THE STORY OF THE KHAN
The name “Khan” brings to one’s mind the common surname taken by many a Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. The famous amongst them includes the great Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi, the celebrity Pakistani cricketer, politician and social activist Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi better known by his popular name Imran Khan.
Then there are the multitude of the “Khans” of the Indian film world starting with Yusuf Khan, known commonly by his screen name Dilip Kumar. The musical world of the subcontinent has it’s share of the “Khans”, from Ustad Bismillah Khan to Amjad Ali Khan.
The name “Khan” in it’s origin has nothing Islamic with it, rather it was imported into the Muslim realm. The name has a unique attractiveness with a macho touch that has drawn people from various backgrounds to adopt it into their names right from it’s genesis in Central Asia to many other parts of the globe from Eastern Europe to South Asia. Originwise “Khan” and the expanded versions “Khakhan” or “Khaqan” was the honorific title of Mongol rulers of Central Asia. It was taken up by the Turks as well, who were associated both as subjects and participants of the Mongol empire. The name “Khan” entered the international scene with the rise of the Mongol emperor Chengis Khan, commanding one of the largest empire in the history from Asia to Europe, conquering in all directions by his whirlwind campaigns.
Chengis Khan became the “Great Khan” or Khakhan or Khaqan of the Mongols in 1206 after he unified the fragmented Mongol tribes into a unified entity. He deputed his sons Jochi Khan, Chagatai Khan, Ogodai Khan and Tolui Khan to rule over major parts of his empire. He died in 1227 and was succeeded by his son Ogodai Khan as the “Great Khan”, who was followed by his son Kuyuk Khan. Then came Tolui Khan’s son Mangu Khan, who was then succeeded by another of Tolui Khan’s son the famous Kublai Khan. Kublai Khan conquered China and founded the Yuan dynasty there.
Mongol domain expanded in all directions and by 1260 four power centers emerged. Kublai Khan remained as the leader of all Mongols and his dominion centered around China. He had shifted the capital of the empire from Karakorum in Central Asia to Peking in China. Turkestan region was given by Chengis Khan to his second son Chagatai Khan and this area was what was known as the Chagatai khanate, peopled mostly by Turks. Chengis’s grandson, son of his youngest son Tolui Khan, Hulagu Khan, conquered the middle-east region of Asia knocking out the Abbassid Caliphs of Baghdad. He started the dynasty of Il-Khans of Persia. Jochi Khan’s son Batu Khan turned towards Europe and conquered upto southern Russia. This khanate founded by Batu Khan was known as the Golden Horde. Batu Khan passed away in 1258 and reins of power of the Golden Horde came into the hands of Bereke Khan his brother. Bereke Khan was the first of the Mongol rulers to take up Islam as religion. Mongols’ own religion was a form of Shamanism.
The main fighting force of the Mongol army consisted chiefly of Mongols, Tatars and Turks. The west and southwards conquest brought them into contact with the Islamic culture. Finding Islam suitable a religion for their fervor most Turks and Tatars and many Mongols embraced this faith. There resulted much fusion and intermixing between the co-religionist Turks, Tatars and Mongols. A mixed breed of Turko-Mongol people emerged, some identified as Turks only, some as Uzbek, Turkoman, Mughal etc. As an example Babur the Mughal conqueror of India descended from the Turkish Timur (Lame) from his paternal side and directly from the family of Chagatai Khan, the son of Chengis Khan from his maternal line. These people poured into Afghanistan and Persia. The name “Khan” as a title or surname traveled with them.
The Mongols of Mongolia on the other hand came under the influence of Tibetan form of Mahayana Buddhism and still continue in that religious faith.
Although the Arabs were the first Muslims credited with making conquering inroads into the Indian subcontinent starting with Muhammad-bin-Qasim’s conquest of Sindh, it is the Turko-Mongol Muslims who effected the actual Muslim conquest of the Indian subcontinent. The name element “Khan” gained popularity to such an extent that it assumed the status of an integral part of the Indo-Muslim culture. The “Khan” title was taken up by a large segment of Muslims of Afghan extraction and other Muslims of the Indian subcontinent including those who converted to Islam from Hinduism. During the British era in India, the British rulers conferred honorific title of “Khan Bahadur” to loyal Muslims of repute in contradistinction to “Rai Bahadur”given to similar persons of Hindu extraction.
