The Second Largest Empire after the Mongolian Empire at that Time – with the Richest Person in History – EVER!

Mongolian Empire

Mongolian Empire

We tend to remember the largest empires at their times (e.g., the Roman Empire, the British Empire, etc.) which, while important, often then overshadow other great contemporary empires and kingdoms.

The Mongolian Empire (1206-1370) was the largest contiguous land empire in history. But what was the second largest empire or kingdom at that time? Here are some of its characteristics:

  • Its cities were important trading cities and centers of wealth, culture, and learning
  • One of its cities became an important cultural and learning center for the world at that time
  • Great libraries and universities were built
  • These libraries and universities were important meeting places for poets, scholars, and artists, of that time
  • The challenge of ruling various diverse ethnic groups was handled by running the empire as a federation instead of as an absolute monarchy
  • This empire declared and enforced prohibitions on the maltreatment of prisoners and slaves
  • And…one of their leaders was the richest person in history – EVER!
  • (and, by the way, they might have even reached the Americas before Columbus…)

While one might think that this kingdom was in Europe…it turns out that this kingdom was in…Africa. In fact, it was larger than any European kingdom at that time.

The Mali Empire was founded around 1235 when a ruler named Sundiata Keita united the local tribes and overthrew the Sosso king (known as the ‘Sorcerer King’). The empire grew around its capital Niani, and the empire was strategically located between the West African gold mines and the powerful Niger River. The empire grew to cover an area from Lake Chad to the Atlantic Ocean – a distance of almost 2000 miles – which covered significant parts of present day Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, and Guinea. At its height the emperor ruled 400 cities and 20 million people, and Mali had army of 100,000 men along with 10,000 cavalry.

Its economy grew via its gold and salt mines and is control over the gold and salt trade. Its most famous city was Timbuktu, one of the great cities of the world at that time. Learning was a key focus and the Sankore Madrasah university was built during this time in Timbuktu. Other great cities were Djenne and Gao. In these cities studies in religion, mathematics, music, law, and literature, flourished. Their society had castes, with farmers at the top because they provided food. Islam was the main religion, although people also still practiced local traditions and beliefs.

The Mali Empire also had some very interesting leaders. One such leader was Abubakari II. Even though he was the king of a great empire, he only had one interest – to cross the Atlantic ocean. He was so focused on this, he sent an expedition of 200 ships across the Atlantic. Only one returned, and the captain described how in the open sea they had reached a river with a powerful current and, while all other ships went forward, he decided to return.

If 199 out of 200 ships don’t return, most people would give up on the idea of trying this again. But not Abubakari II. He was now even more fascinated with crossing the Atlantic and he sent a new expedition of – 2000 ships! And he also decided to give up his kingdom to lead this expedition! What happened? Well – they never returned, so no one knows. The strong majority view in history is that they didn’t survive, but there is a fringe minority view which believes that they reached the coast of Brazil at a place called Recife…

Mansa Musa

Mansa Musa

The other such leader was Abubakari II’s successor Mansa Musa. Saying that he was wealthy would be a vast understatement. He is best known for his lavish pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324. He took 60,000 people with him and 100 camels each carrying 300 pounds of gold. During his travels he both spent and gave away large amounts of gold – so much so that in Egypt it caused inflation to occur! Upon his return to Mali, he funded a large number of stunning developments throughout the empire. A recent study of the 25 richest people in world history noted that he was the richest person in history EVER!

The Mail Empire declined in the early 1400s due to weak leaders and increasing attacks from neighboring kingdoms. While the Mali Empire no longer exists, it continues to be remembered as being a great empire in world history.

Mali Empire

Mali Empire

 

 

 

 

Semmelweis: He Went Insane Recommending Something We Now Would Find Insane to Disagree With

225px-Ignaz_Semmelweis_1860

Ignaz Semmelweis

Ignaz Semmelweis – someone we should all remember because his idea has helped save numerous lives. Unfortunately, he was ahead of his times, and went insane trying to convince people about his idea.

Semmelweis was born in 1818 and died in 1865 – roughly a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln. He was born in Hungary, started to study law in Vienna, but then switched to medicine a year later and became a doctor.

