From the Tang Dynasty in 5th century CE to 21st Century Beijing – A Tradition of Sanskrut Scholarship

During his recent visit to China, Pranab Mukherjee, the External Affairs Minister of India, handed over the prestigious Padma Bhushan certificate and medallion to eminent Sanskrit scholar and Indologist, Ji Xianlin, who translated the great Indian epic, Ramayan in the 1960s. The award for the 97-year old Ji had been announced on January 26, 2008, the Republic Day of India.

Ji Xianlin majored in Sanskrut from the University
of Gottingen in Germany in 1936. He has written seven books including a short history of India. He pioneered the teaching of Sanskrut at Beijing University, which now has scholars who have translated many Indian ancient texts including Kalidas’ works and the Mahabharat.

Many readers might not know that China has a rich and ancient association with Sanskrut. 

(China under the Tang Dynasty circa 700 CE)

The Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) is regarded by historians as a high point in Chinese Civilization as well as a golden age of cosmopolitan culture. Xuanzang was a Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveler, and translator who became famous for his seventeen year overland trip to India and back in the early Tang period.

During his travels, he studied with many famous Buddhist masters, especially at the famous center of Buddhist learning at Nalanda University. When he returned, he brought with him some 657 Sanskrut texts. With the emperor’s support, he set up a large translation bureau in Chang’an (present-day Xi’an), drawing students and collaborators from all over East Asia. He is credited with the translation of some 1,330 fascicles of Sanskrut texts into Chinese. (cf. 

It appears that Sanskrut continued to exert substantial impact on Chinese literary practices during the entire Tang Dynasty.

We quote “Ninth Century China also offers striking evidence of the enormous impact of Sanskrut; the integration of tornal prosody – the critical transformation that made possible the Recent Style poetry of the high T’ang – was stimulated in part by the study of Dandin and works of the same genre such as Bhamaha’s “Kavya-Alankar” – The Language of the GODS in the WORLD of MEN – by Sheldon Pollock, William Ransford Professor of Sanskrut and Indian Studies, Columbia University, New York.

Frankly, we have little idea of what Prof. Pollock means, as we know neither the Recent Style Poetry of the T’ang nor much about Dandin and Bhamaha. But, then we are only Rasiks and not scholars.

The relevance of this article to our blog is that:

  • it demonstrates the vast tradition and lineage that today’s Bollywood can draw from and

  • it provides a link for our next article about a great American project.

Send your comments to [email protected]