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Hsuan Tsang's

Hsuan Tsang was a Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveller and translator who were born in the Henan province. Raised in a family of scholars, he received classical education based on the teachings of the famous Chinese teacher, Confucius who himself was an editor, politician and philosopher. Embracing Buddhism at an early age of thirteen, he was highly influenced by religious books and took to reading the various Chinese classics and manuscripts of ancient sages.

He was ordained as a Buddhist monk at the raw age of twenty. His travelogues included various visits to sacred Buddhist places throughout China. His journeys were driven around the need for attaining knowledge about the religion, through the various sacred books that were in circulation at the time. During the course of his study, he learnt about Faxian's visit to India. The incomplete and misinterpreted nature of the Buddhist manuscripts and scriptures reaching China helped him develop a firm desire to visit the country.

Without informing anyone, he left the land of Sichuan in 629 and arrived in India in 633 in the eastern region of Ganges. During his journey, he passed through several desert oases including the areas of Karashar, Tashkent, Kucha, Samarkand and Turfan. He also sailed down the holy river Ganges.

He made it a point to visit all the sacred sites in the country and in the well known Buddhist monastery of Nalanda; he mastered the knowledge of Sanskrit. On his return to his homeland China, he was aptly sent off by the then King Harsa of Northern India, who was pleased with his knowledge, wisdom and understanding.

The Journey of Hsuan Tsang

In the year 629, Hsuan Tsang reportedly had a dream that convinced him to make the journey to India. As the then emperor of China prohibited foreign travel, he had to convince some Buddhist guards to grant him access outside the empire. His journey included visits to various sacred nations and throughout his travel; he met various influential people, including Buddhist monks and kings, who helped him to make the journey. In the ancient land of Gandhara, he took part in a religious debate, where he demonstrated his knowledge of well-known Buddhist schools of teaching. This was where he met the first Jains and Hindus of his journey and when he reached the land of Adinapur in 630, he considered himself to have reached India.

Hsuan Tsang's Civilization of Punjab

On his return to China, he translated the texts he brought back with him and accordingly, jotted down his distinct memoirs. The ancient Chinese classic text, 'Great Tang records on the Western Regions' explained in vivid detail, the seventeen-year old’s journey of Hsuan Tsang in India.

In seventh century AD, he visited several places in Northwest India, including the land of Punjab. In his travelogues, he mentioned the presence of several religious buildings that existed then. In his description of the monasteries, cities, stupas and temples, he stated a large amount of features that were prevalent in the architecture of that time. He stated that the city and town walls were very broad and high with narrow roads and by lanes. There were shops on both sides of the roads.

Labourers included butchers, fishermen, executioners, paupers and the physically handicapped people of society. They were forced to dwell outside the main city. City houses and walls were constructed using bricks, whereas the walls of general houses and prisons were tied together with hard wood or bamboo sticks. The halls and leisure houses had terraces, with flat-wood roofs that were coated with limestone. He stated that the extensive height and overall style of the houses resembled those in China. Plastered with grass, bricks or boards, the walls of these houses were very durable. The only noticeable difference was that the floors were plastered with cow dung and various flowers of the season were always strewn around.

He also stated that the Buddhist monasteries comprised of the most remarkable forms of architecture. With a tower at each corner, it had a total of three high halls. The roofs were decorated with various strange carvings, whereas the windows, doors and walls were colourfully painted. The ordinary citizens usually lived in houses that were beautiful inside and sturdy outside. He said that he found monasteries, stupas and temples in almost every city he visited. In some places, he witnessed the presence of more than 10 Buddhist temples, alongside the large number of non-Buddhist temples. He saw stone stupas as tall as 300 feet along with various Viharas built by legendary king Ashoka. He also saw fine Deva temples. However, the differences between the Brahmanical sects of Shaktis, Shaivis and Vaishnavis, many of the Stupas and Viharas were in a state of ruins.

He stated that a stupa built by Kanishka was approximately 400 feet tall and was surrounded by hundreds of stupas, including an 18-foot tall stone statue of the standing Buddha. He also witnessed several Buddhist stupas and monasteries in the areas of Mahaban, Mongkil and Darel. Several monasteries built by Ashoka were in a sorry state.

Present Day Tourist Attractions

Several Buddhist tourist attractions are still prevalent in Punjab.

There are many archaeological sites from the Buddhist era in the Swat valley of Gandhara. With a large Buddhist population, there are several ruins of ancient Buddhist stupas and monasteries. The shrine of Buddhist sage Padmasambhava was part of the then Oddiyana. Known as Guru Rimpochhe in Tibet, he was the one to introduce Vajrayana Buddhism in the country.

As Buddhism was a prevalent practise in the Punjab region, there are several Buddhist monasteries and stupa sites in Taxila World Heritage Site locale along with the Sindh regions.

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