So far, nothing out of the ordinary. But he came up with an idea in 1847 that would save lives – lots of lives. At that time, the mortality rate associated with puerperal fever (infection following childbirth) was up to 30%. After implementing his idea, this was reduced to 1%-2%!

Now – without even knowing the idea – one would think that the scientific community would be very interested in his idea. And with the incredible success that he achieved, one would think that they would be quite supportive of his idea also. Furthermore, his idea did not only apply specifically to puerperal fever, but could also be applied to many other medical areas to further reduce infections and infection-related deaths – thus, his idea should have been celebrated and well-accepted.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. He was ridiculed and insulted – so much so that he was dismissed from his job, and, due to constant harassment, had to leave Vienna and move to Budapest. He had trouble finding another job due to the opposition to his idea.

Semmelweis was convinced about his idea, and spent most of the rest of his life trying to convince others about this. He became frustrated and angry about the lack of support for his idea, and he started writing letters attacking his critics. His friends, including his wife, felt that he was going insane.

Starting in 1861, he had various nervous problems, was often very depressed, and became absentminded. He only talked about his idea, and angrily labeled those who disagreed with him as ‘murderers’. His public behvaiour soon became abnormal and embarassing, and he started drinking heavily.

Ferdinand Ritter von Hebra

Ferdinand Ritter von Hebra

On July 30th, 1865, Ferdinand Ritter von Hebra, contacted Semmelweis to visit one of Hebra’s new institutes. Von Hebra, a physician who had discovered the cause of scabies, had been an early supporter of Semmelweis’s theory. However, on this date, the ‘new institute’ which they visited was…an insane asylum. Semmelweis realized what was happening and he tried to leave, but it was too late. The guards captured him, took him away, and beat him severely. He was confined to the insane asylum and he died on August 13th, only 14 days later, most likely due to the beating from the guards.

And now to his idea – the idea that he believed in so passionately, that his contemporaries all ridiculed him for, and that eventually took his life, was that incidents of infection and fever could be significantly reduced by…washing one’s hands appropriately (preferably with a chlorinated lime solution) before providing medical care.

That’s it. Something that we take for granted as a truth now, did not find acceptance during his time, and drove him to insanity. A tragic end for someone whose idea has helped save so many lives.

But the truth of his idea was eventually recognized, and his legacy is strong. There are hospitals named after him in Vienna and Budapest. His picture has appeared on an Austrian coin. And he is universally recognized as an important pioneer of antiseptic procedures. 

250px-50_EURO_Gold_Coin_-_Ignaz_Philipp_Semmelweis_-_Austria

Side note: There is a term known as the “Semmelweis Reflex” – this term, based on Semmelweis’s life, is a metaphor for “the reflex-like tendency to reject new evidence or new knowledge because it contradicts established norms, beliefs or paradigms.”

The Town of Bent Necks…a Possible Misunderstanding…and the Birth of Two Very Well-Known brands

Dasslers

Strange as it may sound, there is a city where, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, people would first look down before talking with anyone. And in the second or two that they were looking down, they would decide whether or not to talk with the person.

The town is Herzogenaurach in Bavaria, Germany. And to understand the above behavior, we need to first go back to July, 1924. This is when two brothers decided to work together on their business of making and selling shoes. One brother, Adolf Dassler, had already started the business in their family kitchen, and the other brother, Rudolf Dassler, joined the business once he returned from World War I.

Their business was successful, and in 1936, Jesse Owens wore their shoes when he won four gold medals in the Olympics. Business boomed, and soon they were selling 200,000 pairs of shoes a year.

So far, so good. But then an unusual incident occurred during an Allied bomb attack in 1943. Rudolf and his family were in a bomb shelter, when Adolf and his family showed up at the same bomb shelter. Now for the possible misunderstanding. Rudolf stated “The dirty bastards are back again”, and he later claimed he was referring to the Allies. Adolf was convinced that he was referring to Adolf and his family. Soon afterwards, Rudolf was picked up by the Allies, and was accused of being a member of the Waffen-SS, and Rudolf was convinced that Adolf had turned him in.

The brothers split their business in 1947 and formed two separate companies. The townspeople of Herzogenaurach were also split equally between the two, and this is the reason for the unusual behavior described above and the name of ‘The Town of Bent Necks’. They would first look down to see which shoes someone was wearing, and this would determine which side someone was on.

