The mermaid is a central character in Tatar folklore. Unlike mermaids in other folklores, the Su anasy (“Mother of Water) is not a friendly creature. From time to time she will grab people and pull them underwater, or it will visit droughts, excessive rainfall and diseases on people. Su anasy likes to sit on the shore, combing her long green hair with a gold comb.
The Tatar mermaid boasts a legend all her own. The 16th-century Plains Book of Royal Lineage, one of the earliest history chronicles in Russia, includes a legend of Gausharkad, the daughter of the Khan Muhammed Amin, who ruled the Kazan Khanate in the late 15th-early 16th centuries (other historic sources indicate, however, that he had no children, was loyal to the Russian Tsar Ivan III, and was actually installed on the throne through Russian military interference). However that may have been, the mythical daughter of that Khan threw herself into the waters of Lake Kaban when the Tsar’s army besieged Kazan, and turned into a water creature. Su anasy, who was suspected of witchcraft even in her human life, was now unstoppable as a mermaid. She cast a spell on the lake so that every enemy person approaching the lake would drown in it. By another legend, Princess Suumbike, who ruled Kazan in the mid-16th century, ordered the Khan’s riches concealed at the bottom of Lake Kaban under the mermaid’s protection before the army of Ivan the Terrible stormed and captured Kazan.
The great Tatar poet Gabdulla Tukay perpetuated the mermaid character in literature. Every schoolchild in Tatarstan knows his poem Su anasy. There is no historical subtext to this folk tale: a boy steals the mermaid’s hair comb, she comes to his house, scaring the whole village, and demands back what’s hers. The boy’s mother returns the comb and gives her misbehaving son a proper thrashing.
The metal fountain statue of Su anasy, sculpted by Igor Bashmakov, was erected in Ulitsa Baumana in 1997. One time someone stole the statue’s comb, too, and it had to be replaced.