Khan. Following this they entered the city, where they were joyously greeted by the relieved inhabitants. This tale is linked to the legends of the broken melody of the hejnał, as well as that of a Tatar pince who fell in a skirmish with the raftsmen.
The Cracow folk have passed down this legend and its quaint custom since time immemorial. With the passing of time, tle Little Horse of Zwierzyniec grew into a great attraction, as well as a lively matter of debate for scholars. The archives were searched and it was discovered that the parade was certainly underway by the mid-eighteenth century.
Powstało sporo domysłów na temat pochodzenia Lajkonika. Może jest to relikt pogańskich świątyń ku czci Światowida lub Trzygława objeżdżającego świat konno? Stanisław Wyspiański w "Achilleis" cofa konika w czasy prehistoryczne łącząc go z indoeuropejskim kultem wody. Inni obchód wiążą ze średniowiecznymi misteriami i uroczystościami cechowymi, a orientalne stroje wywodzą z XVII-wiecznej mody na Orient. Na dodatek posiada nasz Lajkonik licznych krewnych rozsianych po całym świecie (Europa, Azja, Ameryka Południowa). Tego typu zabawy należą do powszechnie spotykanych wśród ludów rolniczych w porze wiosennej. Działanie takie ma mieć magiczny wpływ na wegetację roślin. Zabawy dziwacznych jeźdźców na sztucznych konikach ("koniarz", "kobyłka") można spotkać do dzisiaj w różnych częściach Polski.
Faktem jest, że nie może nasz Lajonik wylegitymować się świadectwem wyraźnych dokumentów. Nad pochodzeniem Konika Zwierzynieckiego głowi się nadal wielu badaczy, a tajemniczy jeździec raz do roku, w ściśle określonym czasie, z nieodmienną fantazją przemierza swą tradycyjną trasę, wzbudzając podziw, wzruszenie a nawet zdumienie.