The cynosure in most village festivals in Tamilnadu would be entertainment items such as the theru koothu, karakaattam, dancing, singing, drama or a pattimandram (debating platforms), etc. But, what many, even in Tamilnadu, do not know is the fact that this nondescript village enacts 100 dramas every year to please the village deity – “Thaanaai mulaitha Thanilinga Perumal” (தானாய் முளைத்த தனிலிங்கப் பெருமாள்) meaning “self-sprouted Thanilinga Perumal”. So much so, the villagers do not fancy cinema theatres.
Even in this modern scientific era, women barred from entering the Thanilinga Perumal temple, pray to the deity standing outside the temple.
On the stage erected in front of the temple, the villagers allow only performance of dramas. They consider the stage sanctified and none can approach it wearing any kind of footwear.
According to a former village headman, the deity Thanilinga Perumal loves staged dramas; hence his devotees perform dramas 100 days per year to please him.
Devotees entreat the deity to fulfil their request and in return pledge to stage a drama of their liking when the deity answers their prayers.
This tradition of staging dramas in this particular village dates back to the days of Thirumalai Nayakkar who ruled Madurai from 1623 to 1659 when a severe drought brought famine to Valayankulam and other surrounding villages. Since the people believed the deity Thanilinga Perumal loved staged drama, they pledged to perform a drama if he answered their prayer for rain. Miraculously, it rained and the village had a bountiful harvest. As obligated, the villagers staged a drama the following year to thank their village deity. From then on to date, the village has been performing dramas to please their deity.
Around this time, when king Thirumalai Nayakkar visited the Thanilinga Perumal temple, the villagers entertained him by performing a drama from Mahabharata titled “Abhimanyu Sundari” – the story of Abhimanyu, son of Arjuna and Subhadra, and his first wife Sundari. The king relished the play and praised the actors who took part in it, and those actors adopted the phrase ‘Thirumalai mechinaar‘ (திருமலை மெச்சினார்) meaning ‘Praised by Thirumala’ as their family name.
Consequently, the first play performed during the drama festival would always invariably be Abhimanyu Sundari performed exclusively by members of the Thirumalai mechinaar families
Every year the drama festival begins on Maha Sivarathri or ‘Great Night of Shiva’, a Hindu festival celebrated annually in reverence to mark the marriage of Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati – the convergence of Shiva and Shakti. From that day onwards the villagers enact a drama daily for 100 days without any interruption.
The villagers believe that if anyone prays to their deity and pledges to stage a drama, the deity would hearken to their prayers. The villagers of Valayankulam boast that barren couples who pray for issues would come to the temple the following year with their offsprings and offer their thanks by sponsoring a drama.
In the past, when there was no electricity, the villagers lit the stage using flaming torches. Hence even now, to uphold the tradition, the villagers carry flaming torches from the village square to the stage with pomp and ceremony before the day’s play begins. When the torch bearers reach the stage, the pujari or archaka (priest) performs special ceremonies in the temple.
After paying the due respects to the seniors of the village, the play will begin at 10:00 pm and will proceed till 5:00 am the following day. The pujari keeps the door of the sanctum sanctorum open during this time for the deity to view the play.
The drama festivities will culminate on Chithra Fullmoon Day followed by a banquet for people belonging to all castes.
The minimum cost of staging a play by mediocre actors would amount to ₹25,000 and might go up to ₹60,000 to ₹1,00,000 if performed by cinema actors. Almost all Tamil drama actors and artisans connected with the dramatic art have performed or taken part on the stage at Valayankulam before the deity Thanilinga Perumal.
Staging a play at Valayankulam whenever one likes is not easy as anyone might think. Devotees who have pledged to sponsor a play have to pay ₹100 and wait in a long queue for at least a year to stage it on a stipulated date.
Note: I gleaned most of the above details from the article published in dhinasari.com written in Tamil titled, “வருடத்தில் 100 நாட்கள் நாடகம் நடைபெறும் கிராமம்” (“A village where dramas are performed 100 days per year”) by Mr. S.P. Senthilkumar, a reputed Tamil journalist from Madurai, Tamilnadu, India.
A few days ago, during the incessant rain and floods in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India, a little boy wanted 100 rupees to buy food for his family who had not eaten for two days. He prayed to God. When nothing happened and no one officially came to help them, he decided to write a request letter to God.
A puzzled post office staff on seeing the letter addressed to God forwarded it to the Chief Minister.
The amused Chief Minister thought that 100 rupees would be a lot of money for a little boy to buy food. So, she instructed her secretary to send the little boy 30 rupees instead from the Chief Minister’s relief fund.
