IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF XUANZANG: TAN YUN-SHAN AND INDIA
after joining the Visva-Bharati University in 1962 I had heard of
Professor Tan Yun-shan who was the main figure of Chinese Studies at
Visva-Bharati, than. Fortunately I was invited by him for a tea party.
Finally, a smiling sober gentleman received me saying "Welcome Lama
Chimpa!" on my bowing down to him, "I am Tan Yun-shan, living
here, looking after this Cheena-Bhavana for a long time." Then he
introduced me to Madam Tan who was as dignified as Professor Tan himself.
Both of them talked nicely as if they were talking to a highly eminent
person. Being much junior to them I felt ashamed and could not say much.
Madam Tan told me about the difficulties to live in Santiniketan. She and
Professor Tan reached Santiniketan by bullock cart from Bolepur and she
used to go to Bolepur, a small township three miles away from Santiniketan
just to buy some vegetables, on foot. "But now we are very happy, we
can ride a rickshaw wherever we go, because of the newly constructed road
by the West Bengal Government, one can even drive a car."
that time there was not a single car to be seen in Santiniketan. While I
was listening to the senior couple their younger children walked very well
mannered and disciplined in their behaviour. Like their parents the
children were so simple, having no sign of being the children of a great
man. One girl about 18 years wearing a locally made cotton sari,
barefooted, came to me, bowed down touching my feet. Madam Tan said:
"This is my daughter Tan Wen, quite good in her studies." Later
on I read in newspapers that she stood first in Bengali literature in the
entire university. Yes, not only Tan Wen, but all of her sisters and
brothers have distinguished themselves in their studies. On my departure
Professor Tan said: As a new comer let me tell you that you must speak
less and that will make your stay here in Santiniketan very happy."
English Buddhists monk Sangharakshita remembered Professor Tan in his book
"ln the Sign of the Golden Wheel"
(Windhorse Publications, Birminghan, 1996, p, 47):
Tan Yun-shan wore the traditional black dress of the Chinese scholar. He
had been at Cheena-Bhavana since its earliest days, having in fact been
responsible for starting the school and being, even now, the moving spirit
behind the place. He had started it with support of General Chiang Kai-shek
and his Kuomintaug Government. With the defeat of Chiang and the
Nationalist forces by the Communists in 1949, and the former's withdrawal
to Taiwan, Professor Tan had lost that support, and the nature of
Cheena-Bhavan's position in relation to the government of the People's
Republic was unclear. Indeed, like that of many overseas Chinese,
Professor Tan's own position was unclear, not to say ambiguous, it being
rumoured that the new regime in Peking wanted to replace Chiang Kai-shek's
protege with a nominee of their own. Naturally nothing of this was said in
the course of our meeting. Professor Tan showed me the Bhavan's collection
of Chinese books, the centrepiece of which, at least in my eyes, was the
Taisho edition of the Chinese Tripitaka, the one hundred thick, closely
printed red volumes of which were said to contain more than 1,600 separate
Buddhist texts, both canonical and extra-canonical. The following day I
had tea with him, and he showed me his house and garden, which he
evidently had tried to make as much like the traditional Chinese scholar's
house and garden as Indian conditions permitted. Professor Tan had, it
seemed, put down roots in the land of his adoption."
all the Santiniketan people know that Professor Tan Yun-shan was
responsible for collecting the money for the construction of the huge
building Cheena-Bhavana. Elderly people of Santiniketan say that they have
seen Prof. Tan physically working with masons standing in the hot sun,
saying." This building must stand for at least 500 years." So
the noble man was right, even now one can see that not a small piece of
plaster has dropped from this building, standing like a steel
contains a huge library and many smaller libraries, class rooms, office
and scholars' rooms, meeting halls, garden and every facilities of a good
independent complex. Prof. Tan managed to fill the libraries with good
books, tasteful furniture and maintained it as a sacred place of worship.
One has to enter Cheena-Bhavana without shoes. A pleasant fragrance of
incense and disciplined clean surroundings used to welcome the visitor.
Tan was a good friend of Jawaharlal Nehru. Perhaps through Nehru, he was
invited to Beijing by Zhou Enlai
who presented him a huge quantity of rare books which are preserved in
After Madam Tan's expiry,
Prof. Tan became so lonely with all of his children employed at some other
places while he himself retired, from the post of Visva-Bharati. ,But his
evergreen spirit took him to Bodhgaya where he again started building a
huge complex with physical help of some fellows who turned out to be very
crafty and cheated him
with much of his money and in other ways. He expired in Bodhgaya turning
his face towards the sacred temple of the Buddha.
Kalimpong, April 1998.
©1999 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
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