Even the two soccer teams in the town split with each wearing shoes from one of the brothers. Restaurants, bakeries, and other establishments were aligned with one company or the other. If you walked into the restaurant supporting one company, but worked at the other company, then you wouldn’t be served.

The brothers never reconciled. They were eventually buried in the same cemetery, but they were buried as far apart from each other as possible.

And the companies? Their headquarters are still in Herzogenaurach, and are only a twenty minute walk from each other. These companies are:

* Adolf’s company was named by combining his nickname of ‘Adi’ with the first three letters of his last name ‘Das': Adidas

* Rudolf’s company was named by combining the first two letters of his first name with the first two letters of his last name: Ruda. In 1948, he renamed the company to the German word for ‘cougar’, which is the animal that appeared on their logo – this word is: Puma

Twenty Little Known Trivia Facts About US Presidents

Drawings of US Presidents

Drawings of US Presidents

[Who was really the first president of the United States? Which president spoke English as a second language?  Which president was a Quaker who donated his entire salary to charity?  And many more interesting trivia topics...]

So far I have hardly written any history blog posts about lesser known facts about American history. I have found it challenging to write such posts because U S history is quite well known all around the world, and thus there aren’t too many lesser known topics to write about. I believe this is due to various factors including parts of U S history being taught in many school curriculums worldwide, and numerous Hollywood films which portray very interesting but not well known events in U S history.

Thus, I’ve decided to take a different approach here. Most people are familiar with US presidents, but there is some interesting presidential trivia that many are not familiar with. In this post, I’ll share 20 such facts:

Seal of the President of the United States

Seal of the President of the United States

  • While we all know George Washington was the first US President, there are some people (descendants and a few historians) who claim that John Hanson was really the first president because he was the first president under the Articles of Confederation (this has led others to argue for other names including Peyton Randolph, first president of the Continental Congress, and John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress when independence was declared).
  • Thee out of the first five US presidents died on July 4th, the same date as the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
  • Two presidents have both had the middle initial ‘S’…without any meaning to the initial. These presidents are Ulysses S. Grant (someone had filled in ‘S’ on a form assuming he would use ‘Simpson’, his mother’s maiden name, but this was not the case – but the ‘S’ stayed…) and Harry S. Truman (both grandfathers had a name starting with ‘S’, so ‘S’ was used as his middle initial without a meaning)
  • Thomas Jefferson was in debt, and to get out of debt he sold his book collection, which consisted of 6000 books, to the U. S. Congress.  This became the start of the Library of Congress.
  • Martin van Buren was the first president to be born as a citizen of the US (earlier presidents were born as British subjects).
  • Thomas Jefferson wrote his own epitaph for his tombstone, where he listed his major accomplishments in his life.  This list includes being the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statuette of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and that he was the founder of the University of Virginia. However, this list does not include being President of the United States.
  • Andrew Jackson, the only president to have been a prisoner of war, was involved in various gun duals.  In one such dual, he was shot in the chest first, but he actually remained standing and shot and killed his opponent.  The bullet could not be removed, and stayed in his chest.
  • When William Henry Harrison asked his future wife’s father if he could marry his daughter, her father refused.William and Anna then eloped and got married in secret.
  • Many people believe that the popular ‘Baby Ruth’ candy bar was named after the famous baseball player Babe Ruth. It was actually named after Grover Cleveland’s daughter Ruth.
  • Rather than fight in the Civil War, Grover Cleveland paid George Brinski, a Polish immigrant, $150 to fight in his place (hiring a substitute was not uncommon at that time, and was allowed by law).
  • James Garfield could write with both hands. He knew Latin and Greek,and he would sometimes show off and write with both hands at the same time – each in a different language!
  • There were three presidents in the year 1881: Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, and Chester Alan Arthur.
  • Martin van Buren was the only president to speak English as a second language. He grew up in a Dutch-speaking community in Kinderhook, New York, and thus his native language was Dutch.
  • Andrew Johnson was initially a tailor, and he made his own clothes. He even sewed some of his own clothes while president! When he was a tailor he would pay someone to read to him while he sewed, and after he was married, his wife would read to him.
  • Dwight David Eisenhower was born as David Dwight Eisenhower. However, his mother soon reversed his first two names to avoid having two ‘David’s in the family (his father’s name was ‘David’)
  • Ulysses Grant’s real name was Hiram Ulysses Grant, but he was embarrassed by the initials (H.U.G), so he ended up using Ulysses S. Grant for the rest of his life.
  • Until age 22, Gerald Ford’s name was his birth name of Leslie Lynch King Jr.
  • The capital of Liberia is called Monrovia after President James Monroe, who was a strong supporter of the establishment of the colony that became Monrovia.
  • While many people know that Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday, it is not as well known that he did not make it a holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. In 1863 he made it a holiday on the last Thursday of November, and it remained this way until 1941, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt changed this to being the fourth Thursday in November.
  • Herbert Hoover, the first Quaker president (Richard Nixon was the only other Quaker president), did not accept his salary as president. Instead he donated it to charity, making him one of two US Presidents to do so (the other being John Kennedy)
US Presidents