When the little boy received the money he was delighted. He wrote the following ‘Thank you’ letter to the CM:
“Dear God, I thank you for sending me money through the Chief Minister’s Office Secretariat in Chennai. However, I would like you to know that corrupt asses there must have swindled 70 rupees as their commission! “
Lepakshi is a small village in the Anantapur District in Andhra Pradesh, India. It is about 9 miles (15 km) east of Hindupur and about 75 miles (120 km) north of Bangalore.
This village is historically and archaeologically significant. It has three shrines dedicated to the Hindu gods Shiva, Vishnu and Veerabhadra built during the period of Vijayanagara Kings (1336–1646).
The famous 16th-century Veerabhadra stone temple constructed in Vijayanagar style has about 70 pillars, but only one of these pillars is best known as the Aakaasa Sthambha (Hanging Column). It is a tribute to the engineering genius of the temple builders of medieval India. The pillar does not rest on the ground fully.
A cloth can slide smoothly underneath this Hanging pillar.
During the British era, a British engineer tried to move it to uncover the secret of its support. His attempt was unsuccessful and the pillar got slightly dislodged from its original position.
In the early hours of August 8, 2015, around 6:30 am, a walking group called “Twalkers” saw a mother and her daughter carrying a travelling bag at the Anna University Campus in Chennai,
The Twalkers saw them still standing in the same spot when they came around the second time. They inquired why they were standing there in the early hours.
Thangaponnu, the mother told them that she was a shepherdess from Musiri, a Panchayat town in the Tiruchirapalli district. Her daughter R. Swathi had scored 1017/1200 marks in her Plus Two examinations. After applying for entrance to B.Sc. Agriculture course, her daughter had been asked to come to Anna Arangam, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, to attend the counseling session ahead of the admissions process to B. Sc. Agriculture, scheduled to start at 8:30 am. She showed the letter received by her daughter from the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU).
On scrutinizing that letter, the Twalkers saw the mistake. TNAU had directed Swathi to present herself at The Anna Arangam, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, in Coimbatore, but some people had inadvertently misdirected them to Anna University, Chennai.
When the mother and daughter realized their mistake, they lost hope of reaching Coimbatore in time because the distance between Chennai and Coimbatore by road is 533 km (331 miles) and would take around 8 hours to travel.When the mother and daughter realized the mistake, they lost hope.
Since the counseling was to start at 8.30 a.m. in Coimbatore, the Twalkers decided to help the girl and her mother reach Coimbatore by air flight. The Twalkers decided to share the flight cost of ₹10,500.
Some Twalkers teaching at the Anna University, spoke to TNAU registrar C.R. AnandaKumar, and explained to him the situation and asked for extra time for the girl candidate.
The Twalkers brought breakfast for the girl and her mother.
Once the flight tickets were booked and confirmed, the Twalkers took Swathi and her mother to the Chennai airport to board the 10:05 am Coimbatore flight.
The flight Swathi and her mother were on landed at 11:28 am in Coimbatore. Arrangements were made to pick them at the Coimbatore airport. They reached the TNAU counseling venue by 12:15 pm.
Around 2:00 pm Swathi got admitted to B.Tech. (Biotechnology).
Swathi and her mother are now planning to visit Chennai again soon to meet the Twalkers who had spontaneously helped and thank them. The mother said that they would return the money the Twalkers had spent to buy their flight tickets.
A hundred years ago, on July 7, 1915, at the height of the anti-Moor riots, the firing squad of the 28th Battalion of the British Punjab Regiment, executed 27-year-old Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris at the Welikade Prison. The young man, a Captain of the Colombo Town Guard (CTG) was a prominent socialite and scion of one of the richest families in colonial British Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
On May 28, 1915, a petty incident in the town of Gampola in Ceylon, triggered a spate of communal riots between the Sinhalese and Muslims. It is now known as the ‘anti-Moor riots’ or ‘the 1915 riots’. Like wildfire, the riots swept through several districts of the Central, Western and Southern Provinces.
The Muslims in Kandy Town decided not to allow any perahera (procession) of the Buddhists beating the traditional drums, flutes and using any other musical organs to disturb worship at their mosque. But, on the following full Moon Poya Day of Vesak, the Buddhists held their usual perahera, following the usual route. When the perahera was passing the Mosque, a group of irresponsible Muslims jeered and threw stones at the passing pageant. There was a pandemonium. The Buddhists retaliated resulting in a free-for-all leading to a conflagration.
The riots spread to Matale, Kegalle and even to Colombo. The Sinhala people harassed the Muslims throughout the country, leading to many deaths and loss of property. The Muslims sustained heavy losses.
