IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF XUANZANG: TAN YUN-SHAN AND INDIA
brilliant megastars shine upon the horizon of the long river of the
history of Sino-Indian cultural interface. One was the celebrated Budhist
Master Xuanzang of the ancient times; the other Prof. Tan Yun-shan of the
modern times. Both of them share many commonalities. In the first place,
both of them were top class -- of the national level. During his stay at
the Nalanda Monastery, Xuanzang studied under the most famous scholar,
Silabhadra. His academic achievements were commended first in India by
king Harshavardhana then by the Tang Emperor Taizoung after his return to
the country. The latter accorded VIP treatment to him. Prof. Tan Yun-shan
worked together with Cai Yuanpei and Ravindranath Tagore, and other
renowned cultural personalities and also maintained cordial relations with
eminent political leaders, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong, Mahatma Gandhi and
Jawaharlal Nehru. In the second place, both Xuanzang and Tan Yun-shan had
made outstanding contributions to the cause of Sino-Indian cultural
exchanges. As Xuanzang is a household word I need not dwell upon here. The
most outstanding monument erected by Prof. Tan Yun-shan was the imposing
Cheena-Bhavana standing on the campus of Visva-Bharati. But there are also
dissimilarities in the camparison. While Xuanzang was an eminent Budhist
mond, great travellers and translator, Prof. Tan, in spite of his profound
learning in Budhism, was essentially on educationist and a cultural
ambassdor. Hence, they had distinguished themselves in different light.
Apart from that, the historical background in which they lived was also
very different, Xuanzang lived in a very peaceful and prosperous time of
Tang dynasty. During his stay of seventeen years in India, there was no
war. But, the major activities of Tan Yun-shan were dogged and
overshadowed by World War II Xuanzang had hardly involved himself in
political activities while Prof. Tan had contributed a lot to the common
struggle . Prof. Tan, therefore, was also a political activity. Viewing
from the aboveI feel that while treading the foot-steps of Xuanzang, Prof.
Tan has left his a deep imprint of his own in history.
I first came to know about Prof. Tan Yun-shan in the Summer of
1951. At that time, I was studing English in the Department of Western
languages of Beijing University and was planning to move to study of Hindi
in the Department of Oriental Languages. in order to understand India I
went to the Cai Yuanpei Library in search of books on India I saw a book
on the shelf, catching my attention. It was Yindu zhouyouji (An account of
my tour around India) -- authored by Prof. Tan Yun-shan. After realising
that Prof. Tan was a fellow Hunuanese an affinity was immediately created
between me and the author. Prof. Tanís style had a great flow with vivid
narratives that made me finish reading the book in almost in one go. I
learnt a lot from it. I must say that Prof. Tan was the first guide to
escort me into the ranks of researchers
in Sino-Indian cultural
After graduating for the Department of Oriental Languages in 1955, I was appointed as the teaching assistant in the University. In the following years, i.e. October 1956, I had the honour of personally meeting Prof. Tan, the man whom I had been admiring for a long time. I remember, it was a pleasant autumn morning. Prof. Ji Xianlin, Head of the Department of Oriental Languages, Prof. Jin Kemu, Director of Research of the Department and myself (I was the Secretary in the Research Division) recieved Prof. Tan in the Linhuxuan pavilion .Wearing a yellow overcoat a Napoleonic hat , he was a little reduced, but very energetic. Standing behind him was his daughter Ms. Tan Wen. She was wearing a green skirt but not a Saree.Seeing them, I was reminded of Nehru and his daughter, whom we had met two years earlier. Prof. Jin Kemu informed me that, Tan Wen had topped the Bengali language examination in India.Though,she was younger than me by a few years, I had developed some regards for her. Conversation was carried on among three elders mostly on Sino-Indian Cultural exchange and about their old acquaintances. Being a junior I listened to them in rapt attention without butting in. After the meeting, I took Prof. Tan and his daughter to go around the campus. The distanct impression I gathered was that such a celebrity was after all a man of easy access.
In Feb. 1983, Prof. Tan left for his Heavenly abode. When the sad news reached Beijing, many of those who had been working for Sino-Indian cultural exchange,were in deep grief. During Oct. in the same year, I went to India to participate in the Third International Hindi Conference. After the Conference, I went to the house of Prof. Tan Chung and conveyed my heartfelt condolenceWhen the holy mountain Tai shrank,sages would wither [ as the Chinese saying goes]. Though nomore he has left an extremely rich and valuable spiritual heritage. Being a junior in the field of Sino-Indian cultural interface, I shall march forward along the path carved out by Xuanzang and Prof. Tan Yun-shan.
©1999 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced any manner without written permission of the publisher.