IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF XUANZANG: TAN YUN-SHAN AND INDIA
I deem it a great honour to be invited to contribute an article in commemoration of the Birth Centenary of Prof. Tan Yun-Shan which falls on October 10, 1988.
My relationship with Prof. Tan covers a period of almost four decades and a half. At the time I was a student at the Maha Bodhi Society, Samath near Varanasi, India.
Prof. Tan, with the blessings of the then fore-front leaders of India such as Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru, founded Cheena-Bhavana as a faculty in the Visva-Bharati University. Cheena-Bhavana, devoted to the promotion of Sino-Indian cultural friendship and understanding, was under the management and direction of Prof. Tan.
Sarnath, the place where the Buddha preached His first sermon, is one of the Holy Sites of the Buddhist World. Here stands the well-known Buddhist Temple, Mulagandhakuti Vihara, built several decades ago by the Venerable Anagarika Dharmapala, Founder of the Maha Bodhi Society of Sri Lanka and India. Every year, in the month of Novembre, Buddhists from far and near, gather at Sarnath to celebrate the inauguration of the temple.
So far as I can recollect, I had the good luck to meet Prof. Tan some time in 1938 at Sarnath. The Prof. went there to participate in the temple celebration. I expressed my desire to him to join the Vishva-Bharati University for advanced studies in Sanskrit and Indology. The good-hearted Prof. readily agreed to do what he could for me.
Early in 1939, I received a call from the Prof. to be admitted to Cheena-Bhavana, Vishva-Bharati University.
thus began my association with Prof. Tan whom the inmates of Vishva-Bharati University used to call reverentially "The Chinese Sage of Santiniketan".
Under the guidance of Pandit Sujit Kumar Mukhopaddhya, a staff-member of Cheena-Bhavana and a Bengali Brahmin well-versed in Sanskrit learning, I pursued my studies most profitably at Santiniketan till the Japanese War broke out on December 8, 1941. On January 25, 1942, Thailand, occupied by Japanese Forces, declared war on Great Britain.
On February 8, 1942, I was arrested and intemed in Civilian Internment Camp at Purana Qila, New Delhi, and later on at Deoli Camp, Rajasthan, till the Japanese War ended in 1945. The reason for my interment was because I was a national of Thailand which declared war on Great Britain; those days India was a part of the British Empire.
After the war I was repatriated to Thailand, my mother country. The Prof. in India and I in Thailand, however, kept on writing to each other.
In the middle of 1973 Prof. Tan visited Thailand and spent several days in Bangkok. I introduced him to several local Chinese Buddhist Organisations where the Prof. Delivered learned lectures on Indian culture and learning.
I would be untrue to myself if I do not put on record here the fact that both during the time I was in Santiniketan and even while an internee during the war, I received so much kindness, both material and moral, from the "Chinese Sage of Santiniketan".
Yes, in my case, the proverb "Friends in need are friends indeed" proved fully valid!
In 1981 my wife and I went to India on a pilgrimage to various Buddhist holy places. We stopped at Buddhagaya where the Prof. was busy with the World Buddhist Academy of which he was the founder. To our own observation the Prof. was, no doubt, advanced in age but not quite infirm as yet. Little did we realise that would be our last chance to see the noble-hearted scholar in person.
To our endless grief and sorrow, one day we
received a message from India that Professor Tan Yun-Shan, the Chinese
savant who had devoted his life to the cause of Sino-Indian cultural
friendship, breathed his last on February 12, 1983.
"Rupam jirati maccanam
Namarupam na jirati."
"Human bodies perish
But not their names and lineages."
(A Pali Buddhist Saying)
©1999 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
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