(Last Updated on : 02/02/2009)
'Prince of pilgrims' Hieun Tsang, the well-known Chinese traveller was a Buddhist scholar who visited India in the 7th century A.D., (630-644 A.D). He came to India to visit all the places connected with the life of the Buddha, to further his knowledge of Buddhist philosophy and to collect Buddhist manuscripts. He was invited by Harshavardhana of Kanauj who was the ruler of a vast portion of North India at that time. The writings of this 'prince of pilgrims' gives historians much authentic information about the political, social, economic and religious conditions of those days and in particular about the status of Buddhism in various kingdoms.
Hieun Tsang visited a number of places in North India like Kashmir and the University of Nalanda (present day Bihar). He also travelled south and even stayed in Kanchi (Kanchipuram, near Chennai) for some time. Kanchi, at that point of time when Hieun Tsang visited the place, was the capital city of the illustrious Pallava monarch, Narasimhavarman I (630-668 A.D.). Hieun Tsang's writings reveal that this ancient city was a very famous centre of Buddhism and he spent three years studying the Buddhist philosophy at this place. He gives a very vivid picture of the flourishing condition of Buddhism in Kanchi in the 7th century A.D., stating that there were a hundred Buddhist monasteries and ten thousand brethren in the Pallava country. A group of three hundred Buddhist scholars came to Kanchi during the visit of this Chinese pilgrim.
South India has produced many great Buddhist scholars in the past like Dinnaga, Buddha Datta, Nagarjuna, etc. Hieun Tsang mentions that Nagarjuna went to a Buddhist monastery in Pataliputra (present day Patna) and defeated the scholars of that place in a debate which lasted for twelve days.Hieun Tsang also visited the Telugu country and has stated that some of the monasteries were in a ruined condition but that Dhanakataka (present-day Amaravati) was a famous centre of Buddhism.