Information on Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang, Hsuan Tsang) in India
Hiuen Tsang (also Xuanzang, Hsuan Tsang) was the celebrated Chinese traveler who visited India in Ancient Times. He has been described therefore as the “Prince of Pilgrims.”
His visit to India was an important event of the reign of Harshavardhana. India is much indebted to this Chinese traveller for the valuable accounts he left behind with many details of political, religious, economic, social conditions of those days.
The biography of Hiuen Tsang, written by another Chinese, is also another valuable source for Indian history.
Hiuen Tsang was born in China in 602 A.D. He became a Buddhist monk at the age of twenty. He longed for knowing more and more of Buddhism to satisfy his spiritual hunger. But without a visit to India, he knew his desire for learning would remain unfulfilled. When he was about 30, he secretly left China for an adventurous journey towards India. He traveled trough rough, rocky and rugged mountainous region to reach India.
During his stay in India, he visited various places of northern and southern India. In India, he wanted to visit all the sacred places connected with the life of Buddha, as well as to learn of Buddhism through study. During his travel he covered many more places and observed keenly the social, religious, political, cultural and economic conditions of the country.
Hiuen Tsang visited Kashmir and the Punjab. He proceeded to Kapilavastu, Bodh-Gaya, Sarnath, and Kusinagara. He also travelled through the Deccan, Orissa and Bengal. He went almost too every part of India.
He spent around five years in the University of Nalanda and studied there. He was impressed by the passion of the Indian people for learning.
According to Hiuen Tsang, at the time of his visit, Pataliputra had lost its former glory. Kanauj and Prayag became important cities.
Harsha came to admire him for his deep devotion to Buddha and his profound knowledge of Buddhism. He honored him in his Kanauj religious Assembly, and also invited him to attend the Prayaga Assembly. After attending those two magnificent functions, Hiuen Tsang prepared to leave for China after having spent long fourteen years of his life on the soil of India.
King Harsha was sorry to part with the pilgrim. But he made elaborate arrangements for his safe return under a strong military escort to the frontiers of India. Beyond the frontiers, the pilgrim was accompanied by Harsha’s official guides who carried the letters of authority from emperor to produce them in other countries. Thus, Hiuen Tsang finally reached back home.
Hiuen Tsang took with him from India 150 pieces of the bodily relics of Buddha, a large number of Buddha images in gold, silver and sandalwood and above all, 657 volumes of valuable manuscripts, carried by twenty horses of his escort party.
Back in his home in China, he set himself to translate some of those manuscripts into the Chinese language, assisted by several scholars. About 74 Buddhist works were translated during his life time which proved of immense value to the people of China. Hiuen Tsang died in 664 A.D.
Importance of Hiuen Tsang Visit to India
Hiuen Tsang was indeed an ancient ambassador of peace between China and India. Harsha too was a man of international vision like Samrat Ashoka.
Regarding Hiuen Tsang’s praise of Harshavardhana and of the Indian people in his Travel Accounts, it may be said that the Chinese pilgrim was writing the memoirs of his Indian days in far-away China, without any compulsion or pressure from anybody to give a favorable account of the rulers and peoples of another country. He was writing what he saw, and what he honestly felt, as well as of what he had heard. As a true Buddhist, and a pious pilgrim to a holy land, he could not have been dishonest or untruthful in his writings. He had no reason to flatter anybody when far out of sight. He had also no reason to seek anybody’s favour for his Travel Accounts. He was, in fact, describing the condition of Buddhism in India as he saw. That was the subject of his prime concern. Other episodes came in as side descriptions.
On the whole, Hiuen Tsang’s accounts have been accepted as truthful and trust-worthy. His writings have thrown immense light on an important era of the ancient Indian history.