A Source Book in Geography

Author: Hsüan-Chuang  | Date: 1884

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Hsüan Chang, a Chinese Pilgrim, on Indian Cosmography and on the Lands and Peoples of Southern Asia

This Sahalôka (Soh-ho) world is the three-thousand-great-thousand system of worlds (chiliocosm), over which one Buddha exercises spiritual authority (converts and controls). In the middle of the great chiliocosm, illuminated by one sun and moon, are the four continents, in which all the Buddhas, lords of the world, appear by apparitional birth, and here also die, for the purpose of guiding holy men and worldly men.

The mountain called Sumêru stands up in the midst of the great sea firmly fixed on a circle of gold, around which mountain the sun and moon revolve; this mountain is perfected by (composed of) four precious substances, and is the abode of the Dêvas. Around this are seven mountain-ranges and seven seas; between each range a flowing sea of the eight peculiar qualities. Outside the seven golden mountain-ranges is the salt sea. There are four lands (countries or islands, dvîpas) in the salt sea, which are inhabited. On the east, (Pûrva) vidêha; on the south, Jambudvîpa; on the west, Gôdhanya; on the north, Kurudvîpa.

A golden-wheel monarch rules righteously the four; a silver-wheel monarch rules the three (excepting Kuru); a copper-wheel monarch rules over two (excepting Kuru and Gôdhanya); and an iron-wheel monarch rules over Jambudvîpa only. When first a wheel-king is established in power a great wheel-gem appears floating in space, and coming towards him; its character—whether gold, silver, copper, or iron—determines the king’s destiny and his name.

In the middle of Jambudvîpa there is a lake called Anavatapta, to the south of the Fragrant Mountains and to the north of the great Snowy Mountains; it is 800 li and more in circuit; its sides are composed of gold, silver, lapis-lazuli, and crystal; golden sands lie at the bottom, and its waters are clear as a mirror. The great earth Bôdhisattva, by the power of his vow, transforms himself into a Nâga-râja and dwells therein; from his dwelling the cool waters proceed forth and enrich Jambudvîpa (Shen-pu-chau).

From the eastern side of the lake, through the mouth of a silver ox, flows the Ganges (King-kia) river; encircling the lake once, it enters the southeastern sea.

From the south of the lake, through a golden elephant’s mouth, proceeds the Sindhu (Sin-to) river; encircling the lake once, it flows into the southwestern sea.

From the western side of the lake, from the mouth of a horse of lapis-lazuli, proceeds the river Vakshu (Po-tsu), and encircling the lake once, it falls into the north-western sea. From the north side of the lake, through the mouth of a crystal lion, proceeds the river Sîtâ (Si-to), and encircling the lake once, it falls into the north-eastern sea. They also say that the streams of this river Sîtâ, entering the earth, flow out beneath the Tsih rock mountain, and give rise to the river of the middle country (China).

At the time when there is no paramount wheel-monarch, then the land of Jambudvîpa has four rulers.

On the south "the lord of elephants;" the land here is warm and humid, suitable for elephants.

On the west "the lord of treasures;" the land borders on the sea, and abounds in gems.

On the north "the lord of horses;" the country is cold and hard, suitable for horses.

On the east "the lord of men;" the climate is soft and agreeable (exhilarating), and therefore there are many men.

In the country of "the lord of elephants" the people are quick and enthusiastic, and entirely given to learning. They cultivate especially magical arts. They wear a robe thrown across them, with their right shoulder bare; their hair is done up in a ball on the top, and left undressed on the four sides. Their various tribes occupy different towns; their homes are built stage over stage.

In the country of "the lord of treasures" the people have no politeness or justice. They accumulate wealth. Their dress is short, with a left skirt. They cut their hair and cultivate their moustache. They dwell in walled towns and are eager in profiting by trade.

The people of the country of "the lord of horses" are naturally (t’ien tsz’) wild and fierce. They are cruel in disposition; they slaughter (animals) and live under large felt tents; they divide like birds (going here and there) attending their flocks.

