Fa Hien [399 to 412 CE]

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Jun 14, 2022, 17:20

Fa Hien was one of the earliest Chinese pilgrims to visit India. He was a Buddhist monk and a religious translator who started his journey by foot at the age of 60, visiting religious sites in Southern, Southeast, and Central Asia from 399 to 412 CE of which ten years were spent in India.

The Significance of Fa Hien

Fa Hien is a notable character in Indian history for being the first Chinese monk to visit India. He was on a religious quest and could learn and discover a lot from the places associated with Buddhism in the country.

During his stay in India, Fa Hien learned the Sanskrit language and collected literature from Taxila, Pataliputra, and Oddiyana. Before going back to China, the monk had amassed a number of Sanskrit texts.

Fa Hien took with him so many Sanskrit Buddhist works as well as religious images. Upon his return, he was credited for translating the texts into Chinese. These texts served as a notable part of Chinese Buddhism history.

How Fa Hien Influenced Indian History?

Fa Hien's memoirs are a record of the culture and society of places he travelled. In this work, he writes about the Buddhist community and traditions in India. He described Patiliputra to be prosperous. He also wrote about the cities of Mathura, Taxila, and Kannauj.

The monk did not write specifically about the ruler or the political situation in the country. However, he was much impressed with Patliputra and described the life and culture of the time in detail. By writing about free medical services, rest houses, and charitable institutions, he portrayed the ruler as kind and generous.

He also said there was safety, security, and freedom. He was particularly impressed with the chariot processions. He had returned to China in 412 and had spent the rest of his life translating the Buddhist works he carried with him from India.

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Facts About Fa Hien

He was also known by the names Faxian and Fa-Hsien and was born in the fourth century in Shanxi. He had set out with nine other monks to find the sacred Buddhist books.

Fa Hien had walked from China through mountains and deserts to reach Pataliputra in the northwest in the fifth century. The visit occurred during the reign of Chandragupta II.

He spent ten years visiting renowned Buddhist sites and centres of education as well as monasteries. Some of the places he travelled to include Kushinagar, Varanasi, Bodh Gaya, and Kapilvastu, all associated with events in Buddha's life.

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To date, the memoirs of Fa Hein remain one of the most authoritative sources on the lives, times and cultures prevalent during the Gupta period.

His works and translations have since had an enormous influence on East-Asian Buddhism, making him one of the most important writers and explorers in history.

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FAQs on Fa Hien

Q1. Who arrived first in India, Fa Hien or Hiuen Tsang?

Fa Hien was the first-ever Chinese pilgrim to visit India. He arrived much earlier than Hiuen Tsang.

Q2. Who was the ruler during Fa Hien's visit to India?

Fa Hien came to India during the rule of Chandragupta II.

Q3. What did Fa Hien write about India?

In his book Travels of Fa Hien', he wrote about the economic prosperity of Pataliputra and the simplicity of people.

Q4. Why did Fa Hien visit India?

Fa Hien came to India in the 5th century AD in search of original copies of the Buddhist scriptures.