Sir Robert Chalmers, the 21st British Governor of Ceylon, feared he might lose control of the colony. He mistook the riots as a Sinhalese-Buddhist movement to oust the British from Ceylon, through mass violence. So, the British Colonial establishment waged war on the Sinhalese-Buddhists.
The British used untrained volunteers recruited from commercial establishments, shops, factories, and plantations, to suppress the riots.
The soldiers of the 28th Battalion of the Punjab Regiment brought from India to help quell the riots, along with the volunteers unleashed a reign of terror in villages occupied by Sinhala Buddhists. They shot hundreds of civilians on sight and hauled up hundreds of innocent people before the military courts.
According to the available British records, 86 mosques and 17 Christian churches were burnt or damaged, around five boutiques and shops looted, 35 Muslims killed, 198 injured and four women raped. But unsubstantiated claims say thousands of Sinhalese died of bullet wounds.
Captain Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris
Our protagonist, the young Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris at first attended Royal College Colombo. Later, he joined St. Thomas’ College. He excelled in sports and cricket. He was a member of the school’s first eleven cricket team. After some time, he returned to Royal College where he again played cricket and took part in sports activities.
After he finished school, Henry Pedris was much interested in horse riding. He excelled as a horseman and had a wide knowledge about horses. A Russian Prince gave the Pedris family a horse named “Rally”. Henry rode the horse with the composure of a prince which made the minions of the British rulers envious of him.
Once, at a cinema hall, a British official walked in and demanded his seat. Henry refused and said that he too had paid the same fare and would enjoy the film from that seat.
When World War I broke out, the British mobilized the Ceylon Defence Force and raised the Colombo Town Guard (CTG), a regiment of volunteers to defend Colombo if attacked.
His father, Duenuge Disan Pedris, had great hopes for his son’s future. He wanted his only son to take over his business enterprises and become a leader in the business sector. But Henry Pedris opted to join the Colombo Town Guard as a private. He was the first Sinhalese to enlist to the new regiment. His excellence in marksmanship and horsemanship made him a commissioned officer in the administrative (mounted) section. Within a year, he was promoted to the rank of Captain. Though Henry Pedris was by no means anti-British, he was much envied by the British because of this promotion and his immense wealth.
During the ‘anti-Moor riots’, Captain Henry Pedris was responsible for the defense of the city. He was successful in disbanding several rioting groups after peaceful discussions.
The shooting incidence in Pettah
On June 1, 1915, when Henry Pedris was at his shop on Main Street, Pettah, a mob of Moors advanced towards his shop. Pedris came out with a gun and fired six shots into the crowd. One of the bullets hit police constable Seneviratne in the head.
Many British and jealous Sinhalese henchmen led by Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, the Maha Mudaliyar (chief native interpreter and adviser to the Governor), wished Henry Pedris and his rich family ill. They brought charges against him. They accused Henry Pedris of inciting people to march to Colombo from suburban Peliyagoda. He was also charged with shooting at the Moorish mob and attempted murder of constable Seneviratne, even though the constable survived.
The British officers and Punjabi soldiers raided the Pedris’ residence on Turret Road. They then broke the doors and almirahs and rifled the whole house, searching for any incriminating documents. They arrested Henry Pedris and incarcerated him in the Welikada Jail.
On June 2, 1915, Martial law came into effect throughout the country. Due to the rigor of the enforced martial law, normalcy returned within ten days. However, the Martial law was in force until August 30, 1915.
On July 1, 1915, a military court tried Henry Pedris. Sir Hector Van Culenburg, the elected Legislative Council member pleaded for Henry Pedris. Many prominent citizens and educationists, both British and Ceylonese alike, including Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan appealed against the judgment. An appeal was also made to King George V.
Governor Sir Robert Chalmers and the Inspector General of Police, Herbert Layard Dowbiggin, were adamant that Henry Pedris should die. They wanted to make the swift execution of Captain Henry Pedris a lesson for the ringleaders of the anti-British movement.
The three presiding military judges declared Henry Pedris guilty and branded him a traitor.
The Ceylon Observer of July 5, 1915, records the death sentence passed on Henry Pedris. He was charged with “treason, shop-breaking, attempted murder and wounding with intent to murder.“
The military court sentenced him to death by firing squad and set July 7, 1915, as the date of execution, without any form of appeal.
