Wednesday, July 29


(Above: a Polish map of 1903 showing the province of Semirechye. Below: contemporay Google Map.)

We are driving NE from Almaty to Saryozek, and once we reach that hamlet we turn south to cross the hills into the village of Baschi, on our way to Altyn Emel. This is the historical Semirechye - the legendary land of mountain, desert, lake and steppe - where settled civilization has met nomadic cultures over thousands of years - overlapping, competing, winning, or capitulating - for it is a terrain that admits to both lifestyles: herding in the limitless steppe, or growing crop in the green valleys of the short rivers.

The Turkic name is Yeti-su or Zhety-su, literally Seven Rivers - that flow down from the Tien Shan and Alatau (Altai) into Lake Balkhash. The Ili is the primary of these rivers, the others are the Chu, the Karatal, Aksu, Lepsy, Charyn, and Chilik. The Russian calque or translation for Zhety-su is Semi Rechye (i.e. Sapt-Ab rather than Punj-ab.) This is land bounded to the south by the Tien Shan, to the North and the East by the Alatau, and to the Northwest by Lake Balkhash. The Western door leads to Transoxiana - Otrar, Samarkand, Bukhara.

On the road leading towards the Xinjiang border, Saka kurgans dot the sloping land - most were robbed in antiquity but one here or there will still yield outstanding archaeological finds such as the Golden Man. The occasional shepherd's big Iranian nose hints at ancestors who were Sogdian.

"At the time of the Arab conquest of Tansoxiana, Semirechye's southern fringe had a flourishing agricultural and urban population chiefly composed of the same Sogdian stock, engaged in irrigated or dry farming, professing one or another of the main religions - Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, or Christianity - entertaining a lively exchange with the Turkic nomads, and acknowledging, when necessary, their suzerainty. This prosperity continued and even increased after the spread of Islam here in the tenth century, which began with the conquest of the western-most segment of Semirechye and then made giant strides with the voluntary conversion of entire Turkic tribes. In the eleventh century, Semirechye became the senior province of the Qarakhanid dynasty, and shone with a florescence of Turkic-Islamic culture. This came to an end after the Mongol invasion, but not through the standard method of willful destruction accompanying the conquest. Here it resulted from the fact that the Mongols preferred to live in Semirechye, grazing their herds, holding there their quriltays (conventions), or fighting their internecine wars. Agricultural and urban civilization ultimately succumbed to the nomads' way of the Mongols, and re-appeared only after the Russian conquest in the 1860s. A small settlement which the natives called Alma-Ata was then developed as the administrative center of Semirechye ....

After the Mongols modified Semirechye to suit their lifestyle, the region came to be called Moghulistan (or Mongolistan, Land of Mongols; the form Moghulistan is based on its spelling in the Arabic alphabet, which tended to omit the abraded sound n from the word "Mongol"). "

(from  Svat Soucek's "A History of Inner Asia".)

The great folk epic Manas, most melodiously claimed by the Kyrghyz from amongst the Turkic peoples - includes the hero Manas' conquest of Moghulistan in the 16th-17th centuries.The Epic of Manas is divided into three books (eight in extended versions.) The first is on Manas, the second describes the deeds of his son Semetei, and the third of his grandson Seitek (the extended versions go down to the 7th generation after Manas - that of Chaghatai. ) The epic begins with the destruction and difficulties caused by an invasion of the Oirats into Semirechye. The shepherd Zhakyp reaches maturity in this time as an owner of many herds without a heir. His prayers are eventually answered, and on the day of his son's birth, he dedicates a colt, Toruchaar, born the same day, to his son's service. The son is unique among his peers for strength, mischief, and generosity. The Oirat learn of this young warrior and warn their leader. A plot is hatched to capture young Manas. They fail in this task, Manas is able to rally his people and eventually elected as Khan. Manas expands his reach to include all Moghulistan. One of the defeated Uyghur rulers gives his daughter to Manas in marriage. At this point, the people choose, with Manas' help, to return from the Altai mountains to their "ancestral lands" in the mountains of modern-day Kyrghyzstan.

Zhakyp's dream about the birth of Manas recalls Chingis Khan:

In my last night's dream,
I settled down on the upper Ala-Too
And caught a young baarchin eagle.
When I took him hunting,
The sound of his flapping wings was heard,
Unable to withstand his wrath,
All the animals fell over in fright.

Reaching with my right hand,
I grasped the sun for myself.
Reaching with my left hand,
I caught the moon for myself.
My right hand held the sun,
My left hand held the moon,
I took the sun
And put it in place of the moon,
I took the moon
And put it in place of the sun.
Together with the sun and moon,
I flew high into the sky.

The further lineage of Manas is betrays the culture-deficit pastoralists must have felt when they lived in proximity to settled civilization, for Manas' legitimacy comes in part from sufi saints, part from Caliphs, and part from Kïdïr (Khidr, or al-khidr/al-akhdar in Arabic, meaning the Green One, identified syncretically with the Canaanite god Kothar in Israel/Palestine, Vishnu in India, Sourūsh in Iran and so on.)

His forefathers were all khans,
Blessed by Kïdïr from the beginning,
His ancestors were all khans,
Blessed by Kïdïr from the beginning.
In places where they had stayed overnight
Sacred shrines were built, for
God had blessed them from the beginning.
In the places where they had passed by
A city with a bazaar was established, for
God had blessed them from the beginning.
They had exchanged greetings with twenty Sufi masters,
Learned writing from a caliph,
And they thus were called great "sahibs."

Here is a clip produced by the UNESCO on Manas.

After Baschi we drive east towards Zharkent; the local Uyghur stations battle Chinese AM broadcasts from over the horizon. Here and there is a village with Chinese truck-drivers sprawling in the shade underneath their vehicles (it is 40 degrees in the sun.) The electric poles stand forlornly, there is no wire slung between them; in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR, when salaries stopped, the people of Semirechye had to resort to stealing copper wire (and any other metal from culverts, power transmission equipment, phone lines) and selling them to the "Khitai" (Chinese, Cathay-ans.) Those lumbering convoys of trucks carrying back pilfered scrap - copper, iron, steel - was what ruined this road, grumbles Dima, our driver. Aleksander laughs uproariously - his description of the ride, which he unfailingly offers about once an hour, is "Chinese massage."

Tuesday, July 28

Aleksander's Grandfather and the First of May

We are in Almaty, walking in the shadows of the soaring Tien Shan range. Across high valleys, to the south and west, lie Kyrghyzstan, and Bishkek. Our guide in these parts is Aleksander, a silver-haired former museum director, a 4th-generation Russian in Kazakhstan, who is to take us into the Tien Shans and the Alatau (i.e. Altai) which he knows like the back of his hands, for his family has been in them for 150 years. Midway up the northern Tien Shan lies Aleksander's mountain home with a 100m frontage of apple trees; from his front porch he can see far below in the plains, where the night train crosses the Dzhungarian Alatau towards Ust-Kamenogorsk, its front beam stabbing around like a flashlight as it negotiates the loops and the switchbacks of the track.

Ethnic Russians came into the area in the mid 1850s, once a Russian piedmont fort - Verniy - had been constructed at the base of the Zailiysky Alatau mountain range between the Big and Small Almatinka rivers. (Verniy became Almaty - from Alma-Ata, Apple-Father, for apples are from Kazakhstan.) Aleksander's great-grandfather was one of the early homesteaders, drawn from West of the Volga to the Central Asian frontier by easy land and opportunity. Between 1850 and 1910 the number of Russian peasants settled in Kazakhstan was over a million. Aleksander's grandfather grew up on the homestead in the high valleys, managing orchards of apples, peaches and apricots, or undulating fields of mountain-potatoes. The area was not collectivized at the same pace as the rest of the USSR; Sovietization would take till 1936 to catch up to Bishkek, so Aleksander's grandparents were allowed remain smallholding-farmers for a while.

One May-Day (solemnly celebrated as International Worker's Day in the Soviet union as in many other countries) in the late 1920s, as the village band was preparing to greet some bigwigs visiting from Bishkek, Aleksander's grandfather came out of his house in the morning, stamped his feet in exasperation, shouted "Damn this First of May!" and went back inside.

Neighbors heard him clearly. A few hours later, the police came and took him away.

Karlag (the Karaganda Corrective Labor Camp) was one of the largest Gulag labor camps, located in Karaganda Oblast, Kazakh SSR, USSR. About 800,000 inmates served in total in Karlag over its history. At the height of Stalin's terror, you could be denounced for almost anything and disappear into Karlag, essentially to be worked to death in the steppe.

Aleksander's grandma, as well as his mother and her siblings - waited in trepidation for the worst. They did not join the May Day festivities, expecting to be picked up at any time, as the  "family of the traitor" could easily suffer the same fate as the principal. In the late afternoon, his grandma gathered up enough courage to go to the village ataman's house. He did not open the door, and made the sign of the cross from behind his lace curtains.

The next day passed, all eyes were red from crying. At midnight, there was a great whinnying of horses outside the gate. Footsteps crunched in the gravel. The women adjusted their kerchiefs, hid bits of cheese and black bread on their persons, and huddled at the stove, expecting the worst - denunciation, deportation, rape, enslavement. The door opened and Aleksander's grandfather came in. The other footsteps retreated away into the night.

He went straight to bed without speaking a word.

When he woke well past noon the following day, he saw his entire family sitting around his bed wordlessly; they had kept a soundless vigil all night next to his cot. It took three days for his story to come out.

