First Chinese Pilgrim towards India : Xuanzang or Fa Hein ?

Sometimes when two people with same capability are put up against each other, it is difficult to guess the one who did it faster. And as the time passes, those two points merge to become one, making it even more difficult to identify who was who.

silk road map admirable india

Well, I have been a witness of many things since last many years, years which are far more than what a human lifespan is. Actually, ‘years’ is not the right word, ‘centuries’ is, to be precise. I am the Silk route. Yes, the one about whom a 9th grade kid has a nightmare the night before his history exam. The same silk route your daughter might have a tough time mugging up about. Well, I don’t blame those kids for hating me because a lot of things have happened since the time I was built and most of them included me as a primary character in the scene.

I was built around 114 BC by a Chinese dynasty called the Han dynasty. They wanted a route that could be used mainly for trade with other countries. So they gave me a huge span of 6437 kilometres. I derive my name from Chinese silk, which was very famous then. The major traders at the time of my birth were the Chinese, Persians, Somalis, Greeks, Syrians, Romans, Armenians and the most admirable out of them, Indians.

I honestly find humans to be oddballs. They won’t ever use a thing the way it was meant to be. Same happened with me. Soon, apart from the exchange of trade, which was their original intention of making me, I was started being used as a source of exchange of cultures, technology and even diseases. Not drifting apart from my primary reason to interact with you today, let me come to the point. I am here to reveal one of the deepest secret which was hidden in the lap of time since many years. So, today, I will detach those merged points and make them as clear and distinct as sugar and salt.

Since the time of my birth, the Chinese were trying to study the Buddhist inscriptions found in India. They travelled as pilgrims, all the way from China to India through Silk Road to study and establish an interaction between China and India. One such Chinese Buddhist monk was Xuanzang. He was a scholar, traveller and translator who visited various places all over India and present day Pakistan to collect and study each and every bit of information he could get on Buddhism. He also participated in debates and discussion which dealt with the interpretations of Buddhism. He got a major part of his quest from Nalanda University, Bihar. After going back to China he established a school and also wrote one of the longest and detailed texts about Buddhism, taking help from whatever scriptures he had studied from India.

Another such monk was Fa Hein. He was also from China and went out on a journey to India in pursuit of getting knowledge of Buddhist manuscripts. His journey to India is described in his important travelogue name A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms.

Now the big and significant question is who did it first, Xuanzang or Fa Hein? Well, only two things know the answer to this question-time and the Silk route because they are the only common quantities between the journeys of Xuanzang and Fa Hein. Did you notice that I didn’t disclose their birthdates? That’s where the key to answer lies.

Fa Hein was born in 337 CE and died in 422 CE, while Xuanzang in 602 CE and died in 664 CE. So it’s crystal clear that Fa Hein was the first pilgrim to visit India. But on his return journey to China, he had to face a storm which drove his ship into an island, probably Java. Fa Hein stayed there for five months and took another ship to China but again, his ship was blown off course and he landed up at Mount Lao, which is in present day northern China. He spent the rest of his life there translating and editing the scriptures he had collected. Xuanzang already knew about Fa Hein’s voyage. Both of them were worried about the misinterpreted texts on Buddhism that had reached China and that became their common reason to visit India. In a way, both can be called as the first Chinese pilgrim to visit India because the one who went first wasn’t the one who came back first.

So that was about it. Fa Hein was the first pilgrim to visit India but he went never to come back again to China. So, years after him, his incomplete journey was completed by Xuanzang. I wonder why these humans call such an interesting stuff boring. Probably they don’t know the right method to study history. Very few have the power to create history, others simply become a part of it.

Admirable India

Post by : Falan Vachhrajani

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