Dialogue  January - March, 2007 , Volume 8  No. 3

India ’s Interface with East Asia

Lokesh Chandra*

Cultural Interflow between India and China  
The last twentythree centuries have seen a continuing cultural interflow between the Western paradise that is India and the Celestial Kingdom that is China . The rustling breeze of Buddhist fragrance has awakened the mindscape of both countries, endowing them with the web of thought, the harmony of art, the magnificent colour of murals and sculptures, incarnating a new life and sinking into the sensitivities of our peoples deep-reaching muscles of mystery, draped in the intimacy of the mind. The first contacts were made by Buddhist scholars from India who appeared in the Chinese capital in 217 B.C. under the Tsin dynasty. Contacts during the Tsin dynasty are a fair possibility as the Sanskrit word for Cathy is China, as such was the dynastic name Tsin heard by the Indians.  
    In 138 B.C. Chang Ch’ien was an envoy of the Chinese Emperor to India . He took back musical instruments and Maha-Tukhara melodies to the Chinese capital Ch’ang-an. The son-in-law of the Emperor Wu-ti, he wrote 28 new tunes based on this melody which were played as military music. Along with Buddhism, the Serindians introduced milk to China . The Chinese ideograph lo, pronounced lak in ancient times, which meant varied kinds of fermented milk products, was a loan from Indo-European (Latin lac-tic).  
    The Yuechi rulers presented Sanskrit texts to the Chinese court in 2 B.C. The first historically owned Buddhist masters arrived in China in A.D. 67. The Han Emperor Ming-ti dreamt of a golden person. On enquiry from his courtiers he learnt that he was the Buddha. He sent ambassadors to the West (i.e. India ) to invite Buddhist teachers. They returned with Dharmaraksha and Kashyapa Matanga. They arrived on white horses laden with scriptures and sacred relics. The first Buddhist monastery was built for them on Imperial orders and it came to be known as “The White Horse Monastery” (Po-ma-sse). They wrote “The Sutra of 42 Sections” to provide a guide to the ideas of Buddhism and to the conduct of monks. This monastery exists to this day and the cenotaphs of the two Indian teachers can be seen in its precincts.
    In the reign Kanishka bilateral relations entered a new phase in economic, political and cultural domains. Kanishka as the greatest of Kushan emperors symbolized his international status by the adoption of four titles: Devaputra or Son of Heaven from China, Shaonana Shao or King of Kings from Persia, Kaisara or Caesar from Rome, and Maharaja of India, signifying the imperial dignity of the four superpowers of the time: China, Persia, Rome and India. He played a major role in the dissemination of Buddhism to China . The policy of cultural internationalism enunciated by Ashoka found its prime efflorescence in the reign of Kanishka. Hsuan-tsang relates that Kanishka defeated the Chinese in Central Asia and Chinese princes were sent as hostages. Territories were allotted to them in Punjab which were known as Cina-bhukti, an area that Hsuan-tsang visited in the seventh century. Now it is a village Chiniyari near Amritsar , and Chiniot from Cinakota. The Chinese princes introduced two new fruits to India : the peach and the pear. They came to be known respectively as cînânî and cînarâjaputra which means “Peach the Chinese Princess” and “Pear the Chinese Prince”.  
    In India paper had been manufactured out of cotton, and out of silk in Han China. With the introduction of Buddhism cotton also became a component of paper, as is evident from the old lexicon entitled Ku-chin tzu-ku where silk radical of the character for paper is replaced by the radical for cotton. Cotton cultivation had been introduced from Kashmir and Bengal to China in as early as the second century B.C. 
    The sandy vastness that led to India was the path of sutras, first and foremost the way of texts and translators, of scriptures and schools of thought, of the triumphs of Buddhism as the mental and material culture of East Asia . The development of Buddhist temple architecture, new stylistic features in Chinese that arose from translations of Buddhist texts, the Buddhist plurality of inhabited worlds as opposed to the Chinese earth-centred worldview, and various elements of cultural transmission, opened up Sinocentrism to wider horizons. The several people inhabiting the route participated in the cultural exchange for a millennium. The earliest and most celebrated of the masters was the Parthian An Shih-kao who orgnaised the first translation team, after his arrival at Loyang in AD 148.  
As early as in 251 A.D. we find Kaang Seng-hui rendering the Jataka form of the Ramayana into Chinese, and in 472 A.D. appeared another Chinese translation of the Avadana of Dasratha from a lost Sanskrit text by Kekaya. A long tradition in narrative and dramatic form created the great episodic cycle of the 16
th century classic Chinese novel known as “Monkey” or the His-yu-chi which amalgamated among other elements the extensive travels of Hanuman in quest of Sita. This motif enriched popular culture and folklore and also contributed to the development of Chinese secular literature.  
    Like the Indian Suryvamsha, the Sun is a symbol of the sovereign upon earth in China . The Sun is defined as corresponding to that which is solid or complete. It is a symbol of virtuous government. It is powerless when obscured by clouds: so a government is without effect if evil counsel intervenes. As Surya shines on high and low alike, the people should, similarly, be impartially treated. In the Chinese work Fo-pen-hsing-ching, which was translated from Sanskrit by Pao-yun in 427-449, it is stated that Mother Maya saw the future Buddha as an elephant entering her womb. The elephant carried on its head “the solar essence”, and the Bodhisattva riding the elephant is compared to “the luminous pearl of the sun” and Mother Maya states that “sun-light has entered her womb”. With the introduction of Buddhism into