Sunday, July 21, 2013

How do you say Quanzhou in Tamil?

Every day there is more evidence on how much of a false idea it is when we think that globalization is something new.  We humans have always been curious about the world outside our respective villages, but were constrained by the technological limitations of the times, as much as our deep space explorations are limited now because we simply do not have the abilities to go where no man has ever gone before.

In addition to the curiosity, we humans have an economics gene in us.  Way back, when humans figured out that we do not have to live the way other animals do, and that we can divvy up the workload and then trade for goods and services, that gene started playing an increasingly important role.

Today's evidence on such a commerce-led globalization comes from India.
No, from China.
Ok, from both these countries.
Caption at the source:
A panel of inscriptions of the God Narasimha adorns the entrance to the main shrine of the temple,
believed to have been installed by Tamil traders who lived in Quanzhou in the 13th century. 
 The Chedian shrine is just one of what historians believe may have been a network of more than a dozen Hindu temples or shrines, including two grand big temples, built in Quanzhou and surrounding villages by a community of Tamil traders who lived here during the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties.
At the time, this port city was among the busiest in the world and was a thriving centre of regional maritime commerce. 
By now, are you thinking what I am thinking?  Where the hell is Quanzhou?


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Across the waters from Taiwan!

And these traders from Tamil Nadu got to Quanzhou a thousand years ago?  Cool!

Wait a second; there's more:
Ms. Wang says the earliest record of an Indian residing in Quanzhou dates back to the 6th century. An inscription found on the Yanfu temple from the Song Dynasty describes how the monk Gunaratna, known in China as Liang Putong, translated sutras from Sanskrit. Trade particularly flourished in the 13th century Yuan Dynasty. In 1271, a visiting Italian merchant recorded that the Indian traders “were recognised easily.”
Sixth century?

The distance between South India and Quanzhou 1,400 years ago might have felt like the distance between Earth and Mars now!
The most striking legacy of this period of history is still on public display in a hidden corner of the 7th century Kaiyuan Buddhist Temple, which is today Quanzhou’s biggest temple and is located in the centre of the old town. A popular attraction for Chinese Buddhists, the temple receives a few thousand visitors every day. In a corner behind the temple, there are at least half a dozen pillars displaying an extraordinary variety of inscriptions from Hindu mythology. A panel of inscriptions depicting the god Narasimha also adorns the steps leading up to the main shrine, which houses a Buddha statue. ...
A few kilometres from the Kaiyuan temple stands a striking several metre-high Shiva lingam in the centre of the popular Bamboo Stone Park. To the city’s residents, however, the lingam is merely known as a rather unusually shaped “bamboo stone,” another symbol of history that still stays hidden in plain sight. 
Something new every day.

I wonder if my fellow-explorer of all things under the sun, Ramesh, who spent a few years in China, has been to these places.  Or Indu, with her China experience, who seems to occasionally swing by this blog.

If even "cockles" can get my curiosity, then it is not difficult to imagine me getting all excited about this topic, right?  Google directed me to this, where the author notes:
A Chinese source states that in 720 the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II "constructed a temple [in Tamil Nadu] on account of the empire [i.e. China]", and another text cites the existence of three Hindu temples in southern China where "Brahmans" resided during the eight century.   
Pallava King.  Ah, yes, my mind rewound my clock to my sabbatical year, when I was able to travel around a lot more in India than I normally would have been able to.  I spent an entire day at a few temples in Kanchipuram--the capital city of the Pallava Empire.  At one of those temples, the guide directed my attention to a 1,300-year old stone-carved panel depicting a Chinese guy:


Was this that temple that Narasimhavarman II built?  Curiosity means the exploration never ends and, dammit, all the stories are so inter-connected too!

I suppose between this Chinese guy and a South Indian in Quanzhou, we somehow ended up with the சீனா சட்டி ("cheena chatti"--a wok); ah, recalling the taste of dosai made in that chatti makes me drool!

I wonder if the Quanzhou connection was also how came to enjoy the dish of சேவை (sevai)?  Hmmm ... More drool!


2 comments:

Ramesh said...

Yes , I saw that article in The Hindu too. And no; I've never known of Quanzhou - the only city in Fujian province I know of is Xiamen.

The Indian influence in China is not surprising - mainly through the spread of Buddhism. As Buddhism waned in India firstly due to the revival of Hindusim by Adi Sankara and later the Muslim pressure, it spread to China. The dominant Bodhisatva in China is Avalokitesvara or its translation - Guanying in China. Om mani padme hum is still chanted.

I am however surprised that there are a few statues of Hindu deities and that too from Tamil Nadu there. There are hardly any temples left in China - all systematically razed to the ground by Mao during the Cultural revolution. So all the more amazing.

Both trade and religion were big exports out of India in the past; so not surprising that travelers from there went to China, although as you say, it must have been the modern equivalent of a journey to Mars. But then man's spirit of adventure has always been dominant, until our generation, when we lot want to spend more money on boob enhancement instead of space travel :)

Sriram Khé said...

Yeah, the influence of Buddhism is understandable. But, the Hindu temples, thanks to Tamil traders? How fascinating, right?

It disappointments me a lot when I find that there is very little, if at all, interest in such truly Indian history. Students seem to know more about the American Revolution than they do about India's first war of independence (the Sepoy Mutiny, as we were taught in a very British interpretation of Indian history!) ... there is practically no interest whatsoever on the rich local histories ... people brush these aside usually because they want to pursue economic development. but, there is money to be made from history too--Italy has been making tons of money over the decades by milking its history! (awful mix of metaphors!!!) ... unfortunately, a taxi driver's comment is true--he said only foreign tourists care about India's history!

We humans have become way too self-absorbed for our own good. Boobs we have become, in more ways than one! :(

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