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IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF XUANZANG: TAN YUN-SHAN AND INDIA

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FOND MEMORIES

21

 Tan Yun-Shan: A Tribute 

 

 Jin Dinghan

Two 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 Sino-Indian  anti-Japanese 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 interface.

                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.

  (Translated by Yukteshwar Kumar)  

 

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