memories of family outings.....

Thursday

From Text Book to Pagoda

Has any primary school child in our country ever escaped the travails of getting right the spelling and pronunciation of the famous Chinese name that has been popping up without fail in all history text books since British times ? Huen Tsang . Hyuin Zang . Hsien Tsiang etc etc.
From Nalanda to Mauryan cities to Deccani civilization, most of what we know bear the stamp of veracity, because this ubiquitous Tang Dynasty Monk from China made meticulous notes about whatever he saw on his visit to India.
When I learnt that The Wild Goose Pagoda in Shaanxi province ( China ) listed in our itinerary is a monument to that amazing textbook character, Huein Tsang, I was thrilled !


It is not known what his parents named him, but he was known as Xuan Zang ( meaning, The Venerable Tang Monk) which later got twisted on different tongues as Huen Tsang, Hyien Sang etc. Ordained into monkhood at the tender age of 13 , he was inspired by Fa-Hian's visit to India and made it his mission to travel to that sacred land to unearth the True Scriptures of Buddhism , so that his people would have the correct interpretation of what the Buddha taught. His 16 year sojourn in India ( 629 AD -645 AD) was faithfully recorded as an autobiography and it became the basis for the much loved, monumental Chinese epic " Journey To The West " authored by the Ming scholar Wu Cheng'en in 1590s. Xuan Zang died in 664 AD in Chang'an ( now Xian), but continues to be revered , as the lovable and ever popular characters from the above epic come alive in various performing arts to this day. The best known character from that epic is the Monkey King, Sun Wukong, a staple in all Opera shows.

In 652 AD, a Five Tiered pagoda with a cloister was built by Xuan Zhang's patron dynasty to house the Sutras, Relics and holy figurines Xuan Zang had brought back from India. Damaged and rebuilt many times over, this shrine is now a 210 ft. tall, seven tiered brick pagoda surrounded by a magnificent garden and plaza. The place is called The Temple of Grace ( Da Ci'en) . A massive bronze figure of Xuan Zang stands in front of the temple, sceptre in hand, robes billowing as he strikes a pose of benediction. At the entrance of the temple are The Drum Tower and The Bell Tower housing a 15 ton iron bell crafted in 1548.
Inside the shrine, the first hall, The Hall of Mahavira, has the figures of the three buddhas, 18 Arhats and of Xuan Zang. Beyond this is The Sermon Hall, serving as a room for prayers and learning. The Hall of Xuan Zang Sanzang displays the relics and collections of the venerated monk. The story of his Indian trip is chiselled in bas relief all around the walls. I was so happy to discover likenesses of Indian temples , rishis and saree clad ladies among the artworks !

The pagoda is a simple angular structure, without any ornamental work on its outer surface. Upon payment of 20 yuan, one is allowed to enter and climb the pagoda ; each landing of which has many historical items displayed . Level 7 sports a Lotus Ceiling which is inscribed with characters which can be read in many different ways to make different poems. There is also a page written by Xuan Zang which details the craft of Indian Temple builders. It is generally believed that the design of The Wild Goose Pagoda was borrowed from Indian religious architecture.

One doorway has a lintel covered with autographs of generations of meritorious scholars who passed out of the hallowed Academy. To have one's name on that doorway was considered a great honour and pinnacle of Recognition.

The North Square by the pagoda is a sprawling ( 110,000sq.ft) landscaped parkland with ponds, 22 sets of musical fountains, 8 groups of sculptures , and a Tang themed piazza. Exhibits of Tang culture are housed in the museum rooms adjoining the shrine. I believe the North Square holds the World Record for having the most number of park benches !!!


All visitors are bound to be curious about the name "Wild Goose" . The story goes that when some poor monks, belonging to a branch of buddhism that ate flesh, could not find any meat one day, they prayed to Bodhisattva. Whereupon, a huge plump goose from a flock flying overhead just fell off the sky into their kitchen . The bird's cruel end startled the monks so much that they built the pagoda in atonement and turned vegetarian.
About 8kms away, there is a smaller and humbler shrine called The Little Goose Pagoda, which however does not have any goose incident in its history but was named so only to distinguish it from the other structure !

The parkland is a lovely place to spend an evening and the museum is very educative. In one of the rooms , life size mannequins in Tang costumes are installed in the setting of a royal household. Among the many Concubines, some are seen sporting red bindi-dots on their foreheads. Our guide pointed to mine and gave a little giggle . It transpired that the red dot signified availability and the Emperor could choose his consort for the night only from among the dotted Ladies.

In a bulletin board along one of the park's avenues , we saw many photographs , old and new,of famous people who visited the Pagoda . Among them, one showing our ex-prez KR Narayanan !

21 comments:

元維青慈 said...

只用微笑說話的人,才能擔當重任..................................................

Kamini said...

Yay, you're back! For a fantastic read about Hsien's journey to and in India, read "Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud" by Sun Shuyun Ten.
I enjoyed this post - I guess your China trip is still inspiring you!!

