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Early Contact with China

India was first known to the Chinese in the time of the Emperor Wuti, of the later Han dynasty, in the second century before Christ. It was then called Yuan-tu or Yin-tu, that is Hindu, and Shin-tit, or Sindhu. At a later date it was named Thian-tu; and this is the form which the historian Matwauliu has adopted.

In the official records of the Tang dynasty in the seventh century, India is described as consisting of "Five Divisions," called the East, West, North, South, and Central, which are usually styled the "Five Indies." It is not clear when this system of the "Five Divisions" was first adopted; but one early notice of it is in the year 477 AD, when the king of Western India sent an ambassador to China, and again only a few years later, in AD 503 and 504, when the kings of Northern and Southern India are mentioned as having followed his example.

No divisions are alluded to in any of the earlier Chinese notices of India; but the different provinces are described by name, and not by position. Thus there is mention of Yue-gai, king of Kapila, in AD 428, and of the king of Gandhara in AD 455. It would appear also that previous to this time India was sometimes called Maffadka, after the name of its best known and richest province ; and sometimes the "kingdom of Brahmans" after the name of its principal inhabitants.

In the seventh century AD, the noted Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Thsang (or more correctly Yuan Chuang) came to India. At the time of Hwen Thsang's visit, in the seventh century, India was divided into eighty kingdoms, each of which would appear to have had its separate ruler, although most of them were tributary to a few of the greater states. Thus, in Northern India, the districts of Kabul, Jalalabad, Peshawar, Ghazni, and Banu were all subject to the ruler of Kapisa, whose capital was most probably at Charikar, or Alexandria ad Caucasum. In the Panjab proper the hilly districts of Taxila, Singhapura, Urasa, Punach, and Puijaori, were subject to the Raja of Kashmir; while the whole of the plains, including Multan and Shorkot, were dependent on the ruler of Taki, or Sangala, near Lahor. In Western India the provinces were divided between the kings of Sindh, Balabhi, and Gurjara.

In Central and Eastern India, the whole of the different states, from the famous city of Sthaneswara to the mouth of the Ganges, and from the Himalaya mountains to the banks of the Narbada and Mahanadi rivers, were subject to Harsha Yarddhana, the great King of Kanoj. Jalandhara, the most easterly district of the Punjab, was also subject to him; and it is highly probable that the ruler of Tdki, or the plains of the Punjab, must likewise have been a dependant of Kanoj, as the Chinese pilgrim relates that Harsha Varddhana advanced through his territory to the foot of the Kashmir hills, for the purpose of coercing the ruler of that country to deliver up to him a much-venerated tooth of Buddha.

Harsha was said to have been the first King to have ever established a diplomatic relationship with China, with ambassadors and gifts being exchanged. During his lifetime he maintained diplomatic intercourse with with the Chinese empire. A Brahman envoy, whom he had sent to the emperor of China in 641 [some say in 630 AD], returned in AD 643, accompanied by a Chinese mission bearing a reply to Harsha's dispatch. The mission remained for a considerable time in India, and did not go back to China until AD 645. The next year, Wang-hiuen-tse, who had been the second in command of the earlier embassy, was sent by his sovereign as head of a new Indian mission, with an escort of thirty horsemen. Early in AD 647, or possibly at the close of 646, King Harsha died, leaving no heir, and the withdrawal of his strong arm plunged the country into disorder, which was aggravated by famine.

The Rajput king of Maharashtra, in Southern India, was the only sovereign who had successfully resisted the armies of Kanoj. This statement of the Chinese pilgrim is corroborated by several inscriptions of the Chalukya princes of Maharashtra, who make a proud boast of their ancestor's discomfiture of the great King Harsha Varddhana. This powerful prince was the paramount sovereign of thirty-six different States, comprising nearly one-half of India in extent, and including all its richest and most fertile provinces. The substantial reality of his power may be gathered from the fact that no less than eighteen, or just one-half, of these tributary princes attended on their suzerain lord during his great religious procession from Pataliputra to Kanoj, in AD 643. The extent of his dominions is clearly indicated by the names of the countries against which he directed his latest campaigns, namely, Kashmir in the north-west, Maharashtra in the south-west, and Ganjam in the south-east. Within these boundaries he was the paramount ruler of the continent of India during the first half of the seventh century of the Christian era.

The dominion of Southern India was nearly equally divided between the nine rulers of the following states : Maharashtra and Kosala, in the north; Kalinga, Andhra, Konkana, and Dhanakakata, in the centre; and Jorya, Dravida, and Malakuta, in the south. These complete the round number of eighty kingdoms into which India was divided in the seventh century.



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Page last modified: 20-05-2012 18:59:21 ZULU