India and Mongolia - Shared Heritage

  • By Prof Lokesh Chandra
  • May 2016

Author  of more than 500 books, Vedic and Buddhist scholar Prof LOKESH  CHANDRA, president, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, was  recently conferred the Order of the North Star by the Mongolian  government for his stellar contributions in fostering greater  understanding between India and Mongolia. He spoke to NARAYANI  GANESH

Culture is not just music and dance — culture is  power….Now China is proud of its culture but we are not. In  Mongolia they have Kalidasa’s Meghdoota in Mongolian.  The Astangahridaya Samhita of Vagbhata is translated in Mongolian and  they follow it. Most of the culture in Mongolia has gone from  India.We don’t realise it but India is a cultural super power in  Asia,” says Prof Lokesh Chandra.“ It is imperative for India to  have a national culture policy.” Shiva’s trishul figured in the  scepter of Emperor Chinggis Khan, the great Mongol conqueror, the  symbol perhaps borrowed from Kanishka’s Kushan dynasty when they  were in Central Asia.The name of the Mongolian  president  during the communist period was Shambu. Mongolia’s highest civilian  award, the North Star, refers to Dhruva Tara or Sudarshan.

These  kind of GK nuggets you get aplenty from Prof Lokesh Chandra,  president of ICCR, who was recently conferred the Order of the North  Star for his scholarly contributions to the study of Buddhism in  Mongolia and for fostering cultural ties between India and Mongolia  that go back to his father, Prof RaghuVira’s time.

“The  Sudarshana Sutra in Mongolia points to the auspiciousness that  Sudarshan or North Star brings to you,” explains Prof Chandra.The  nomads in Mongolia needed a constant point of reference to determine  the direction and the North Star fitted the bill perfectly. The  grasslands are uniform and show no signs and so nomads needed to look  to the skies for guidance. Prof Chandra says that Mongolia is very  interesting for us because in the 13th century, Chinggis Khan, with  an extensive empire, became the first Asian emperor to rule over  Europe.

“With  11 countries in Asia being Buddhist, they are all looking up to India  as a great cultural power — a fact we are not aware of. It is all  shared cultural heritage. What we call culture is part of a much  bigger system where everything is involved,” points out the  professor who says a cultural renaissance is going on and India needs  to be part of it.

What Was Their Secret?

“My  father, Prof Raghu Vira, Sanskrit scholar and linguist, was a student  in London and his professor asked him if he would like to join the  Indian Civil Services. My father replied that he would rather serve  his own country than serve the British Empire.That inspired him to do  some research and he found that the Huns ruled Europe for 300 years.  Later on, the Golden Horde originating from the Mongolian region was  ruling Russia. And then of course, Chinggis Khan.

What  was their secret?

Chinggis  Khan introduced three very important things: first, unification of  the scattered Mongol tribes; second, a script for the Mongolian  language. With the introduction of a script, the Mongols got a tool  for the first time, to evolve a good system of governance. Third, he  welcomed Uyghur Buddhists as secretaries of the empire and they  introduced Chinggis Khan to Buddhism. The script and Buddhism gave  stability to the Mongols. Monasteries were built and the transition  began from nomadic to settled life with development and buildings.  Literature and a secretariat, bureaucracy, soon followed.

Says  Prof Chandra, “Mongols gave to the world paper currency; they  introduced steam.They used steam to move the prayer wheels from which  emanated the chant,Aum mani padme hum mechanically. And it was the  Mongols who, for the first time, opened the west to the east and the  east to the west.” Chinggis Khan was responsible for making  Buddhism part of his country’s culture. All those running his  empire were Buddhist monks. Bakshi in Mongolian means ‘professor’.  The word came from bikshu. The Bakshi title was carried by muslims to  India.

Prof  Chandra says there are so many aspects of Mongolia and India and  other countries in the region that strongly indicate a shared  heritage.“A coin in Mathura of the second century BCE has an  inscription that has the word Khagan on it and in Mongolian it means  emperor”. Prof Raghu Vira had invited to India, a professor from  Mongolia called Rinchin, a great nationalist. Rinchin was very angry  because the Soviets burned five million books of the Mongols. With  the efforts of the two scholars, for the first time an International  Congress Of Mongolistics (Mongolian Studies) was held in 1959 in  Mongolia.“My father took Rinchin to Nehru who proposed inclusion of  Mongolia in the United Nations. The Indian embassy was established in  Mongolia in 1956 and the Beijing ambassador also became concurrently  the ambassador to Mongolia”.

In  1956, Mongolians celebrated Buddha Jayanti in India.They took water  from the Ganga back to Mongolia in remembrance of a similar sharing  way back in the 17th century when two Indian acharyas or teachers  took Gangajal with them to Mongolia along with stories of Krishna,  Vikramaditya, King Bhoja, Vikram-Betaal and they narrated all these  stories and added the Gangajal to the waters of Lake Baikhal.

Today,  symbolically, Mongolians convert their water to Ganga water by  reciting local hymns written by local masters. But who took Buddhism  to Mongolia? Prof Chandra says that fourth century inscriptions in  the tombs of Huna emperors mention Buddhism. The first translation of  Buddhist texts is from India, and the second is from Tibet. Even  during Chenggis Khan’s time, it was the Uyghurs who took Buddhism  to the Mongolians. Buddhism went to Mongolia in different ways over  many centuries.

According  to the professor, there’s no conflict here between Buddhism and  Hinduism.  He adds that for two whole generations, the Mongols lost out on  culture due to communist regime. “There is a tremendous resurgence  of Buddhism now, and all destroyed monasteries have been rebuilt…”  says the professor whose research into Mongolian Kanjur (Buddhist  scriptures) resulted in a 108-volume edition published in original of  the Mongolian Kanjur in the 20th century. It is a seminal reference  point for scholars worldwide, in Classical Mongolian.

How  did he get access to it?

“Today  only three copies of the original text are there, in Paris, Harvard,  and in my house. My father was in China in 1954 and Premier Chou en  Lai presented a frayed copy of the Mongolian Kanjur to him in  classical Mongolian. ‘You are the Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang) of India’  he said.” Pointing to India-Mongolia connections, Prof Chandra  says, “The Jibchundampa are incarnations of Tara Nath from Tibet,  all with Sanskrit names. They have now found an incarnation of  Jibchundampa in India, and officially recognised him. The Mongolian  state is now supporting Buddhism in a big way because it is their  identity. Mongolia has evolved a national form of Buddhism with a  large Tibetan component, creating new sutras translating into  Mongolian modern language, creating ethnic Mongolian Buddhism — all  Vajrayana Buddhism.”

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