A famous Chinese Scholar in Kashmir

By Mohan Kishen Tiku

mk tikuA famous Chinese pilgrim and scholar “Heun Tsiang” reached Kashmir from Urausha (Hazara) now in Pakistan in about 631AD. He stayed here for more than two years to study the Buddhist and Sanskrit lore. He travelled for more than sixteen years (629-645 AD), through India and Central Asia. His reputation as a great religious man and as a scholar preceded his actual entry in Kashmir.

Heuin Tsiang had to face many hardships in the way to  reach the desired place, which passed through many rocky places.

When he was about to enter the boundary of Kashmir, he was received with a great honour by the king’s maternal uncle, sent there in advance. The visiting dignitary was provided with all necessary conveyances and a special horse from Royal stable.

chinese scholar

While proceeding towards the capital of Kashmir-he passed through several Buddhist Monasteries, where he offered worship. He also spent a night at Hushkara Vihara.

Heun Tsiang along with his party  reached a place Dharmashala, which was just about 7 KM from the city. The king of Kashmir was waiting at this place to receive Heun Tsiang and his party personally and conducted him to the city. The city streets were decorated with flowers etc;  king’s nobbles and Buddhist monks received him near the entry of a monastery known as Jayandra-while seated on one of the king’s elephant. Next day after spending a night in the Monastery, the king took him to his palace as special guest.

At the palace the visiting dignitary was granted all possible comforts. The name of the king who ruled the Kashmir during the visit of Heun Tsiang is not known from any records till date. As per a Chinese text Varahamula (Modern Baramulla was the capital of Kashmir  those days. Heun Tsiang has recorded that Kashmir was  “a good agricultural country and produced abundant fruits and flowers etc. It is also yielded horses. Saffron, Lenses and medicinal plants. The lenses were probably Sanskrit Dahanopala-fire-stones burning gems. The crystal lenses. “The climate is very cold in season with much snow and a little wind,” “The people wore serge and cotton. They were good looking. They were fond of learning and have a faith”. All facilities were extended to him so that he could fulfil his mission to India and Kashmir in particular. Scores of Buddhist heads waited for the Chinese royal guest. The king appointed more than twenty clerks for copying out the Buddhist MSS under the direction of their head. In addition to this, five more men were appointed to act as whole time attendants to the visiting Chinese scholar. He was daily invited by the king to expound and read Buddhist scriptures.

Heun Tsiang remained in Kashmir for more than two years. During this period he devoted himself to the study of selected sutras and sastras. He also tendered his homage to Buddhist holy places in Kashmir. The Buddhist Monasteries were about hundred in number, and there were above 5,000 Buddhist residences. There were four Asoka Topes, each containing a portion of the bodly relics of the Budha.

The Chinese scholar has also put on record the tradition regarding the introduction of Buddhism into Kashmir. There are many references in the literature of Buddhism describing the beauty of the Kashmir Valley. King Ashoka while holding 3rd Buddhist Council sent special invitation to the Buddhist Chiefs of Kashmir to attend the country’s council.

Heun Tsiang records that during Ashoka’s rule about 500 Arhals from Pataliputra migrated to Kashmir. As per records left by the visiting Chinese scholar Emperor Kanishka held his 4th Buddhist council in Kashmir. He further states that the work of this Council was the composition of 100,000 stanzas of commentaries on each of the three classics of canonical literature: a) Vinaya, b) Abhid harma, and c) Sutra.

After his stay Heun Tsiang left the Valley in 633 A.D. by way of T.Samidan route and reached Pun-nu-tso, Modern Poonch.

*(The writer is a journalist and presently lives at Mahinder Nagar, Jammu.)