YOSEE said...

Kamini : Thank you for the suggestion. Will get hold of the book.
Inspiring nothing ! Its just that , since i started on China, thought i might as well record all places we saw there, while memory is still reasonably fresh. :-)

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Fantastic, well recorded (while you can still remember..hehe). I had no idea about any of the stories mentioned. In my school, this gent was called Huen Tsang! Now I know the differences..

YOSEE said...

Anup: It shows how uninspiring our school teaching methods are that we remember just a funny sounding name, but nothing more about the person. How nice it would be if some relevant documentary clips ( for all subjects) are shown to kids instead of just dry ,reading aloud of insipid prose from textbooks!
You know, for a long time I was under the impression that Fa-Hian and Huen-Tsang were co-travelers because they were always mentioned together like Higgledy Piggledy ! Now I am wondering if the teacher knew better either - or even cared!
Thats the edu-scene even to this day ! Hope Kapil Sibal does something revolutionary ! :-)

Thanks for reading.

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

You are right, even I thought Fa Hien and the Huen Tsnag visited together more or less. SInce they were "funny" sounding names, the teacher could not pronounce them properly. I am for audio-video classes I too think that such a medium will get kids interested in History and make education a lot more fun. I agree.

kish said...

Aunty, One thing i've noticed after reading this post is all chinese either have Wang, Lin, Dan, Tsung .. in their names.

And no, I've never heard about the gentleman Tsang till today!:p

Indrani said...

Loved the detailed stories.
Yes keep recording, they make a great read later. :)

YOSEE said...

Kishore, Perhaps the social studies text books got rewritten finally !:-)

Thanks for dropping by.

YOSEE said...

You are right Indrani. Blogs make good diaries to pore through in old age ! :-)
Thanks for visit.

JC said...

Hi Yosee! I happen to visit your blog after a long break!

Nice post! I can now enjoy history! But, as a child I read History up to Class VIII only and was scared of the dates, which I used to mix up in my answers! I was therefore finally relieved when I chose 'Science subjects' in Class IX, in order to pursue 'Engineering' later!

Fa Hien, Huen Tsang, Megasthenese, etc are a few names that have somehow stuck to the memory as travelers from different countries who appeared to have appreciated the then 'India'.

And I remember having read that the most appreciable thing about ancient India through some travelers' eyes was that even a common man in the street discussed about the 'purpose of man' (Why are we here? Whether someone has sent us for some particular purpose? And so on, which interest me more now, particularly since retirement)!

YOSEE said...

JC, Thank you, good to see you here. Your History-Phobia reminds me of my brother's terror of historic dates ! Once he got so confused with all the memorised dates that wrote his own birth date wrong in an interschool scholastic contest ! :-)

Travel journals by Foreign Travelers in India are celebrated. I often wonder why no journal by any Indian traveler of note in any alien land is as famous as those. And Indians have been traveling beyond seas and mountains since 1 AD.

JC said...

Ha Ha! So I am not the only exception! Anyway, in old age one tends to forget things, it is said due to senility!

Credit of manufacture of paper in recent times goes to China. Whereas, in ancient India it appears manuscripts were recorded on tadpatra or palm-leaf.

And, it appears that in the recent historical times chronological record was started by the British, while on the other hand 'Hindus' or 'Aryans' apparently gave importance to natural events that reflected the various 'Truths' and believed in reaching the 'Absolute Truth' through those, as their essence...Which were passed from one generation to another through words of mouth. The scriptures that we see today apparently came up after the manufacture of paper was started worldwide..

Satyask said...

aaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Reading your blog is like a nice cup of coffee on a damp afternoon or like iced tea on a summer day. a definite cheerer upper. BTW.. if you are into tea.. we could meet at infinitea on cunningham road sometime this year...

Huien Tsang.. I wonder whether about his date. I believe it has been tied to Harshavardhana.

To me he is the chap in the Amar Chitra Katha .. which incidentally was where I absorbed my history from..... :D

Satyask said...

On the bindi bit., traditionally married women are not supposed to wear bindis during periods. Also unmarried girls used to wear black bindis in some places. and no bindis in some places. Bindis were also forbidden to widows and during the periods of mourning other deaths also... so your guide's info may have a basis in Indian customs too...

JC said...

I would attempt it in very brief here.

Dot, or unborn and unending 'Nadbindu', as per 'Hindu belief' is the original source of infinite energy and the believable cause of the infinite and ever expanding, or continuously growing, physical universe that is indestructible... ("Hari Anant etc")

Dot is therefore associated with the 'Creator', who is formless and therefore difficult to visualise by us humans who, although, are believed to be the models of the infinite universal void itself (The Big Zero!) through, of course, some selected members of our solar system that are held in the outer periphery of our 'Milky Way Galaxy', as its essence, like cream in the milk is found uniformly distributed in milk irrespective of its overall volume and a small sample thereof (or even some model) could suffice...