A neighbor had denounced him for blasphemous irreverence towards May Day. After arrest, he spoke to higher and higher levels of officers in the Soviet security apparatus and tried to impress upon them his version of the story, viz:  It had snowed overnight! On the eve of the first of May! the apple crop was done for, with the frost and all. Damn a snowfall on the first of May!

He had been passed up the chain by one official after another, and finally he had been granted an interrogation by the highest-ranking NKVD person of the oblast. Aleksander's grandfather sat across the Commissar of Internal Security Himself. The Great Man surveyed him impassively and inscrutably smoked cigarette after cigarette. Finally he said: my mother said the same thing!

Excuse me, Your Excellency!

My mother, you oaf. She's from rural-stock too, a farmer's daughter. When she came out yesterday in Bishkek she saw the snow and said the same thing - damn a first of May that snows! So I believe you. You can go.

Below: fields of wildflowers in the mountains south of Almaty, as we drive up with Aleksander towards the Kazakh-Kyrghyz border.

Sunday, August 17

La Albiceleste Defend

Getting into the National Stadium at Brasilia feels like getting into a college game. Argentine fans are a vocal and visible minority, and are being tolerated well. Streaming in through the barricades, they chant
        Olé, olé olé olé, Die-go, Die-go! (i.e. Maradona, their patron saint.)
to which the Brazilians (supporting Belgium today) roar
        Bel. Zi. Ca. Bel. Zi. Ca.

We seat ourselves, here to watch two teams trying not to lose.

Since the injury to Angel di María earlier in the World Cup (he is playing today, but barely), coach Sabella moved Argentina to 4-4-1-1, with Lionel Messi behind striker Gonzalo Higuaín. Ezequiel Lavezzi plays a supporting role from one wing, everyone else defends. Argentina’s fullbacks and midfielders stay back more than almost anyone else’s in the tournament. This is not beautiful, but effective. To beat a deep-seated defense the rival coach will add to the attackers, but that is precisely the trap Sabella wishes to set. Draw the enemy out, and suddenly Messi might be counterattacking in a sprint across an open midfield, or feeding the ball up to di María or Higuaín.

Vincent Kompany loses the ball to Mascherano; who passes on to Messi.  No. 10 dribbles past de Bruyne and Fellaini before finding di María, whose pass into the area is deflected off Vertonghen. That flick bass-ackwards Belgium’s defense who were zagging as the ball zigs, and Higuaín’s sweeping shot rockets from the edge of the area across Courtois and into the corner;  after the match he dedicates the winner to Alfredo di Stéfano, critical in Madrid after a heart attack.

Note for future world cup matches: you will definitely be able to get scalped tickets if the home team is not playing.  Just wait till the starting whistle, prices will collapse to 25% of face value within 5 minutes of kickoff.

The word olé itself, as a Spanish exclamation, is thought to be derived from the Arabic invocation of Allah, the oath والله (w-állah, “by Allah!”), from Andalusian times.

Olé, olé olé olé, Die-go, Die-go!

Saturday, August 16

Trilemma in Brasilia

Brasilia is bright and warm in winter, its "iconic" Niemeyer-designed Cathedral aspiring to the afternoon light, if not like the intended hands-raised-to-the-heavens-in-prayer, certainly like a crown of thorns. Kubitschek, the then President, had intended the structure as an "ecumenical cathedral" to be paid for by the State and open to all faiths, but successive governments failed to provide funding, and the building was eventually turned over to the Catholic Church to complete and own; the Pope donated the altar. In a triumph of form over function, the hyperbolic curves apparently have horrible acoustics, no one can hear the sermons.

We alight onto the dreamlike country of Fifazil. Coke-bottle maidens greet us at the foot of the jetway with free cans of sugar water; the local stadium shops have stopped taking cards other than Visa; Fuleco peeks out, pointing to giant screens showing rainbow-colored Brazilians doing Mexican waves, even as the polizei pull out the undesirable-looking out of line for questioning. After months of protests, welcome to the 2014 World Cup.

The protests started against the spending of billions of reais of public money on stadiums for the World Cup, and snowballed into something larger. On the 27th of May, 25,000 protesters gathered in central Brasilia; among them were large numbers of aboriginal Brazilians who went to the capital to protest against changes in laws regarding indigenous land. This one ended in a confrontation with the military police, where a cavalryman was struck by an arrow.

Since the Brazilian government signed a contract with FIFA in 2007, laws had been speedily approved to guarantee Fifa’s interests under the General Legislation of the World Cup. Fifa got a two-kilometer “exclusion zone” around 'their' (i.e. paid for by taxpayer money) stadia. Within these limits, Fifa controls the circulation of people, forbids the sale of products not licensed from Fifa, and bans any financial transaction not initiated by Fifa. (According to the NGO Streetnet, during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa 100,000 street vendors lost their income during the games under similar 'laws'). In Brazil wherever protesters tried to approach stadia, hundreds of police armed with “non-lethal” devices (made by the same Brazilian manufacturer, Condor, that supplies the Turkish police and the Emirates of the Gulf) shot and gassed them; later, the police admitted that they opened fire "to protect Fifa’s strict rules about crowd control."

Romario, the ex-Brazilian star, now member of the Parliament, dubbed the World Cup as the "biggest theft in history", and said the real cost would be over R$ 100 billion (US$ 45 billion.) The annual education budget of Brazil is US$ $37 billion. “Dilma (Roussef, the President), please call me ‘World Cup’ and invest in me. Signed, Education” said a poster. The problem as Fifa saw it was that Brazil had too much democracy. Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke, a Frenchman convicted in 2004 in New York for contract-fraud (in favor of Visa and against Mastercard), said in a press conference in April, “Less democracy is sometimes better for organizing a World Cup.” He also said he expected fewer problems in Russia in 2018 under Putin.  Sometime ago, a disgruntled Fifa exec leaked an email from Valcke which suggested that Qatar had bought the rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Valcke then issued a statement denying he had suggested it was bribery, saying instead that the country had "used its financial muscle to lobby for support." Qatar denied any impropriety.

The seven biggest construction companies in Brazil, all major campaign donors to Dilma's oligarchy in Brasilia, have benefited from an opaque pricing regime that allows them to increase the charges to the government in the event of delays in construction. Naturally the World Cup projects were over budget. The head of the Brazilian Football Confederation, Ricardo Teixeira, who "won" the 2014 World Cup to Brazil, now lives a tranquil retired life in a $ 7.4 million house (in Miami.)

In 2007, Dani Rodrik, a Turkish don of Princeton proposed an "impossibility theorem" for the global economy -  "that democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full."

Rodrik's 'trilemma' says if we want to deepen both economic globalization and political democracy, we would require global institutions that are truly democratic and respond to legitimate demands, the very basic needs of world citizens — that is governance at a global level, which is at odds with the current reality of squabbling tribal-zero-sum but 'sovereign' nation states.  He writes:

"... deep economic integration requires that we eliminate all transaction costs traders and financiers face in their cross-border dealings. Nation-states are a fundamental source of such transaction costs. They generate sovereign risk, create regulatory discontinuities at the border, prevent global regulation and supervision of financial intermediaries, and render a global lender of last resort a hopeless dream. The malfunctioning of the global financial system is intimately linked with these specific transaction costs.

So what do we do?

One option is to go for global federalism, where we align the scope of (democratic) politics with the scope of global markets. Realistically, though, this is something that cannot be done at a global scale. It is pretty difficult to achieve even among a relatively like-minded and similar countries, as the experience of the EU demonstrates.

Another option is maintain the nation state, but to make it responsive only to the needs of the international economy. This would be a state that would pursue global economic integration at the expense of other domestic objectives. The nineteenth century gold standard provides a historical example of this kind of a state. The collapse of the Argentine convertibility experiment of the 1990s provides a contemporary illustration of its inherent incompatibility with democracy.

Finally, we can downgrade our ambitions with respect to how much international economic integration we can (or should) achieve. So we go for a limited version of globalization, which is what the post-war Bretton Woods regime was about (with its capital controls and limited trade liberalization). It has unfortunately become a victim of its own success. We have forgotten the compromise embedded in that system, and which was the source of its success."

Contrary to popular expectation, governments have grown the largest in those economies that are the most exposed to international markets; Rodrik concludes that this is because in highly globalized nations, citizens demand that their governments compensate them against the risk that international economic forces expose them to. There is no better way to understand India’s position at the WTO negotiations on food security, or ordinary Brazilians threatening to engulf the World Cup in violent street-fights. In addition, what Rodrik misses is that "global economic integration" is not a clear-cut rule-based one as he theorizes; from the East India Company down to Enron, 'integration' is achieved by bribery, treachery, espionage, coercion and threat of militarized violence. The problem with capitalism, as it is said, is capitalists.

To also recall Slavoj Žižek, the Slovenian philosopher:

Global capitalism is a complex process which affects different countries in different ways. What unites the protests, for all their multifariousness, is that they are all reactions against different facets of capitalist globalization. The general tendency of today’s global capitalism is towards further expansion of the market, creeping enclosure of public space, reduction of public services (healthcare, education, culture), and increasingly authoritarian political power. It is in this context that Greeks are protesting against the rule of international financial capital and their own corrupt and inefficient state, which is less and less able to provide basic social services. It is in this context too that Turks are protesting against the commercialization of public space and against religious authoritarianism; that Egyptians are protesting against a regime supported by the Western powers; that Iranians are protesting against corruption and religious fundamentalism, and so on. None of these protests can be reduced to a single issue. They all deal with a specific combination of at least two issues, one economic (from corruption to inefficiency to capitalism itself), the other politico-ideological (from the demand for democracy to the demand that conventional multi-party democracy be overthrown). The same holds for the Occupy movement. Beneath the profusion of (often confused) statements, the movement had two basic features: first, discontent with capitalism as a system, not just with its particular local corruptions; second, an awareness that the institutionalized form of representative multi-party democracy is not equipped to fight capitalist excess, i.e. democracy has to be reinvented.

