Retracing the “Echoes of the Footsteps of the Buddha”, in Bihar, with the Fahein and Xuanzang has reached us to set of places north of Ganges (Table-1). Both the Pilgrims have almost taken the same route and same set of places (Fig-1 and 2). A comparison of pilgrimage of both the Pilgrims gives us opportunity to “read” the minds of Xuanzang and Fahien, i.e. their sense of distance and direction and what they found worth detailing. These set of places has received maximum attention by the explorers and archaeologists in last two centuries.
Figure 1-The Xuanzang's Travel North of Ganges in Bihar-Nepal
Figure 2-The Fahein's Travel North of Ganges in Bihar-Nepal
There is a two century gap between their pilgrimages. This time gap between the pilgrimages of Fahein and Xuanzang gives us an opportunity to observe the different time periods and the demography of the villages and sites of their pilgrimage. A difference in their ages at the time of their pilgrimage was also reflected in their written accounts; Fahein was a monk in his sixties when he took the pilgrimage and Xuanzang was in his twenties. While Xuanzang had visited a greater number of sites and left a greatly detailed travelogue, Fahein most likely visited and documented only places of great importance to the pilgrimage. Another important difference is the unit of measurement they used to mark distances. Xuanzang converted the distance into the Chinese equivalent “Li,” a more stable measurement, while Fahein used the Indian measurement unit “Yojan,” for the long distances, a vague measurement which varies from place to place. For smaller distances Fahein has used “Li”, this could mean he collected information for the long distances on hearsay and he estimated the short distance by himself. There could be some difference in their detailing for Xuanzang was already acquaint with Sanskrit when he visited India but Fahein learnt Sanskrit at Patliputra, i.e. almost at the end of his pilgrimage.
Tangible and intangible remains of the Ancient pilgrimage were buried in layers of biomass and puzzles that required to be deciphered layer by layer. The first explorers had very limited sources and insufficient tools to analyze information. Before moving further we briefly take a look at the growth of the understanding about the “Li” and “Yojan”, in recent times. A correct approximation for “Li” and “Yojan” was always very crucial for the explorers and archaeologist for correct identification of places and making of the Map of Ancient Pilgrimage (also India). The understanding about the “Li” and “Yojan” depended a lot on the understanding of demography, flood, rivers and land-use pattern during the time of Pilgrimage and when the process of rediscovery started.
Value of Li and Yojan
These are some values of Li and Yojan estimated by Orientalists and early explorers (Table-2) (Source- Ancient Geography of India, by Alexander Cunningham)
Fahien recorded places in “Yojan.” “Yojan” and “Kos” are the Indian units for measurement of long distances. Xuanzang gave the equivalent of “Yojan” in terms of “Li”. He stated that traditionally one Yojan equaled 40 Li, but at the time of his visits, it was only 30 Li, but Xuanzang doesn’t mention which equivalent (30 or 40 Li) was used by him.
Li- is a traditional measurement unit in China which found its origin in 2600 BC by the Yellow Emperor. Its values have changed with various historical periods where, for instance, 1 Li amounted to 644 meters during the Qing Dynasty. At the time of Xuanzang when the Tang Dynasty (618- 907 AD) was in power, the value was approximately 323 mt. The present value of One Li is 500 mt.
Yojan - was the longest unit of measurement employed in ancient India and had many different meanings. Yojan, emanating from Yoga, was used to indicate the distance a cow could pull a cart. Xuanzang in his “Travels” accounts has elaborately defined the measurement units existing in India during that point of time. Yojan according to him was the distance covered by a royal army in a single day. Clearly, the Yojan value differed in different places at different times. Yojan was further divided into Krosa. Krosa or Kos, for example, meant the distance at which a cow could be heard. One “Kos” for a Buddhist monk meant the distance of an ideal place to live (monastery) from a village.