'Bindi' on the forehead of humans as models of the Creator or Nadbindu is symbolically represented at the location of 'Ajna Chakra' in 'Hindus' (symbolic of need to activate the 'kundalini' by each person like a Yogi, ie, lifting total energy from 'mooladhar chakra', believably lying naturally coiled up there like a serpent. It is considered necessary for reaching the 'Absolute Truth')...

YOSEE said...

Satya : Thanx for the tea-invite. will do sometime.
Agree abt. Amar Chitra Katha. Great samplers to get intro. to various historic and mythic characters and whet appetite.

(Y'now, all Chinese goddesses wear Bindis !)

YOSEE said...

Satya & JC : Thanks for contributing concepts abt. bindi. There are a variety of explanations. There's the "Third Eye" concept also which you may know. I read one Seer's explanation that putting Vermillion ( made of Turmeric and Lime) on the third eye position activates the dormant Pineal Gland,( called The Seat of Soul by Descartes ) thus stimulating the intellect. Another seer says, the forehead marks ( kumkum, ash or the namam)help in calming the Amygdalae in the temporal zone of the brain that control emotions of aggression.

Nice theories to read, but in my opinion, a bindi just looks nice on an oriental face, thats all :-)

( If the Bindi activates Kundalini necessary to reach Absolute Truth, I don't see why widows should be barred from that privilege, for after all, realising The Truth is a Fundamental Right all Humans are born with. )

JC said...

Yosee, The ancient 'Hindus' said, "Hari anant / Hari katha ananta...etc", ie, 'There are as many thoughts as there are mouths'...

I only said that the bindi or dot on the forehead was used "symbolically" by any individual 'Hindu', ('foolish' or 'wise'), at 'Ajna Chakra'. The term was used by 'yogis' who originally propagated the concept of fusion of soul and body, and that the sole purpose of man on earth to attain the formless God, possible as long as one had the human form that unfortunately is complicated as it's not a simple dot, which unfortunately is unseen!

They were advanced astronomers who indicated earth at the centre of the universe. And they had apparently realised human body to have been naturally formed out of essences of 'navgrahas', or '9 number grahas' or nine members of our solar system; starting from Sun to Saturn, the ring-planet they termed as 'Suryaputra', literally the son of Sun, ie, an evolved heavenly form that acted as the supervisor. And that all humans naturally have the all important Earth's essence (of the Decision-maker pair of earth-moon, that came into being when moon evolved from earth itself and its essence lies at 'shasrara chakra' at the top of the head, in the brain that's a super analogical computer, at that location, ie, immortal Shiva's 'Third Eye', the term used for the benefit of common man...
In the Bhagavad Gita, the yogis have thankfully indicated that anybody can reach Him, if one 'surrenders in Him and agrees to hold His finger so that He could then guide one to Himself'!

YOSEE said...

JC: yes, B.Gita is the most sensible and uncomplicated guide to live by. How nice to just surrender and be guided by The Guide ! :-)

JC said...

Yosee, Whatever might be its original 'scientific background' - which seems to have been forgotten, or distorted, with the passage of time - if one were to recall the practices adopted by ancient 'Hindus', and like 'baton passing', verbally passed on through generations, one would perhaps notice how they came to at least convey different messages to others through markings on their forehead, using it like a signboard!

A 'local' who was familiar could know whether one was a 'Shaivite' or a 'Vaishanavite'; widowed/ married/ unmarried woman, and so on. Young girls are ritually even worshiped as 'Ma', 'images' of Ma Durga/ Kali during certain 'Navratris'!

Anyway, the practices appear to convey that highest pedestal was given to the females at a certain stage, after realisation of 'Truth'!

On certain 'auspicious occasions', in certain regions in the north even today, one might see red line (or even a band on the forehead as adopted by Nepali 'Hindus') with rice stuck upon it, marked ritually.

I noticed even certain unmarried Vaishnavite girls having pale yellow line right from the tip of their nose to the top of the forehead in the valley region of Manipur. It appears that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu virtually converted the original Meiteis, who believed in the practice of 'Black Magic', to Vaishnavism. And, Brahmins in his team from West Bengal identified them either as Brahmins or Kshatriyas, who since then are called Sharmas and Singhs respectively (I came across a lady, Sharma posted as a DM there, who told me how they were categorised thus and were even told they belonged to Bharadwaj Gotra!)...

The different practices adopted in different regions today appear beyond one's comprehension because their background is unknown, and therefore needs research...

Although I had heard of 'Samudra shastra', whereby one attempted to predict one's future when their horoscope couldn't be made as their time of birth wasn't recorded, personally, I was surprised when in the year '80 in Guwahati, after virtually reading only my forehead, as he met me for the first time, a snake venom seller cum tantrik (I wasn't aware of that at that time) told me some relative of mine was suffering from high BP! And within a fortnight I received a telegram from my elder brother that our father had a heart-attack at our home town!