Just because the underlying cause of the protests is global capitalism, that doesn’t mean the only solution is directly to overthrow it. Nor is it viable to pursue the pragmatic alternative, which is to deal with individual problems and wait for a radical transformation. That ignores the fact that global capitalism is necessarily inconsistent: market freedom goes hand in hand with US support for its own farmers; preaching democracy goes hand in hand with supporting Saudi Arabia. This inconsistency opens up a space for political intervention: wherever the global capitalist system is forced to violate its own rules, there is an opportunity to insist that it follow those rules. To demand consistency at strategically selected points where the system cannot afford to be consistent is to put pressure on the entire system. The art of politics lies in making particular demands which, while thoroughly realistic, strike at the core of hegemonic ideology and imply much more radical change. Such demands, while feasible and legitimate, are de facto impossible. Obama’s proposal for universal healthcare was such a case, which is why reactions to it were so violent.

We gather in a beer-and-soda pit stop in Guara, an industrial suburb of Brasilia, as the Brazil-Colombia match gets underway. Stackers from nearby warehouses, waitresses at the end of their shifts, gas station attendants - everyone effusively makes space for our little group. One of the problems to the Marxist's "99-percenters of the world unite" is the obduracy of the nation state.  Once the ball starts rolling, the 99-percenter Brazilians close ranks with their 1-percenters, and against the 99-percenters of Colombia, honking vuvuzelas and baiting their neighbors to the north with the choicest of epithets.

(This was the match wherein the Brazilian star Neymar sustained a lumbar vertebra fracture when he was kneed in the back by the Colombian defender Juan Camilo Zúñiga, though it is not apparent to any of the viewers at the time that the injury is serious. The NYT wrote the Brazilians had played a bellicose game; others disagreed. To me it did look like the referee had lost control early, in his attempts to make sure Brazil did not choke and ruin the tournament for Fifa; and that the unanticipated outcome of this was a tackle that contributed to the Seleção losing 7-1 in their very next outing.)

Saturday, December 28

Ulaanbaatar Ger District

Zud (Mongolian: зуд) is a term for an extremely snowy winter that follows a summer drought. Livestock cannot find what little grass there remains under the snow and ice, and large numbers of animals die due to starvation and cold. The last major zud was in 2009-2010; the yurt-belt surrounding Ulaanbaatar swelled up in the year that followed, as pastoralist life finally collapsed for many in Mongolia, due to the hardship of the zud, the growing desertification of the steppe, the erosion in cashmere prices through oversupply, and the increasingly bright lights of a boomtown riding on commodity prices.

From a Feb 2010 news article:

When even Mongolians complain, you know it's cold ... 

Officials in Ulaanbaatar, the snowbound capital, have declared disaster status in more than half of Mongolia's 21 provinces, and more are set to follow across the vast, sparsely populated nation, roughly the size of Alaska.

After weeks of heavy snowfalls, fierce winds and temperatures as low as minus-58 degrees, 2.3 million livestock have perished and an additional 3 million may die by spring, according to the Mongolian government.

Mongolians use the term "dzud" for the combination of summer drought and severe winter that has hardened snow and ice into an impenetrable layer and makes it impossible for livestock to feed.

"The snow and cold are the worst I have ever seen," surpassing the last major dzud in 2000-2001, says Nyamaa Delegnyam, 48, foreign relations officer for the Khovd province in western Mongolia.

The human cost among Mongolia's population of 3 million remains difficult to quantify because of inaccessibility and limited communication. But infant mortality in the 12 hardest-hit provinces jumped by up to 60% in January compared with the previous five-year average ...

Another report later in the year says:

It took 14 days for Erdenebileg's family to drive what remained of their flock the 300 miles from southern Dundgovi province to a bleak hillside in Töv province, close to the city. Once, they enjoyed "a pretty decent life", selling cashmere and spare animals for cash to supplement the meat and milk from their 600-strong herd. Then came the winter.

"Every day we saw our animals dying in front of us. I was devastated," said the 32-year-old, her face etched deep by the wind and worry.

The 80 surviving animals graze close to the family's tent, overlooking a disused concrete factory and rubbish tip. Her husband has been lucky, finding a factory job through relatives. But the couple and their four children will barely scrape by on his 150,000 tögrögs (£75) a month. The government recently withdrew substantial child benefits.

"We hoped things might be easier closer to town, but it's not what I expected. It's much worse," said Erdenebileg. "Our future is uncertain, but we know there's no going back."

Most longer-term migrants are stuck in the crowded ger (yurt) settlements around the capital, where 46% live in poverty. Stray goats pick their way through the mud and children kick at corrugated steel fences separating each plot. Sanitation and services are poor. Many lack the documents to claim benefits – though a registration drive should help – and the skills to find work. Some scrabble over rubbish dumps for plastic or glass to sell to recyclers.

On our last drive into Ulaanbaatar from the Tuul, we take a detour through the ger district. It is raining and the roads are flooded; even in July, the cold of the drizzle pierces through one's clothes; in the distance rises the Gadantegchinlen Khiid, its colossal all-seeing Avalokitesvara watching over the city.

Friday, December 27


Above: Zanabazar's White Tara.

At some point in the 1570s, word filtered back to Mongolia that Altan Khan had met with a new power called the Dalai Lama and that the Tümed Mongols of Inner Mongolia had subsequently converted to Buddhism. Avtai, then Khan of the Khalkha, decided that he must met this great character from Tibet, and then he would decide for himself what he thought of the Dalai Lama and his teachings. "If he is acceptable we shall recognize each other. If not we shall fight," declared Avtai. Thereupon the Khan of the Khalkha set off on horseback from of his homelands on the upper Tuul to the court of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa.

The meetings went well, and Avtai Khan came back, impressed, with Buddhist relics. Monasteries and stupas started appearing the Mongol heartland. In 1635, forty-eight years after Avtai Khan's death, his grandson Gombo Dorje, now the ruler of the Mongol Khanate in the East, was traveling by Yesön Zuul when he noticed a handsome lama sitting nearby the shrine built by his grandfather. When asked what he was doing there the lama replied, "I am honoring this place with sacrifices." Then the lama disappeared, and the sky was filled with rainbows. Shortly thereafter both Gombo Dorje and his wife Khandu Jamtso started having dreams filled with omens and portents. Subsequently, a little boy was born to the Khan. He was named Yeshe Dorje (Eshidorji.) This boy was destined to be called the Michelangelo of Asia for bringing to the entire region a renaissance in theology, religion, language, art, architecture, medicine and astronomy, even as the Manchu gained suzerainty over outer Mongolia.

Soon, little Yeshe Dorje was building small replicas of temples, fashioning statuettes of the Buddha, and sketching lamas. By tradition the son of a Khan was supposed to be surrounded by robust playmates from other noble families; but Yeshe Dorje chose to hang out in temples with monks. Before the end of his third year, in early 1638, his father, by then convinced that the boy was destined for the lamasery, arranged for a monk named Jambaling to give the him his first vows. Accompanying this came a new name - Jnana-vajra - Knowledge-Thunderbolt in Sanskrit - a formulation soon vernacularized to Zanabazar.

Above: Zanabazar pictured in a tangkha.

It  apparently did not take long for stories of Gombo Dorje Khan's remarkable little boy to spread throughout Mongolia. The boy's extraordinary utterances and prodigy; his taking of his first monastic vows at age three; his skill in drawing, painting, and sculpting - all would have been deeply impressive to people and celebrated in a land where folk thought naught of riding a hundred miles to simply hear an interesting bit of news. By the time Zanabazar was four, not only the Buddhist lamas of Mongolia but also the ruling khans and khatuns had realized that he was destined to play a unique role in their country. In 1639, a great convention was held to anoint him as head of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism in all of Khalkha Mongolia, and to establish for him his very own monastery. It is said:

From as far away as Buir Nuur to the east and the shores of huge salt lakes in the Great Depression in the west, and from the edge of the Siberian taiga in the north and the depths of the Gobi Desert in the south, the khans and their entourages of the khanates of Khalkha Mongolia converged on the territory of the Zanabazar's father the Tüsheet Khan Gombodorj. They all met about forty-eight miles north of Yesön Zuil, at a small lake surrounded on three sides by hills covered with the sand dunes of the so-called Mongol Els-a belt of dunes up to five miles wide and trending north-south for over fifty miles. On the fourth side loomed, like a backdrop of the huge natural amphitheater, the 5477 foot-high massif of Ikh Mongol Uul. This spot, thought to be very near the geographic center of ancient Khalka Mongolia, and just eighteen miles northeast of the geographical center of the current country of Mongolia, was known as the khüis-"navel"-of the Mongol realm ... On a high grass-covered knoll between the shore of the lake and base of Ikh Mongol Uul a ger had been erected. Because the ger was draped outside with yellow cloth it became known as the Shar Bösiyn Ord, or "Yellow Sash Palace". Lama Bürilegüü carried the little boy up the hill and placed him on a throne in the ger, signifying that the boy was now the head of the Buddhist faith in Mongolia. The ger itself was sanctified as the first temple of what eventually became Zanabazar's own monastery. The assembled Mongols then appeared before Zanabazar, offering obeisance and making offerings. He received several dozen gers from each of the Mongol khans, the basis of what became his personal estate. Then began the games, feasts, and celebrations.

