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Sunday, 18 November 2007



In 610, on the seventeenth night of Ramadan, a 40 year merchant Muhammad-ibn-Abdulla from the city of Mecca in the Hejaz province of Arabia, who was in a cave on mount Hira for a spiritual retreat with his family, suddenly found himself engulfed by numinous presence of an angel.

'Iqra!' (Recite) commanded the angel. His face became pallor with fright. But he refused thinking that the angel had mistaken him for a 'Kahin'-the reciters of Arabia.

'I am not a Kahin', said Muhammad. Angel embraced Muhammad tightly till he gasped for breath. The angel repeated 'Iqra!' Muhammad refused again and Angel further tightened his embrace. Just when Muhammad felt that he had reached his endurance he found words pouring out of his mouth:

'Recite in the name of thy Lord who created

He created man from a clot of blood

recite and thy Lord is most bountiful,

He who hath taught by the Pen

taught man what he knew not.'

And with these words came the first revelation by the God. Muhammad still terrified of the happening ran atop to jump himself to death found angel on the mountain top, who inhibited him from doing so. Muhammad later identified him as angel Gabriel.

Muhammad was the messenger of God, the chosen one – The prophet whom Arabs were awaiting. God had revealed himself to Arabs via Muhammad. The revelation would continue for next twenty three years till Muhammad was alive. The compilation of these revelations would become 'Al-Quran' (The Recitation), the holy book of Islam, the religion which Muhammad was going to emanate.

That night, the event that would change the course of world had happened. The event was unexpected for Muhammad but not for people of Arabia who were waiting in anticipation that God would soon send them a Prophet and a Book which would make them at par with the Christians and Jews the 'Ahl-kitabees' (followers of the book) .

The Land of the Prophet

In 6th century, Arabian Peninsula was sandwiched between two mighty empires, The Byzantine in the west and the Persian (Sassanid Kingdom) in the east. Both the empires were involved in an internecine rivalry to control southern Arabia, the present day Yemen. Yemen was a fertile land because of regular monsoons but the rest of Arabia was an intractable land. People in these parts of Arabia were Bedouins living in tents. There life was harsh and living conditions very primitive. It was a god less region. Though some tribes of Jews and Christian traders were known to have dwelled in these area (particularly Yathrib , the present day Madina).

The two empires fought for fertile land of Southern Arabia but it would be the desert of Arabia where the sapling of Islam would be planted the tree from which spread around the world.

In 525, Abyssinia (present day Ethiopia), which was a client state of Byzantine Empire attacked Yemen. Yemen sought help from Persians who were happy to oblige. In Abyssinia, Monophysitism which was a heretical from of Christianity wherein followers believe that Christ has only one divine nature was the official religion. The Zoroastrian kingdom of Persia favored the Jews. Abyssinia conquered Yemen and made Monophysitism as official religion.

In 570 King Khusrau of Persia invaded Yemen and conquered it back. This time Nestorianism which was another form of heretical Christianity which believed that Jesus exists as two being one as man and another as son of God was made the official religion by Persia. So the Arabs who were surrounded by deviant form of Christianity and Judaism grew suspicious of both the religion. The Arabs felt themselves inferior to both the religion as they thought that God has been unfair to them by not giving them a prophet and the holy book which both Christians and the Jews had.

Jahiliyah – The Age of Ignorance

Life was a matter of subsistence for Arabs. The nomads lived in harsh terrains with meager means of survival. To fight the hardship they lived in close knit tribes called 'Qaum' (people). The 'Qaum' was paramount for every Bedouin who had absolute loyalty towards its tribe and every other tribe related with its own. To evolve the communal spirit within the tribe Arabs evolved an ideology called 'Muruwah' (something similar to Machoism) which was a set of tribal laws. Though 'Muruwah' was just some set of tribal rules for the Arabs and at times brutal yet it acted as a quasi religion and helped tribes function according to the need.

The two main drivers for a tribe were 'Vendetta against rival tribe' and 'Gazzu'. If a tribesman got killed by other tribe then it is the duty of tribe to revenge the killing. Hence it was a never ending vicious cycle. The tribes were in constant fight with each other. 'Gazzu' or raid was another form of preoccupation of tribes. One tribe would raid and loot the property of another tribe. 'Gazzu' was the means of survival for tribes.

Gradually some tribes involved themselves in trade and settled in cities. One such tribe was 'Quraysh' in which Muhammad was born. 'Muruwah' which worked well for tribal system failed against the new lifestyle of settled Arabs. Arabs felt disoriented and confused because of their new found wealth. A new Ideology was needed to guide them.

Though Arabs had no religion they had their pantheon of deities. There were shrines dedicated to these deities. The most important shrine was the Ka'aba which was situated near the spring of ZamZam. According to legend of Jews of Arabia, Abraham has left his wife Hagar and his son Ishmael in the valley of Mecca, where God has taken care of them revealing the scared spring of ZamZam when the child was dying of thirst. Later Abraham had visited Ishmael and together Father and son had built the Ka'abah. This box like shrine has a black stone embedded in its eastern corner. At the time of Muhammad Ka'abah was officially dedicated to God Hubal. There were other gods such as Al-Lah, Al-Lat, Al-Uzzaj, Manat etc who had their shrine but Al-lah was considered as the highest god by the Arabs.

