Hiuen Tsang and the UPSC Exam: A Comprehensive Guide
During King Harsha Vardhan’s reign, a Chinese Buddhist monk named Hiuen Tsang, also known as Xuanzang traveled overland from China to India in search of Buddhist texts. On the linked page, candidates can find out more about King Harsha Vardhana.
Candidates should avoid confusion over the names Xuanzang, Hiiuwn Tsang, and Hieun Tsang. Each represents a Chinese scholar who has traveled to India. Hieun Tsang is the name that is most frequently used in academic contexts.
For those aiming to enter the Civil Services, information regarding the Xuanzang/Hiuen Tsang visit to India is pertinent to the Indian History section of the UPSC Prelims test.
Understanding Hiuen Tsang
Hiuen Tsang, also known as Xuanzang, was a Chinese Buddhist monk and scholar who embarked on a remarkable journey to India during the 7th century. His primary objective was to study Buddhism in its land of origin, and he spent over 16 years traveling across India, visiting monasteries, universities, and sacred sites. Hiuen Tsang’s travels resulted in an extensive account known as the “Great Tang Records on the Western Regions,” which provides invaluable insights into the political, cultural, and religious landscape of ancient India.
Notes Taken by Hiuen Tsang During His Visit to India
It was well known that Xuanzang had documented the events during the reign of Harsha, the northern Indian emperor.
- According to Xuanzang, Emperor Harsha was a hard-working ruler who did his best to run his mighty kingdom. A complete absence of uprisings During his reign is quite appreciable. Strict rules and regulations were followed and traitors received death penalties as well. But these are not the only reasons that make his reign wonderful. In fact, the little taxation was also one of the primary reasons that made the emperor worthy of appreciation. However, there was an absence of strict monitoring when it comes to maintaining travel safety.
- Harsha split his kingdom into four parts: the administrative portion went to state officials; the scholars received the third portion; and the Brahamanas and Buddhist monks received the fourth portion as a charitable donation.
- According to Xuanzang, Harsha’s army was made up of a million strong soldiers, 50,000 powerful cavalry chariots, and 60,000 war elephants.
- The streets were filthy and round. Prayag held great significance, whilst Kannauj was a stunning city. The religious significance of Shravasti and Kapilavastu had diminished, and Nalanda was the epicenter of Buddhist scholarship.
- In India, education was primarily religious and was provided to students between the ages of nine and thirty. They used Sanskrit as their writing and gave oral instruction.
- Indians had a great passion for learning, writing, and the arts.
- He also said that women had access to education and that the strict Caste system had no purdah system, but that Sati was still the dominant religion.
- People were straightforward, morally upright, and honest. They abstained from eating and drinking meat, onions, and alcohol.
- According to him, Indians enjoyed flourishing seacoasts and ports in both the East and the West, and they engaged in lively trade with other nations. India imported gold, silver, and horses and exported fabric, sandalwood, spices, pearls, medical herbs, ivory, and other items to other nations. India was characterized by Hiuen Tsang as a wealthy and developed nation.
Relevance of Hiuen Tsang for UPSC
Hiuen Tsang’s travels occurred during the Gupta and Harsha dynasties, two pivotal periods in Indian history. His accounts offer a unique perspective on the political, social, and economic conditions of that time, which can be useful for answering questions related to ancient Indian history in the UPSC exam.
Religious and Cultural Insights:
His observations on Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions in India can aid candidates in answering questions related to the religious diversity and cultural exchange in ancient India.
Hiuen Tsang’s travels spanned a vast geographical area, from the northern regions of India to as far south as Kanchipuram. His detailed descriptions of geographical features, landmarks, and routes can be valuable for understanding the ancient Indian landscape.
His accounts also shed light on diplomatic relations between India and China during that era. This knowledge can be beneficial for candidates preparing for questions on international relations and diplomacy.
Study Hiuen Tsang’s Works:
Start by reading Hiuen Tsang’s “Great Tang Records on the Western Regions” to get a comprehensive understanding of his travels and observations. Various translations and commentaries are available.
Complement with Other Sources:
While Hiuen Tsang’s accounts are essential, it’s crucial to supplement your knowledge with other historical sources and textbooks that cover the Gupta and Harsha periods in India.
Study maps of Hiuen Tsang’s travels to get a clear grasp of the regions he visited. This can be especially helpful for answering geography-related questions in the UPSC exam.
Analyze His Impact:
Understand the impact of Hiuen Tsang’s travels on the spread of Buddhism and cultural exchange between India and China. This knowledge can be useful for answering questions related to religion and culture.
Keep yourself updated with any recent developments regarding Hiuen Tsang’s inclusion in the UPSC syllabus. The UPSC syllabus may change over time, so ensure you are prepared for any modifications.
Hiuen Tsang Visit to India – UPSC Prelims Details
- In AD 627, a mighty war was triggered between Tang China and the Gokturks which led Tang Emperor Taizong to put restrictions on traveling outside.
- By influencing several Buddhist guards at Yumen Pass, Hiuen Tsang was able to escape the empire in 629, passing through Qinghai and Liangzhou (Gansu).
- He crossed the Gobi Desert to arrive in Hami City (formerly Kumul) and then proceeded westward to Tian Shan.
- He encountered the Buddhist ruler of Turpan in AD 630, who gave him more gear for his journeys. His piece “Journey to the West” (Si-Yu-Ki) featured the Flaming Mountains of Turpan, which are the hottest mountains in China.
- Traveling west, Hiuen Tsang avoided thieves to arrive in Karasahr, an old Silk Road village. Then he arrived at the Kucha non-Mahayana monasteries.
- He traveled to Central Asia, passing through Tashkent, Samarkand, and Kyrgyzstan in Uzbekistan. Additionally, he passed via the Iron Gate and the Pamir Mountain, a mountain range that connects Central Asia, South Asia, and East Asia where the Himalayas meet the Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun, and Hindu Kush.
- He continued until he arrived at Termez and the Amu Darya River, which is located in both Central Asia and Afghanistan. There, he met over a thousand Buddhist monks. When he first arrived in Afghanistan, he visited a number of Buddhist sites and relics, most notably the Nava Vihara, which Hiuen Tsang describes as the world’s westernmost vihara.
Hiuen Tsang’s remarkable journey to India provides a wealth of historical, cultural, and geographical knowledge that can be beneficial for UPSC exam aspirants. By studying his works and understanding the significance of his travels, candidates can enhance their preparation and increase their chances of success in this highly competitive examination. Remember that UPSC preparation requires dedication, consistency, and a holistic approach to cover all relevant topics, including those related to historical figures like Hiuen Tsang.