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Bringing the past fast forward

New Delhi's Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art mounted a three-day event - `Xuanzang and the Silk Route' - this past week. LEELA VENKATARAMAN reports... .

Remembering the Chinese traveller Hieun Tsang and his works.

A WORLD citizen who stood for the values of humankind, rather than any philosophy bound by geography or political divisions, Hieun Tsang the great Chinese traveller came to India in 630 A.D. after undertaking the arduous journey through the forbidding terrain of Central Asia. No helicopters or any special modes of transport helped him scale frozen mountain peaks or the burning sands of the desert. He had only one aid - that of the indomitable human spirit, which can triumph over all obstacles. The Silk Route by which he travelled was anything but silken smooth. But this very route became the highway of not just trade but of knowledge and of cultural exchange and Hieun Tsang who spent nearly 14 years visiting Buddhist temples and monasteries in the Indian sub-continent became the greatest link between China and India, his prolific writings providing the most authentic account of the India of those years, when King Harshavardhana held sway over the northern region (606-647 A.D.), when Chalukya Pulekesin II (609-642 A.D.) ruled over the Deccan and in the South in Kanchipuram was the Pallava Narasimha Varman I (630-668 A.D.)

As tribute to one representing a commonwealth of knowledge and human understanding across frontiers of land and culture, New Delhi's Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art mounted a three-day event - `Xuanzang and the Silk Route' - in association with the Department of Culture, Nava Nalanda Mahavira and K.J. Somaiya Centre of Buddhist studies, Mumbai. Along with academic sessions with a band of international scholars participating, the travel down memory lane had a superbly mounted exhibition on Buddhist relics in Afghanistan.

People may destroy statues but not the ideas they represent. Speaking with passion of the Bahmiyan Buddhas, the ambassador of Afghanistan to India H.E. Masood Khalili, said that the flames in the chest of the massive Buddhas as they were being destroyed, hurt him deeply for annihilating what was so unique to his country. "We loved him, not worshipped him and carried him in our heart rather than our mind''. Standing like a sentinel "grave, silent, watching...'' he seemed to be saying to the rest of mankind, "These are the poor people whom you have forgotten.''

An extension of the Hindukush "Higher than the flight of the eagle'' as Hieun Tsang described it Bamiyan was a part of Afghanistan. The ambassador with all his faith in his own religion believed that "all religions were lit by the same light''. Famous Buddhist scholar Lokeshchandra, spoke about Hieun Tsang being deeply drawn to Kapisha - the City of Monkeys. When Hanuman became very naughty he was held in the palm of the Buddha. His priceless records of the western regions for the Tang Emperor, which he said were for the defence of the State and contained matter as deep as the oceans and as lofty as the sky, were full of dynastic histories, of translations of philosophical texts and apart from cultural knowledge, provided a great deal through extra lores of Hieun Tsang.

Travelling through the sands strewn with the bones of mummies, with many more mummies from 2000 B.C. lying buried and yet to be exhumed, the blue-eyed European features of the Mummies created more problems than they solved for the scholar and historian wanting to understand Indo-Europeanisation, said Lokesh Chandra. Could one build on the debris of Bamiyan, wondered Dr. L.M. Singhvi, President, IGNCA who described memory as "human sensitivity''

While one cannot live in the past, one must think of it and Hieun Tsang in the spirit of Nachiketa was a world citizen, not to be claimed by just China or India. The Bamiyan destruction, in the nobility of human heritage, has to be forgiven but not forgotten. He spoke of Hirayama, the great Japanese painter who has done so much to reconstruct the silk route. He also spoke of visiting the Saraswati temple at Kyoto. He hoped that the spirit of Hieun Tsang would spread in a world bound by narrow-minded considerations to aspects of human knowledge.

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