This paper examines an early travel text (translated from original language), written by the Chinese-Buddhist pilgrim Fa-hien, after returning to his country at the completion of his pilgrimage, as a document interacting with a historical/intellectual milieu of that period and being shaped by that context. During the reign of Chandragupta Vikramaditya one of the most eminent Chinese-Buddhist pilgrims, Fa-hien came to India, during 399-414 A.D., in search of original Sanskrit texts which formed part of the Buddhist canon recognized by monks living in the land of Buddha’s birthplace, India. He visited the important seats of Buddhist learning spread throughout India. Fa-hien’s book Foguoji (“A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms”) tells us a great deal about India sixteen hundred years ago and a new historicist approach is likely to open up the text as literary and historical document. An evaluation of the psychological background and social status of the author and any other factors that influenced the text will form the focus of my discussion. The early travel texts of this period help us to understand and interpret the times by offering to draw a map of the intersection of several religious, social, cultural discourses of that age. This paper would depict the historical importance of these texts in understanding the roots of our society and civilization that has evolved with time to an age of technological advancement. It would contrast early forms of travel with journeys in the modern age and highlight the psychological anxiety and its impact on these Buddhist pilgrims. The paper highlights the manner in which the description of the past given by the pilgrim Fa-hien gives us an idea about the caste system, economic life, education, crime, punishment, law, trade-routes, administration, justice and military techniques of that period which stand as a base on which present-day Indian culture and civilization has been constructed. Buddhism was more than a religion, it was a cultural movement which influenced the sphere of art and architecture of ancient India and led to the emergence of a golden era of Buddhist sculptures and paintings. The pilgrim’s description of the Buddhist sculptures and paintings depicting the life of the Enlightened Buddha form an epitome of the glorious past of our country and encourage the people of the western world to view India as a country, without whose exploration, their idea of the Orient would remain incomplete.
Cite this article:
Rima Bhattacharya. Rima Bhattacharya. Fa-hien’s Journey to the Land of Buddha. Research J. Humanities and Social Sciences. 5(3): July-September, 2014, 310-319.