The British rulers imprisoned more 86 prominent Sinhalese leaders, members of an emerging Ceylonese élite for ‘waging war against the King‘ and abetting the riots against ‘His Majesty’s Moorish subjects.‘ Among the arrested were D. S. Senanayake, D. R. Wijewardena, F. R. Senanayake, Edwin Wijeyeratne, D. B.Jayatilaka, Dr. Cassius Pereira, Dr. W. A. de Silva, E. T. De Silva, F. R. Dias Bandaranaike, Dr. C. A. Hewavitharana, H. Amarasuriya, A. H. Molamure, A. E. Goonesinghe and several others.
Execution of Captain Henry Pedris
At 7.30 a.m., on the day of the execution, Additional District Judge Arthur Charles Allnut, a graduate of the Oxford University and a member of the Ceylon Civil Service, ordered that the 86 Sinhala-Buddhist notables to line up in the veranda outside L-Hall in Welikade Prison, and watch Henry Pedris walk to his death.
Captain Henry Pedris dressed in his Town Guard uniform, but stripped of his rank, marched with his head held high and chest forward. At the site of the execution, they strapped him to a chair.
Before his execution, Henry Pedris requested that he be shot by a Punjabi firing squad, and not a British squad, as the Punjabi soldiers were Non-Christian and Asians. Allnut acceded to his request. He ordered the soldiers of the 28th Battalion of the Punjab Regiment brought from India, to carry out the sentence. Captain Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris rejected the blindfold offered to him. He faced the Punjabis without any fear.
After the execution, F. R. Senanayake on seeing the limp body of Henry Pedris slumped in the chair to which he was strapped, vowed that he would initiate a concerted struggle to free the country from British colonial rule.
The prison authorities then took the blood-soaked chair on which Captain Hendry Pedris sat when shot to the prison cells to warn the incarcerated Sinhalese leaders, including D. S. Senanayake, the future first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, that they could be next.
Burial of Captain Henry Pedris
The British refused to hand over the body of Henry Pedris to his grieving parents who wanted to accord their dead son a Buddhist burial with attendant religious rites.
Before burying the body of Henry Pedris, the British rulers declared Martial law for the first time in the whole island.
They transported the body of Henry Pedris to the Kanatte cemetery in great secrecy at midnight in the midst of martial law. The British had come to know that his father Duenuge Disan Pedris had owned several family burial plots at the General Cemetery at Kanatte in Borella. They chose one of these plots for the burial. It was the only burial not recorded in the General Cemetery registers or any other official register, since 1910. For the first time, the British rulers declared Martial law in the whole island.
Duenuge Disan Pedris had not only lost his only son, but he also lost two of his sons-in-law who were also incarcerated in the Welikada Prison. Though disheartened, he was silent as he did not want any more of his family members imprisoned by the British.
Most Ceylonese viewed the execution of 27-year-old Duenuge Edward Henry Pedris as unjust. The Sri Lankan patriotic leaders took the cue from his death and projected him as a martyr. His death motivated the pioneering patriotic leaders of the liberation movements organize themselves and strive for a concerted campaign to liberate the country from the harsh British rule.
The execution of Henry Pedris and the many unjustifiable and arbitrary brutal acts committed by the British during the 1915 riots hastened the formation of the Ceylon National Congress on December 11, 1919 by members of the Ceylon National Association (founded in 1888) and the Ceylon Reform League (founded in 1917).
Marco Polo died at his home in Venice on January 8, 1324. Before his death, friends and readers of his book visited him and urged him to admit that his book was a fiction. Marco would not relent. He told them:
“I have not told half of what I saw!“
Marco Polo has been long regarded as the earliest and most distinguished of European travelers of all times for traversing Asia from one extremity to the other. He surpassed every other traveler of his time in the extent of the unknown regions he visited, as well as in the amount of new and important information he had collected. His description of the Chinese imperial court and the Chinese empire under the most powerful of the Asiatic dynasties, and tales of the adjacent countries in the Far East, forms a grand historical picture not painted by any other traveler of his period.
Authenticity is important in any travel narrative, otherwise it altogether becomes a worthless romance. A profound ignorance veiled Europe when the Polos returned from the East. Doubts of the authenticity of Marco’s tales arose since most of the regions he had traversed were wholly unknown at that time. And his discoveries far transcended the knowledge of his age. Also, many editions of Marco Polo’s travelogue proliferated in an age when printing was unknown. The narratives varied from one another, often corrupted to a great extent.
Even now, some argue that Marco Polo never reached China, but cobbled together secondhand accounts of what he had heard. They say there are inaccuracies in the tales. They point out that he never mentioned the basic elements of Chinese culture, such as drinking tea, the use of chopsticks, the Chinese characters, or the tradition of foot-binding.