US Presidents

HOUSE OF WISDOM: The Most Amazing Group of Innovators You’ve Most Likely Never Heard Of

Let’s set the scene: a place where open-minded and creative people gather and live to pursue both the sciences and the arts. The environment is welcoming and people from other lands also move here. A synergy develops, ideas sprout, and these people come up with amazing innovations and ideas. There is usually a sponsor who helps fund all of these activities. This doesn’t happen that often in history, but when it does, it becomes a spark that ignites both the present times and countless future generations with new works of science and art.

In the Western world, the first thought of many when reading the above is Florence, considered to be the birthplace of the Renaissance, with the Medici family and other wealthy families providing sponsorship to artists and scientists.

In our modern times, perhaps Silicon Valley in California has some of these characteristics, with venture capitalists now as sponsors.

But, if we dig back further in history – back a 1000 years ago or so – we will find a place and a gathering of people known as the: House of Wisdom.  This was both a physical place, and also a group of amazing scientists and thinkers.  Some characteristics about the place:

  • Very open minded and liberal
  • People from various religions congregated there
  • People from many fferent countries came there to study
  • Was a library, a research center, and a translation institute

And some astonishing features:

  • Their library had the world’s largest collection of books at that time – yes, the world’s largest!
  • Fields studied included humanities, math, astronomy, medicine, chemistry, geography, zoology, and cartography
  • Their love of knowledge and learning was so much, that one time they settled a war via…a book!
  • Their scientists were not confined to a world of theory, they were actively engaged in society and contributed as engineers and architects on various projects
  • They sent people to other countries to obtain knowledge and books
  • Many original scientific achievements
  • Preserved many ancient texts via their translation activities
  • There are even some common English, Spanish, and Portuguese words named after one of the members of the House of Wisdom

Where was this? Take a guess… (do not scroll down until you have taken a guess… :-))

Before answering, I’ll provide a clue.  Often when we think of this time period of around 1000 years ago, we tend to think of the Middle Ages or the Medieval Period.  More specifically, this period would be a subset of the Middle Ages known as the Early Middle Ages or the “Dark Ages”, so named because of the “relative scarcity of literary and cultural output during this time”.

But this is the exact opositte of what I’ve just described! The answer to this apparent paradox is that these terms are all relative – a time period that is the “Dark Ages” for one culture could be something else for another culture. And the time period that I am referring to is actually known as the “Golden Age” in the context of what I am describing.  Now try guessing again…

The answer is Bagdhad. Yes, the same Bagdhad that has been in the news over the past few years for very different reasons.

Bagdhad was where the House of Wisdom was located, and this time period (8th century through mid-1200s) is known as the “Islamic Golden Age”. The initial sponsor of the House of Wisdom was Caliph Harun al-Rashid, but it was his son al-Ma’mun (ruled 813 to 833) who really drove the establishment and growth of the House of Wisdom. In fact, al-Ma’um himself was actively involved in various research activities also.

