Over 2,000 years on, Sanskrit remains popular in China: Chinese Professor

PTI | , Beijing
Apr 12, 2021 12:54 PM IST

Sanskrit studies are flourishing in China, over 2,000 years after the ancient Indian language was brought to this country along with Buddhism, making a profound impact on Chinese monarchs and scholars over the centuries.

Wang Bangwei, a well-known Chinese scholar in Sanskrit and Director of Sino-Indian Buddhist Studies, Institute of Oriental and Indian Studies at the Peking University, said Sanskrit which is the root of Indian culture continues to remain popular in China, contrary to its modest progress in modern India.

When Buddhism came to China from India, Chinese Buddhist monks started translating Indian texts into Chinese.(Unsplash)
When Buddhism came to China from India, Chinese Buddhist monks started translating Indian texts into Chinese.(Unsplash)

Wang said the Peking University is one of the oldest in China and this year marks the completion of 100 years of teaching Sanskrit at the leading varsity.

Wang credited 4th Century AD Indian scholar Kumarajiva for spreading Sanskrit in China.

Kumarajiva was instrumental in translating Buddhist sutras into Chinese language during his stay in China over 2,000 years ago, earning the royal title of “National Teacher of China”.

He was the first among numerous scholars who laid a firm foundation for civilisational links between the two countries.

Kumarajiva, hailing from a Kashmiri Brahmin family from the then Kucha Kingdom, spent about 23 years in China in the 4th century AD both as a prisoner and as a most revered scholar.

Sanskrit, its associated culture and its development was kept alive by numerous Chinese scholars, like Fa Xian and Xuan Zang and others, who visited India, Wang said, while launching the Sanskrit learning application "Little Guru" of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, (ICCR) at the Indian Embassy here on Friday, along with Indian Ambassador, Vikram Misri.

Sanskrit teaching programme started at the Peking University a century ago but Sanskrit research and teaching in China has a history of over 2,000 years, Wang said.

When Buddhism came to China from India, Chinese Buddhist monks started translating Indian texts into Chinese.

“From that moment, Sanskrit study and research started. China has a long history of Sanskrit tradition, till that time outside of India, China has the longest and strongest scholarship in the world," he said.

Over 100 Chinese scholars studied in Nalanda University until it began to decline in 11th Century, Wang said.

“Sanskrit is a major language of Indian culture. More and more people in China are interested in Indian culture and Sanskrit is a good way to learn more about Indian culture," he said.

He said Sanskrit was the most important language through which Chinese learned about Hinduism, Buddhism, ancient Indian medicine, astronomy and mathematics.

“While Buddhism declined in India, it became very strong in China and has become part of Chinese culture," he told PTI.

Once the language became strong in China, the need to go to India to learn it declined, he said.

“China gradually became centre of Buddhism in Asia. In India, Buddhism has declined and in China it grew," he said, adding that thanks to numerous scholars who visited India over the centuries, China has some rare Sanskrit scriptures brought by them, which may not be available in India.

Y.E. Shaoyong, Associate Prof of Sanskrit in Peking University, said the Sanskrit studies in China are booming. His department now has 10 scholars specialising in the language while 200 others studied as part of the subject for their graduate programme.

The job prospects of the Sanskrit learning students are also good as most of them pursue academic career in Buddhist studies, specially its history, he said.

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