His Story

Friday, January 14, 2011

India in 2nd Century AD

This description comes in the writings of Fa - Hsien who was a Buddhist monk, and had travelled out of China to India in the 2nd century to get Buddhist Literature. Here is his account about the city of Mathura and what he found there - its an interesting peek into the life of a country which evoked so much admiration in the past! A full translation of his travel memoirs can be found in Project Gutenberg. This description, I guess, is also applicable to what is Northern India today, as Fa - Hsien travelled only in the North.

"In it the cold and heat are finely tempered, and there is neither hoarfrost nor snow. The people are numerous and happy; they have not to register their households, or attend to any magistrates and their rules; only those who cultivate the royal land have to pay (a portion of) the grain from it. If they want to go, they go; if they want to stay on, they stay. The king governs without decapitation or (other) corporal punishments. Criminals are simply fined, lightly or heavily, according to the circumstances (of each case). The king's body-guards and attendants all have salaries. Throughout the whole country the people do not kill any living creature, nor drink intoxicating liquor, nor eat onions or garlic. There is the name for those who are (held to be) wicked men, and live apart from others. When they enter the gate of a city or a market-place, they strike a piece of wood to make themselves known, so that men know and avoid them, and do not come into contact with them. In that country they do not keep pigs and fowls, and do not sell live cattle; in the markets there are no butchers' shops and no dealers in intoxicating drink. In buying and selling commodities they use cowries."


Fa-Hein lived in Pataliputra for three years, learning Sanskrit. He was deeply impressed by the sight of Ashoka's Palace, which was still in existence. It had been build nearly 700 years before, but was maintained and used by the royal families after Asoka. He also had one interesting observation on Magadha(corresponding to present day Bihar and Jharkhand with parts of Uttar Pradesh).

The towns of Magadha were the largest in the plains of Ganga. The people were rich and prosperous and seemed to emulate each other for promotion of virtue. Charitable institutions were numerous and rest houses were provided on the highways.

The capital possessed an excellent and free hospital, regarding which Fa-Hein says

"Hither come all the poor and the hapless patients suffering all kind of infirmities..They are well taken care of and a doctor attends them..food and medicine being supplied according to their wants. Thus they are made quite comfortable and when they are well...they may go"

Its doubtful as to if such a hospital existed in any other part of the world at that time.

Fa-Hein's casual observations leave no doubt that India was very well-governed(unlike today) during the time of the Guptas. He was able to pursue studies, first at Pataliputra, then at Tamralitpti without hindrance and was able to travel all over India without any hindrance, unlike his latter counterpart Hiuen-Tsang who suffered more than once on that account. The mild ethics of the earlier periods had sensitized the Indians and without doubt, it was one of the happiest and most civilized region of the world during the period - when the Roman Empire was nearing its destruction and China was passing through the age of troubles with the transition of power between dynasties.

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