He was born in Panagyurishte in a family of a landowner. He first studied in his hometown in the General School with teacher Kesariy Popvasilev from Kazanlak, and then became a novice and disciple of Neophyte of Rila in the Rila Monastery (1838–1843). The participation of V. Cholakov in the transcripts of the Neophyte’s handwritten translation of Aesop’s fables is attested. He continued his education at the Greek school in Plovdiv (1844–1845) and lived in the convent of the Bachkovo Monastery. At the request of Revival Period writer Zahariy Knyazheski, in 1848 V. Cholakov was one of the applicants admitted at the Kiev Theological Seminary, where he studied seven years until 1855. To a large extent, his education was taken over by Metropolitan Filaret of Kiev (1837–1857) and the Panagyurishte community.
With the recommendation of Kiev Archimandrite Hrisan, patron of many Bulgarian students at the Kiev Seminary, he continued his studies at the Moscow Theological Academy with his friend Ilia Hristovich for the next two years (1856–1857). During his stay in Moscow, V. Cholakov maintained a close relationship with Konstantin Miladinov. He supported the publishing of the famous collection of the Miladinov Brothers, ‘Bulgarian Folk Songs’ (Zagreb, 1861) by maintaining active correspondence with Revival Period enlighteners Marin Drinov, Nesho Bonchev, to mention but a few, for collecting folk songs. It was here that in the period 1857–1858, Panagyurishte enlightener developed an interest in the Bulgarian past and the folk customs. In 1857, he became acquainted with a Russian cartographer and made his first attempts to create a geographical map of Bulgarian lands, again writing letters to his acquaintances to gather information about settlements. In Moscow, there is record of his first article, ‘How should we judge the popular belief that eye sight can be harmful? Is it superstition or is it really a matter of bringing ill luck?’ that was prepared for print and also revealed his emerging interest in ethnography. It was sent to Alexander Exarch for the Constantinople Newspaper, and was later published in the Български книжици Journal (Bulgarian Booklet) (1959, issue 3).
V. Cholakov received material support from the Slavic Charity Committee in Moscow for touring and exploring folklore in Macedonian, Romanian and Bulgarian lands. In 1859, before returning to Panagyurishte, he visited Constantinople, Kukush, Polyanin, Voden, and Thessalonica. He started educational and cultural activities. The tour of many Bulgarian cultural hubs (Pleven, Tarnovo, Gorna Oryahovitsa, Stara Zagora, Kazanlak, Dupnitsa, Samokov, etc.) enabled V. Cholakov to acquire various ethnographic materials, valuable old manuscripts and coins, as well as to get acquainted with the condition of many Bulgarian schools and churches. On his visit to the Dobrovets Monastery near the Romanian city of Iasi, he discovered a manuscript gospel on parchment dating from the 15th century.
Cholakov settled in the Rila Monastery (1959–1863), where he studied and systematized its literary wealth of old-printed books and manuscripts. Some of them were known to some Slavic scholars such as Yu. Venelin, P. Shafarik, A. Gilferding, V. Grigorovich et al. Here V. Cholakov discovered two manuscripts – eulogies (one of which was written in 1479), which contained original detailed vitae, instructive orations, as well as the messages of Patriarch Euthimius, his vitae, and more. One of the main contributions of V. Cholakov is the compiled comprehensive Catalogue of the Manuscripts Stored in the Rila Monastery, published in the Български книжици Journal (Bulgarian Booklet) (1859, issue 21). Another important journalistic produce is ‘The Travel of Vasiliy Cholakov’ (Bulgaria Newspaper, 1859), one of the first examples of the Bulgarian Revival Period travelogues.
