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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Buddhist temple associated with traveller Xuan Zang under demolition threat

‘7aum Arivu’  (pronunciation: Ēām aivu; Seventh Sense) is a 2011 Indian Tamil science fiction thriller film written and directed by A. R. Murugadoss, featuring Suriya, Shruti Haasan. During school days did study about Kanishka and Kushan Empire.  The Kushan Empire was earlier formed nearer Kabul, present day Afganishtan. The Kushans spread from the Kabul River Valley to defeat other Central Asian tribes that had previously conquered parts of the northern central Iranian Plateau once ruled by the Parthians, and reached their peak under the Buddhist emperor Kanishka whose realm stretched to Pataliputra.

Kanishka was a famous emperor of Kushans, famous for his military, political, and spiritual achievements. His main capital was at Purushpura (Peshawar in present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) with regional capitals at the location of present-day Bagram in Afghanistan and Mathura in India. His greatest contribution to Buddhist architecture was the Kanishka stupa at Peshawar, Pakistan. This sthupa finds a mention in the reports of Chinese pilgrim – Xuan Zang [in Tamil, we read him as Yuan Suang]

The travelogue of Xuan Zang is well documented and serves as a good treasure house of history; he travelled far and wide and visited Kanchipuram as well. His travels included, passing throughHunza and the Khyber Pass to the east, reaching the former capital of Gandhara, Purushapura (Peshawar) at a time when Buddhism was on the decline.  At Oddiyana he describes to have found 1,400 old monasteries, that had previously supported 18,000 monks.  He headed to Taxila.   He went to Kashmir in 631; between  632 and early 633, he studied with various monks. He visited and wrote about Jalandhar, Mathura which is described as Hindu-dominated but still having major Buddhist branches. Xuanzang returned northward to Sravasti, travelled through Terai in the southern part of modern Nepal (here he found deserted Buddhist monasteries) and thence to Kapilavastu, before Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha; thence to Nalanda and more places.

From Nalanda, Xuanzang travelled through several countries, including Campā, to the capital of Pundravardhana, identified with modern Mahasthangarh, in Bangladesh. He went east to the ancient city of Pragjyotishpur (modern Guwahati) in the kingdom of Kamarupa (modern Assam).  Xuan zang turned southward and travelled to Andhradesa to visit the famous Viharas at Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. He stayed at Amaravati and studied there. He later proceeded to Kanchi, the imperial capital of Pallavas and a strong centre ofBuddhism.  He was to return to China in 645.

The scholarly Buddhist monk  Xuan Zang, with his reading of religious books, travel and study at various places of his visit described in detail the people, religion,  culture and various things of those days in China and those places visited by him.  Read this interesting report in ‘The Hindu’ dated 11th April 2013 titled ‘Outrage in China over move to demolish temple linked to Xuan Zang’ ~ which is reproduced here.

A move to demolish parts of a temple in China that holds the remains of the 
famed monk Xuan Zang, who travelled to India in the 7th century, has triggered outrage.

Authorities have said they will partially demolish the 1,300-year-old Xingjiao Temple in Xian, in Shaanxi province, an ancient capital city (then known as Chang’an) and thriving centre of Buddhist learning. The monk Xuan Zang (often spelt as Hsuan Tsang in India, using the older romanisation system) returned to Chang’an following his trip to India to bring back Buddhist scriptures. His remains are believed to be kept in the Xingjiao temple, which is at the centre of Xian’s plans to become a world heritage site.

After the Southern Metropolis Daily , a Guangzhou-based newspaper, reported this week that part of the project involves demolishing and renovating parts of the temple, many Chinese scholars, bloggers and media outlets expressed outrage. “In China, the title [of world heritage site] usually means much higher ticket prices and more tourism tax income for local government,” wrote the Shanghai Daily.  The newspaper said temple authorities were “trapped in a dilemma” after including the temple in their application as they were told as much as two-thirds of the building — including 80 rooms, from monk’s dormitories to dining halls — had to be demolished “to make room for greenery”. After concerns over the project, the temple authorities issued a statement, saying they “support the application, but we hope not to change the original layout as far as possible”.

Local officials have rejected their concerns. “Dismantling part of the temple is to make for a better environment. It only affects monks’ lives temporarily, not severely,” Zhang Ning, head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, told the Southern Metropolis Daily . Whether or not the outrage will prompt a rethink in the plans remains unclear. While China lost a significant number of heritage sites and cultural relics during the decade-long Cultural Revolution (1966-76) when Mao Zedong launched a war against the “four olds” — habits, ideas, customs and culture — the years following the “reform and opening up” of the late 1970s has seen a resurgence in heritage preservation initiatives. A new problem facing Chinese heritage conservation, however, is the excessive commercialisation of sites, as local authorities look to attract investment and drive up tourism revenues through often expensive renovation projects.

Tracing the roots and searching history : Xuanzang arrived in Kanchipuram, capital of Dravida, land of the Tamils in 640 AD and stayed for the duration of the rainy season. Xuanzang was eager to visit Kanchipuram as it was the birthplace of Dharmapala, teacher of the venerable Silabhadra who Xuanzang had met and forged a close relationship with previously in Nalanda. Dharmapala was an author of a number of important works on Mahayana literature

Interestingly, it is stated that Xuanzang had  planned to travel the short distance to the coast and from there sail the three day journey to Simhala (Sri Lanka). However, Simhala at that time was in the grip of a civil war and famine and he was urged by 300 monks who had fled the island to abandon his plans.

‘7 am Arivu’ [Seventh Sense] was supposedly a Science fiction, reportedly leaning on the fictional life of Bodhidharma, a master of martial arts and medical remedies, who is depicted in the film as the son of a great Tamil king of the Pallava Dynasty. He is sent to China by his guru, who requests him to stop the spread of a pandemic disease existing there from spreading to India. Initially the people in China treated him as an inferior but later the people begin to  worship him. He begins to teach them how to cure many diseases, the skills of hypnotism and the physical training of the Shaolin monks. However after several years, when he expresses his desire to return to India, the villagers plot to poison him and bury him near the temple, believing that their place would be disease free if he is buried there. Bodhidharma agrees to die and subsequently becomes a fundamental figure in Chinese history, affectionately being dubbed as "Damo". Whether the character is made out of Dharmapala is not known.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
12th April 2013.


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