Chinese Traveller Yuan Chwang
Yuan Chwang was a Chinese Buddhist monk and traveller who travelled across India for 17 years. He was born in Luoyang, Henan, China.
At a young age Yuan Chwang showed a lot of interest in reading sacred scriptures. He was ordained as a novice priest at the age of thirteen and as a full monk at the age of twenty. He soon became aware of the incomplete and distorted nature of Buddhist texts that had reached China from the west. He desired to go India in order to retrieve Buddhist texts. Reportedly in 629 Yuan Chwang had a dream which convinced him to go India.
He left Tang dynasty when it was at war and foreign travel was banned. In 630 he reached Turpan. The king of Turpan was also a Buddhist and provided some things of value which were to serve as funds during his travel. Moving further westward he toured the non-Mahayana monasteries of Kucha. He kept moving westwards and entered Kyrgyzstan. He visited Tokmak on its northwest, and met the great Khan of the Gokturks, who had a good relationship with Tang emperor at that time. Yuan Chwang continued west then southwest to Tashkent, capital of modern Uzbekistan. He travelled further west and entered Samarkand. Samarkand was under Persian influence. Yuan Chwang impressed the local king with his preaching. After this he set out again to the south. From here he went towards Afghanistan where he met a monk with whom Yuan Chwang studied early Buddhist texts. He travelled in Afghanistan – Kapisi, Adinapur and finally to Laghman where he considered himself to have reached India. He went to Peshawar after this where Buddhism was declining. Yuan Chwang left Peshawar and travelled to the Swat valley. When he reached Oddiyana, he found 1,400-year-old monasteries, that had sometime supported 18,000 monks which were of the Mahayana school. Thereafter he headed to Taxila, a Mahayana Buddhist kingdom that was a vassal of Kashmir, which is precisely where he headed next and found 5,000 more Buddhist monks in 100 monasteries. He went to Kashmir in 631and studied with Samghayasas. During this time he visited Chiniot and Lahore as well and provided the earliest writings available on the ancient cities. In 634, Yuan Chwang arrived in Matipura now known as Mandawar.
In 634, he went east to Jalandhar in eastern Punjab and then to Kulu valley and turned southward again to Bairat and then Mathura, on the Yamuna river. Yuan Chwang reached Matipura in 635, having crossed the river Ganges. Here he studied under Mitrasena. From here, he headed south to Sankasya then onward to Kannauj, the grand capital of the Empire of north Indian emperor Harsha. In 636, Xuanzang was impressed by the king’s patronage of both scholarship and Buddhism. Xuanzang studied early Buddhist scriptures, before setting off eastward again for Ayodhya (Saketa), homeland of the Yogacara school. Xuanzang then moved south to Kausambi (Kosam). In 637, Yuan Chwang travelled eastward, at first via Varanasi, Xuanzang reached Vaisali, Pataliputra (Patna) and Bodh Gaya. He then went to Nalanda, the greatest Indian university of Indian state of Bihar, where he spent at least the next two years.
Yuan Chwang returned to China AD 645, where he was greeted with much honor but he refused all high civil appointments offered by the still-reigning emperor, Emperor Taizong of Tang. Instead, he retired to a monastery translated Buddhist texts until his death in AD 664.
Yuan Chwang’s accounts have been extensively used by archaeologists and historians alike in solving a lot of historical puzzles. He was the monk who took Buddhism to the China and his travel account depicted the age old bond India holds with China.