Understanding Our Neighbours
India and China: The ancient cross-cultural connections—II
Aravind Yelery, Shanghai
During the Tang dynasty of China (618-906 AD), another historical visit to India was undertaken by the legendary Chinese monk, Xuanzang (627 AD). Xuanzang is considered as a legend in China who travelled across India for 17 years collecting Buddhist literature and further translating them into Chinese. He was compassionate about ‘holy land’, a word he often used to describe India in his narratives. He was the first Chinese to coin the present Chinese term for India, Yindu. The term was coined from the word Sindhu (or Indus, as it appears in the western texts). His visit to India was mainly non-political in nature and rather a pilgrimage in style. He visited all the major Buddhist sites, from Bamiyan to Nalanda and it is believed that he carried more than 600 Buddhist texts from India to China and translated them in Chinese. His love for Indian Buddhist literature was so much that as per Chinese source, in his last 20 years, Xuanzang translated more than 1,300 volumes of Buddhist sutras. The Records of the Western Regions Visited during the Great Tang Dynasty, a narrative by Xuanzang is often used by Indian scholars to understand the Chinese perception of India and to re-build their thoughts on Indian history and culture. The accounts of his travel in Chinese are unique because Xuanzang met King Harshwardhan during his trip to Kanuaj, which resulted in establishing the diplomatic ties between Tang emperor and the north Indian kingdom.
In the following centuries hundreds of Chinese undertook the pilgrimage to ascertain the way of belief and explore more on Ancient Indian monastic life. This was a case of Cultural reciprocity. One of the Buddhist monks in seventh century, Yijing, described that their visits to India would help spread the understanding of Buddhism and create a Chinese city of Rajgraha (capital of Magadh empire, an important place of worship for visiting monks) in China. As the Chinese kingdom started growing, Buddhism along with other schools of thoughts remained at the centre of Chinese society for centuries to come.
(The writer is a Corporate Consultant Sanghai ji Ou, Sanghai/Delhi)