House of Wisdom Library

To further elaborate on some of the above points:

  • The House of Wisdom attracted brilliant scholars from the Arab world, Persia, India, and other countries
  • Scientists there were from various religions including Islam and Christiantiy
  • The amount of translation that they completed is amazing, including having translated the works of various authors across different countries such as Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Euclid, Aryabhata, Sushruta, Charaka, and Brahmagupta. It is commonly said that they preserved the ancient knowledge of the Greeks and Romans, which was then later retransmitted back to European scholars
  • The book that settled a war was Ptolemy’s Almagest (about Greek astronomy), and it settled a war between the Abbasids (who ruled Baghdad) and the Byzantine Empire

While there were many contributors to the House of Wisdom, here are some of the key innovators along with their contributions:

  • Al-Jazari: (Arab or Persian or Kurdish): engineer and mathematician who designed over 100 advanced mechanical devices along with instructions on how to construct them, including the world’s first automatic doors (driven by hydropower). The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that Leonardo da Vinci may have been influenced by Al-Jazari
  • Al-Jahiz (Arab): wrote over 200 books on subjects ranging from zoology to poetry to grammar. One of the first Arab writers to propose an overhaul of Arabic grammar, which was eventually implemented.
  • Sind ibn Ali (India): astronomer, mathematician, and engineer. He translated the Zij al-Sindhind (astronomical tables from India), and at the House of Wisdom he (along with a colleague) calculated the diameter of the Earth. He also introduced decimal point notation into Arabic numerals.
  • Banu Musa – three brothers whose 20 books include a book on automatic machines and a key book on geometry later used by European scholars
  • Thabit ibn Qurra (Iraqi): in astronomy reformed the Ptolemaic system, and founded the field of statics in mechanics
  • Hunayn ibn Ishaq (Assyrian): known as the “Sheikh of translators”. Fluent in Arabic, Syrian, Greek, and Persian. There was a very strong interest in studying Greek science in the House of Wisdom, and thus they needed to translated ancient Greek books. Ishaq became the main translator, and translated 116 such works. He wrote original works on religion, philosophy, and medicine. Wrote a book on ophthalmology considered to be the first ever systematic treatment of this field.
  • Al-Kindia (Arab): known as the “Philospher of the Arabs” for his studies in this field and for his promotion of Greek philosophy in the Arab world. Wrote hundreds of original books on topics as varied as philosophy, psychology, math, astronomy, astrology, and medicine. He was a pioneer in the field of cryptoanalysis and came up with several new ciphers.
  • Al-Farabi (Persian): philosopher who contributed in so many areas (logic, math, music, philosophy, physics, and psychology) that he was called “The Second Teacher” (at that time, Aristotle was referred to as “The First Teacher”)
  • Al-Khwarizmi (Persian):  mathematician, astronomer, and geographer. Al-Khwarizmi contributed the first systematic solution of linear and quadratic equations in Arabic, revised Ptolemy’s geography, and wrote original works on astronomy and astrology. Latin translations of his work introduced Indian numerals to Europe. His contributions to math are considered so important in the Western world, that the Spanish and Portuguese words for ‘digit’ are named after him (guarimo and agarismo respectively). In fact, a word that anyone involved with computer programming knows – algorithm – comes from his last name! And an even more common word comes from the title of his book “Al-Kitāb al-mukhtaṣar fī ḥisāb al-jabr wa-l-muqābala” – the word is algebra! His contributions are so widely acknowledged, that there is even a crater on the moon named in honor of him.

Al-Khwarizmi Crater

The House of Wisdom ended on February 12th, 1258 during the Mongol invasion known as the Siege of Baghdad which was led by Hulegu (grandson of Genghis Khan). He killed the last Caliph, despite the Caliph’s surrender to spare both Baghdad and the House of Wisdom’s cultural heritage.

And what happened to the books from the world’s largest library? They were all thrown into the Tigris River such that the water in the river turned black for days due to the ink being washed away from these priceless treasures.

The legacy of the House of Wisdom is that for over 400 years it was one of the most innovative places in the world, and even now it stands out as one of history’s most unique places of research, openness, inquiry, scientific contribution, and innovation.

Pavlopetri – One of the World’s Most Unique Cities

Pavlopetri is a city in Greece. It is a uinque city that is located near Laconia, which is at the southern end of the Peloponnese. Laconia is a regional unit in Greece, and its capital is Sparta. Yes, the famous Sparta. In fact, the English word ‘laconic’, which means a short, concise, or terse, statement, comes from the fact that the Spartans were known to speak this way.