Birth of a the Prophet

According to a legend, Abd-Al-Muttalib and his son Abdullah were walking through the street when suddenly a woman came and invited Abdullah to her bed. Abdullah said that he is on his way to his marriage and couldn't accept her invitation. A day later after consummating his marriage with Aamina-bint-Wahab Abdullah returned to oblige the woman but she refused. She said that yesterday Abdullah had a divine glow on his face which boded that he will become father of a prophet but today the glow has gone which meant that some other woman has got blessing to become prophet's mother. In 570, on 12 Rabi'u al-awwal a child was born to Abdulla and Aamina. He was named Muhammad. Forty years later, on the seventeenth night of Ramadan, in the cave of mount Hira near the city of Mecca, Muhammad would have an excruciating divine experience when God would reveal to Muhammad.

To be Continued...

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Should Govt. open an IIM in 2nd tier cities?

This article is in response to the article published in Mint

Most of us retain enough of the theological attitude to think that we are little gods.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr

Just imagine what would have happened to the country if Indian army would have fought battles only around their location of advantage and not in the remote and inaccessible terrains.

In his article Mr. Palety has taken tunneled approach and has missed the broader picture. His ideas are myopic and ignore the long term tangible and intangible benefits of opening IIMs in 2nd tier cities of India. I would like to comment on some points:

On not opening IIMs in remote places

Government has a holistic approach towards the country as it thinks about the growth of country as a whole. The growth and development should be equitable as far as possible. If Govt. starts opening IITs and IIMs in industrial belt then all the IITs and IIMs will be segregated in few industrial areas of the country. In that case what will happen to the other parts of the country? Wouldn't the disparity between them increase?

Any city having an IIT, IIM or ISC will automatically come on the India's education map. It will give the city a prominence. It will ensure of the quality skilled manpower supply to the industries in the nearby areas and hence helping in the growth in that area.

Many of my friends have counter argued me by giving examples of younger IIMs and some of the IITs where industrial development has not happened in spite of the presence of these institutes for long time. If anyone believes that mere presence of IITs and IIMs in a particular region should lead to the industrial development of that region then either he is very high on expectations or is naïve. All that these institutes can do is to provide support to the development process. Rest is the prerogative of state/local government that how they capitalize on this advantage. If industries have not come up in the proximity of these institutes even after a prolonged interval then it is the failure the government not of the institutes.

Equitable distribution of growth

A lot of hue and cry is made over opening an IIM in Shillong. I feel that this is a very good move by the government of India. Till date GoI has given less attention toward the development of north east compared to other parts of the country. No wonder these states are one of the least developed states of India. With opening an IIT and now an IIM Govt. has taken a step in right direction. IIMs, IITs, IISs are not just educational institution but they are wealth of the country and it needs to be equitably distributed across the country. Also this gesture is sign of inclusivity towards these states.

Many of my friends are from north east. They travel to far areas in the country to get higher education. If they get an IIM in their backyard it will save them from a lot of hardship. Also it will motivate others to pursue higher education.

Industry Interaction is important not locating near the industries

The most valuable asset an educational institution has is its students; everything else comes a distant second. Open an IIM at any remote location and you can rest assured that it gets the best of the breed. Once you have right people right thing will automatically fall in place on doing right thing.

As far as industry interaction is concerned two months of summer training gives student a lot of exposure. Apart from this there are numerous seminars and workshops organized where people from industry share their ideas and views. Also the batch is laden with rich industry experience as it comprises of students from diverse field and having substantial work.

Location is no more important

Distances are no more the same as they were few years back. In another couple of years one can expect most of the 2nd tiers cities well connected with Metros. Location disadvantage of IIMK is very minimal because of its proximity to Bangalore and Cochin. Also it is very well connected with Delhi and Mumbai.

Do not leave the problem, find the solution

There are certain problems that an institute faces because of its being situated in remote area. The way to develop these institutes is to solve these problems. When Govt. is opening any institute of education in remote places it should ensure that basic amenities which are essential to sustain the institutes are there. An airport which is well connected to metros, good schools for faculty's children, jobs for spouses are some of them. In short it should ensure about the good life of the faculty and staff

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Also Sparch Zarathustra

"Zarathustra and '2001: A space odyssey'"

'In search of Zarathustra' by Paul Kriwaczekia is aptly titled. The blurb of the book quotes Boston review:

"Vital… Remarkable…It is written with prescient elegance of a curious traveler and in the hope that ideas that once changed the world may do so again"

The review is true to each word. In this travelogue Kriwaczekia writes about places he went in search of Zarathustra. But the book is more a travelogue back in time than in physical space. Kriwaczekia picks up the a thread in present and spooling it traverses back in time finding Strauss, Kubrick, Nietzsche Bogomils , Catharses, The Sassanid , The Achemenids and finally at the other end the prophet Zarathustra.

In most recent times people who have made Zarathustra name familiar to common man are composer Richard Strauss and film director Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick's cult movie '2001: A space odyssey' features prominently Richard Strauss's tone poem 'Also Sparch Zarathustra'. The movie depicts the evolution of apes into human and human into superhuman. The theme of movie is that human beings are the midway between the evolution of apes and superman. This concept was first propounded by Nietzsche in his book 'Thus Sparch Zarathustra'. Kubrick, it seems, had taken inspiration from this book. Kriwaczekia gets his second link and he moves on to Nietzsche to know why he has chosen Zarathustra.

"Also Sparch Zarathustra"

Karl Ludwig, the Lutheran pastor of a little country town of Rocken bei Lutzen near Leipzig in eastern Germany, in the baptism ceremony of his son asked "what will become of this child? Will it be good or will it be evil". He was not prescient but was just getting rhetorical.

But ever since the young boy's life would deal with the issue of good and evil trying to fathom the two opposite end of moral spectrum. The child became Fredrick William Nietzsche.

