Originally published in Us Magazine, The News.
The Mongol Empire that existed between 1206 and 1368 is one of history’s most fascinating chapters. But, since many in our part of the world aren’t cognisant with the Empire and its rulers, we thought about bringing you biographical accounts on the first four Khaqans, or supreme Khans of the Mongol Empire. Blame it on a passion for history. Blame it on the idle thoughts of an idle fellow. They say every person has his own version of history. This, unfortunately, is mine.
Genghis, born Temujin and known by an incredible number of other names that are quite challenging to pronounce, was the founder of the Mongol Empire. He was born clasping a blood clot in his hand, and was predicted by the soothsayers to be a great leader. We choose to digress and think that if there’s a deserving adjective for this, it’s ‘gross’. At the age of nine, his father escorted him off to the household in which he was to get married; one shouldn’t judge Mongol traditions! Anyway, while returning, he was himself killed. Genghis came back, inciting people to pick him as the new tribe leader, but his age came in the way which was ironically ripe enough to get married and not to lead. In the throes of abandonment, Genghis and his brothers were at first content feeding off the animals they’d hunt, but in an interesting turn of events, Genghis ended up hunting his brother, Behter; giving the world a trailer of what was to ensue. Years later, Genghis got himself elected as the supreme leader and was celebrated – especially, his success in uniting many of the Mongol tribes, who had previously dedicated their lives to slicing each other off. Some folks get high on weed, some women by shopping. Genghis vied for killing. The invasions of Caucasus, Khwarezmid Empire, Western Xia and Jin dynasties were so ruthless that many of the Mongols themselves were heard saying, ‘Dude, seriously?!’. For extra spunk, Mongol Armies attacked Samarkand by using human prisoners as shields. And after the city had fallen, Khan had a pyramid of human skulls erected, anticipating it to get popular with architects the way Gaza pyramids have. This was not to be, since Khan’s pyramid only got popular with cross mothers scaring their children to sleep. In Bukhara, Genghis claimed he was ‘the flail of God’ sent to punish the people for their sins before wreaking mission clean-up on them. Himself a shamanist, Genghis was exceedingly tolerant of other faiths – he just wasn’t very excited about the people professing these faiths; sending them to their respective Gods often. Besides founding the Empire, Genghis formulated the ‘Yassa’ form of government and had the Ughur script adopted as the official writing system – both these feats have ceased to attract many in today’s world. Anyhow, when Genghis died at the age of 65, he was adamant his grave’s location be kept surreptitious. The people carrying his funeral took his orders literally enough to kill all whom they met on the way, but not literally enough to kill themselves too afterwards. It’s controversial whether Genghis died of pneumonia, falling off a horse, extreme fatigue or a princess-expedition gone wrong. We tried contacting the Government of Mongolia for access to his death certificate but it meted out the same treatment to us that our own government does. Of course, I’m just kidding.
Genghis had four sons. He’d already chosen Ogedei, his penultimate son as his successor because his eldest son, Jochi, had somewhat disputed paternity (that’s for another day) and he wasn’t very fond of his father’s iniquitous apathy for mankind. Also, he’d died in Genghis’ lifetime. Some say he was poisoned by the Khan himself, but that’s for another day too. Anyway, among his other sons, the elder one, Chagatai, was hopelessly feral, and the younger one, Tolui, rather revelled in youthful pursuits, such as chasing women and shaking his body. Ogedei was right in the heart and not so wrong in the head. He kept the Mongol Empire stable, and had Georgia, Armenia and Persia added to it. He also attacked Lahore, killing locals before withdrawing, and this is what we’re especially going to hold against him. He established road-side motels and implemented laws that demanded one out of every hundred sheep of the rich to be given to the poor. Here, the law resorted to humour and held that one sheep and one mare from every herd should be given to the Mongol Army too. Historians claim that Ogedei’s reign was meritorious. It is said he could come up with solutions to all brawls by the sheer force of his towering personality. As a side-note, it could have been his Army, too. The bad thing about Ogedei was that he was no genius. The good thing about him was that he never thought he was. He is quite well-known for developing the Mongol capital, Karakorum. He assigned different parts of the city to Chinese and Islamic craftsmen, and both competed relentlessly with each other like pitiable low-lives to earn the Khan’s favours. If only they’d known what future had in store for the capital! It is said that Tolui took the death of his brother upon himself, drinking a poison in a ritual so that his brother would live. He did, but he took to alcohol and in this way reduced himself to a malodorous entity. Unlike some, he didn’t indulge in literary ambitions at this stage and Lord knows we’re grateful for this. Chagati kept a guard to keep his younger brother away from the drinks, but the guard had the same effect on Ogedie that the Probation Period had on the United States. Too much of every bad thing is a worse thing – it was death for Ogedei.
