By Sudheendra Kulkarni
When Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Mahabalipuram for his second informal summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, October 11-13, i hope he visits the Aurobindo Ashram in nearby Puducherry. Apart from knowing about Maharshi Aurobindo, the renowned Hindu sage of modern times, he will also be able to pay tribute to distinguished Chinese philosopher, Prof Xu Fancheng, who lived in the ashram for 27 long years, from 1951-1978. Earlier, Prof Xu lived in Santiniketan for five years.
Who was Prof Xu? According to Luo Zhaohui, who was his student and who later served as China’s ambassador to India (and as vice foreign minister now he will be accompanying Xi to Mahabalipuram), “He was the first Chinese who introduced Sri Aurobindo to China. There were three great men in modern India – Gurudev Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo. The first two men were well known in China. It was due to Prof Xu’s contribution that China began to know about Sri Aurobindo. He translated Sri Aurobindo’s ‘The Life Divine’ and ‘Integral Yoga’ into Chinese. He also translated ‘Fifty Upanishads’, ‘Bhagwad Gita’ and ‘Shakuntala’ into Chinese. As a Chinese philosopher who lived in India for the longest period of time, he became a bridge linking China and India.”
Xu thus belongs to the noble lineage of those who introduced the best of India to China. In ancient times, there were those like Kumara Jiva, Hiuen Tsang, Fa Xian and Bodhidharma. In modern times, Prof Tan Yunshan came to India under Tagore’s influence and became the first director of Cheena Bhavana at Santiniketan. Padma Bhushan Prof Ji Xianlin, who is regarded as China’s ‘Gurudev’, translated the Ramayana into Chinese.
Modi and Xi will no doubt discuss many important contemporary issues that impact our two countries and the world. It is equally important for the two leaders to reaffirm the value of the deep cultural-spiritual ties between India and our great northern neighbour that are over 2,000 years old. Hinduism, Buddhism and Sanskrit form the bedrock of these ties.
Mahabalipuram, the site of magnificent Hindu temples facing the Indian Ocean, itself is an eloquent symbol of India-China exchanges in the past. Pallava King Narasimhavarman II (680-720), who built some of these temples, had sent envoys to China. These temples were called the ‘Seven Pagodas of China’ by some European explorers, on account of the architectural resemblance between the sacred structures in our two countries. Ships sailed from the shores of Tamil Nadu to China – proof that India was very much a part of the ancient ‘maritime silk road’, whose modernisation is a component of Xi’s ambitious ‘Belt and Road’ project. I have seen telltale exhibits of this in the maritime museum in China’s port city of Quanzhou. In the city’s famous Kaiyuan Buddhist Temple, one can see carved images of Narasimha, Shiva, Krishna and other Hindu deities.
During his first visit to India in 2014, Xi had said, “I have had a deep interest in Indian civilisation since I was young. I have read historic books on the Ganges River civilisation, the Vedic culture. I have paid great attention to the life and thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, hoping to penetrate the development path and psychology of this great nation.”
May Mahabalipuram greatly augment the Chinese president’s interest in Indian civilisation in general – and in Hinduism in particular. (The author was aide to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee).
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.