In 1863 V. Cholakov returned to his hometown and one year later was appointed principal teacher of catechism, sacred history and Greek at the St Trinity School of Mutual Teaching (later named after the American missionary Dr Albert Long) replacing Koprivshtitsa man Nayden Popstoilov. Vasil Cholakov was one of the founders of the Videlina Community Culture Centre (chitalishte) in Panagyurishte, through which he published his book Description of the Village of Panagyurishte (1866) that was in fact the first history of Panagyurishte. In a very short and synthesized form the work gives information about the town not only in geographical, but also in historical, economic, anthropological, and socio-cultural aspect. The brightly declared commitment of this Revival Period man-of-letters with the enlightenment and the education of the Bulgarian people as an effective and critical way of protecting the national identity can be identified in the topic for the Bulgarian community culture centres: ‘If the young lads continue their studies with the hitherto prevailing zeal, then there is no doubt that the said institution [community centre] will bring great benefits to the whole Society and will bring the young people out of the wild and rough state in which they and their fathers have hitherto been’(p. 9).
Inspired by the vivid messages of Russian folklorist, philologist and scientist Yuri Venelin, the Panagyurishte writer had been touring the Bulgarian lands for nearly ten years. The fruits of his activities are precisely the ones that were included in the collection of Dimitar and Konstantin Miladinovi – about 100 recorded songs from the Eastern Bulgarian settlements, and especially from Panagyurishte. The commemorative article after their death, ‘The sad voice of a Bulgarian’ in the Pozor Newspaper (1862), testifies to their shared passion and drive for collecting folklore materials, and to his friendship with the Miladinov Brothers.
In the period 1873 – 1879 V. Cholakov again resided at the Rila Monastery. In 1875, he was given the monastic name Constantius, he was ordained a monk, and published in the periodical press (the newspapers of Napredak and Vek) two of his sermons against foreign religious propaganda. He continued to study the manuscripts in the monastery library, to hold sermons against Protestantism, to send articles to the Constantinople Bulgarian newspapers on various religious and public issues. At the end of 1879 he returned to Panagyurishte, where, along with his constant pursuit of searching for folklore materials, he became actively involved in the public life of the town, contemplating and criticizing the irregularities of local rulers, clergy and wealthy elite (chorbadzhiy). After a year of serious illness, he died on October 26 and was buried in the courtyard of the Church of Our Lady.
The most emblematic work that secured for V. Cholakov a deserved place in Revival Period culture is Bulgarian Folk Collection. Part I (1872). For its publication, the writer succeeded in attracting over 1100 contributors, which was a considerable number of supporters for the publication of a Revival Period book. Among them were Prof Victor Grigorovich, Panayot Volov, Ivan Vazov, Nesho Bonchev, Rayko Zhinzifov, Rafail Popov, many community centres, women’s associations and monasteries. The book was published in 2500 copies and contained 2500 prints made in Prague. The collection represented a new phenomenon in Bulgarian folklore and ethnography. It was a rich source not only of folk songs, but also of folk customs and rituals (performed at birth, engagement, wedding, death, various holidays of a family nature and according to the national calendar), children’s games, dances, riddles, proverbs, tales and folk costumes that were presented on the prints. The ethnographic materials were from different Bulgarian settlements: Panagyurishte, Pazardzhik, Svishtov, Lyaskovets, Kyustendil, Tarnovo, Koprivshtitsa, Klisura, Karlovo, Zheleznik (Stara Zagora), Sofia, Samokov, and the districts of Nis, Nevrokop, Smolyan, Radomir and Karlovo. V. Cholakov himself acknowledged one of the weaknesses of the collection – the lack of uniform spelling. The Revival Period critics welcomed the Bulgarian Folk Collection, despite some disagreement.
The significance and role of the Cholakov’s collection is comparable to the work of the Miladinov Brothers and is perceived as a natural complement to their collection. Of particular interest is the extensive preface which was a kind of programme of the folklorist from Panagyurishte. It opens with a reference to the Delphic maxim ‘Know thyself!’ This maxim was integrated in the Revival Period ideas and had become a popular reminiscence of not a few prefaces: ‘One of the most needed and hardiest things in the world is – let the man know himself. Knowing himself with all his faults and virtues, with all his faculties, one can easily do as he pleases, strive for what is useful and possible for him, and take such a position as is convenient for him. But it is difficult, very difficult for a person to know himself’ (p. VII).
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