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Knowledge transfer from India to China

Not many Indians are aware of the tremendous amount of knowledge transfer from India to China in ancient times. Not many know that a large number of Sanskrit manuscripts were carried to China by either Chinese scholars or by Indian scholars hired by Chinese kings. Translating ancient Sanskrit manuscripts into Chinese was a highly prestigious and coveted job, and a huge number of Sanskrit scholars went to China from India and lived there for many years. Chinese kings often competed amongst themselves to hire these prized scholars and get more and more works translated by them.

The first two known scholars who went to China are Kasyapa Matanga and Dharmaratna. They undertook an extremely arduous journey across Chinese Turkestan and the Gobi Desert. Not only did they make this perilous journey, they also learnt a foreign language with a completely different syntax. And with them, started a deluge of scholars who followed in their footsteps. Sanga Varma, Dharma Satya, Dharma Kala, Mahabala, Vigna, Dharmapala, Kalasivi, Kalaruchi, Lokaraksha, the list goes on. These scholars came from all over India. Dharma Ruchi was a scholar from south India who went to China, lived there for two decades and translated 53 works. There was a high demand for these scholars in China and they often chose to take up these jobs if they felt they were underpaid in India. Not all their endeavours turned out to be fruitful, however, and sometimes turned tragic. A scholar named Dharmakshema lost his life when he got caught in the crossfire by assassins hired by two kings competing to get him. He was not the only scholar to lose his life caught in the rivalry between two kings.

Some of these Indian scholars went to become highly renowned names. Amoghavajra was a scholar who collected 500 texts from India and translated them in Chinese. He was highly honoured by Chinese kings and came to be known as the Father of Tantric Buddhism. Indian astronomers, mathematicians and scientists from the best universities held high positions in Chinese scientific establishments. One of the biggest names in astronomy was Gautama Siddha, known in China as Kutan Siddha. He became President of the Chinese Board of Astronomy in the 8th century and is credited with introducing Indian numerals to China. Even the invention of the printing press is attributed to Buddhist scholars from India who used printing to propagate Buddhism. It is unfortunate that Indians are not aware of this fascinating export of knowledge to China in ancient times. One possible reason could be that these scholars had to change their names to Chinese names, which would make it difficult for Indians to understand their original Indian names.

How else can one explain the complete lack of awareness in India about the celebrated scholar Kumarajeeva, who grew up in Kashmir and Kucha, translated more than a hundred Sanskrit works into Chinese, which are considered masterpieces in Chinese literature, including the ‘Diamond Sutra’, a highly valuable work in Buddhism, and was honoured in China nationally?

Sahana Singh follows the fascinating trail of knowledge transfer from ancient India to China in her Srijan Talk on “Educational Heritage Of Ancient India”, a relevant snippet of which is presented here.

To watch the full Srijan Talk by Sahana Singh, click on the following link:

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