The land of "the lord of men" is distinguished for the wisdom and virtue and justice of the people. They wear a head-covering and a girdle; the end of their dress (girdle) hangs to the right. They have carriages and robes according to rank; they cling to the soil and hardly ever change their abode; they are very earnest in work, and divided into classes . . .

Extent of India, climate, etc.

The countries embraced under this term of India are generally spoken of as the five Indies. In circuit this country is about 90,000 li; on three sides it is bordered by the great sea; on the north it is backed by the Snowy Mountains. The north part is broad, the southern part is narrow. Its shape is like the half-moon. The entire land is divided into seventy countries or so. The seasons are particularly hot; the land is well watered and humid. The north is a continuation of mountains and hills, the ground being dry and salt. On the east there are valleys and plains, which being well watered and cultivated, are fruitful and productive. The southern district is wooded and herbaceous; the western parts are stony and barren. Such is the general account of this country . . .

Plants and trees, agriculture, food, drink, cookery

The climate and the quality of the soil being different according to situation, the produce of the land is various in its character. The flowers and plants, the fruits and trees axe of different kinds, and have distinct names. There is, for instance, the Amala fruit (Ngán-mo-lo), the Âmla fruit (Ngán-mi-lo), the Madhuka fruit (Mo-tu-kia), the Bhadra fruit (po-ta-lo), the Kapittha fruit (kie-pi-ta), the Amalâ fruit (’O-mo-lo), the Tinduka fruit (Chin-tu-kia), the Udumbara fruit (Wu-tan-po-lo), the Môcha fruit (Mau-che), the Nâríkêla fruit (Na-li-ki-lo), the Panasa fruit (Pan-na-so). It would be difficult to enumerate all the kinds of fruit; we have briefly named those most esteemed by the people. As for the date (Tsau), the chestnut (Lih), the loquat (P’i), and the persimmon (Thi), they are not known. The pear (Li), the wild plum (Nai), the peach (T’au), the apricot (Hang or Mui), the grape (Po-tau), &c., these all have been brought from the country of and are found growing on every side. Pomegranates and sweet oranges are grown everywhere.

In cultivating the land, those whose duty it is sow and reap, plough and harrow (weed), and plant according to the season; and after their labour they rest awhile. Among the products of the ground, rice and corn are most plentiful. With respect to edible herbs and plants, we may name ginger and mustard, melons and pumpkins, the Heun-to plant, and others. Onions and garlic are little grown; and few persons eat them; if any one uses them for food, they are expelled beyond the walls of the town. The most usual food is milk, butter, cream, soft sugar, sugar-candy, the oil of the mustard-seed, and all sorts of cakes made of corn are used as food. Fish, mutton, gazelle, and deer they eat generally fresh, sometimes salted; they are forbidden to eat the flesh of the ox, the ass, the elephant, the horse, the pig, the dog, the fox, the wolf, the lion, the monkey, and all the hairy kind. Those who eat them are despised and scorned and are universally reprobated; they live outside the walls, and are seldom seen among men.

With respect to the different kinds of wine and liquors, there are various sorts. The juice of the grape and sugar-cane, these are used by the Kshattriyas as drink; the use strong fermented drinks; the and Brâhmans drink a sort of syrup made from the grape or sugar-cane, but not of the nature of fermented wine.

The mixed classes and base-born differ in no way (as to food or drink) from the rest, except in respect of the vessels they use, which are very different both as to value and material. There is no lack of suitable things for household use. Although they have saucepans and stewpans, yet they do not know the steamer used for cooking rice. They have many vessels made of dried clay; they seldom use red copper vessels: they eat from one vessel, mixing all sorts of condiments together, which they take up with their fingers. They have no spoons or cups, and in short no sort of chopstick. When sick, however, they use copper drinking cups . . .

