Thursday, June 25, 2009

Interpretation of travelogues

The full title of the book by Xuanzang is “Ta-Tang-Hsi-yu-chi”, i.e., records of the western lands of the great Tang period.
The original text as written by Xuanzang and presented to king Taizong had 9 or 10 Chuan (chapter), in later centuries there is mention of the “His-yu-chi” (or Si-yu-Ki) i.e. “The records of the western lands”, with 12 Chuan. In some editions of His-yu-chi it says written by Xuanzang and compiled by Pien-chi and it is generally agreed that notes and comments may have been added by Pien-chi and by other contributors later in subsequent editions.
“His-yu-chi” exists in several editions like Han, Shan, Sung, Yuan, and Ming etc with considerable variations in explanations and the text. The book is one of the classical Buddhist books and is preserved in Buddhist monasteries in China, Korea and Japan.
The translation works carried out by orientalists have used one or many of the editions (A, B, C and D as mentioned by the translators) kept in various important monasteries in china, Japan and Korea. The translators found that subsequent editions had lots of alteration and many times its felt that the original facts were modified. This is one important reason why his “Travels” and “Life” vary considerably in the routes taken and places visited by Xuanzang. These discrepancies stems from the different edition used by different translators. Another reason is Xuanzang received information in local dialect which he transcripted in Sanskrit and sometimes he left them in their Pali form. For a good translation it is essential to have knowledge of Pali and Sanskrit. Many translators where not verse with Pali this also led to different interpretations. Besides that exact pronunciation of characters, names and places 1500 years back when the accounts were first written can not be exactly known. Pekinese and Morrison system of spellings were referred for transliterating the names of Chinese characters.
Of course as newer knowledge and techniques were found some of the old work was seen as obsolete or even incorrect in certain situations. The discrepancies between older and newer translation work sometimes contradicted the work previously done and has led to some criticism.

Julian made observations that Remusat work on Fahien is incorrect and is unreliable to use it as a reference. T.W.Rhys Davids has mentioned in preface of Thomas watters’ “Yuan Chwang travels in India”, that the translation done by Samuel Beal contains many mistakes.
Following suit Thomas watters labeled Julian’s translation a hasty and inaccurate work.
If we see the works published by Julian on Xuanzang’s “Record”, the first work published in 1853 was full of discrepancies. Explorers found it very difficult to interpret the names mentioned in the travelogues.

In last 1500 years the demography has totally changed and old cities like Kanyakubja, Kapilavastu don’t exist in there original state and are nowhere to be found on the map. The values of the unit of dimensions used in that era like, Li and Yojan has also transformed in the last 1500 years. The topography of the area and land-use changed over time and most of the remains were associated with local legends and folklores.
For example, Ashokan pillar at Nigliva was Bhimsen-Ki- Nigali (smoking pipe of Legendary Bhima from epic Mahabharata) for the local people and the big mound of “Remains of ancient Nalanda University” were mentioned as remains of Kundalpur fort of Raja Bhimika, father-in-law of Krishna (from epic Mahabharata).
Needless to say with plethora of information lying at every step and no standard way of validating any information posed a great challenge to put the history of the place together and in any proper sequence.

NEXT: Measurement units and verifications  

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