Map showing the location of Pavlopetri

Map showing the location of Pavlopetri

But I digress – let’s get back to Pavlopetri. It is a nice city, not too different from other cities around the world. Here is a picture:

Pavlopetri, Greece

Pavlopetri, Greece

Nice large independent houses and good-size townhouses. Open courtyards. Well-maintained roads. Beautiful gardens. Large public buildings. Religious builidings. An efficient water management system. Various professions including domestic and international trade, arts and crafts, writers, farmers, ship builders, the military, accountants, business people, public officials, and the production of olive oil, wines, and perfumes.

Sounds nice – it was…because Pavlopetri no longer exists. Change the present tense to the past tense in the previous description, and you’ll understand how the people of Pavlopetri once lived. The picture above is a computer-generated image of how Pavlopetri would have looked at, and it was made based upon the archaeological ruins of Pavlopetri.

How old was Pavlopetri? The name means “Paul’s and Peter’s”, and given that these are the names of Christian saints, this implies some level of antiquity. I also mentioned Sparta above, so one might think this dates back to the Classical period in Greek history – around the fifth and fourth centuries BC.

But it is older. Until recently, archaeologists believed that this city was 3800 years old – going back to around 1800 BC – which is quite old. But it is even older. Recently ceramic was discovered in the ruins which date back almost 5000 years – to 2800 BC!

This makes Pavlopetri amongst the oldest cities in the world. But it is not the oldest – there are others that are older, going as far back as 4000 BC, perhaps even 6000 BC, and maybe even older (here is one reference to some of the oldest cities in the world).

Then what makes Pavlopetri so unique? Let me describe how to find it. Go to the location shown in the above map and look around. You won’t see Pavlopetri. Now walk towards the beach…onto the beach…and towards the water. When you reach the water, swim for a little while, and then dive down three to four meters (nine to twelve feet) – and there you will see Pavlopetri. Yes, Pavlopetri is unique because it is the world’s oldest city that is…underwater!

Around 1000 BC Pavlopetri was submerged underwater due to earthquakes. It remained underwater all this time, with locals discussing legends related to this underwater city. In 1967, archaeologist Nicholas Fleming and his team of archaeologists from Cambridge discovered and mapped Pavlopetri. So far they have discovered an area of 100000 square meters (over 24 acres)!. In the areas mapped so far, there are fifteen intact buildings from when Pavlopetri was a thriving city. Here are some amazing pictures of this underwater city:

P1

P2

While Pavlopetri is the oldest submerged city in the world, there are other such cities. To protect these historical, archaeological, architectural, and cultural, treasures, the United Nations in 2001 adopted the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, and Pavlopetri is protected by this convention.

And – just when you think we’ve explored every place on our planet, think about this: less than 1% of the ocean floors in the world have been explored – so who knows what other amazing finds might also be lying untouched submerged beneath our oceans and seas?

References (for further reading)

A Hard-to-Believe True Story of a Real-Life Superhero

Hey kids – today’s blog post is for – you! And if you like it, feel free to forward to other kids. It’s about a superhero, so hopefully you’ll like it – especially when you find out that this is a true story!

DC

I’ve noticed some things about superheroes.  Sometimes they are from another planet, and this is what gives them their special superpowers.  I’ve also noticed that there is a scenario which we sometimes read about or see in superhero stories. You know – the scene where the country is under threat – perhaps from a monster that is attacking the western side of the country. And then another similar monster, this one perhaps even stronger than the first one, starts attacking in the east. The president of the country has to decide where to send the security forces to, and where to send the superhero to. He ends up sending members of the army and police to the lesser of the threats, and the superhero to the more dangerous one, and the security forces end up struggling with the monster that they are fighting, while the superhero defeats the monster that he or she is fighting.

Marvel

Now kids – believe it or not – the scene that you just read about…this actually occurred in real life! Yes, there is a true historical incident similar to this scenario – and in this story, which actually occurred in history, there is a real-life superhero!

