Back in the 16th century Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible conquered Cheremiss princedoms along with the Khanate of Kazan. After this defeat part of the Mari population fled to the eastern regions evading high taxes and forced Christianisation. They formed the eastern group of the Mari people. Their descendants now live in the south-western part of Sverdlovsk region (Middle Urals) and are called the Ural Maris.
For four centuries the Ural Maris managed to preserve their traditional religion which reveres the forces of nature each personified by its god. Currently, of course, the Mari Paganism is different from that of the 16th century. It has changed under the influence of Christianity and Islam. However up to the beginning of the 20th century there was a sacred grove in each Mari village where people could pray.
The greatest harm to the Mari culture and religion was done by the Soviet government in the first half of the 20th century. Today Mari language, traditions, beliefs and lifestyle are endangered; young people leave villages and move to large cities searching for job.
Today one of the main attributes of the Maris’ identity and pride is their unique traditional garment. Many shirts and dresses are passed down from generation to generation, some pieces of clothing being a hundred years old. These clothes are cherished by the families and are worn only on special occasions. The most valuable garment detail is handmade embroidery, though the meaning of the embroidered symbols has been completely lost over the years. Garments are being sewn over, decorated with modern details, machine-made embroidery, old pieces of embroidery are used in new clothing.