As the boy grew older, it became clear to his handlers that if Zanabazar wished to advance, he would have to continue his studies in Tibet, the source of Buddhism as practiced in Mongolia, and the home of the Dalai Lama, So it was decided that the boy Zanabazar, then 14, would travel to Tibet:

Zanabazar left Mongolia late in 1649 ... There were several caravan tracks to Tibet, but if he took the traditional Shar Zam (Yellow Road) to Tibet he would have veered slightly west from Shankh through what is now Bayankhongor Aimag. Perhaps he stopped at the oasis of Ekhin Gol, then as now one of the main watering holes in south Bayankhongor, before crossing the last ridges of the Gobi-Altai Range just west of 8,755 foot Segs Saikhan Bogd Uul and starting across the dreaded Black Gobi, the most difficult part-mainly because of the lack of water-of the whole journey. From Ekhin Gol to Anhsi, the first sizable Chinese town on the southern edge of the Gobi usually took about twenty days by camel. Then the party would have turned southeast, crossing the Tulai Nan Shan and Datong Shan mountains and skirting the northern shore of Khökh Nuur before arriving at Kumbum Monastery, located in a narrow valley seventeen miles southwest of the present-day city of Xining. Here the party took a lengthy break.

Around 1650, Zanabazar met Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, the 5th Dalai Lama. Lobsang Gyatso is credited with unifying Tibet after a protracted era of civil wars;  he established diplomatic relations with China, met with early European explorers, wrote 24 volumes' of scholarly and religious works, and was the first of Dalai Lamas to wield effective temporal power over all of Tibet. He is usually referred to simply as the Great Fifth. When Zanabazar appeared in Tibet, the Great Fifth was busy building the Potala palace (the name comes from the hill on Cape Comorin believed to be sacred to the Avalokitesvara) overlooking Lhasa. The two hit it off.

Anxious to cement an alliance with the Mongol nobility, the Dalai Lama proclaimed that Zanabazar was a reincarnation of the famous Buddhist teacher and historian Taranatha. Taranatha was considered the 15th reincarnation of a sentient being known as the Jebtsun Dampa. The first incarnation of the Jebtsun Dampa was Lodoi-shindu-namdak, who appeared in Magadha and was one of the Buddha's original 500 disciples. The second incarnation was Barbizobo, the head of Nalanda during the time of Nagarjuna (probably in the first century AD). The next two were born in India, but other than their birthplace biographical information is lacking. The fifth Jebtsun Dampa, Ronsom-choi-san, was the first to appear in Tibet, during the lifetime of the famous Bengal-born sage Atisa (982-1054), who moved to Tibet and died at the Tara Temple 20 miles east of Lhasa. Zanabazar now became the 16th Jebtsun Dampa, a name and title which he would use for the rest of his life and pass on to his subsequent reincarnations. Thus was Zanabazar recognized as the latest in a long line of personages in the history of Buddhism, going back to the time of the Buddha himself.

Above: Zanabazar at his museum in Ulaanbaatar.

In return, Zanabazar converted to the Gelugpa or Yellow Hat sect of the Dalai Lama, and proceeded to encourage his Mongols to adopt Yellow Hat beliefs. He announced that he would now longer live in any monastery connected with the Sakya sect of Mongolia. He established a new Gelugpa monastery near the confluence of the Tuul and Selbi rivers; this monastery became known as Örgöö, meaning palace or camp. Later, the word would be corrupted to Urga, the name used by foreigners for the capital of Mongolia before it was changed in 1924 by the Soviets to Ulaanbaatar (Red Hero.)

As part of Sakya-Gelugpa tussles, Zanabazar faced resurgent Oirats. The Oirat Khan Galdan decided to reunite the Mongol khanates, collaborating with Rus, the rising power on the north, and the Manchus, in the south. When Galdan Khan's army came to Ulaanbaatar, Zanabazar escaped to southern Mongolia. The Manchus were interested in defeating both Mongolian states; sensing opportunity, the Manchu army double-crossed Galdan Khan, and after the battle at Zuun Mod the Oirat were defeated. Zanabazar became a vassal of the Manchu, but allowed to retain Eastern Mongolia as the first Bogd Khan (from Bhaga = divine, plus Khan = king.)

Zanabazar has been called the Michelangelo of Asia. He brought an Indo-Tibetan style into bronze casting and painting in Mongolia. In a dream, he invented the Indic Soyombo (swayambhu - i.e. self-manifested or that which is created by its own accord) script in 1686, and this became the alphabet for Mongolian Buddhism. He instituted the Maitreya Ceremony in Mongolia - in which the Buddha Maitreya is raised and scriptures chanted in the hope of releasing souls of the deceased from suffering, as well as realizing a good harvest of crops with peace. Zanabazar personally directed the creation of tangkhas, sacred music, clothing design, astronomical measurements, and stupa construction. The monks of his school created many figures of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas well into the 20th century.

Below, the Zanabazar Museum in Ulaanbaatar.

Monday, December 23

Sakyamuni on the Steppe

My great city of Dadu (Beijing)! adorned with varied splendor; Shangdu (Xanadu), my delectable cool summer retreat! and those yellowing plains, the delight and refreshment of my divine ancestors! What evil have I committed to lose my empire thus!

This lament is the last recorded words of Toghon Temür, the 10th descendant of Kublai, and the last Yuan Emperor. Kublai had originally named his eldest son, Zhenjin (Chinese: 真金) as Crown Prince but he pre-deceased Kublai in 1285. Zhenjin's third son, with the intrigue of his mother Kökejin, succeeded to the throne and ruled as Temür Khan or Emperor Chengzong following Kublai's death. In the century after Kublai, the Yüan Dynasty, led by ever-more-Sinicized rulers of ever-diminishing capability, more and more corrupted by the indulgences of courtly life, started to teeter. In 1368, Toghon Temür fled his capital in the face of advancing Chinese rebels who would go on to establish the Ming Dynasty; the Mongols lost China, and were forced to retreat to their original homelands to the north of the Gobi. Toghon Temür died shortly after. The irony of Chingis Khan's descendant lamenting the loss of urban comfort will not be lost on the gentle reader.

Toghon Temür's son Prince Ayurshiridhara attempted to rally the Mongols around their old capital of Karakorum, dreaming of eventually recovering the empire his father had lost; but the army of the Ming pursued the Mongol into his homeland, and finally in 1388 dealt him a devastating blow in Dornod. In the disarray that followed, the descendants of Kublai could no longer claim hegemony over much of anything. Oirat tribes rose in the west and claimed overlordship of the Mongol.

The descendants of Chingis Khan were reduced to their traditional homelands around the Tuul. After the death of Manduul Khan in 1467 at the hands of his own advisor Eslem (spy and agent of Ming China), in a battle with his own grand-nephew Bolko. Bolko was in turn assassinated in 1470, and the throne was left vacant.  At this time, a minor Mongol Khatun, Mandukhai the Wise, brought out from hiding and adopted the seven year old orphan Batumunkh, son of the late Bayan Mongkhe Jonon, a direct descendant of Genghis Khan. As Batumunkh was the last living descendant of Genghis Khan, Queen Mandukhai had him proclaimed Khan with name Dayan (and subsequently wed him.)

When Dayan Khan died in 1543, as was tradition the 'hearth' land around the Three Rivers Region around the Kherlen, Tuul and Onon rivers went to his youngest son Geresandza Ochigin. His group of Mongols eventually became the Khalkha. The title of Great Khan, however, went to Dayan's grandson Bodi, who built a base around Dolonuur in what is now Inner Mongolia in China. Bodi's third son Barsa-bolod and grandson Gün Biliktü occupied the Ordos Desert in the great loop of the Yellow River. Gün Biliktü's younger brother, Altan Khan, became leader of yet another group, the Tümed Mongols, who were centered around present-day Hohhot, the current capital of Inner Mongolia. Altan Khan played a decisive role in introducing, or, more properly, re-introducing, Buddhism to Mongolia.

[Above: Cover of the book on Buddhist Art from Mongolia edited by Carmen Meinart.]

Chingis Khan himself had met with some Tibetan Buddhists as early as 1205, a year before the founding of the Mongol Empire, and had been impressed by their doctrine. He had sent a message to the Sakya Lama So-Pan, stating, 'I have not finished the wars of my reign yet, but as soon as these are over, please come to Hor with your disciples and spread the Teachings of the Buddha.' And we have seen Kublai Khan open to the teachings of both Daoists and Buddhists in China. In 1566, while on an expedition (or raid) to Tibet,  Sechen Khongtaiji (Altan Khan's grand-nephew) met some monks who he brought back to the Khan's camp near Ulaanbaatar. It is not clear whether these monks came as prisoners or as teachers; in any case, they introduced Sechen Khongtaiji to the teachings of Buddha and finally managed to convert him to Vajrayana Buddhism. Sechen Khongtaiji then converted his uncle:

Defeat the Oirat . . . take into your hands the power of the State. The wise and learned say that divine teaching is important for this and for the next two lives that will follow. Would not it be a wonder if the Buddha . . . of the Land of Snows . . . comes here and a State Religion is created?