Before I get to the part about the monsters, the superhero, and this person’s superpowers, I’d like to first let you know about where and when this occurred. This was during the summer of 1947 – yes, a while back, but still in somewhat recent history. And this occurred in India. At that time India was ruled by the British and the person from England who ran the country was known as the ‘viceroy’. The viceroy at that time was Lord Mountbatten.

India was to become a free country on August 15th, 1947, but – as part of the agreement for freedom – the country was to be split into two – India and Pakistan. Pakistan itself later split into Pakistan and Bangladesh. The creation of modern day Pakistan involved splitting a state called ‘Punjab’, and the creation of modern day Bangladesh involved the splitting of a state called ‘Bengal’. And, unfortunately, during the time leading up to independence, there started to be something called ‘communal riots’ and ‘communal fighting’. The word ‘communal’ means ‘related to a community’, and communal riots are when two communities fight with each other. In this case, the fighting was based on religion.

Pre-Partition India

Now back to our superhero story. Let’s start with the monsters. These monsters were called…HATE. This monster initially appeared in Punjab. Communities that had lived side by side for thousands of years started fighting with each other due to this monster called HATE. From the smallest villages to the largest cities, HATE caused a madness to take over the land, and there was fighting and destruction everywhere. HATE even managed to appear in the smallest incidents – there is a documented case where one farm animal wandered from his farm to his neighbor’s farm…and this led to rioting where 19 people died.

Yes, the monster of HATE had taken over the hearts of many. Lord Mountbatten knew that if Punjab was not brought under control, then there would be thousands, perhaps millions of deaths and refugees. He needed to decide what to do. He decided to send all of his available security forces to Punjab – 55,000 police personnel. Yes, 55,000! The Punjab was very big – in modern terms the former undivided Punjab would have a population of 160 million, making it the sixth largest country in the world if one doesn’t include India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, in this comparison (only China, the United States of America, Indonesia, Brazil, and Nigeria, would be bigger). But in a normal situation, this extra influx of 55,000 security personnel would have helped calm the situation.

But this was not a normal situation. And HATE was not a normal monster. Kids – remember this part – HATE, when fought with HATE…grows stronger! This kept happening in Punjab, and unfortunately these additional security forces were not able to contain HATE. In the end, over a million people were killed in the tragic violence, and history’s largest mass migration of people occurred – 12.5 million refugees.

Kids – I know your thinking, “OK – this is somewhat interesting – but what about the real-life superhero story?!” Please be patient – I’m almost there.

Now let’s switch to Bengal. Even though Bengal was also being partitioned, the situation was still fairly calm there. Bengal was even bigger than Punjab – in modern terms the former undivided Bengal would have a population of 241 million – making this the third largest country in the world. Yes, you read this right – third! I’m excluding India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh in this comparison – only China and the United States of America would be bigger. Thus, if another HATE monster showed up here, it would be disastrous.

And this is what happened. A second HATE monster appeared that summer in Calcutta, the capital of Bengal. It had appeared a year earlier in this city (a separate story which I won’t get into right now), but at the start of the summer of 1947, overall the situation appeared manageable in Calcutta. However, as the summer progressed, and as it neared the end of July, there were signs that the second HATE monster was arriving in Calcutta.

Lord Mountbatten knew that he needed to keep the calm in Calcutta at all costs. But he had already sent all of his available forces to Punjab. What to do now?

Now kids – we’re finally getting to our superhero and his superpowers. He was not young, strong, and muscular, as one often sees superheroes in comics and movies. His age…77 years old. His height…five feet four inches (1.63 meters). His weight…100 pounds (45 kilograms). His full name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, commonly known as Mahatma (which means “Great Soul”) Gandhi.

Gandhi

Mountbatten decided to call the superhero I have been referring to and to ask him to go to Calcutta. Gandhi had other plans for India’s day of independence on August 15th, and thus could not go. However, after they discussed, Gandhi agreed to go to Calcutta.

OK – you kids might be wondering about the superpower part. I’ll explain this. Just like Superman’s superpowers were due to his being born on a different planet, Gandhi also came from a different planet. But unlike Krypton, Gandhi’s ‘planet’ was a virtual planet – a planet of the mind…and of the heart. A planet of those who had transcended our petty differences, ascended to the heights of concern for one’s fellow human beings, and obtained spiritual enlightenment. And it was a planet we could all reach, but few manage to do so.