'Also Sparch Zarathustra' ('Thus spake Zarathustra') is a masterpiece by Nietzsche. In this book which is written in a first person account has Zarathustra as the main character. But before discussing about the book we need to know why Nietzsche chose Zarathustra, an obscure prophet of antiquity. For this we need to traverse further back in time to look at Nietzsche earlier days that shaped his thoughts.

Nietzsche was born on 15 Oct, 1844 in deeply religious family. From the very beginning his life was marked with distress. His father died when he was only five years old. One year later his younger brother, Joseph, died. These deaths left a deep impact on Nietzsche's mind. He became reserved and melancholic. His family, of which he was the only male member, moved to a small town of Naumberg. For next eight years Nietzsche remained in Naumberg living with his two aunts, grandmother, mother and younger sister Elisabeth. These women, who wanted that he never misses his father, loved him a lot. It is this extreme affection that might have given Nietzsche the idea about women which he has written in his book "Old and Young Women"

'Let man fear woman when she loves,

Then she makes all sacrifices,

Everything else she regards as worthless.'

Despite all the affection he cocooned himself in solitude. Older he grew loner he became. He was unable to reconcile with the fact that such good and innocent people like his father and brother met such a cruel fate. In search of peace he resorted to religion. He took a deep interest in Christianity and studied Bible thoroughly. For others this was a natural act on his part for he was following what his family had been doing for generations, but no one could sense the storm within him.

But those were the time when world was going through intellectual turbulence. The two opposite ideas were at loggerhead. The churning gave rise to many philosopher and theologians. 'Enlightenment' that developed during 17th and 18th centuries was one of the ideas. Though on decline it was a massive force for it stood for rationality, reason, order, norm, restrain and progressiveness. The other idea, 'German Romanticism', was at its peak. Romanticism symbolized irrationality, mysticism, dissonance and excessiveness. The 'Enlightened' thinkers had painstakingly developed the framework for how world works but romanticist casted a doubt on the validity of all factual knowledge. Enlightenment stood for victory of mind over body whereas Romanticism emphasized a preeminence of body over mind.

Those were the time when society was divided into two extremes. The Apollonian spirit (after Greek Sun God Apollo who symbolizes balance and rationality) of measured and restrain in confrontation with Dionysian spirit (After Dionysus, God of nature, drunkenness and sensuality). Romanticist felt that everything wrong with this world is because of overemphasis of Apollonian spirit in contrast to Dionysian spirit.

Amid this dichotomy something happened that changed the course of cognition world over. Charles Darwin had published his 'Origin of Species'. This book not only took head on with book of Genesis but seemed to be over powering it. In a stroke, human being became descendent of apes and was no more the favorite creation of God. God didn't create Adam in a day. Over the centuries he evolved from apes. This book raised many questions.

Nietzsche tried to find these answers in theological text but got engulfed in more questions. He got confused. Disappointed, he took diametrically opposite stance. From an ardent Christian he became its most vociferous critic. He started opposing what he revered once. His quest for knowledge continued but his path had changed. In his quest, he got impressed by two philosophers, Schopenhauer and Wagner. According to Schopenhauer life does not have any meaning. He argued that it is better not to be born or at least die quickly. Mesmerized by these two philosophers, Nietzsche wrote 'Birth of tragedy'. This book brought him public attention.

After few years, Nietzsche became acutely ill. He was in the second stage of Syphilis. His proposal for marriage was turned down. His illness and solitude increased. His friend circle became narrower and narrower. Stateless, caustic and peripatetic he hopped between Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Naumberg.

This was also the time when west was discovering Oriental charms. Sir William Jones, the famous Indologist, had found out that most of the Europe's, Iran's and half of Indian languages have a common origin. This new found relation helped in deciphering many Iranian scriptures which were similar to Sanskrit and were undeciphered till then. Central to this was Zoroastrian text brought to Europe by Frenchman named 'Du Peron'. Zoroaster and his teaching became the talk of time and it was during this period that Nietzsche met 'Zoroaster'.

Zoroaster text shows a struggle between good and evil. 'Ahura Mazda', the God, stands for goodness and 'Ahirman', the evil spirit, stands for everything bad. Unlike other religions where God is supreme power, in Zoroastarism evil is equally powerful. According to Zoroaster this world is a battle ground for good and evil. Anything good done by human being is victory of God and anything bad is victory of evil. So it is the duty of every human being to act with propriety and to transcend himself of the worldly things and evolve himself into super being. And this is the central philosophy of Nietzsche. According to Nietzsche Zoroaster has been the first to see in the struggle between good and evil as the essential wheel in the working of things. He believed that Zarathustra was the first prophet who brought concept of morality. Nietzsche believed that Zoroaster was the source of profoundest error in the history of mankind by inventing morality and it is upto Zoroaster to undo his mistake.

In the summers of 1881 two thousand meters above good and evil in the mountain village of Sils-Maria amid the idyllic environment surrounded by snow covered alpine peaks Nietzsche had a revelation. Zarathustra passed him by. Hence begot the first few lines of 'Thus sparch zarthushtra'

'I sat there waiting – not for anything.

Beyond good and evil, enjoying now the light

now the shades, now only play, now

the lake, now the noon, wholly time without end.

Then suddenly, friend, one became two –

And Zarathustra passed me by.'

The spirit of Zarathustra had engulfed him. It was not that Nietzsche chose Zarathustra to convey his philosophy but as if it was Zarathustra who had manifested Nietzsche and was speaking through his words. Nietzsche wrote:

"one hears-one does not seek; one takes-one does not ask who gives; a thought suddenly flashes up like lightning, it comes with necessity, unhesitatingly – I have never had any choice in that matter."

