Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mongol Conquest of India

*Just in time for Christmas, here is Part 3 of my "Mongol Conquest of..." series, where the red and green of the holidays symbolize the countless blood and guts spilt by Genghis Khan and friends during their many invasions. Check out my previous chapters on China and Central Asia, just to get your blood flowing (hopefully while it's still inside your body).*

Fig.1: The Mongols thought this map needed just a little more tan in the south...
When it comes to the Mongols, they were usually able to show up, take what they want, and kill whomever gets in their way before you could say "Ulaanbaatar." A notable exception to this strategy were the lands to the east of the Indus River in present-day India and Pakistan. There, the Mongols took their sweet time making their presence felt, preferring to savor the spices instead of wolfing it all down at once. Part of this might have been because they had a difficult time getting their normally-overpowering army deep into enemy territory, something that even Alexander the Great struggled with in the same exact area about 1,500 years prior (but don't tell the Mongols that, or else they might get mad and shove a sword deep into your kidneys' territory). It took several generations, but the Mongols finally did take control of India, and actually ruled it the longest out of all of their other possessions. Sounds like someone just wanted to play hard-to-get!

Fig.2: MC Genghis always just beat you flat, and on your
grave he spat, cause you're nothing but a rat, and your
mother's so fat. What you think about that?
Our story begins where the meat of ours in Central Asia left off: the Mongols destroyed the Persianate Khwarazmian Empire in the 1220s, with the last surviving prince, Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, running for his life like a man who agreed that his wife did look fat in that dress. While he did score an upset victory against the Mongols at the Battle of Parwan in 1221, he didn't let up until he reached the Indus River. It was Genghis himself that caught up to him, and like Genghis typically did, he laid the beat down (fig.2) on Jalal ad-Din's army, chopping off heads until many began to fled and even more were dead. Jalal ad-Din was one of the few who escaped, and petitioned the nearby rulers for asylum. At this time, India was governed by the Delhi Sultanate, a Turkic dynasty who conquered the land earlier in the century; while they themselves practiced Islam, they were nice enough to allow the Hindu majority to keep their old faith as long as they paid extra taxes (a silver coin for each extra arm Vishnu had). Despite their common Turkic roots and their partnership in the AV Club back in high school, the Delhi sultan refused Jalal ad-Din's request, and the prince fled west where he'll probably end up in another one of my "Mongol Conquest of..." histories (I just can't get rid of that guy!).

Genghis, however, stuck around on the other side of the Indus, sacking a few cities for good fun. For reasons unknown, he soon moved out of the area (hypotheses include not having enough men, preferring to focus on other lands, and hating how curry went straight through him), leaving India's possible conquest to his offspring after his death in 1227. Really all you see for the next couple of decades are half-hearted invasions that demonstrated the Mongols "just weren't feeling it" when it came to this region. A force took over Kashmir (located in present-day...actually I'll leave you to figure that one out) around 1235, setting up a government there just so that they can get nice, soft sweaters for free. Genghis's favorite son and successor, Ögedei, ordered his generals to cross the Indus and besiege the city of Lahore in 1241. It looked like this was going to be the invasion we were all waiting for, but word reached them that Ögedei died, and the Mongol troops rushed back to partake in the traditional succession dispute extravaganza! The Delhi Sultanate was safe...for now!

An opportunity emerged in 1248, when Jalal al-Din (a different one than the Khwarazmian prince; the name was pretty much the equivalent of "Emily" in its day) asked the new Great Khan, Möngke, for help in seizing the Delhi throne from his brother. The Mongols were considered pros in sticking their Mongoloid noses in other people's business, so Möngke agreed to send one of his best generals, Sali, to cross the Indus once more (they would have made a killing on bridge tolls). They attacked their old stomping grounds (literally) of Lahore, which Jalal al-Din was happy enough to rule in order to escape from that Mongol stench. While Sali was there, he found a few local rulers who openly welcomed the Mongols and proclaimed themselves their vassals, which really makes the Delhi Sultanate look bad that their citizens preferred the rule of people known for making pyramids out of human skulls than themselves. In the end, the Mongols still didn't have a good enough hand to go all in on India (not when they knew the rulers in the Middle East were buffing with pocket 2s), and quickly made peace with the sultan. The excitement would have to wait another day.