According to other accounts it was Altan Khan himself who had captured the Buddhist monks, who then introduced him to the doctrines of the Sakyamuni. Yet another account claims that while on a raid into the Uighur regions of Xinjiang Altan Khan captured two Uighur chiefs and three Uighur Buddhist monks; and so on.

When Sonam Gyatso, the lama presiding over prayers in Lhasa, received his first invitation from Altan Khan in 1571 to come to the Khan's ordu, he made excuses, fearing for his safety on such a long hazardous journey to the court of faraway unruly barbarians. Altan Khan, whose curiosity on Buddhism had been whetted by the monks he had captured, issued more and more invitations till finally his summons could no longer be ignored. One never knew with the Mongols - if the Khan's requests continued to be ignored it was plausible that a horde turn up at Lhasa and seize the lama anyway.

Sonam Gyatso left Lhasa for the Khan's court in late 1577. A formidable entourage followed him to Reting, the monastery 95 miles north of Lhasa (founded in 1057 by Dron Tönpa, chief disciple of the great Atisa Dipankara.) Here Sonam Gyatso's followers again begged him to abandon this fool's errand of a journey to the court of the Mongols; but he ordered the entourage to turn back at Reting, and prepared to continue on his own - when the Tibetan King Tashi Rabten ran up and taking hold of the lama's stirrup, cried out loudly:

May your lotus feet proceed safely, o Lama who are the glory of the Buddha's Teachings! May the whole word fill with the Holders of this teaching!

This re-invigorated the resolve of all; they pressed on and eventually reached an Yangtze River in flood. According to the Rosary of White Lotuses, Sonam Gyatso only had to point at it with his finger and the river became quiet, allowing him to cross. The same occurred at the Yellow River crossing.  At the Khan's ordu:

Altan Khan himself arrived, dressed in white clothes, which meant he had whitened the boundless realms of darkness. He was accompanied by the retinue of about 10,000 men, his wife and many attendants.

The Mongols expected religious figures to perform feats and Sonam Gyatso could not disappoint. Asked by the Altan Khan to demonstrate his power:

He reached his arm into an enormous boulder lying near the Khan and from it extracted a huge conch shell, the matrix of which circled in reverse. He placed the conch to his lips and blew a sharp note, whereupon the earth shook.

Sonam Gyatso then delivered his first discourse to the Mongols. He asked them to give up the practice of human and animal sacrifices ( Ögedei had had forty "moon-faced virgins" scarified in honor of Chingis Khan) and told them to destroy their shamanic idols including Khan Tengri.  Instead of blood sacrifices, he requested that Mongols offer up part of the deceased's possessions to temples and monasteries. He also implored the Mongols not to conduct bloody raids on their neighbors but instead try to live in peaceful coexistence with their neighbors. Finally, he taught them the sutra on Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, the One who sees in all directions, and the accompanying mantra: Aum Manipadme Hum.

The Mongols were bowled over. Altan bestowed upon Sonam Gyatso the title of "Dalai Lama". Dalai is a Mongolian for "vast" or "oceanic"; it is also a direct Mongolian translation of the Tibetan word Gyatso. In return, Sonam Gyatso recognized Altan Khan as a reincarnation of Kublai Khan and therefore the legitimate wearer of the mantle of the Yüan Dynasty of China.

We are standing outside the Gandantegchinlen Monastery (Mongolian: Гандантэгчинлэн хийд, Gandantegchinlen Khiid) in Ulaanbaatar. This Tibetan-origin name translates to the 'Great Island of Perfect Rejoicing'. It houses a colossal statue of Migjid Janraisig, aka Avalokitesvara.

In the 1930s, the Communist government under Khorloogiin Choibalsan (and Joseph Stalin), destroyed all but a few monasteries in Mongolia and killed more than 15,000 lamas. 'Zaya's great grandfather was one of them.

Gandantegchinlen Khiid escaped this destruction, was closed in 1938, and then reopened in 1944 to continue as the only functioning token Buddhist monastery, under a skeleton staff, as homage to a postcard-representation of Mongolian culture under communism. The statue of Avalokitesvara was, it is said, melted down to make bullets for Soviet troops WWII.  Only with the end of communism in Mongolia in 1990 were restrictions on worship were lifted; 'Zaya recalls people crying in streets that day. The 26-m-high statue was rebuilt in 1996 funded by donations by ordinary Mongolian people. 'Zaya's family gave all the copper they possessed - pots, pans, old coins.

People are solemnly tying scarves to the pole in the compound, praying. Aum Manipadme Hum. As I step out of the sanctum, I stumble against the doorstep. 'Zaya comes running - No! No! That's bad luck. Go back in and come out again, step carefully over the threshold without touching it with your feet.

Sunday, December 15

Araniko and Kublai

In 1224, Kublai, the 9-year-old younger son of Tolui and Sorgaqtani Beki, took part in his first hunt with his older brother Möngke on the steppes by the Ili river. The boys managed to bring down a rabbit and an antelope; their grandfather Chingis Khan, just back from annihilating Samarqand and Bukhara, was pleased; he smeared fat from the carcasses onto Kublai's middle finger in accordance with tradition.

Under Ögedei Khan  the Mongols established control over the Jin lands of Northern China in 1234. In 1236, Ögedei gave Hebei Province, attached with 80,000 households, to the family of Tolui, who had died in 1232. Kublai received an estate of his own, comprising 10,000 of these households. From childhood, Kublai had received strong Chinese influence - his wet nurse, who Kublai honored highly, was a Buddhist Tangut woman. Kublai's early life was spent in studying contemporary Chinese culture; he invited Haiyun, the leading Buddhist monk in North China, to his ordu in Mongolia, and when they met in 1242, asked him questions about Buddhism. Haiyun named Kublai's son, who was born in 1243, Zhenjin ('True Gold.') Haiyun also introduced Kublai to the former Daoist, and now Buddhist, monk Liu Bingzhong. Liu was a painter, calligrapher, poet and mathematician, and became Kublai's advisor when Haiyun returned to his temple in modern Beijing.

In 1251, Kublai's older brother Möngke became the great Khan of the Mongol Empire, and Kublai received viceroyalty over Northern China. He moved his ordu to Inner Mongolia. During his years as viceroy, Kublai managed his territory well, boosted the agricultural output of Henan and increased social welfare spendings after receiving Xi'an as appanage. These acts received acclaim from the local warlords and were essential to the building of his own power-base in China.

Attracted by the abilities of Tibetan monks as healers, in 1253 he made Drogön Chögyal Phagpa, of the Sakya order, a member of his entourage. Phagpa bestowed on Kublai and his wife, Chabi (Chabui), a Tantric Buddhist initiation. Kublai appointed the Uighur master Lian Xixian (1231–1280) as head of his pacification commission in 1254 to bring the Uighur and Tibetan peoples into alliance with the Mongols and the peoples of Northern China. Some officials jealous of Kublai's success said that he was getting above himself, and surely dreaming of having his own empire by competing with Karakorum. The Great Khan Möngke sent two tax inspectors, Alamdar (Ariq Böke's close friend and governor in North China) and Liu Taiping, to audit Kublai's officials in 1257. They found fault, listed 142 breaches of regulations, accused Chinese officials and executed some of them; Kublai's pacification commission was disbanded by the Great Khan. Kublai responded by sending a two-man embassy with his wives and then appealed in person to Möngke, who publicly forgave his younger brother and reconciled with him.

In 1258, Möngke put Kublai in command of the Eastern Army and summoned him to assist with an attack on Sichuan. Suffering from gout, Kublai was allowed to stay home, but he moved to assist Möngke anyway. Before Kublai arrived in 1259, word reached him that Möngke had died.

Kublai marched north to the Mongolian steppe. Before he reached Mongolia, he learned that Ariq Böke had held a kurultai at  Karakorum, which had named him Great Khan with the support of most of Genghis Khan's descendants. Kublai and the fourth brother, the Il-Khan Hülegü, opposed this development. Kublai's Chinese staff encouraged Kublai to ascend the throne in Xanadu (or Chinese Shangdu, Mongolian: Šandu, the capital of Kublai's viceroyalty in China, before he decided to move the seat of his dynasty to the Jin Dynasty capital of Zhōngdū (Chinese: 中都), which he renamed Dàdū, present-day Beijing.) Almost all of the senior princes in North China and Manchuria supported his candidacy, so upon returning to his own territories, Kublai summoned his own kurultai. Few members of the Mongol royal family supported Kublai's claims to the title, though the small number of attendees included representatives of all the Borjigin lines except that of Jöchi. This second kurultai proclaimed Kublai as Great Khan on April 15, 1260, despite Ariq Böke's earlier claim.

[Mughal miniature by Qesu Qalan - Kublai's Ascension.]

Civil war between the brothers ensued;  Kublai cut off supplies of food to Karakorum with the support of his cousin Kadan, son of Ögedei Khan. Karakorum quickly fell to Kublai's larger army. In the twelfth month of 1260, he appointed  Drogön Chögyal Phagpa, the fifth patriarch of Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism, as his Imperial preceptor, and granted him a jade seal and the position of leader of Buddhism. By doing so, Kublai officially acknowledged Phagpa as his highest religious authority and was obligated to patronize the Sakya teaching. As an extra precaution to ensure the accumulation of merit, Kublai asked Phagpa to build a golden stupa for Suer chi wa (Tibetan: "Chos rje pa" or "the Lord of Dharma"), i.e. Sakya Pandita Kun dga' rgyal mtshan (1182–1251), the fourth patriarch of the sect; the building of the stupa was not only a tribute to the Sakya Pandita, but intended also as a project to win religious blessing in a critical year - Kublai expected the Sakya sect to provide religious sanction in his struggles against his brother.

