XuenZang’s Maharashtra (MO-HO-LA-CH’A) -Part I

XuenZang, one of the most famous travelers of the ancient world, made an epic journey from his native China to South India and back, in the seventh century of our present era. His entire journey was made on land , unlike that of another famous Chinese traveler, Fa Hien, who also had traveled to India two centuries earlier by the land route, but had returned back to China by sea . XuenZang had left the then Chinese capital city of Xian sometime in 629 AD and could return back home only in 645 AD. I have always felt that the people of India, should especially thank this Chinese monk, because he has left behind an extensive travelogue of his entire travel. Just because of his travelogue, many events in the Indian history could be fixed reliably in a time line.

One of the disciples of XuenZang and his fellow traveler, Shraman ( follower monk) Hwui Li had also written an independent travelogue on his own, even though he preferred to call it ‘The life of Hiuen-Tsiang ‘ (as translated by Samuel Beal) . This travelogue augments the the travelogue written by XuenZang himself rather well and together, both these travelogues, reveal a store house of information about medieval India. Both these travelogues again have been a subject of great and extensive research for more than a century, from people across many countries. Many researchers also have drawn maps and charts to show the route taken by this monk. Even on modern day cartographic tools like Google Earth, one can find extensive work done by many people.

However there is one segment of his travel, which has always remained a rather gray area, in spite of all this research. This concerns his travel from the southernmost point of his journey at Kanchipuram ( Kin-chi-pu-lo) in South India, which XuenZang calls as (Ta-lo-pi-ch’a ) or Dravida, to the city of Bhadoch (PO-LU-KIE-CH’E-P’O ), which is located in today’s Gujarat state in western India. XuenZang describes the land area or the country lying between these two places as MO-HO-LA-CH’A, which has been identified by all the researchers now, as present day Maharashtra state in India.

As a native and resident of this state of Maharashtra, I was always very curious about the journey done by this Chinese monk, approximately 1400 years ago, in my home state. Last summer, I read a book, ‘Chasing the monk’s shadow’ written by Mishi Saran. I was however disappointed, because the author had not been able to get much information about the Maharashtra segment travel of this monk. Recently, I came across number of old books and research papers on the Internet about XuenZang’ travels. These included the translations carried out by Thomas Watters and Beal and many research articles by Vincent Smith, E Burgess and J. Fleet. Surprisingly most of the research was done in late nineteenth century and not much effort was made by any one, after that. The history books about India, off course, have been having field day and have interpreted the travel route in Maharashtra as per their own sweet wish.

Perhaps one of the major difficulty faced by these researchers from the Nineteenth century was the non availability of information about the region of Maharashtra and it’s history. The history of this region was always obscure, being in the shadow of the well known history of North India from the times of the campaigns of Alexander the Great (Around 300 BC), which also happens to be well documented. Today anyone who is interested, is in a better position to make an educated guess, because of the availability of a huge quantity of research material on the Internet. I therefore thought of making an attempt to try and solve this mystery of XuenZang’s trek across Maharashtra in India. However I must admit that I am acutely aware of my principal shortcoming; my total ignorance of the Chinese script. I have therefore no choice but to depend on the English translations done by historians like Beal and Watters from earlier Chinese books. Even then, I feel certain amount of confidence with services of Internet being available to me.

To begin with this trek, let us first list all the facts, about which, there is a total unanimity and agreement amongst all the historians and the researchers.

1. XuenZang began this trek, sometime during year 640 AD, from South Indian city of Kanchipuram (Lat 12.83, Long 79.70) which is located in present day state of Tamil Nadu in India. There are no differing view points about this place, from where the monk began his return journey.

2. His first stop was in a nearby kingdom, the identity of which is completely uncertain. The distance of this first stop from Kanchipuram is mentioned as 2000 Li. (330 Miles) to the North of Kanchipuram. However this distance figure itself is very doubtful , when political and historical situation at that point time is considered.

3.After trekking about 2400 to 2500 Li (400 Miles), XuenZang reached the capital city of the country of Maharashtra.

3. This country was ruled at that time by emperor Pulakesi II of Chalukya dynasty (Pu-lo- ki-she). He was a very powerful monarch and had not allowed Emperor Harshawardhan to cross river Narmada and encroach upon his empire.

4. The city of Bhadoch (Lat 21.72, Long 73.00), which was located near the mouth of the river Narmada, was about 1000 Li ( 120 to 170 Miles ) West of the Capital city of Maharashtra, visited by XuenZang.

5. A great Vihara and a convent of Buddha with many caves was known to Xuan Zang. He describes this rock temple as a frontier town, located to the east of the country of Maharashtra. There are no two opinions about this place and every one agrees that these rock temples are the famous Ajintha and Ellora rock temples (Lat 20.53, Long 75.75), which even today, draw huge number of tourists to the area.

After going through this list, I realized the main reason for which this segment of XuenZang’s travel has always remained so obscure and vague. The information given by him is at the best can be considered as scanty or non existent in many places. This has been perhaps the main reason for which very little has been ever written about this part of the travelogue.

(To be continued)

24th may 2011


About chandrashekhara

I am a retired electronics engineer. I am interested in writing, reading books. Other hobbies include Paper models, wooden fret work and social networking.


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