Responders to such skeptics have stated that if the purpose of Marco Polo’s stories of travels was to impress others with tales of his high esteem for an advanced civilization, then it is possible that Polo shrewdly would omit those details that would cause his readers to scoff at the Chinese with a sense of European superiority. Marco lived among the elite Mongols. Foot-binding was almost unknown among the Mongols and was rare even among Chinese during Polo’s time.
Some observers, who have only a cursory view of the history of China, say he never mentioned the Great Wall in his book. These people are ignorant of the fact that the Great Wall, familiar to us today, is a Ming structure constructed, about two centuries after Marco Polo’s travels in China, to keep out northern invaders.
It is odd that Marco Polo never produced a single map to accompany his narrative accounts in the ghostwritten book. Hence, scholars have long debated its the veracity. Now, there is new evidence in favor for this historical puzzle of whether Marco Polo did indeed visit China and the Far East. The proof is in the form of a curious collection of fourteen little-known maps and related documents purported to have belonged to the family of Marco Polo.
In the 1880s, Marcian Rossi, an Italian, immigrated to the United States. He brought along with him a collection of sheepskin vellum he said were of the 13th and 14th century. There were 14 little-known maps and related documents detailing Marco Polo’s journey to the Far East. These documents bear the signatures of the three daughters of Marco Polo — Fantina, Bellela and Moreta.
The existence of these parchments came to light only in the 1930s, when Marcian Rossi contacted the Library of Congress. He explained that Marco Polo had bestowed the documents upon a Venetian Admiral, Ruggero Sanseverino, and that they had been passed down through generations of the Rossi family. But the collection did not undergo exhaustive analysis.
Are the maps forgeries or facsimiles? They created a problem for the historians of cartography. Did Marco Polo’s daughters, whose names appear on some of these artifacts, preserve in them geographic information about Asia as told by their father? Did they inherit the maps created by him? Did Marco Polo entrust the maps to a Venetian admiral who had links to Rossi’s family line? Or, if the maps have no connection to Marco Polo, who made them, when, and for what purpose?
While some historians discounted the 14 parchments as mere fantasy, forgeries, or facsimiles, others wanted a balanced, detailed study of the documents.
Benjamin B. Olshin, a historian of cartography and a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, spent more than a decade studying the artifacts. He translated the Italian, Latin, Arabic and Chinese inscriptions found therein. All but one of the original documents, a map Marcian Rossi donated to the Library of Congress, remain in the possession of Rossi’s great-grandson Jeffrey Pendergraft in Texas. Olshin is the first scholar in decades to see those originals.
The map donated by Marcian Rossi to the Library of Congress, dubbed “Map with Ship,” is a curious one. It has an illustration of a Venetian sailing vessel and a sketch of what appears to be outlines of Japan, Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, the Bering Strait, the Aleutian Islands and the coastlines of present-day Alaska and British Columbia. The map was not a navigational aid because it lacks longitude and latitude reference lines.
Olshin has detailed the results of his intensive research in his book, “The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps.” The book is the first credible book-length analysis of these parchments. It is a balanced, detailed, and a non speculative work of cartographic scholarship, not another ‘who discovered?’ sensation. Olshin charts the course of the documents from obscure origins in the private collection of the Italian-American immigrant Marcian Rossi in the 1930s. He describes the investigations by the Library of Congress, J. Edgar Hoover, and the FBI for their authenticity. Olshin describes his own efforts to track down and study the Rossi maps.
After a thorough tracing of Marcian Rossi’s ancestry, Olshin asserts that Rossi’s explanation that Marco Polo had bestowed the documents upon a Venetian admiral, Ruggero Sanseverino, and that they had been passed down through generations of the Rossi family was credible.
Olshin describes himself as an “evidence guy” and makes no claims that the document “Map with Ship,” depicts Alaska for certain although there are similarities. Olshin also admits, the authenticity of the ten maps and four texts is not settled. The ink on the parchments remains untested. A radiocarbon study of the sheepskin vellum of one key map, the only one subjected to such analysis, dates it to the 15th or 16th century, making it at best a copy.
Regardless of the origin of the documents, Olshin offers insights into Italian history, the age of exploration, and the wonders of cartography. He then takes his readers on a fascinating journey to the early legendary lands of the Chinese.