Ariq Böke represented a traditionalist faction who believed that the Mongol Empire should remain centered in Mongolia; that the hordes should pillage neighboring lands and return to the steppe to resume their traditional nomadic ways. As far back as the reign of Ögedei, the more extreme exponents of the traditionalist view had favored the extermination of north China's peasants and the reversion of their fields into pasture for Mongol horses. Hülegü and Kublai, who had respectively embraced the high cultures of Persia and China, entertained the different view that the civilized life of the cities was ultimately preferable to the rustic ways of Chingis Khan and his clan, and that if the Mongol Empire truly aspired to longevity it must ultimately be ruled from the basis of superior knowledge rather than only superior force. As for those millions of peasants who the traditionalist faction had wanted to liquidate, the urbanists held they could be made to pay taxes, expropriation of which would result in lasting wealth for the Persianized or Sinicized Mongols.

Anyway, to build the golden stupa on behalf of Kublai, Phagpa drafted artisans from Nepal, who were closer to the source of Buddhist traditions. He intended to recruit one hundred artists, but Jaya Bhimdev Malla, the king of Nepal, was able to hand over only eighty. These artists bound for Tibet were ordered to choose a leader from among themselves. Perhaps due to the uncertainty of their future, nobody was courageous enough to take up the responsibility, except for a confident boy, the 17-year-old Arniko (Nepali: अरनिको.) When the king tried to discourage the lad because of his youth, he replied, "My body is indeed young, but my mind is not." Jaya Bhimdev Malla then made him the team leader of the eighty artisans, and the group traveled under him to Lhasa.

[Araniko statue, at the White Stupa temple in Beijing.]

Nepalese history does not have any contemporary record of Arniko and everything that is known of him comes from Chinese accounts. Modern Nepali scholars opine that Arniko could possibly be from Patan, a place famous for sculpture and fine arts. As such, he would have been from the Newa people and a Buddhist. It is known that Arniko lived in Kathmandu Valley during 1260. In the Chinese records the name of his grandfather is given as Mi-ti-rha (Mitra in Sanskrit) and grandmother as Kun-di-la-qi-mei (Kundalakshmi.) His father's name is given as La-ke-na (Laxman) while his mother's name was Shu-ma-ke-tai (Sumukti.) An anecdote from his epitaph in Beijing relates that when he was three years old, his parents in took the child to a temple to pay homage to the Buddha. Looking up at a stupa, he asked "who made its wooden stambha, its bhumis, its anda?"

In Tibet, Arniko impressed Phagpa at their first meeting in 1261. Phagpa immediately recognized his exceptional artistic skill and administrative ability, and entrusted him to supervise the construction. The stupa was built within the Main Hall of the Sakya Monastery. Arniko spent two years on this project; upon its completion, Phagpa was unwilling to let him leave when he asked for permission to return to Nepal.

In 1262, the Chagataid Khan Alghu, who had been appointed by Ariq Böke, switched his allegiance to Kublai and defeated a punitive expedition sent by Ariq Böke. The Il-Khan Hülegü also sided with Kublai and criticized Ariq Böke. Outnumbered, Ariq Böke surrendered to Kublai at Xanadu on August 21, 1264. The rulers of the western khanates now acknowledged Kublai's victory and rule in Mongolia, and the Yuan dynasty began to establish itself in China.

Arniko arrived in Xanadu by the end of 1262. The following account of the meeting between Arniko and Kublai Khan is recorded:

After he arrived, the Emperor looked at him at length before asking, "Are you afraid to come to the big country?" He answered, "The sage regards people in all directions as his sons. When a son comes to his father, what is there to fear?" "Why do you come?" He replied, "My family has been living in the west for generations. I took the imperial edict to build the stupa in Tibet for two years. I saw constant wars there, and wish Your Majesty could pacify there. I come for sentient beings." "What do you practice?" He said, "I take my mind as my teacher and know roughly painting, casting, and carving."

During his lifetime, Arniko completed three stupas, nine great Buddhist temples, two Confucian shrines, one Daoist temple, and countless images and objects used in and out of the Yuan court. It can be said that the art of Yuan China was single-handedly fashioned by this Nepali boy. Arniko executed a number of portraits of the imperial family; the portraits of Kublai Khan (at the top of this posting) and his wife Chabi (below), 'evacuated' to the National Palace Museum in Taipei, are believed to be his works.

Arniko re-married and settled in China. He was made the Duke of Liang. Apart from his Nepali wife, he had two Mongolian wives and seven Chinese wives. Together they had six sons and eight daughters. He lived in China until his death in March 1306 at the age of sixty two. Of his death it is recorded:

On the eighth of March of 1306, he looked at the people around himself and said, "If I am going, you should set up curtains in the hall and a couch, so that I can pass away in peaceful sleep." The next day, he took a bath and went to court. After returning, he appeared ill. Palace envoys and doctors visited, but he passed away in sleep on the eleventh. The emperor grieved over his death after hearing the news and halted the court session. He ordered palace officials to take care of the family, and reward the family twenty-five thousand taels of silver. The Emperor ordered the authorities concerned to make arrangements for the funeral. That night a star fell into the courtyard. The next day saw icicles on the trees. Seven days after, on the seventeenth of March, his remains were cremated according to Nepali custom. On the fifteenth of July, his ashes were buried in the stupa at Gangziyuan, Xiangshan, Wanping County.

From the stele to Arniko, Duke of Liang's memory in Beijing:

Having joined the Sangha,
He traveled to the East.
Enlightening was the teaching,
Like the shining sun.
His words to the Emperor
Were modest and excellent ...
To his superb skill
All lands pay tribute.
For every thing it is appropriate
To begin and continue,
So that it can last for thousands of years.
The artists in the past
Were by no means stupid.
But some had no chance,
Others were not appreciated.
Only the Duke of Liang
Twisted gold and cut jade.
The splendid temples he built,
Are towering and majestic.
Who says he was a guest?
He wore royal robes.
Returned to the laity,
He achieved fame and fortune.
His birth was glorious,
His death was grievous.
He began with care,
He ended with grace.
His sons continue his offices,
Good news never ends.

Today, the Araniko Highway connects Kathmandu with Kodari on the Nepal-Tibet border. Thence, at the Sino-Nepal Friendship Bridge, it connects with the Tibetan National Highway 318 to Lhasa, and eventually goes to Beijing and Shanghai.

Below - a Tibetan Tsam dance by the Tumen Ekh ensemble in Ulaanbaatar.

Sunday, October 20

Hui Doloon Hudag

It is the 2222nd anniversary of the establishment of the Hunnu empire, and the annual Naadam games make much of the numerological occasion. Naadam is Mongolian word for "games"; these games represent the joy of the harvest, and are the traditional annual event of the prairie. The origin of this holiday is old, dating back at least to the times of Chingis Khan; though the selection of the July 11-13 window in which it is held is more recent - on these days in 1921 Mongolian pro-communist forces liberated the then Khuree or Urga (present day Ulaanbaatar) from occupying White Russians.

Traditionally, the games consist of wrestling, archery, and horse racing. Unlike racing in Kentucky, Hong Kong or Dubai, which consists of short sprints of maximum 2 miles, the Mongolian horse-race is a cross-country event, with races 10–30 miles long. The length of each race is determined by the age of the horses; two-year-old horses race for ten miles,  seven-year-old ones for seventeen miles. The jockeys consist of boys 5 to 13; many are maimed, crippled or killed from falls during racing. The most popular event amongst Mongolians is the four-year-old stallions race, which runs for fifteen miles - it starts at the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar and ends on the steppe in a place called Hui Doloon Hudag, which is, overnight, transformed into a city of yurts and SUVs at the finish line.

About a thousand horses are to participate and the owner of the horse that wins the four-year-olds race, we learn later, gets as grand prize a flat in Ulaanbaatar, ten different cars or SUVs as gifts from corporate houses, and countless other items of treasure from admirers. The top three horses are given gold, silver, and bronze medals, and the winning child-jockey is invested with the title of Tumany Ekh ("Leader of Ten Thousand.") The horse that finishes last in the Daaga, the two-year-old horses race,  is called the Bayan Khodood ("Full Tummy".) A song is sung to Bayan Khodood, wishing him luck to be the next year's winner.

Doloon in Mongolian means seven, and a hudag is a well; this spot on the steppe is near seven wells. [Interestingly, the Doloon Garig (долоон гариг) or Seven Luminaries (Planets) of Mongolian astronomical use have Indian names: Mercury is Буд or Bud (Budh), Venus is Сугар or Sugar (Sukr), Mars Ангараг or Angarag (Angarah), Jupiter Бархасбад or Barkhasbad (Brhaspat), Saturn Санчир or Sanchir (Sanischar). Uranus and Neptune, not known in antiquity, have more recent names: respectively Тэнгэрийн ван or Tengerin Ong (Prince of Heaven), and Далайн ван or Dalain Ong (Prince of Oceans.)]