And his superpowers? There was only one – the power of LOVE. He believed in fighting HATE with LOVE. He has been doing this throughout his life, and was about to do this again.

Back to Bengal. August 13th. Gandhi’s car pulls up in the center of the city where he will be staying. A crowd gathers. An angry crowded. Yelling and screaming at him. HATRED in their hearts. There are mobs in Calcutta all ready to kill each other, and there is HATRED everywhere. The crowd greets his car…someone throws a bottle which hits his car…others are throwing stones…

He does not return HATE with HATE. His door slowly opens. He slowly steps out, and raises one of his hands indicating peace. He starts walking towards the angry crowd…alone.

“You wish to do me ill,” he states, “and so I am coming to you.” He continues walking. He is using his power of LOVE to fight HATRED.

The crowd freezes…stunned. Someone yells, “They have attacked our families, slaughtered our communities…is it your family they cut to pieces?” HATRED in his angry voice.

Gandhi responded with LOVE, “Yes…it was my family; because your family is my family. Violence will not solve any problems.”

Someone else yells, “We want an eye for an eye!”. More HATRED.

Gandhi shows more of his superpower of LOVE when he responds, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” He continues walking and reaches the house where he will be staying.

Word spreads quickly about his presence there. His message of LOVE spreads quickly. Just like HATE grew on itself…LOVE also showed the power to grow on itself. The next day on August 14th he held his regular evening prayer session. Ten thousand people showed up. He was starting to have an impact. He pleaded with the people of Calcutta, “If Calcutta can return to reason and brotherhood, then, perhaps, all India may be saved. Otherwise, if the flames of communal strife envelop the whole country, how can our newborn freedom survive?”

Kids – you can read the details on your own about how he fought HATE with LOVE in Calcutta at this time. I’ll just summarize the end result. On midnight of August 14th, when India received independence, Lahore, the capital of Punjab, the city called the “Paris of the East”, was in flames. So much so, that the new Prime Minister Nehru, would later recall to his sister about his famous independence speech that he gave, “I was hardly aware of what I was saying. The words came welling up, but my mind could only conceive the awful picture of Lahore in flames.”

And what about Calcutta? What miracle had occurred there in the two days since Gandhi’s arrival? His message of LOVE had spread like wildfire, and groups from different communities, who had been ready to kill each other, marched together for peace, gangs threw down their weapons at his feet and begged for his forgiveness, those ready to kill others from different communities now took solemn pledges to protect the other community, and people from all communities shook hands, exchanged sweets, and celebrated joyously together. His superpower had worked, and this single man accomplished what an army of 55,000 could not.

Gandhi - Apple

Today, October 2nd, is celebrated as the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. This is just one of the many, many miraculous incidents in his life where he demonstrated the power of LOVE over HATE. This story seems hard to believe, but it is true – and there are many more like this. So many so, that Albert Einstein once said, “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.”  I’d suggest that you kids read a biography on Mahatma Gandhi to learn more about this amazing person.

I would normally end here, but I wanted to share another thought with you kids. You may wonder if there are others from that planet I mentioned. Yes, there have not been too many, but there have been others from that planet who have also walked amongst us. They always do what Gandhi said about his own life – to live out the following thought: “My life is my message”. And this planet is a planet we can all aspire to and any of us can reach…and these individuals inspire us to try to reach this level of enlightenment.

Martin Luther King Junior

And, since you kids like certain types of music, I wanted to end with a rock song about another person from this same planet, but whose lyrics also apply to Gandhi. This song is about Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior, who also fought HATE with LOVE. He responded to HATE with both words and actions of LOVE, and was able to change the hearts and minds of a nation. Just sit back and listen to the soulful and inspiring vocals of Bono, the energetic guitar of the Edge, Adam Clayton’s thunderous bass, and Larry Mullen Junior’s perfect percussion, as U2 sings, “Pride – In the Name of Love”. While written for Dr. King, these lyrics can apply also to Mahatma Gandhi and all other similar ‘great souls’ – let’s all aspire to learn from them, and to emulate them to improve our own lives and the lives of others.

U2