All the champions in ULUS are figures taken from Mongol history, mythology, or a combination of both.
According to Mongolian tradition, Chinggis Khan was descended from the union of a grey wolf and a white doe. But eleven generations after that union and ten generations before the birth of the great Khan is the semi-mythical figure who marks the transition between the supernatural and the human, the past and the future: Alun Gua, or Alun the Beautiful.
Her first two sons, Begünütei and Belgünütei, were sired by her warrior-king husband Bodonchar Munkhag. After the king’s death, the story goes, she gave birth to three more sons, which she credited to a glittering divine visitor who entered her ger, or yurt, through its chimney-hole and impregnated her.
This account aroused a certain amount of suspicion, and her two eldest sons accused her of a dalliance with a servant.
In response, she invited them for a meal, gave each of them an arrow, and told them to break it. They did so. She then gave them a bundle of five arrows and challenged them to break it, which they could not.
“If the five of you are divided,” she said, “you can each be easily conquered. Together, though, like the bundle of arrows, nothing can harm you.”
And thus, as they say in the fables, each of her sons thrived and became the ancestor of a different Mongol clan.
Chinggis Khan (whose birth-name was Temüjin of the Borjigin clan) was the founder of the Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous land empire in history, and is regarded by present-day Mongolians as the founder of Mongolia.
He founded the Empire by uniting several Central Asian tribes, at which point he was proclaimed Chinggis Khan, meaning “Universal strong ruler and lord.” He then launched invasions that overran lands from Poland to Korea.
Notwithstanding his brutal conquests, however, he also did much to promote enlightened ideas within his Empire. He made the Uyghur script the official writing system of the Empire. He also promoted religious tolerance within the Empire and encouraged and protected trade, thus facilitating cultural growth of areas from Europe to Southeast Asia.
Geser, fearless lord of the legendary kingdom of Ling, was the hero of one of the greatest and most widespread Mongolian epics. In most of the various tales, he had a miraculous birth, a despised and neglected childhood, and then became ruler and won his (first) wife ‘Brug-mo through a series of marvelous feats.
In the Buryat versions of his epic, the infant Geser defeated giant rats, human-sized mosquitoes and steel ravens before he grew up to kill a series of monsters and demons that had grown out of the various body-parts of the dismembered Atai Ulan, khan of the malicious gods of the East.
Instead of dying a normal death, Geser departed into a hidden realm from which he may return at some time in the future to save his people from their enemies.
Jianggar is the hero of one of the great Mongolian epic sagas.It is said that his father established a utopian realm known as Baomuba, a place where there was no orphan, no widow or widower, where people never went hungry, and where they were never older than eighteen years of age. When the crown of Baomuba passed to the third generation, the queen gave birth to a baby who was ensconced in a red ball. It was the boy Jianggar, who was so strong and powerful that as soon as he came into the world, he was able to speak and to kick a big hole in the old goat skin mattress he was lying on.
His father was so pleased with the birth of his son that he began neglecting attention towards the defense of his kingdom. Manggusi, a monster, invaded the kingdom and Jianggar’s parents were killed when he was two years old, leaving him an orphan.
To avenge his parents’ murder, Jianggar began to go out to battle at the age of three. When he was seven years old, he had established his fame and had become the King Khan of Baomuba. Despite being defeated several times in war, Manggusi did not relent in his invasions of Baomuba. Leading 35 generals and 6,012 warriors, Jianggar defeated Manggusi and kept Baomuba free from invaders’ occupation.
Khutulun, the Wrestler
The great great granddaughter of Genghis Khan, princess Khutulun is remembered for martial prowess that was striking even in a martial society. In battle she fought beside her father, Lord of the Odegai, her deft equestrian skill making her a deadly combatant. Marco Polo met her and wrote that she would “make a dash at the host of the enemy, and seize some man thereout, as deftly as a hawk pounces on a bird, and carry him to her father, and this she did one man a time.”
But it was in the wrestling ring that she won eternal fame.
Blessed (or cursed) with fourteen brothers, Khutulun emerged as a precocious wrestler in her youth. As she came of age as a noblewoman, she demanded her suitors prove themselves to her by wrestling her. As her fame grew, she attracted many suitors who presented herds of horses, either as dowries should they best her, or forfeit should they lose.
No prince was able to throw Khutulun, and she amassed a sizeable herd of horses. Ultimately, she chose her own spouse, a noble warrior from her father’s horde. She thus retired on her own terms, undefeated.
Her father Kaidu lobbied to have her named as his successor, but ambitious brothers and conservative advisors prevented her succession. She remained an influential figure in the Ogedai into her middle age, when political opposition forces initiated defamatory rumors about a supposed incestuous relationship with her father. Her sudden and mysterious death at the age of forty-five was whispered to be result of poison administered by those who feared she might one day rise to power.
Her fame survived her, though, and she has been immortalized in oral legends, novelizations, and even an unfinished Puccini opera. And now a tabletop game.
Sorghaghtani Beki, Kublai Khan’s mother, was one of the most competent and powerful leaders in the Mongol Empire, and is thought to have been one of the most influential women in the history of the world.
Though she never ruled over the Empire in its entirety, she was granted enduring leadership over a sizable portion of it after her husband’s death, and became empress of the Pax Mongolica.
She repeatedly rejected marriage proposals from Ögedei Khan, saying that her sons needed her attention; each of her sons learnt a different language, corresponding to a different region, and all of them grew up to be leaders in their own right.
She was a Christian, but she gave charity to both Christians and Muslims; she was tolerant of religious diversity, and her sons carried on this trait.
Popular culture today may depict the Mongols as bloodthirsty brutes, but Zanabazar was nothing of the kind.
Zanabazar was declared spiritual leader of the Khalkha Mongols by a convocation of nobles in 1639 when he was just four years old. The fifth Dalai Lama later recognized him as the reincarnation of a famous Buddhist scholar, and bestowed on him the Sanskrit name Jñānavajra meaning “thunderbolt scepter of wisdom.”
In addition to his spiritual and political roles, Zanabazar was a prodigious sculptor, painter, architect, poet, costume designer, scholar and linguist, credited with launching Mongolia’s seventeenth century cultural renaissance. He is best known for his intricate and elegant Buddhist sculptures created in the Nepali-derived style, sculpted in the 1680s.
Zanabazar used his artistic output to promote Buddhism among all levels of Khalkha society and unify the Khalkha Mongol tribes during a time of social and political turmoil.
To make it easier to translate sacred Tibetan texts into Mongolian, he created an entirely new script, called Soyombo, and although it is barely used today, one of its letters, the Soyombo, became a national symbol of Mongolia.
He even (long after his death) had a dinosaur named after him.