We rise early to get to Hui Doloon Hudag. Soon, barely out of city center,  traffic comes to a standstill. About 200,000 cars are inching their way out, and it takes us two hours to cover 5 kms. In the middle, several police spotter cars with flashing lights race down the reverse-lanes escorting 20 identical Toyota Land-Cruisers laden with VIPs but still doing 100 kmph; in their wake, also escorted by militia, come a slower convoy of ambulances, press, a humvee carrying bottled water. Day-before-yesterday the Khan, yesterday the Commissar, today the Parliamentarian or Minister; some things never change.

At the first opportunity, our enterprising driver crawls down the side of the road into a ditch, manages to ford it to the steppe on the other side, and, disregarding the standstill traffic on the highway, we set off madly across the fields to try to catch the end of the race. The first 5 kms took two hours, the last 50 to Hui 7 Hudag take but thirty bone-rattling minutes. Once within sight of the yurt city where the finish line is, we hear a great sigh go up from the assembled crowd; "they see the horses! they see the horses!" screams 'Zaya. We jump off our transport and sprint pell-mell over the steppes, arriving breathless over the hills. It is a false alarm; it takes the four-year-olds another good hour to show up, during which I sprawl down on the hillside, dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings.

Friday, October 18

Razing Alamout

The Assassins are chiefly remembered today for their use of political murders for psychological effect. As a heretical offshoot (the Nizaris) of an unorthodox sect (the Ismailis), their agenda was primarily survival; and from their eagle's nest, the Alamout, they launched spectacular suicide attacks against personages who represented state-power used against them.  Hasan al-Sabbah, their founder and the Old Man of the fables' Mountain, sent young men supposedly drugged with hashish and filled with promises of paradise, against targets big and small; even the great Saladin lived in mortal fear of an Assassin (the Syrian Assassins were in loose alliance with the Frankish crusaders against Saladin for a while.)  The Assassins would carefully study the culture and self-images of their targets;  an operative would then be dispatched to infiltrate the inner circle of the intended victim, sometimes serving for years as a servant or familiar; at an opportune moment, the Assassin would stab his victim. 

Persians had long felt mistreated by their Arabic Sunni conquerors, and the Arab-Persian divide quickly manifested itself in the form of the Sunni-Shi'a split. Muhammad's descendants through Fatima who settled in Egypt formed another faction, the Ismaili Shi'a, who eventually gave rise to another fragment called the Nizaris. The Fatimid Caliph of Cairo Mustansirbillah had declared his son Nizar as heir and Imam. A coup by an army officer deposed this 'infalliable' Imam and exceuted him. The Cairo Ismailis came around to accepting the replacement; the  Persian Ismailis under Hasan al-Sabah did not, remaining loyal to the line of Nizar. They came to be known in the West as the Assassin cult. The terms hashishiyya or hashishin (from the Arabic: حشاشين‎ or hashshāshīn), as coined by Muslim sources, are used metaphorically in an abusive sense ("irreligious outcasts", "low-class rabble", etc.) Any literal interpretation of these terms in referring to the Nizaris as hashish-intoxicated fidayeen suicide-squads is rooted in the fantasies of medieval Westerners and their ignorance of Islam.

In the 10th and 11th centuries,  newly-converted Turks, the Sunni Seljuks, took control of Persia. The Nizari Shi'a could not defeat Turks or Arabs; but from a series of mountaintop fortresses in Persia and Syria, however, they could wage asymmetric war and assassinate key Seljuk, Kurdish, Frankish or Arab leaders, or indeed anyone who tried to extend political control into Nizari areas. Nizam al-Mulk, the vizier to the Seljuk court (and Hassan Sabah's classmate with Omar Khayyam, see here), was killed in October of 1092 by an Assassin disguised as a Sufi mystic. (Rumi's master Sham-e-Tabrizi is said to have been a descendant of a Nizari lord of Alamout.) The Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad  Mustarshid fell to Assassin daggers in 1131.  In 1192, Conrad of Montferrat was murdered by men disguised as monks; henceforward the Crusaders, already demoralized by the loss of Jerusalem to the Khwarezmiyya, became fearful of a stab in the dark by their turncoat former allies, who were said to be masters of disguise and devils in cunning. In 1213, the Sherif of Mecca was targeted, but his lookalike cousin ended up getting killed in a case of mistaken identity.  Hasan's successors, however, overreached in sending a covert mission against Möngke Khan.

By 1237, the Mongols had conquered much of Persia, except for the strongholds of the Assassins. Since the fall of Khwarezm, the Mongols were focusing on Eastern Europe and Khorasan, and ruled lightly in western Iran. However, Genghis Khan's grandson Möngke grew determined to extract tribute from Baghdad. Fearful of this renewed interest in his region, the Assassin leader Muhammad III sent a team to kill the khagan. The suicide-squad arrived to pretend to offer submission to the Möngke, planning to stab him as soon as an opportunity presented itself. Mongke's guards suspected something was amiss from the chain-mail the emissaries wore under their robes, and turned the Assassins away; but the damage had been done. Möngke was alarmed, and determined to end the threat of these sinister cultists who had extended their menace even to his court in Mongolia, once and for all. As a detour from the sack of Baghdad, he directed Hülegü to contain the Assassin threat.

Muhammad's eldest son and successor, Khur Shah, had had a falling out with his father. Muhammad used to torment the boy, keeping him shut up in the womens' quarters of Alamout (from which the boy would escape to drink wine.) Khur Shah conspired with Nizami nobles to foment a coup. One day Muhammad went out to the sheep folds in the valley with his favorite catamite, Hasan-i-Mazanderani. This handsome youth had fled from the Mongols to Alamout, and Muhammad had developed a passion for him, giving Hasan-i-Mazanderani his own mistress for wife but continuing to openly sleep with both. Muhammad never returned from his night out in the valley; his decapitated body was found in the morning. Juvaini suggests it was Hasan (on Khur Shah's instigation) killed Muhammad. Soon afterwards, Khur Shah's men decapitated Hasan.

Hülegü Khan reached Nizari territory in Qohistan in 1256. By autumn, the Mongols were in the valley below the castle of Maymun Diz where Khur Shah was holed up. Khur Shah first sent his brother Shahenshah to offer submission. Hülegü asked Khur shah to dismantle Alamout and come himself in submission. While the Nizaris prevaricated, Hülegü bombarded Maymun Diz with mangonels and naphtha; the next day Khur Shah came down in surrender. With their leader captive, after a few days the garrison at Alamout surrendered; Juvaini was with the Mongols as they moved in to destroy the stronghold, and managed to save a portion of Hasan Sabbah's famous library, including astrolabes and Qurans. The Nizari texts he burnt; a blot on all his erudition to this day. Juvaini writes that within the rock bastions of Alamout were hollow tanks to store all sorts of provender needed to withstand long sieges; a Mongol waded into such a pool of honey and so deep was it that he nearly drowned.

After the fall of Alamout, Khur Shah's utility to the Mongols was low. He is said to have fallen in love with a Mongol girl and allowed to marry her. When he professed a love for witnessing camel-fights, he was given a hundred particularly vicious male camels to be able to enjoy the spectacle. In time he asked to be sent to the court of the khagan; Möngke denied his request for audience, receiving his formal surrender by proxy; and then ordered him killed on his journey back, saying that Khur Shah was not worth providing with the relay-horses his journey back to Alamout would take.

After the fall of Alamout, Nizari clans continued to live secretly in Azerbaijan. In the 14th century, they sent missionaries to India, where newly converted Ismailis came to be known as Khoja Mussulmans (from the Arabic khwaja, or lord.) Ismailism had been adapted for India; for the Khojas, all prophets and Imams are the same, and they retain many Hindu traditions, including a variation of the Vaishnavite belief in the Dashavatara. Khojas believe Ali was Kalki, the last avatar of Vishnu.

In the 19th century, the Ismaili imam Hasan Ali received the honorific of Aga Khan from the Shah, but had to flee to India after a subsequent falling out. After some bitter power struggles, the British adjudicated the Aga Khan's claim to the Imamate and Sir Joseph Arnold of Bombay High Court ruled that the Khojas were undoubtedly the descendants of the Assassins and that the Aga Khan was the descendant of the Lord of Alamout; so he is regarded by the Khojas to this day.

For more information on the Assassins, see Anthony Campbell's essay (and account of his 1966 trek to the ruins of Alamout) here. Below, an Iranian Press-TV documentary on Alamout.

Monday, October 7

The Sack of Baghdad

Between January 29 and February 20, 1258,  Ilkhanate Mongol forces and allied troops under the command of Hülegü Khan, brother of the khagan Möngke Khan, captured and sacked Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate.

According to The Secret History of the Mongols, Chingis Khan and his successor, Ögedei Khan, ordered their general Chormaqan to attack Baghdad. In 1236, Chormaqan led a division of the Mongol army to Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Further raids on the caliphate became annual occurrences, and some raids reached Baghdad itself. They were sometimes repelled, with Abbasid forces defeating the invaders in 1238 and 1245, and sometimes bought off -  by 1241 the Caliph had adopted the practice of sending annual tribute to the court of the khagan. Envoys from the Caliphate were present at the coronation of Güyük Khan as khagan in 1246. Güyük insisted that the Caliph Al-Musta'sim fully submit to Mongol rule and come personally to Karakorum. The Caliph's refusal, and subsequent resistance offered by the Abbasids to increased attempts by the Mongols to extend their power, were the main reasons for the sack.