Guyuk Khan, in case you’ve lost the count already, was the third Khaqan and eldest son of Ogedei. Before getting elected, he had been undergoing inexorable training in the art of war. And it wasn’t war Guyuk performed bleakly in; it was being politically correct that he struggled with. He had a knack for not-so-witty one-liners that didn’t go well with others, especially, with pals these were directed at. For instance, while en route to some European target, he had a scuffle with his cousin Batu and he bellowed, ‘Batu is just an old woman with a quiver!’ This, strangely, reminds me of the recent dehati aurat ruckus, but I should do well not to go there. Indian media – sorry, Ogedei went berserk over Guyuk’s fetish for below the belt comedy and gave him a pretty good whacking before sending him back to Europe. After his father’s death, his mother became the regent (as was the tradition) and it was during this time that smug relatives started eyeing the throne. Guyuk, compelled by his dream of creating another tale of kindness and justice, came back to claim power. His enthronement ceremony was attended by all and sundry, including the ambassadors of Pope Innocent IV, Abbasid Caliphate and Delhi Sultanate. The most probable reason for cosying up to the Mongol seems nothing other than an attempt to evade the Empire’s wrath. The flip side: it didn’t help. When Catholic kingdoms of Europe registered their protest over the Empire’s maltreatment towards them, Guyuk gruffly shrugged these off and ended up writing a letter to the Pope that read something like, ‘You must say with a sincere heart: “We will be your subjects, we’ll give you our strength.” You must come in person with your kings … to render us service and pay us homage. And if you don’t follow the order of God, and go against our orders, we will know you as our enemy.’ Two conclusions can be aptly drawn from this historical masterpiece. One: the Mongol Khaqans had a debauch idea about God and themselves, admixing both of these at will. Two: they could’ve done with better script-writers. As a ruler, Guyuk was fine – except for executing a number of high ranking officials of the previous regime with charges of treason, imposing taxes on just about everything, and imposing special taxes on the male population of Georgia and Armenia. The third one, specifically, amounts for a case of unwonted perplexity. Guyuk died owing to unknown reasons while preparing for a battle with the same old woman. He was survived by three children. He must have abhorred them, because there’s no other way I can explain the naming of his children as Khoja, Naku and Khokhoo.
Mongke Khan was the first Khaqan from Tolui’s lineage. After Guyuk’s death, Mongke and Batu were all set to sweat it out for the throne, but auspiciously for Mongke, Batu got gout and instead put his weight behind Mongke, too. A little before this juncture, it is of value to mention that Genghis’ only brother who was still alive and must have been 322 years of age, emerged out of the blue and proclaimed himself as the next Khan. Needless to say no one took him seriously. The real miscreants, however, were Khoja et al, who while coming to greet Mongke, brought armies with them and this was when the formidable Mongol Empire started looking like an extended version of a morbid soap opera. Put into this, some relatives performing black-magic on the Khan. Put into this, the same relatives being sewn into sacks and thrown into rivers as a punishment. Mongke saw to the progress of many affairs of the state, such as holding a census and fixing salaries for the officials so that they may stop eating at will. He also brought his brother Halagu to justice (who by the way succeeded him but neither the magazine space nor your level of interest permits me to go there) when he was found flouting his brother’s supremacy. It is said Mongke had a soft corner for Muslims. I mean, he usurped the Abbasid Caliphate and thrashed the Ismailis for sure, but those are just the details. Mongke shifted the Mongol capital from Karakorum to Shangdu and finally to Dadu, which is present day Beijing. This explains why Chinese restaurants in Pakistan often carry pictures of people resembling Mongke on their menus. Mongke added substantially to the Empire’s invasions. And it was during war in China that Mongke died of dysentery mistaken for cholera, or both these conditions mistaken for drowning or getting hit. After his death war broke out between his brothers Halagu and Ariq Boke, and the former emerged victorious; this is generally seen as the end of the unified Mongol Empire – the largest contiguous empire in the history of the world ever. After Halagu, Kublai came to power followed by the last Khaqan Toghan Temur Khan. In 1368, the Empire was formally dissolved. Besides haunting many to this date, we cannot take away from the Mongols that they created prim discipline in their Empire and were among the greatest warriors ever, and have to their credit one of the most impressive empires the world has ever seen.
If you want to know more about the Mongols, especially accounts of them that aren’t marred by a grotesquely stereotypical approach and half-baked attempts at humour, feel free to contact me in person. Better still, try contacting the government of Mongolia.