Seafront venue for PM Modi-Xi Jinping summit harks back to Tamil Nadu’s ancient China links
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Xi in Mamallapuram on Friday, he will take the Chinese leader around several monuments carved out of rock along the Coromandel coast in the 7th and 8th centuries.Updated: Oct 10, 2019 05:27 IST
Behind India’s decision to choose the seaside resort of Mamallapuram as the venue for the second informal summit with China lies the story of centuries-old trade and cultural links between Tamil Nadu and Fujian province, where President Xi Jinping once served as the governor.
Quanzhou, a port city in Fujian, is probably the only Chinese city with existing evidence that trade links existed between coastal China and southern India almost 1,400 years ago.
Hundreds of sculptures and carvings reflecting Indian temple architecture were excavated in Quanzhou and surrounding areas in the middle of the last century. The discovery threw up proof that Tamil sea traders had made Quanzhou an important port of call.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Xi in Mamallapuram on Friday, he will take the Chinese leader around several monuments carved out of rock along the Coromandel coast in the 7th and 8th centuries.
Though a number of venues were considered, people familiar with developments in New Delhi said on Wednesday that Mamallapuram was chosen because of Modi’s clear guidance that such meetings should be held outside the national capital to showcase other parts of India. In view of Xi’s interest in history and culture, Mamallapuram was ideal as it was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1994 and there was support infrastructure, such as a large airport, nearby.
“Besides, there was the historical connection between Tamil Nadu and China. The Buddhist monk Huen Tsang visited Kancheepuram during the Pallava dynasty, and Bodhidharma, the monk who took Zen Buddhism to China and Japan, set sail from the Tamil Nadu coast,” said an Indian official, who declined to be named.
There is also evidence of trading expeditions from the Pallava and Chola kingdoms to Quanzhou and Fujian province, where Xi was the governor during 1999-2002.
The famous Kaiyuan Temple in Quanzhou has carvings that historians say were influenced by Hindu and Buddhist styles. Many of these artefacts are now at Quanzhou Maritime Museum, also called the Museum of Overseas Communication History, and it houses relics such as old ships and inscriptions of Christian and Islamic origin.
Among the museum’s exhibits are Vishnu and Laxmi idols, and a stone pillar of a Hindu temple currently stands on the back porch of Kaiyuan Temple.
Research into the origins of the relics continues, but there seems to be consensus that the Hindu-influenced artefacts originated in southern India.
“In the late 13th century, a Tamil-speaking community in...Quanzhou built a temple devoted to the Hindu god Siva. The temple is no longer intact, but over 300 carvings are still within the city, on display in the collection of the local museum, and rebuilt into the walls of the city’s main Buddhist temple,” wrote art historian Risha Lee.
“The known carvings are distinguishable by their South Indian style, with its closest parallels in 13th century temples constructed in the Kaveri Delta region in Tamil Nadu, and are dispersed across five primary sites in Quanzhou and its surroundings,” Lee wrote in her dissertation for Columbia University.
For an approximate date when the temple was built, Lee deciphered inscriptions in Chinese and Tamil on a stone block. Lee wrote: “The strongest evidence for its construction date is a bilingual inscription found in Quanzhou, written in both Chinese and Tamil on a block of diabase stone, which records the consecration of a Siva temple in 1281.”