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Many Darkhads rely on herding for a living.

The Darkhad: Guardians of The Soul of Genghis Khan

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The Darkhad are a Mongol tribe who live in northern Mongolia. In particular, this tribe is found in the Ulaan-Uul, Renchinlkhumbe, Tsagaannuur, and Bayanzurkh sums (the equivalent of a district) of the Mongolian province of Khövsgöl. The three sums are part of the Darkhad Valley, which is named after this tribe. The Darkhad are a nomadic people and continue this traditional way of life. The Darkhad are also the guardians of Genghis Khan’s relics, a role they have held for centuries.

The Guardians of Genghis Khan’s Tomb

The Darkhad consider themselves to be the descendants of Bo’orchu and Muqali, two of Genghis Khan’s generals who were given the honor of guarding the Great Khan’s tomb after his death in 1227. Although the exact location of Genghis Khan’s tomb is a secret that has been lost to history, the Darkhad continue to guard his relics and to maintain his cult.

Statue of Genghis Khan. (astreluk / Adobe)

Statue of Genghis Khan. (astreluk / Adobe)

It may be mentioned that only a handful of Darkhads serve as Genghis Khan’s guardians and most members of this tribe do other jobs for a living. Many still maintain the traditional nomadic way of life and rely on herding for a living. The Darkhads live in gers (the Mongolian for yurt), which can be easily setup or taken down. This is useful considering the fact that the Darkhad are required to seek good pastures for their livestock.

Photograph of some Darkhad guardians at the mausoleum 1897. (Popolon / Public Domain)

Photograph of some Darkhad guardians at the mausoleum 1897. (Popolon / Public Domain)

As for the Darkhad who are responsible for guarding Genghis’ Khan’s relics, they perform their task today at the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Ordos, Inner Mongolia. This, however, has not always been the case as the mausoleum itself was only built during the 20 th century while the Darkhad have been Genghis Khan’s guardians for about 800 years.

Genghis Khan’s Relics

Prior to the construction of the mausoleum, the relics of Genghis Khan were kept in eight white gers. It was Genghis Khan’s fourth son, Tolui (who was also the father of Kublai Khan) who initiated this practice. Alternatively, it has been claimed that it was Kublai Khan who built the first eight white gers. About 500 Darkhad families were chosen to guard these sacred relics. The Mongols believe that while the physical body may die, the soul continues to exist, specifically in the objects used by the deceased. Therefore, these relics are not considered to be mere objects, but contain the soul of Genghis Khan himself.

Kazakh yurt known as a “gers”. (sokolkz84 / Adobe)

Kazakh yurt known as a “gers”. (sokolkz84 / Adobe)

There are various relics kept in these gers. One of these relics, for instance, is the Suledu a trident-like weapon. According to legend, after Genghis Khan’s troops suffered a defeat, the Mongol leader prayed for power and divine aid. Suddenly, there was a dazzling light in the sky and the Suledu appeared floating over the heads of his soldiers. Genghis Khan ordered his generals to take the weapon but none of them were successful. Finally, the Great Khan promised to sacrifice 1000 horses and 10,000 sheep to the weapon, after which the Suledu descended.

Another relic that might be kept in the gers is a strand of camel hair containing Genghis Khan’s last breath. According to tradition, while Genghis Khan was on his deathbed, a shaman plucked a strand of hair from the forehead of white male camel and placed it in the Mongol leader’s mouth. After the hair absorbed Genghis Khan’s last breath, it was placed in a bag as a token of his soul and was perhaps placed in one of the white gers.

The Mausoleum of Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan’s relics continued to reside in the gers protected by the Darkhads in the centuries following his death. It was only in 1954 that a permanent structure was built to replace the eight white gers. The shrine was completed two years later but was then destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Subsequently, the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan was re-built during the early 1980s. The Darkhads, of course, continue to serve as the guardians of Genghis Khan. In 2005, a large-scale renovation was planned for the mausoleum, though the Darkhads claimed that it was an attempt to turn the shrine into a theme park. Although the Darkhads were able to halt the work temporarily, the renovations continued anyways and were completed in two years.

Genghis Khan Mausoleum near Ordos in Inner Mongolia. (Magnus Manske / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Genghis Khan Mausoleum near Ordos in Inner Mongolia. (Magnus Manske / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Top image: Many Darkhads rely on herding for a living. Source: Kertu / Adobe.

By Wu Mingren


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Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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