The title or the surname “Khan” crossed the confined of the Indo-Islamic realms to be used by Hindus and Buddhists. Of those Hindus, some used it as a title on being bestowed by the Muslim rulers mainly in the province of Bengal. One such Bengali Hindu Khan family was known to be residing in Shillong, the capital of the Indian state of Meghalaya, where they owned the well known Khan automobile works.
Although Assam or more properly Kamrup of the medieval era was mostly outside the perimeter of the Muslim rule, some of the Assamese Hindu elite added the title “Khan” after their names. One such historical personality was Bura Khan who happened to be an uncle of the revered Assamese saint Sankardeb. Bura Khan was his nickname because he married at an older age, his actual name was Ram Chandra Khan. His descendants include the famous Barua family of Gauripur which is different but related to the other Barua family of Gauripur which has produced luminaries like the famous Indian film-maker Promothesh Barua and many others like the famous folk singer of Assam Protima Pandey Barua. The Bura Khan’s family originally hailed from Alipukhuri in Nagaon of middle Assam and later they moved to western Assam. Incidentally it was in a religious ceremony held in the residence of Bura Khan that Sankardeb for the first time got better of his Brahmin opponents intellectually.
Another Assamese Hindu Khan mentioned in historical literatures was one Gabharu Khan, Mahanta (Kayastha religious preacher) family of Morowa Xatra of Nalbari area claim descent from him. Gabharu Khan was the nephew of another powerful person Pratap Khan who was a feudatory Bhuyan chieftain of Pandu in Guwahati. Gabharu Khan’s actual name was Ram Khan, he was a commander under the legendary Koch general Chilarai or Sangram Singha, the name Gabharu was bestowed on him by Chilarai. The Morowa Xatra in Nalbari district was started by a preacher named Sri Hari a descendent of Gabharu Khan, who was one among the 12 original disciples of the great Assamese saint Sri Damodar Deb . The last xatradhikar of Morowa Xatra was Madan Chandra Mahanta better known as Buragoxai. This part of information was prepared on the basis of facts provided by Mr Ranjan Mahanta of Kharghuli, Guwahati who is a descendant of Gabharu Khan.
The early rulers of the Chakma tribe of the Chittagong Hills ( now in Bangladesh) who have been of the Buddhist faith all along, took fancy to the title “Khan” and had used it in the past. The lineage of such Chakma “Khan” chieftains in chronological order is as follows.
Sher Daulat Khan (alias Pagla)
Jan Baksh Khan
Dharam Baksh Khan
After the last named, the use of Khan as a title stopped among the Chakma chiefs.
In case of Bulgaria a Slavic nation,the nation itself began with a Turkic people named Bulgar ruling over a majority Slav subjects. The first ruler of importance was Khan Asparukh. Another notable to follow him was Khan Krum also known as “Krum the terrible”. The Bulgars over periods of time got assimilated with the Slav populace and the title of the “Khan” got replaced by the the Slavic title “Tsar”. This began with Khan Boris accepting Christianity for himself as well as for his subjects.
Mongols may have won militarily a large portion of the globe but lost out in the cultural front to many of the cultures they came to control, be it in China, Persia, Indian subcontinent, Europe etc. A glaring example are the Hazaras, an important tribe of Afghanistan. They are the descendants of the Mongol soldiers of Chengis Khan who married local Afghan women. Their physical features still evince their Mongol origin but they speak a form of Persian, not the Mongol tongue and profess the Shia sect of the Islam religion.
The Mongol language has contributed two important words to the Indo-Islamic milieu. One is the name of the language Urdu, derived from Mongol word for tent “yurt”, in this case denoting an army encampment. The other word is “Khan”