Kriwaczekia succinctly summarizes Nietzsche new teaching in two paragraphs:

"God is dead.. Religious belief is a comforting but a debilitating self delusion. A Christian God can no longer express the highest ideals of western civilization. Belief in God is now a burden on the individual and on society. A system of ethics and morality founded on faith is no longer valid; the time has come for new set of values to take its place, beyond good and evil as religion has until now defended them.

Values are the creation of human being. One person's good is another's evil. None the less, we all are responsible for creating values of ourselves and for the living up to them. And the highest of all values is the duty to transcend ourselves, to struggle for the next step in our personal evolution: to leave behind the animal natured "blond beast: and strive for the "super human". Though most will never achieve it, this self overcoming, this "will to power", is the proper task of all human beings. Anything that supports this goal is good and anything that undermines it is evil:

What is good? Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? Everything that is born of weakness"

Prologue to ‘Also Sparch Zarthustra’

'Dil dhoondhta hai phir wahi fursat Ke raat din….' 'Ghalib'

[In search of those carefree days and nights..]

When I started with Gunche, never did I envisage that it will be the paucity of time that will prevent me from posting new entries. I my first post I had written that it would be waning of interest or simple laziness that might prevent me from posting here but none of them were the reason for this late post.

B' schools suck time and energy and that to such an extent that even one gets some time here and there one feels like living the moment by not doing anything. Back in campus 'Summers' seemed like time spent in different world. A world where time moved slowly, in fact, at times I felt that it didn't move at all.

It was one such day in Pune when the sun was at its scorching best outside and I was dozing off in the air cooled training room. It was only 2'O clock and I was done with all the time killing activities of lunch, mail checking, newspaper reading and tea break. I had another four hours to spend in the office with nothing to do. I had two options left. One was to watch a movie or visit Crossword at the basement of the building. I rejected the idea of watching movie on the ground of it being economically imprudent as I could watch the same movie next day morning show at half the rate. So I had no other choice but to once again go to Crossword which was becoming customary activity.

In the self deceiving anticipation that some new books would have arrived I took the lift to basement. Unlike usual days when lift was full with people and it stopped at each floor between eight and first, it was empty with only liftman and me in it. This saved me five minutes which seemed a loss to me. Also, I lost the pleasure of watching busy people hurrying in and out off the lift.

The doorman of the bookshop opened the door for me. He had done the same nearly twenty times in the last thirty days. He got a sadistic pleasure of watching me getting bored and doing as mundane a job as his. As I entered same old setting was awaiting me. It was like looking at a picture frame at different points of time. Jack Welch with his wily eyes and deceptive smile was looking at me from the 'New Arrivals' shelf, the world was lying flat on table, 'The last Mogul's were stacked above each other and 'Argumentative India' was lying dumb on the 'Crossword Recommends' segment.

Same books, same people and even the time was same; only the date in my watch had changed. As usual after combing through 'New Arrivals', 'History' and 'India' section I moved to 'Religion and Philosophy'. In all my visits to this bookshop this section had never added a book and that day was no different. I picked up 'In search of Zarathustra' by Paul Kriwaczekia for the second time. First time I didn't take it because I wanted to read a book on history of Christianity and decided to wait for it but then I realized that it would not come before I left Pune. I read the blurb again and thought that it would be safe bet to take the book. I read first few pages and my thought about the book got embolden and I bought it.

During next few days I read the book. Kriwaczekia had written a very captivating, impartial and insightful book. Enthused by new information I started drafting the blog.

That was three months ago. And still I have not posted. As per my original plan the blog was becoming very long and demanded substantial amount of time. So I decided to break it in three parts. In first part I'll write about Nietzsche and Zoroaster, second part will cover Bogomils, Tartars and Manichaeism, and in final part I'll write about the Sassanid, the Achemenids and Zoroaster. The first part 'Also sparch Zarathustra' is posted here.

In the hope that I'll complete the other two parts soon I am ending this post by quoting Meer

ashq aankhon meiN kab nahin aata

lahu aata hai jab nahia aata

[ashq = tears ,lahu = blood]

hosh jaata nahin raha lekin

jab woh aata hai tab nahin aatn

dil se rukhsat hui koi khwahish

griyaa kuchh be-sabab nahin aatn

[rukhsat = depart] [KHwahish = desire]

[griyaa = weeping] [be-sabab = without reason]

ji mein kya-kya hai apne ai hamdam

har sukhan taa ba-lab nahin aata

[suKHan = speech] [taa = but] [ba-lab = till the lips]

Thursday, 24 May 2007


First time I heard about Kublai Khan was as a solution to a crossword hint ‘Coleridge’. The phrase that came to my mind after hearing the hint was ‘Rhyme of an ancient mariner’ but nothing related to it was fitting the boxes. Suddenly one of my friends exclaimed, ‘Its Kubla Khan’. ‘Kubla Khan or, a Vision in a Dream, a Fragment’ is very famous poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge was under the influence of Opium when he had a hallucination that he had a visitor from Xanadu, the summer capital of Mongol King Kubla Khan, and hence begot the famous lines.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khana
stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
through caverns measureless to man
down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground

with walls and towers were girdled round:
and there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
and here were forests ancient as the hills,
enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

I wondered what made a British poet of eighteenth century compose a poem on a Mongol king who lived about six hundred years earlier to him.