Alessandro Scafi said in Times Literary Supplement (UK):
“Olshin plays with the idea that Marco Polo’s relatives may have preserved geographical information about distant lands first recorded by him, or even that they may have inherited maps that he made. If genuine, Olshin argues, these maps and texts would confirm that Marco Polo knew about the New World two centuries before Columbus, either from his own experience or through hearing about it from the Chinese … Fascinating material … Olshin himself admits that there is no hard evidence to support his thrilling speculations. Including translations of every annotation and inscription, Olshin’s study and description of the fourteen parchments are exhaustive. His analysis, however, leaves many questions open … A fascinating tale about maps, history and exploration.”
The parchments in the Rossi collection may not only back up Marco Polo’s claim that he journeyed to the Orient, but also could reveal he might have set foot on the North American continent, 200 years before Christopher Columbus. It is purported that Columbus carried a well-worn copy of “The Travels of Marco Polo” with him on his historic 1492 voyage. It is conjectured that the travels of Marco Polo inspired Columbus to seek a westward sea route to the riches of East Asia, but instead landed in the New World.
When Niccolò, Maffeo, and Marco Polo, arrived in Italy they found the Republic of Venice at war with the Most Serene Republic of Genoa, that had one of the most powerful navies in the Mediterranean.
Marco Polo joined the Venetians in the war. He commanded a galley equipped with a trebuchet, a type of catapult that used as a siege engine in the Middle Ages. The Genoans captured Marco in a skirmish in 1296, off the Anatolian coast between Adana and the Gulf of Alexandretta, and imprisoned him.
While spending several months in prison between 1298–1299, Marco became a friend of a fellow prisoner Rustichello da Pisa, an Italian writer of romance. Marco told Rustichello about his time in Asia. Rustichello soon committed his stories to paper in Old French. The romance writer also incorporated into it tales of his own as well as other collected anecdotes and current affairs from China.
After his release in 1299, Marco Polo and Rustichello da Pisa together turned the written notes into a travelogue titled “Livre des Merveilles du Monde” (Book of the Marvels of the World) or “Devisement du Monde” (Description of the World). In Italian the account appeared as “Il Milione” (The Million) or Oriente Poliano and was published later in English as “The Travels of Marco Polo.“
Marco Polo was not the first European to reach China.
Marco Polo was the first to leave a detailed popular chronicle of his experience in medieval China to the world, but he definitely was not the first European to travel to the Far East.
During the time of the great Mongol invasion of eastern Europe, the Battle of Legnica on April 9, 1241, proved disastrous. The loss threatened to cast European Christendom under the rule of Ögedei Khan, the 2nd Khagan of the Mongol Empire.
Four years later, with the dread of the Mongols still on the mind of the people in eastern Europe, Pope Innocent IV, dispatched the first formal Catholic mission to the Mongols. It was partly to protest against the latter’s invasion of Christian lands, partly to gain trustworthy information about Mongol armies and their intention for the future. The Pope chose 65-year-old Friar Giovanni da Pian del Carpine to head this mission.
The mission started on Easter day April 16, 1245, from Lyon, where the Pope then resided. Giovanni bore a letter “Cum non solum” dated March 13, 1245, from the Pope to Ögedei Khan, the Mongol Emperor. Another friar, Stephen of Bohemia, accompanied Giovanni, broke down at Kaniv near Kiev. Another Minorite, Benedykt Polak, appointed to act as interpreter joined Giovanni at Wrocław.
Their journey was perilous. The Papal legate wrote that they were, “so ill that we could scarcely sit a horse; and throughout all that Lent our food had been nought but millet with salt and water, and with only snow melted in a kettle for drink.“
Friar Giovanni and his companions rode an estimated 3000 miles in 106 days. By the time they reached their destination Ögedei Khan was dead.
On August 24, 1246, Giovanni and his companions witnessed the formal enthronement of Güyük Khan as the Third Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The new emperor refused the invitation to become a Christian, but demanded that the Pope and rulers of Europe should come to him and swear their allegiance to him.
When Güyük Khan dismissed the expedition in November, 1246, he gave them a letter to the Pope, written in Mongol, Arabic, and Latin. It was a brief imperious assertion of the Mongol emperor’s office as the “scourge of God.”
Later on, other Catholic emissaries followed. In the 1250s, William of Rubruck, traveled east on a quest to convert the Mongols to Christianity. These early missionaries were largely inspired by the myth of Prester John (Latin: Presbyter Johannes), Christian patriarch and king popular in European chronicles and in the tradition of the 12th through the 17th century.
The accounts about this mythical king vary. They are just a collection of medieval popular fantasy. One such account depicts him as a descendant of the Three Magi, ruling a kingdom full of riches, marvels, and strange creatures. Polo mentions the fictional monarch in his book, and even asserts that Prester John fought a great battle against the Mongol ruler Genghis Kahn.