On the east of the Yamunâ, going about 800 li, we come to the Ganges river. The source of the river (or the river at its source) is 3 or 4 li wide; flowing south-east, it enters the sea, where it is 10 li and more in width. The water of the river is blue, like the ocean, and its waves are wide-rolling as the sea. The scaly monsters, though many, do no harm to men. The taste of the water is sweet and pleasant, and sands of extreme fineness border its course. In the common history of the country this river is called Fo-shwui, the river of religious merit, which can wash away countless sins. Those who are weary of life, if they end their days in it, are borne to heaven and receive happiness. If a man dies and his bones are cast into the river, he cannot fall into an evil way; whilst he is carried by its waters and forgotten by men, his soul is preserved in safety on the other side (in the other world).

Mo-lo-kiu-ch’a (Malakuta)

This country is about 5000 li in circuit; the capital is about 40 li. The land and fields are impregnated with salt, and the produce of the earth is not abundant. All the valuables that are collected in the neighboring islets are brought to this country and analysed. The temperature is very hot. The men are dark complexioned. They are firm and impetuous in disposition. Some follow the true doctrine, others are given to heresy. They do not esteem learning much, but are wholly given to commercial gain. There are the ruins of many old convents, but only the walls are preserved, and there are few religious followers. There are many hundred Dêva temples, and a multitude of heretics, mostly belonging to the Nirgranthas.

Not far to the east of this city is an old of which the vestibule and court are covered with wild shrubs; the foundation walls only survive. This was built by Mahêndra, the younger brother of

To the east of this is a stûpa, the lofty walls of which are buried in the earth, and only the crowning part of the cupola remains. This was built by Asôka-râja. Here Tathâgata in old days preached the law and exhibited his miraculous powers, and converted endless people. To preserve the traces of this event, this memorial tower was built. For years past it has exhibited spiritual signs, and what is wished for in its presence is sometimes obtained.

On the south of this country, bordering the sea, are the Mo-la-ye (Malaya) mountains, remarkable for their high peaks and precipices, their deep valleys and mountain torrents. Here is found the white sandal-wood tree and the Chan-t’an-nip’o (Chandanêva) tree. These two are much alike, and the latter can only be distinguished by going in the height of summer to the top of some hill, and then looking at a distance great serpents may be seen entwining it: thus it is known. Its wood is naturally cold, and therefore serpents twine round it. After having noted the tree, they shoot an arrow into it to mark it. In the winter, after the snakes have gone, the tree is cut down. The tree from which Kie-pu-lo (Karpûra) scent is procured, is in trunk like the pine, but different leaves and flowers and fruit. When the tree is first cut down and sappy, it has no smell; but when the wood gets dry, it forms into veins and splits; then in the middle is the scent, in appearance like mica, of the colour of frozen snow. This is what is called (in Chinese) long-nao-hiang, the dragon-brain scent.

From "The Travels of Hsüan-Chuang," in Samuel Beal, The Si-Yu-Ki Buddhist Records of the Western World (London: Kegan Paul Trench Trübner, 1884), pp. 9 10–15, 70, 88, 89, 188, 231, 232.


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Chicago: Hsüan-Chuang, "Hsüan Chang, a Chinese Pilgrim, on Indian Cosmography and on the Lands and Peoples of Southern Asia," A Source Book in Geography, ed. Samuel Beal in A Source Book in Geography, ed. George Kish (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 440–444. Original Sources, accessed August 14, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4WEM1F4N3E4QCCN.

MLA: Hsüan-Chuang. "Hsüan Chang, a Chinese Pilgrim, on Indian Cosmography and on the Lands and Peoples of Southern Asia." A Source Book in Geography, edited by Samuel Beal, in A Source Book in Geography, edited by George Kish, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1978, pp. 440–444. Original Sources. 14 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4WEM1F4N3E4QCCN.

Harvard: Hsüan-Chuang, 'Hsüan Chang, a Chinese Pilgrim, on Indian Cosmography and on the Lands and Peoples of Southern Asia' in A Source Book in Geography, ed. . cited in 1978, A Source Book in Geography, ed. , Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp.440–444. Original Sources, retrieved 14 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4WEM1F4N3E4QCCN.