Möngke had instructed Hülegü to attack Baghdad if the Caliph Al-Musta'sim refused Mongol demands for his continued submission to the khagan and the payment of tribute in the form of military support for Mongol forces in Iran. The Mongol intent had been to further extend their rule into Mesopotamia, but not to directly overthrow the Caliphate - rather, turn the institution of the Caliphate into their local satrapy; this was not to be.

In preparation for his invasion, the Mongols raised a large expeditionary force, conscripting two out of every ten military-age males in the entirety of the Mongol Empire, assembling what may have been the most numerous Mongol army to have existed: by one estimate, 150,000 strong. Generals of the army included the Oirat administrator Arghun Agha, Baiju, Buqa-Temur, Guo Kan, and Ketbuqa, as well as Hülegü's brother Sunitai, and various assorted warlords. Juvayni writes the force was supplemented by Christian forces, including the King of Armenia and his army;  a Frankish contingent from the Principality of Antioch; a Georgian force, seeking revenge on the Muslim Abbasids for the sacking of their capital, Tiflis, decades earlier, by the Khwarezm-shahs; 1,000 Chinese artillery experts; as well as Persian and Turkic auxiliaries. Writes Rashīd al-Dīn:

An emissary was sent to the Caliph bearing threats and promises, saying ... 

"Previously we have given you advice, but now we say you should avoid our wrath and vengeance. Do not try to overreach yourself or accomplish the impossible, for you will only succeed in harming yourself. The past is over. Destroy your ramparts, fill in your moats, turn the kingdom over to your son, and come to us. If you do not wish to come, send all three, the Vizier, Sulaymanshah, and the Dawatdar, that they may convey our message word for word. If our command is obeyed, it will not be necessary for us to wreak vengeance, and you may retain your lands, army, and subjects. If you do not heed our advice and dispute with us, line up your soldiers and get ready for the field of battle, for we have our loins girded for battle with you and are standing at the ready. When I lead my troops in wrath against Baghdad, even if you hide in the sky or in the earth,

I will bring you down from the turning celestial sphere
I shall pull you up like a lion
I shall not leave one person alive in your realm
And I shall put your city and country to the torch.

If you desire to have mercy on your ancient family's heads, heed my advice. If you do not, let us see what God's will is."

When the emissaries arrived in Baghdad and delivered this message, the Caliph send back Sarafuddin ibn al-Jawzi, an eloquent man, and Badruddin Muhammad Dizbaki Nakhjiwani in the company of the emissaries. In reply the Caliph said:

"Young man! you have just come of age and have expectations of living forever. You have seen your ten-days pass prosperously and auspiciously in dominating the whole world. You think your command is absolute. Since you are not going to get anything from me, why do you seek? You come with strategy, troops and lasso, but how are you going to capture a star? Does the prince not know that from the East to the West, from King to Beggar, from Old to Young, all who are God-fearing and God-worshipping are servants of this court and soldiers in my army? When I motion for all those who are dispersed to come together, I will deal first with Iran and then turn my attention to Turan, and I will put everyone in his proper place. Of course, the face of the Earth will be full of tumult, but I do not seek vengeance or to harm anyone. I do not desire that the tongues of my subjects should either congratulate or curse me because of the movement of armies, especially since I am one of heart and one tongue with the Qa'an and Hülegü. If, like me, you were to sow seeds of friendship, do you think you would have to deal with my moats and ramparts and those of my servants? Adopt the path of friendship and go back to Khurasan. If you are intent on war and battle,

Tarry not, hasten away, and abide not. If
you have a moment's thought of war,
I have thousands and thousands of cavalry
and infantry worthy of the battlefield
and when they wreak vengeance 
they can stir up dust from the water of the sea."

Giving them a message like this, he sent the emissaries off with a few gifts and presents.

Envoys went to the city, and the next day the vizier, the divan chief, and a group of well-known citizens came out, but they were sent back. Fierce battle was fought for six days and nights. Hülegü Khan ordered six decrees written, saying, "The lives of qadis, scholars, sheikhs, Alids and Nestorean priests, and persons who do not combat us are safe from us." The proclamations were fastened to arrows and shot into the city from six sides. Since there was no stone in the Baghdad vicinity, they brought rocks from Jalula and Jebel Khamrin, and date palms were cut down and hurled instead of stones. 

On Friday the 25th of Muharram the Ajami tower was destroyed. On Monday the 27th the Mongol soldiers proceeded overwhelmingly against the ramparts opposite the Ajami tower in the direction the padishah was. They emptied the tops of the walls of people, but they still had not gone on the wall in the direction of the Souq Sultan, where Balagha and Tutar [kinsmen of Berke Khan from the Golden Horde] were. Hülegü Khan chastised them. Their liege men went up, and by evening they had secured the whole of the tops of the eastern walls. 

When bridges were being made, Hülegü had ordered bridges to be built above and below Baghdad, boats made ready, catapults installed, and guards stationed. Buqa Temur and a tuman of soldiers were patrolling the routes to Madayin and Basra to prevent anyone from escaping by boat.

When the battle of Baghdad became intense, and the people were being pressed, the Dawatdar got in a boat to escape down river. When he passed the village of al-Uqab, Buqa Temur let loose a barrage of catapult stones, arrows and vials of naphtha. Three boats were taken, and the people were killed. The Dawatdar turned back in rout. 

When the Caliph was apprised of the situation he despaired totally of his rule of Baghdad. Seeing no escape route, he said, "I will surrender." He sent Fakhruddin Damghani and ibn Durnus out with a few gifts, thinking that if he sent too much it would indicate how afraid he was and the foe would be further emboldened. Hülegü Khan paid no attention to the embassy, and they returned in failure. 

(Marco Polo reports that upon finding the Caliph's great stores of treasure, which could have been spent on the defense of his realm, Hülegü Khan locked him in his treasure room without food or water, telling him "eat of thy treasure as much as thou wilt, since thou art so fond of it." A medieval depiction of this incident is shown above, from the Le Livre des Merveilles of the 15th century.)

On Friday the 9th of Safar, Hülegü Khan went into the city to see the Caliph's palace. He settled into the Octagon Palace and gave a banquet for the commanders. Summoning the Caliph, he said, "You are the host, and we are the guests. Bring whatever you have that is suitable for us." The Caliph, thinking he was speaking seriously, trembled in fear. He was so frenzied that he couldn't tell the keys to the treasuries one from another and had to have several locks broken. He brought two thousand suits of clothing, ten thousand dinars, precious items, jewel-encrusted vessels, and several gems. Hülegü Khan paid no attention to these and gave it all away to the commanders present.

"The possessions you have on the face of the earth are apparent," he said to the Caliph. "Tell my servants what and where your buried treasures are." The Caliph there was a pool full of gold in the middle of the palace. They dug it up, and it was full of gold, all in hundred-mithcal ingots.

An order was given for the Caliph's harem to be counted. There were seven hundred women and concubines and a thousand servants. When the Caliph was apprised of the count of the harem, he begged and pleaded, saying, "Let me have the women of the harem, upon whom neither sun nor the moon has ever shone."

"Of these seven hundred, choose a hundred", he was told, "and leave the rest." The Caliph then selected a hundred women from amongst his favorites and close relatives, and took them away.

That night Hülegü Khan went to the ordu. The next morning, he ordered Su'unchuq to go into the city, confiscate the Caliph's possessions, and send them out. The items that had been accumulated over six hundred years were all stacked in mountainous piles around the kiriyas. Most of the holy places like the Caliph's mosque, the Musa-Jawad shrine, and the tombs in Rusafa were burned.

The last Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta'sim Abu-Ahmad Abdullah bin al-Mustansir-Billah (Arabic: المستعصم بالله أبو أحمد عبد الله بن المستنصر بالله‎) was killed by Hülegü Khan soon afterwards. The Mongols did not want to shed royal blood, so they wrapped him screaming into a rug and trampled him to a pulp with their horses. Most of his sons were massacred; one surviving son was sent as a prisoner to Mongolia, where Mongolian historians report he married and fathered children, but played no role in Islam thereafter.

'Abdallah ibn Faḍlallah Sharaf al-Din Shīrāzī  'Wassaf' (flourished 1299-1323) was a court panegyrist of the Ilkhanate and tax administrator in Fars during the reigns of Ghazan Mahmud and Oljaitü. His history the Tajziyat al-amṣār wa-tazjiyat al-a'ṣār -  the Allocation of Cities and the Propulsion of Epochs - was conceived as a continuation of Juvaini. Wassaf estimates that the loss of life in the days after the sack ran into several hundred thousand. Writes Wassaf:

"They swept through the city like hungry falcons attacking a flight of doves, or like raging wolves attacking sheep, with loose reins and shameless faces, murdering and spreading terror...beds and cushions made of gold and encrusted with jewels were cut to pieces with knives and torn to shreds. Those hiding behind the veils of the great Harem were dragged...through the streets and alleys, each of them becoming a the population died at the hands of the invaders."

Iraq in 1258 had an extensive agriculture supported by Mesopotamian canal networks thousands of years old. The Mongols filled in the irrigation canals and left Iraq too depopulated to restore them. Baghdad had been the most brilliant intellectual center of the world, from whose destruction Islamic intellectual civilization never recovered. After the sack of Baghdad, Islam turned inward, suspicious of reason and of new interpretations; with the scholars gone the mullahs remained. The Grand Library of Baghdad, containing countless precious historical documents and books on subjects ranging from medicine to astronomy, was utterly destroyed. Survivors said that the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into the river and red from the blood of the scientists and philosophers killed.