Kubla Khan remained a puzzle for me for the next four years. My perception of him was of a Mongol King of China who was visited by the Venetian traveler Marco Polo and probably was related to Chenghis Khan. Kublai remained hidden in some corner of my mind till I serendipitously got hold of a book titled ‘Kublai Khan’ authored by John Man. The book was engrossing and Kublai: captivating. Such was the influence of book on me that I decided to write a brief history of Mongols before the knowledge gets lost in the quagmire of my cognitive information.

Kublai Khan or Kubla Khan was a Mongol by origin and the founder of Yuan dynasty of China. He ruled the Yuan kingdom from 1260 A.D. to 1294 A.D. He was the grandson of famous Chenghis Khan. It was Chenghis’ unfinished task which his later generations including Kublai tried to complete. The task was to bring the world under Mongols. Kublai came very close to completion. To know about Kublai it is imperative to know about Chenghis, his achievements, and his wishes.

The Family Line

KEY : KUBLAI M Chabi means Kublai married Chabi
Khagans are shown in red color and capital letters
Khanates are shown in blue color
Chenghis Khan was born as Temujin to Yesugei and Hoelun circa 1162-1167 in the mountainous area of Burkhana Khaldun in Khenti province of Mongolia. His father, Yesugei was chief of Kiyad tribe and was vassal of Ong Khan (also known as Wang Khan) of Kerait tribe. His mother, Hoelun, was of Olkhunut tribe of Mongol confederation.
Temujin had a difficult and distressed childhood. When he was in early teens, his father was poisoned by rival tribe of Tatars. He and his mother, Hoelun, were repudiated by their tribe. For next few years they lived in indigence. But these were the times when Hoelun taught him the way of life in nomadic environment. He learned that alliances and diplomacy are important for survival. At the age of thirteen he killed his half brother and became the chief of his household. When he was 16 he married Borte, a girl from Konikirat tribe. Later on in one of the raid Borte was kidnapped by Merikit tribe. Temujin with the help of Ong Khan of Kerait tribe rescued her from the Merikits. Nearly nine months after this incidence, Borte gave birth to a baby boy whose parentage would remain disputed. The boy was name Jochi. Borte bore three more sons to Temujin. Jochi, Chagatai, Ogedei and Tolui were the four sons of Temujin. All of them in future, except Jochi, would become rulers of different Khanate.

Around the end of 11th century there were five different confederates in Central Asia involved in internecine rivalry namely, Naimans, Merikits, Uyghers, Tatars and Mongols. Mongols comprised of Keraits, Ongirrad, Jalayr and Taichud tribes.
[src: ]

Ong Khan was the head of Kerait tribe to whom Temujin offered himself as a vassal. Slowly and steadily, by 1206 Temujin had defeated and captured the entire confederate and unified them as ‘Mongols’. At a council of Mongol chiefs, he was acknowledged as the leader (‘Khan’) of the consolidated tribe and was given the title ‘Chenghis Khan’. The title of ‘Khagan’ (the Great Khan) was conferred to him posthumously by his son Ogedei.

The unified Mongol confederation was bordered on by Jin dynast towards east and south and by Tangut’s Xia dynasty towards south west. By 1209 Chenghis conquered both the dynasty bringing them under the Mongol confederation. Chenghis next target was Kara-Khitan khanate which was towards the west of Mongol territory. By 1218, Kara-Khitan was annexed and the Mongol confederation now extended till Lake Balkhash in present day Kazakhstan. Chenghis did not stop here. He wanted that powerful Kwarazmid Empire should accept his supremacy. Kwarazmid Empire was a Sunni Muslim dynasty that ruled the central Asia and Persia and extended towards the Caspian Sea. It was the military genius of Chenghis khan that this powerful and vast dynasty was wiped off from the face of world map and was added to the Mongol confederate.

A point worth mentioning here is that there is no doubt that Chenghis was a military man par excellence but it is also true that he was fortunate enough to be assisted by equally brave sons and commanders. Two most notable commanders were Subutai and Jebe. Both of them had won many crucial wars for Chenghis.

After the conquest of Kwarazmid Empire the Mongol army got divided into two streams. One led by Chenghis himself, marched toward Afghanistan, Pakistan and Northern India. Other Led by Subutai and Jebe proceeded towards Caucasus* and Russia. Both the armies defeated everything that came in their way and returned Mongolia by 1225.

[ * Caucasus – or Caucasia is a region bordered on south by Iran, on the southwest by Turkey, on the west by black sea, on the east by Caspian sea, and on north by Russia. The Caucasus includes the Caucasus Mountains and surrounding lowlands. The nation states that compose the Caucasus today are the post soviet state of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan and various parts of Russia and Iran.] SRC.:Wikipedia

By this time Chenghis khan was the emperor of largest kingdom the world has ever seen. Though Chenghis was the master of the half of the world but there was a kingdom, in the very backyard of Mongol kingdom, left to be conquered. It was the Song Dynasty of present day southern China. But Chenghis died in 1227 with this unfinished task which would be eventually completed by his grandson, Kublai Khan, by 1278.

Before his death Chenghis Khan had decreed that his third son, Ogedei, would succeed him and only Ogedei’s descendents would become the great khans. He also divided his empire among his four sons, with the three accountable to Great Khan, who was Ogedei. The Khanates created by Chenghis were:

- Empire of Ogedei khan comprised of eastern Asia including China.
- Tolui controlled the Mongol homeland
- Chagtai Khan received central Asia and northern Iran
- Jochi died before Chenghis khan. Hence his territory was divided between his sons Batu Khan and Orda Khan. It comprised of Russia and Caucaus – together called golden horde.

Chenghis Khan was not only a master military man but was also a visionary. Before his death he had settled the succession issue and had ensured that none of his sons feels discontented. History is replete with examples where in great kingdoms have gone into dust for the internecine succession conflicts between suitors. But that was not going to be the case with Mongols, at least not immediately, for every one accepted Ogedei as Khagan as ukased by Chenghis.