Jain tradition= 1 Yojan= 4 Kos=9 miles
As per Kautaliya’ Arthasastra 4 Kos= 1 Yojan= 9 Miles
Table 2- Value of Li and Yojan by different orientalists
4 -5 Li
1 Mile, 1 Li= 372 m
Let us now study how Cunningham came to his values based on his observations. Limited from the available technology at the time, Alexander Cunningham determined the values by calculating an average distance between places a set distance apart. Cunningham went into the roots of traditional measurement systems and calculated both the values of “Li” and “Yojan.” He corroborated the values with the real distance in miles between the places mentioned by Fahien and Xuanzang. While Fahien recorded distance in “Yojan” and Xuanzang used “Li”, in order to estimate the measurements of “Li” and “Yojan,” Cunningham recorded the distance between popular sites and found the equivalent of Li and Yojan in terms of meters and miles by calculating averages.
1 Yojan= 39.25 Li
1 Yojan of Fahien = 6.71 Miles
1 Mile= 5.925 Li, 1 Li = 329 Meters
1 Li of Xuanzang (Cunningham’s Estimation) = 329 mts= 0.169 miles
All later explorers and archaeologists have used the values mentioned by Cunningham as a standard. But the calculation by Cunningham was based on assumptions that were faulty. One basic mistake in the calculation done by Cunningham is that Fahien never visited Nalanda Mahavihara instead he talks about Nala, the birth place of Sariputra. And Sariputra’s birth place as per Xuanzang was 20 Li southeast of the meeting place of Bimbisara and Buddha, which is around 14 Li southwest of Nalanda Mahavihara. Hence, the place of Nalanda mentioned for the comparison is different for Fahien and Xuanzang. Also, he assumes Giriyak as being the site of Indrasaila Guha which is again wrong as the Indrasaila Guha was later identified near Parwati Village which is further northeast of Giriyak. Therefore, it is unclear how Cunningham comes up with the figure of 58 Li between Nalanda to Giriyak.
“Li” and “Yojan” using Geographic information System (GIS)
Research is a dynamic process. As improved technology in recent times becomes available, we can now calculate a better approximation for “Li” and “Yojan.” With an available set of identified places, we shall estimate the values using the Geographic Information System (GIS) tools.
We have two set of established places visited by Fahein and here we can use GIS tools to find a value of Fahein’s Yojan.
Table 3- GIS estimation for Fahein
For Xuanzang’s value of Li, we use three sets of places visited by Xuanzang and the corresponding minimum distances between these places.
Table 4- GIS estimation for Xuanzang
1 Y= 9 Kms
1 Li= 330 m
New Fort, Rajgriha
1 Li= 520 m
We find that the values vary to a large extant even for small distances. Most likely, we have not accounted for the specifics around land use and pack and track routes of ancient times. We also cannot discount the fact that the measurements listed in the accounts may have been merely approximations based on hearsay and not actual measurements made by the monks themselves.
Instead of one fixed value of Li and Yojan we shall use a buffer of values (one Minimum and one Maximum) for calculation purpose.
For Li we shall have
1 Li= 300 Mts (Min) - 400Mts (Max)
1 Yojan= 8 Miles (Min) – 10 Miles (Max)
We have tabulated the Description of Xuanzang and Fahein from Sravasti to Ananda’s parinirvana place, just to compare their individual approaches. We observe Xuanzang has given detailed description of the relics and events associated with the place.
From Table-5, we find Xuanzang talks more about the contributions of King Ashoka at all the pilgrimage places, Fahein mentions King Ashoka only at Ramagrama i.e. when Raja Ashoka open the stupa to remove the Relics for rising the 84000 Stupas. Another important difference is their accounting of the inscribed Ashokan pillars. Fahien is completely silent about the tall inscribed pillars except at the Alms Bowl Stupa (on his way to Vaishali, and of which Xuanzang is silent). Why did Fahein fail to mention these imposing conspicuous pillars, which Xuanzang says were inscribed with the historic events occurring at those sites? One possible reason could be that the pillars were inscribed with Ashokan Brahmi, a script that was more than 600 years old, and which Fahein was unable to read or find a translator to read it to him.
(1) The modern value of Li (里) is 500 m, i.e. half a km. You may check it here: http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/chindict.php
(2) "Fahein" should preferably be written as "Faxian".
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