A Lombardian surgeon also had reached the city of Khanbaliq in 1303. A merchant named Petro de Lucalongo, had accompanied the monk John of Montecorvino to Khanbaliq in 1305.
In his work “Histoire de l’Empire Mongol,” Jean-Paul Roux, a French Turkologue and a specialist in Islamic culture says that a person named André de Pérouse had mentioned that there was a small Genoese colony, in the harbor of Zaytun in 1326. Andolo de Savignone was the most famous Italian resident of the city. In 1336, Toghon Temür, the 15th Khagan of the Mongol Empire and the 11th Emperor of the Yuan dynasty sent him to the West to buy “100 horses and other treasures.“
In 1339, a Venetian named Giovanni Loredanoto returned to Venice from China during the reign of Emperor Toghon Temür.
A tombstone with the name of Catherine de Villioni, daughter of a Dominici, who died in 1342 during the reign of Toghon Temür was discovered in Yangzhou.
Well-known master artists of the medieval times steeped the manuscripts like the one shown above in enchanting colors.
The Travelogue, “The Travels of Marco Polo” soon spread throughout Europe in manuscript form. It gave the curious Europeans in the Middle Ages craving to know more about the marvels of the Orient, the first comprehensive look into the inner workings of the Far East, including China, India, and Japan. Rarely have secular topics had such an intense echo.
The Travelogue is divided into four books:
Book One describes the lands of the Middle East and Central Asia that Marco Polo traveled through on his way to China.
Book Two describes China and the court of Kublai Khan.
Book Three describes some of the coastal regions of the East: Japan, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, India, and the East Coast of Africa.
Book Four describes some of the then-recent wars among the Mongols, and some of the regions of the Far North, like Russia.
No authoritative version of Marco Polo’s book exists. The early manuscripts differ much from one another. Also, inadvertent errors and discrepancies crept in during the process of copying and translating.
The published editions of the travelogue either rely on single manuscripts, or a blend of many versions. For example, the popular translation published by Penguin Books in 1958 is the handiwork of R.E. Latham, who blended several manuscripts together to make a readable whole.
A.C. Moule and Paul Pelliot based their 1938 English translation on a Latin manuscript found in the library of the Cathedral of Toledo in 1932, and is 50 percent longer than other versions.
Some published editions carry notes to clarify, as exemplified in the English translation by Henry Yule.
To date, approximately 150 manuscript copies exist in various languages.
After his release from prison, Marco Polo returned to Venice. He married and raised three daughters. During the next 25 years, he carried on the family business.
A 13th-century travelogue titled Livre des Merveilles du Monde (Book of the Marvels of the World) or Devisement du Monde (Description of the World) introduced Europeans to the geography of the Orient and the ethnic customs of its indigenous peoples.
The book described the travels of the Italian merchant traveler Marco Polo between 1276 and 1291, through Asia: Persia, China, Indonesia, Burma, Tibet, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India, and his experiences at the court of Kublai Khan, the fifth Khagan (Great Khan) of the Mongol Empire. The book described Cathay (present-day China) in great detail and its abundance of riches. Though Marco Polo was not the first European to have visited the Far East, he still became famous after the publication of the book.
Marco Polo was born in Venice on September 15, 1254 to a wealthy Venetian merchant named Niccolò Polo. Marco’s father and his uncle Maffeo Polo being merchants had established trading posts in Constantinople, Sudak in Crimea, and in a western part of the Mongol Empire in Asia.
In 1264, the Polo brothers joined up with a diplomatic mission sent by Hulagu, the ruler of Il-khanate to his brother Kublai Khan, both grandsons of Gengis Khan. They reached the seat of Kublai Khan, the leader of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, in Dadu (present day Beijing, China) in 1266.
Kublai Khan, the Mongol Emperor, received the Polos well and expressed his interest in Christianity. He then sent them back to Italy with a Mongol named Koeketei as an ambassador to Pope Clement IV. They carried a letter from the emperor requesting the Pope to send 100 educated people to teach Christianity and western customs to his people. He also requested oil from the lamp of the Holy Sepulcher. The emperor also gave them the paiza, a golden tablet a foot long and 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide, to signify certain privileges and authority, allowing them to acquire lodging, horses and food throughout his dominion.
Koeketei left in the middle of the journey, leaving the Polos to travel alone to Ayas in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. From that port city, the Polos sailed to Saint Jean d’Acre, capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Pope Clement IV died on November 29, 1268. The long sede vacante between the death of Pope Clement IV, and the election of a new pope delayed the Polos from fulfilling Kublai Khan’s request.