Ogedei continued with the expansion of Mongol Empire. His martial activities started with three big campaigns. First campaign, led by Subutai established Mongol’s sovereignty in Iran. Another one, led by Ogedei himself, dealt with attack on Korea. The third campaign was aimed at fulfilling Chenghis’ immediate goal of stabilizing northern China. This was carried on by Tolui.

Tolui died in the early part of his campaign. Ogedei, who had a great affection for his brother, allowed Tolui’s wife, Sorkakatani, to run Tolui’s estate. Sorkakatani was a very clever and ambitious woman. She ruled Mongolia for next 15 years as a queen, subjected to her emperor Ogedei. She was known for her wisdom. She was a daring lady. She had the gumption to refuse Ogedei’s proposal of marrying his son Guyunk. Sorkakatani had four sons from Tolui; Monkhe, Kublai, Hulegu and Ariq. Two of them would become Khagans, another one a brilliant and ruthless conqueror and one a rebel. It was her stratagem that her sons became Great Khans. For this to happen, the decree of Chenghis that only Ogedei and his descendents would become the Khagan, needed to be violated.

Ogedei, after mid thirties, drank himself towards death. He died in December, 1241. After his death his wife, Toregen, took over the reign as a regent. She wanted her son Guyunk as the next Khagan. Unlike his father Guyunk was a week man but like him he was a big drunkard.
Among many people who wanted to be Khagan one was Batu, son of Jochi and a rival of Guyunk. Batu was a brave man. He had carried many conquests in Russia and Caucasus.
For Sorkakatani this was not the opportune time to claim the throne. She held her cards to her heart and supported Guyunk for khaganship.

It was tenacity and diplomacy of Toregen that at Kuriltai (The great assembly of Mongol prince) in 1246 Guyunk was selected as Khagan. Batu, who was on his way to Kuriltai, was not happy. He along with his army continued the march toward Karakorum, the capital of Mongol Kingdom. Guyunk sensed some danger from Batu. He prepared a large army and marched westward towards Batu’s army.

Sorkakatani was not happy with the happenings. She could see the empire going into shambles. She sent a secret message to Batu, telling him about Guyunk’s plan. Having known Guyunk’s intention Batu too prepared his army for the battle.

Both the armies were face to face near Lake Balkhash. This war would have destroyed the Mongols. But before this could happen, Guyunk, who was perpetually sick and was worn out of travel, died.

This gave Batu a golden opportunity to become the Khagan but he was contended with his empire in southern Russia. As he owned Sorkakatani a favor, he proposed Monkhe, eldest son of Sorkakatani, as Khagan.

But Monkhe did not become Khagan immediately. Oghul Kaimsh, Guyunk’s widow and the regent after her husband’s death, wanted to continue as queen till her son come off to the ruling age. Sorkakatani was in no mood to wait. This was the opportune time to claim throne for her son. For few years the tussle for succession continued. In the end Sorkakatani’s effort bore fruit. Monkhe became the new Khagan. The line of succession had passed from Ogedei’s family to Tolui’s family.

Monkhe continued with the expansion of Mongol empire. Triad of brothers; Monkhe, Hulegu and Kublai went into different direction and added new territories to the already humongous empire. Hulegu moved westward towards the Islamic empire. Monkhe and Kublai moved south towards the Yunnan and Song dynasty.


Many Muslims believe that the biggest catastrophe that had befallen on the community has not come from any religious battle but from a swarming army of nomadic Mongols led by Hulegu. This vast army didn’t have any territorial ambition but was especially sent by Monkhe as he feared that he’ll be assassinated by Muslim fanatics.

At that time a Muslim cult called Hashashins (Assassins) has emerged in south west Asia which carried out political assassinations. They went for their mission by taking Hashish (cannabis – the word assassin originated from Hashish) and hence the name Hashashins (assassins). It is believed that Monkhe heard that a group of 40-400 Assassins have been dispatched to kill him. Whether this was true or not but Monkhe took it seriously and dispatched a large army, headed by brother Hulegu, to obliterate them. And Hulegu did the same. Not only the Assassins were done with but Hulegu went further in south west Asia and shook the foundation of Islamic empire.

After destroying Assassins, Hulegu marched towards Bagdad which was ruled by Abbasid dynasty. Any city which peacefully capitulated to Mongols was left untouched but one which opposed was crushed ruthlessly.

The Abbasids committed that mistake. The Abbasid Caliph refused to accept Mongol’s supremacy. Angered, Hulegu marched in Bagdad carrying out unprecedented plundering and pillaging. About a Lakh of people were killed including the Caliph. The cultural center of South East Asia was beaten to dust by Hulegu.
After conquering the Abbasids, Hulegu marched towards Syria which was ruled by Ayyubids. Hulegu conquered Syria also. From Syria Mongols proceeded towards Palestine and Egypt, which was control by Mamluk Turks. Mamluks had previous experience of fighting Mongols during the Chenghis Khan’s raid. It was not their experience but divine providence that saved Mamluk’s from Hulegu’s wrath. Monkhe had died back home. Hulegu returned back leaving behind a very small army.
Hulegu who had developed a liking for Persia, returned back to start his own Khanate. He became the first khan of IllKhante.

Song dynasty was south of Mongol kingdom. It was everything that Mongolia wasn’t. Song was a 300 years old kingdom and a leading power of the region. It had 70 million of people residing in scores of cities. River Chang (Yangtze) was the lifeline of the kingdom with 2700 Km of it acting as a major highway. Song was an economic superpower which was culturally superior and politically more united that any other powers in the region. This was the era of Chinese renaissance.