Fig.3:"What, you think the Mongols
have better beards than I do? I'll 
show them!"
Those big battles finally came in the 1290s. Duwa, a great-great-great-grandson of Genghis Khan and the great-great-great-ruler of Central Asia, decided he wanted India to join his great-great-great-khanate. The Delhi sultan, Alauddin Khilji (fig.3), sent his best general, Zafar Khan, out to out-khan the khantate (Shatner would have a field day with this). In 1297, something extremely rare occurred: the Mongols were crushed at the Battle of Jalandhar. Zafar Khan's was celebrated throughout India, which worried Alauddin that the people wanted him to be sultan instead (he was the type of person that got moody if his girl talked to someone else at a party). So in 1299, Alauddin forced Zafar Khan to face an invading Mongol force reported to be nearly 200,000 strong without any support. Meraculously Zafar Khan came through once again at the Battle of Kili but was killed in the fighting, allowing Alauddin to have his Mawa cake and eat it too. Alauddin then earned his keep by earning two more huge victories over the Mongols without Zafar Khan at the Battle of Amroha in 1305 and the Battle of Ravi in 1306, which ended in the capture of the Mongol generals and their execution by way of elephant crushing (nearly as cool as defenestration). The Mongol defeats in India were some of the biggest embarrassments by a superpower until Spain's 2014 World Cup performance.

But the wheels would eventually come undone for the Delhi Sultanate. In 1327, Tarmashirin, grandson of Duwa (and thus great-great-great-great-great-grandson of Genghis) took advantage of Alauddin being dead to sack and pillage his way across the Ganges Plain. When he got to Delhi, the sultan paid him a large ransom to leave them alone, which was the 14th century equivalent of "telling the teacher." Later in 1398, the famous Islamic conqueror Timur (or Tamerlane), who wasn't a direct descent of Genghis but pretended to be, invaded because he believed the Sultanate was being too nice to the Hindus. He captured Delhi on December 17, and it was said that the city reeked for days with the smell of decomposing bodies, which sums up the condition of my locker by the end of 7th grade.

Fig.4: Now that's what I call a beard!
(Don't tell Alauddin I said that.)
Despite this, the Sultanate survived all the way until the 1500s, when a guy showed up who happened to have the deadly combination of being a great-great-grandson of Timur on his father's side, and a great x12 grandson of Genghis Khan on his mother's. The story goes that this man, named Babur (fig.4), received an invitation from the sultan's uncle to invade because he could do a better job. Babur promptly RSVPed and marched on over, defeating and killing the sultan at the Battle of Panipat in 1526, considered to be the first fight east of Constantinople to use cannons (and hopefully earplugs). It took several generations and countless family's lives torn apart by the senseless carnage of war (hope you're enjoying your holidays!), but India was finally under Mongol rule. Babur would establish the Mughal Empire ("Mughal" being a Persian corruption of "Mongol"), which would actually dominate the region until an even more sinister group showed up in the 19th century: the British. A fight between these foes at full strength would have been a military historian's happy-dream, but six centuries after Genghis Khan, these old Mongols weren't as considered about pillaging as they were taking their blood pressure pills.

So while the Mongols had some false starts and holding penalties on the drive, they scored a touchdown in Indian territory anyway. The Mughal Empire would become an important chapter in South Asia's history, leaving their imprint on the region's politics, cuisine, and architecture, with the most notable example of the latter being the Taj Mahal (which would have been made of human skulls if Genghis was the one who took India). This shows that patience is a virtue, that slow and steady win the race, and you should never eat soggy waffles (wait, that might be something else). The same can't be said for our next chapter in the Mongol conquests, where Russia didn't benefit from any procrastination. But until then, I hope I brought some much needed gore and violence to your Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Omisoka/Boxing Day/whatever it is you celebrate!

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