In 1269 or 1270, Teobaldo Visconti, then papal legate for the realm of Egypt suggested that the brothers return to Venice and wait for the nomination of the new Pope.
Niccolò Polo once again saw his son Marco, now a teenager, who had been living with his aunt and another uncle in Venice since the death of his mother at a young age.
In 1271, Theobald Visconti was elected as Pope Gregory X. He received the letter from Kublai Khan brought by the Polo brothers.
The Polo brothers left Venice on their second voyage to the Orient along with a 17-year-old Marco. Unable to recruit the 100 people that Kublai Khan had requested to teach his people, the Polos left with only two Dominican friars: Niccolò de Vicence and Guillaume de Tripoli. They set sail to Acre.
At Acre they joined a caravan of merchants travelling to the Persian port of Hormuz. Soon, bandits attacked their caravan using the cover of a sandstorm to ambush them. The marauding bandits killed many members of the caravan and enslaved the rest, but the Polos managed to escape to a nearby town.
Marco reveled in the adventure, but the two monks after getting a taste of the hard journey ahead of them, soon turned back for home.
When they reached Hormuz they wanted to sail straight to China, but the ships in Hormuz were not seaworthy, so they continued overland through the Silk Road.
The journey was challenging and at times they had to traverse harsh terrain. In what is now Afghanistan, Marco fell ill. He had to retreat to the mountains to recuperate from the illness.
Crossing the Gobi desert, proved long and, at times, arduous. Marco told later: “This desert is reported to be so long that it would take a year to go from end to end. And at the narrowest point it takes a month to cross it. It consists entirely of mountains and sands and valleys. There is nothing at all to eat.“
In 1274, three and a half years after leaving Venice, when Marco was about 21 years old, the Polos reached Kanbaliq or Dadu, the capital of the Yuan dynasty (present day Beijing). Kublai Khan who welcomed them into his summer palace known as Xanadu, a grand marble architectural wonder. The Polos presented the sacred oil from Jerusalem and the papal letters to the Mongol Emperor.
The Polos spent the next 17 years in China under the patronage of Kublai Khan. Niccolo and Maffeo were granted important positions in Kublai Khan’s Court. The Mongol Emperor took a liking to Marco, an engaging storyteller. Marco’s immersed himself into the Chinese culture and mastered four languages. He served as an official in the salt administration and made trips through the provinces of Yunnan and Fukien. At one stage, he was the tax inspector in the city of Yanzhou.
Marco Polo marveled at the use of paper money in the Mongol empire, an idea that had not reached Europe at that time.
Kublai Khan employed Marco Polo as a special envoy. He sent Marco to Burma, India, Tibet and other far-flung areas hitherto never explored by Europeans. Marco was promoted again and again for his work. He served as governor of a Chinese city. Later, Kublai Khan appointed him as an official of the Privy Council.
The Polos asked permission on many occasions to return to Europe, but Kublai Khan liked them so much that he would not agree to their departure.
In 1291, Kublai Khan entrusted the Polos with their last duty. It was to escort the Mongol princess Koekecin to her betrothed, the Il-khan Arghun of the breakaway state of the Mongol Empire in Persia, ruled by the Mongol House of Hulagu.
The Polos departed from the southern port city of Quanzhou with a caravan of several hundred passengers and sailors. They sailed to Sumatra, Ceylon and India. They visited Mylapore, Madurai and Alleppey in India. Marco Polo nicknamed Alleppey as the “Venice of the East.”
The journey was harrowing due to storms and disease. Many perished. By the time they reached Il-khanate in Persia in 1293 or 1294, only 18 people, including the princess and the Polos, were still alive. They came to know that Il-khan Arghun to whom the princess was betrothed had died. They left the Mongol princess Koekecin with the new Il-khan Gaykhatu. The Polos then moved to Trebizond . From there they sailed to Constantinople and then reached Venice in 1295. They had travelled almost 15,000 miles (24,000 km). The Polos returned to Venice with thier fortune converted in gemstones. In Venice, the Polos struggled to converse in their native tongue. Above all, they were unfamiliar to their family.
Mumbai: The Indian cricket board on Thursday denied the reports that they had restricted the WAGs (wives and girlfriends) of Indian cricketer during the away tours, according to reports.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India were contemplating to ban the players’ partners during the foreign tours. The rationale was that the Indian cricketers’ performance was getting affected by the presence of WAGs.
While the BCCI had allowed the wives of Ashwin, Vijay, Pujara, Binny and Gambhir to travel with them, the Indian cricket board had approved Virat Kohli’s request to allow Anushka Sharma to travel with him, reports.