They had many practices which the world will follow after a couple of centuries. They had developed new ways of growing rice. They had an excellent navigation system in place with about 50000 Km as river highway. Civil servants were chosen by examination. The laws of the state were to help the poor. The source of revenue for the government was tax and the monopoly on salt and mining. Song’s have introduced paper currency. They knew the art of printing which the Europeans would discover four centuries later.
With all it greatness it had only one weakness. It was not a great military power. This became their Achilles’ heel.

In 1252 Monkhe bestowed the ambitious task of conquest of Song to Kublai. Kublai was 37 at that time and had not led any major raid. To help him Monkhe gave him one of the most experienced general, Urying Kadai, son of legendary Subutai. Together they marched to conquer Song.

A frontal attack on Song over broad and well defended Chang River would have led to failure. Mongols needed a base from where they could attack. That base was in the south west of song. It was the kingdom of Dali, named after the capital city Dali. The region was known as Yunnan meaning ‘South of cloud’. Kublai wanted Dali. For war strategist the invasion on Dali would be an act of hara-kiri. Dali flanked by Azure Mountain on one side and Erhai lake on another was well defended. So Kublai sent three envoys to Dali asking the king to capitulate. But the envoys were executed by the prime minister who was the real power behind the Duan King. This was an act of most serious diplomatic crime. Kublai was left with no other option but to attack. He divided his army into three divisions and attacked from three different directions. Dali fell in the hands of Mongols. The leading minister and his underlings were executed. The king became a puppet in the hand of Kublai.

With western frontier of Song’s Kingdom in Mongol hands, Kublai was well set for his next target that was the Kingdom of Song.


Here I would like to deviate from Kublai’s martial activities and talk about his administrative endeavors. Though Kublai was looking after his appanage and was accountable to Monkhe, he ran it more like a mini kingdom. He carried out many reforms and experimented with large scale state management. Kublai didn’t trust the ethnic Hans but wanted to maintain friendly relationship with powerful Hans landlords. His capital at Zhandou (present day Beijing) had a majority of Hans population. Kublai wanted a capital where there was an equal mix of both Mongol and Chinese culture and should also be close to Zhandou. Xanadu with its grassland, which suited the Mongol lifestyle and with its proximity to Beijing, was apropos. In 1256 Kublai moved his headquarter to Xanadu. For 112 years, Xanadu remained the summer capital of Yuan dynasty. The city was abandoned in 1368 after the fall of Yuan Kingdom. For next 600 years the city with all its buildings, palaces, and courtyards turned into mounds covered by grassland till a British doctor in Beijing, Dr. Stephens Bushel, discovered it in 1872. It is interesting to note that when Coleridge had a vision of visitor from Xanadu, the city was nonexistent for world. So it is surprise that the palaces and glory were all real.


By 1257, Monkhe has secured Russia and Persia. To fulfill Chenghis’s vision of world under Mongol, two places still needed to be conquered: Rest of China (Song) and Rest of World. It is worth noting that at that time America was undiscovered so the world comprised of Asia, Europe and part of Africa. The Mongols have conquered the major portion of it. Of the two of the targets, Song was the tougher one.

Song was a land of rivers and mountains where Mongol style of warfare, more adapted to grassland, was not suited. Mongols could capture a castle or destroy a fort in a trice but fighting in a river by ships was what they have not done before.

The capital of Song, Linan (present day Hangzhou), was the world’s most populous city with population more than a million. It had the finest ports in the world. To capture Song, Mongols would have to capture Linan and forty one other cities with more than a million populations along with fifty million peasants dwelling in Yangtze basin. The task was formidable but the Song was doomed for it had Mongols as its enemy.

Monkhe’s plan for song was big. He divided the army in three wings. All three wings would attack from different directions and would converge on Yangtze at city of Wuchang from where they would take over capital of Hangzhou. One column, headed by Kublai, left Xanadu and would meet other two columns at Wuchang. One column from Yunnan was headed by Uryiang Kadai and another one left from Kiaclugh. Monkhe himself led a separate campaign in the center of this region. Progress of each of the column was very slow.

By August 1259 Monkhe was tired of the campaign. Weariness and alcohol made him sick. He died of Cholera. The campaign needed to be stopped for the ritual of burial which was a month long process.

When Monkhe died, Kublai was about 250 Km deep into the Song’s territory. To prevent enemy taking advantage from Monkhe’s death he spread the word that the news is a canard. He progressed along the Yangtze to be joined by Uryiang three weeks later. He surrounded Wuchang. Song was losing control over it. But in early October a contingent released from fighting Monkhe came to buttress the Song’s force. Now the battle became equal.

Jia Sidao, commander of songs and a wily diplomat, saw this as an opportune moment and sent a secret envoy to Kublai. He proposed that Song would pay annual tribute to Mongols in exchange of Yangtze being new frontier. Kublai, though at backseat, rejected the proposal simply because he could conquer Song later. Something was happening back home at Karakorum which forced him to return. He would return back after nine years till then song could be in respite.

At Karakorum, Ariq Borke, fourth son of Tolui and Sorkakatani, was organizing a large army for unknown reason. With Kublai at Song’s frontier, Hulegu at western frontier, and Monkhe dead it was obvious that Ariq was planning to be the Khagan. Kublai was certain that Hulegu would back him as Khagan as Hulegu wanted to have his Khanate in Persia. With Hulegu at his side Kublai was the obvious choice for Khagan. But Ariq thought otherwise. For three years the war for succession continued with both the brothers claiming themselves as Khagan. But by 1262 Ariq had lost the game and two brothers got united by weeping in each other’s arm. Ariq died few years later; mysteriously.

