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Tag Archives | Mongols

Crowdsourcing the Search for Genghis Khan’s Tomb

In my Pragati article Secrets of the cellars, I wrote, “If the government cannot find a specialist to translate the royal records, it should have them carefully digitised and published online, so that the job can be crowdsourced.” While writing this I did not have any particular precedence in mind and so it was interesting to hear that this crowdsourcing idea is actually being used to find the tomb of Genghis Khan.

This may be a fool’s errand as we have no idea if there is actually a tomb or not, but Albert Lin of UC San Diego is in Mongolia with funding from National Geographic searching for the tomb. To narrow down the spots they have taken aerial photos of possible sites and are now asking the public to help them. Here is the video which explains how you can help. Also listen to Albert Lin explain this in an interview with Boston Public Radio

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Briefly Noted: Mongol(2007)

Sometime in the 12th century, a boy was born in a small nomadic tribe in steppes of north-east Asia. Little did anyone guess that this boy, born in a society which did not have agriculture or cities and grew up drinking mare’s milk, would one day unite not just the warring tribes but  unify China with the Muslim and Christian kingdoms to create an empire. That boy, Temüjin — who later asked the Pope to come and submit to him — is better known as Genghis Khan.  Sergei Bodrov’s big-budget movie shows the life of the most famous Mongolian till he becomes the Great Khan.

The boy did not grow up amid unsurpassed luxury. Life in the steppes is hard; the Mongol tribes face extremities of weather as well as competition from other tribes for resources. Besides the usual existential threats, the boy had to face death, not once, but at least three times. Once when a rival leader takes over the clan after Temüjin’s father’s assassination, he is marked, but spared because he is a boy. This event repeats once more. The third time, as an adult, he is sold into slavery and kept in a cell with one window. He survives all adversities like Louie Zamperini, the hero of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.

But the movie is a love story as well – between Börte whom he chose as his wife when he was 9. When she is abducted by a rival tribe, Temüjin with his blood brother rescue her. When Temüjin is held as a slave in the far away Tangut kingdom, Börte offers herself as a concubine to a merchant to hitch a ride and bribes the guards to save her husband. Börte is a strong woman which is not surprising. When the men go off to war, it is the women who watch the animals and take care of the tribe; When a Khan dies, until a new one is elected, his mother or wife is in charge of the tribe.

Besides this, the Mongols are driven by two other relationships to reduce conflict. One is that of the blood brother: when two individuals from different tribes become blood brothers each one is obliged to help the other. When Temüjin was once almost frozen to death as a child, he was saved by another kid, Jamukha, who becomes his blood brother. It is this blood brother who later helps him save  Börte. But these relations are not forever; it is the same Jamukha who sells him into slavery. The second relationship is with the Khan. Once someone is recognized as a great leader, people remain loyal to him. The Khan, in return for this loyalty, offers booty.

A large part of Mongol life is spent in skirmishes: over women, over horses, over resources. It is after attaining freedom from the Tangut prison that Temüjin thinks of putting an end to hot-tempered personal ambitions and  unifying the tribes with shared values.  In the movie he does that by defeating his blood brother turned enemy Jamukha in a lavishly filmed battle scene. He also comes up with some rules of conduct — “Don’t kill women or children. Don’t forget debts. Fight enemies to end. Don’t betray the khan”. Not shown in the movie is the fact that Temüjin  also used the Pakistani strategy  of channeling anger towards an external enemy. It works and Genghis Khan is born. The movie ends here, but according to the reliable Wikipedia, Sergei Bodrov is working on the second part of the trilogy.

(Credits: Image via Wikipedia)

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Converting Kublai Khan

According to the Joshua Project, the 10/40 window is home to people where the gospel has to be preached. The goal of this project is to share information to “encourage pioneer church-planting movements among every ethnic group and to facilitate effective coordination of mission agency efforts.” Or in simple words, facilitate conversion in Islamic countries, India, China and other minor countries in the neighborhood.

Ever since Roman Emperor Constantine legitimized the Jesus movement and converted to Christianity in his death bed, the religion expanded in a major way to change the West forever. There was a similar opportunity for Christians in the 13th century to convert Kublai Khan. If the Khan had converted, during the time of Mongol dominance (see map), the religious map of China and Mongolia would have made a Joshua Project volunteer smile.

The Khan did not hate Christians; in fact he had great respect for them. He was always curious about Christian kings and princes and wanted to know more about the Pope and how how Christians worshiped. When Niccolò and Maffeo (Marco Polo’s father and uncle) were returning back to Venice after their first visit, the Khan sent a letter to the Pope with them. It was a challenge. He wanted the Pope to send a hundred missionaries prepared to proselytize. These missionaries had to reason out that their faith was superior than others. If the Khan could be convinced he was ready to become a man of the Church without renouncing the Mongolian religion. He also wanted the Polos to get him the oil from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, believed to have great healing powers.

The Polos gave Khan’s letter to the newly elected  Pope Gregory X who could only spare two Dominican monks instead of the hundred. With the oil, the two Polo brothers, along with a 17 year Marco Polo and the monks, started their journey to the Khan’s court. The monks dropped out in the middle of the journey due to fear, but the Polos reached the Khan’s court near Beijing and the Khan treated the oil with respect (the same way he would treat relics from Sri Pada)

Kublai Khan was once challenged by Nayan Khan, his uncle, who was a Nestorian Christian. In this power struggle, Nayan fought under a standard which displayed the “Cross of Christ”, but he did get any visions like Constantine during the battle of the Milvian bridge. Nayan lost and was killed as per Mongol custom – by wrapping in a carpet and dragged around violently – so that blood is not spilled. Following this when various people made fun of Nayan’s Christian faith and Holy Cross, Kublai Khan differentiated between Nayan’s treachery and his faith and ensured the Christians that they will not be persecuted for their religion; he did not behave like the 15th century Spaniards and 17th century French.

Actually Kublai Khan’s mother, Sorghaghtani Beki, was a Nestorian Christian. So you would think that she would influence him to convert. Even though she was a single parent, she made him appreciate Buddhism, Taoism and Islam besides Christianity. It was probably a wise thing to do to preserve harmony in the empire, but Sorghaghtani Beki did it out of conviction.

Seeing the Khan’s sympathy towards Christians the Polos asked why he did not convert? He said Christianity was just another religion and nothing else. Much before Marco Polo, William of Rubruck – a Franciscan missionary – made his way to Karakorum, debating Buddhist priests and nearly dying of starvation. He finally met Mongke Khan, Kublai Khan’s brother who explained to the Friar that the God has passed various religious beliefs to people and Mongols were a tolerant folk.

Kublai Khan told Marco Polo that he found idolaters had more power – they could make wine cups float to the khan or make storms go away. Basically he was more impressed with shaman magic than the promise of an after life. He said if he converted to Christianity and if his barons asked for an explanation, he had none. He thought that embracing Christianity would weaken him and the best way to maintain peace in the empire was to be in good terms with barons.

Right now 50% of Mongolians are Buddhists and 40% don’t belong to any religion. Christians and Shamanists form 6%; Muslims, 4%.

References:

  1. Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by Laurence Bergreen
  2. Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World by John Larner
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