While dealing with Ariq’s army Kublai resorted to diplomacy to deal with Songs. In 1260, he sent a messenger to Linan. The messenger was captured ad jailed for next 16 years till he was released by Kublai’s invading army. When the succession issue was over and Kublai well established as Khagan, he started his quest for Song. From his past experience Kublai knew that song was a tough nut to crack. But he had a precarious plan in place for conquering it.
Yangtze flowed from west to east. Kublai Army would be invading from north. A major tributary of Yangtze, Han, flowed southward, making a road to Wuchang and Hangzhou. Now key to Han was city of Xiangyang which was situated on the banks of Hans. So Kublai strategy was like this: To conquer Song Yangtze needs to be conquered, to conquer Yangtze Han needs to be controlled and to control Han Xiangyang needs to be taken. So the key to Song was Xiangyang. Mongol army surrounded the city of Xiangyang by 1268.
Battle of Xiangyang is considered to be one of the toughest battles fought by Mongols. Kublai asked Hulegu for his engineers who had expertise in making big Mangonels. Mangonels were a heavy war engine used for hurling large stones and other missiles. The city was captured and as planned Song was conquered by 1276.


In 1271 Kublai officially declared the creation of Yuan dynasty. By 1276 he had completed the annexation of Song. After that he ruled for another 18 years. He carried out many reforms. Kublai brought stability and security unknown for centuries. Whole of China and Mongolia was unified.

Mongol Empire - 1279

He tried conquering Japan, Myanmar, Vietnam and Java. His entire attempt failed. Because of constant wars the inflation rose very high during his reign. Especially his attempt to invade Japan cost him a lot. There were rebellions from within.


By 1281, Yuan Empire had reached its zenith. Kublai was already 66 by then. A constant defeat at wars and resistance from within the kingdom had disenchanted him. But more than these his favorite wife Chabi, a companion for last 41 years, died. This broke him completely. To find solace he turned to food and drink. He gorged boiled mutton, breast of lamb, eggs, sugary tea and drank airag (fermented mare milk) like water. Airag and wine made him inactive. He became extremely obese. He died on February 18, 1294 leaving behind a vast kingdom and a grand legacy.

China claims that Tibet is integral part of China. The reason it sites is historical. It urges that Tibet was part of china during the Yuan dynasty. But then why it isn’t claiming the entire Mongol empire? That would simply be preposterous. What China claims is the Yuan Kingdom. This is the reason why Chinese consider Mongolia too as part of China. But then if this is the logic China should be part of Mongolia and not vice versa for Kublai was a Mongol. Moreover how far back one can go in time? Before Kublai conquered Tibet, a major portion of China was under Tibet and hence that way China should be a part of Tibet.

Khanates in 1294
██ Golden Horde ██ Chagatai Khanate ██ Ilkhanate ██ Yuan Dynasty

Such contentious issues are hard to resolve based on historical facts for history is not static.
It should be left to the residents of the region to decide what they want for themselves.

Monday, 21 May 2007


‘Hazaaron Khaishein Aisii, Ki Har Khaish pe Dam Nikle…’
- Mirza Asaddula Khan ‘Ghalib’

‘Thousands of desires, like this,’ said Ghalib ‘that for each one, I feel like dedicating my entire life’.

‘Gunche’ is one such desire of mine. ‘Guncha’ is a Hindi/Urdu word which means flower bud and ‘Gunche’ is plural of that. In the hope that these buds will bloom some day I have started this blog.

For last 2-3 years, I had been wanting to pen down my thoughts. Initially I planned to have my own website but that would have required an enormous amount of time. So I decided to blog. It has taken me a couple of years to get started. Two reasons prompted me to write my blog and one inhibited me from doing so. First reason was that I wanted to put down my thoughts and share it with the others. I always wanted to write the summary of the books I read. This is what I am going to do here until something else strikes me. Second reason was to improve my writing skills.
The reason which inhibited me from writing was laziness and this might be the reason for me to delay the next article or at worst not to write anything at all. But at this point of time I am very optimistic and confident that I will continue with it.

I have started writing this prologue when I have reached the denouement of my First article – Kublai Khan. Initially, I felt helpless. Writing does not come easy to me and more so writing in a language which is not my mother tongue. I am unable to translate my thoughts into words and sentences. Nevertheless, I am trying.

As far as my introduction goes, I am a 2nd year Management student with three years of experience in the software industry. Urdu, Ghazals, literature and history are subjects which fascinate me. I have just learnt writing basic Urdu but am still unable to read it fluently. Till late, Ghazals meant ‘Ghalib’ to me but now it is also ‘Meer’. In Literature I love reading ‘Magical Realism’ and my favorite is Gabriel Garcia Marquez. For me his best book is ‘Love in the time of Cholera’ and not ‘One hundred years of solitude’. The book which I am reading now is his ‘Living to tell the tale’. In religion, I am reading Islam. In history, I am currently interested in history of western and central Asia history, period 800 - 1300 AD.

I have started with a ‘Ghalib’ but will end with a ‘Meer’.

‘Shikvaa-e-aablaa abhii se ‘Meer’,
Hai pyaare hanoz Dilli duur.’

[ Shikvaa = Complaint, aablaa= blisters, pyaare = dear, hanoz=still/yet, Dilli = Delhi]
[The destination is far off and you have started complaining of blisters.]

And lastly your comments and suggestions will be very valuable to me.