IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF XUANZANG: TAN YUN-SHAN AND INDIA
WRITINGS OF TAGORE, NEHRU AND TAN YUN-SHAN
first visited Gandhiji at Bardoli in April, 1931. But I had my first
glimpse of him about three years ago at an annual session of the All-India
National Congress held in Calcutta in December, 1928. Before going to
Calcutta to attend the Congress session, I took leave of Gurudeva Tagore.
Gurudeva advised ma that I should meet Gandhiji there. "Would you
give me a line of introduction?" I asked. "There's no need,
Gandhiji will be very glad to meet you," Gurudeva replied.
was then quite a strange place to me, for I had only passed through it
once a few months back when I came to Santiniketan and to India for the
first time. I could hardly find out Gandhiji's whereabouts. Moreover, I
thought that it might not be right to intrude upon his time on such an
occasion when he was so busy with the Congress affairs. I then dropped the
idea of meeting him for the time being and only saw him from a little
distance at the inaugural meeting of the Congress session. It was indeed a
gigantic view. The people, numbering more than a lakh, shouted
thunderously when Gandhiji entered the Congress Nagar but quieted down
immediately when he began to address them. His figure appeared rather
frail but his face was shining and the eyes sparkling. He spoke slowly in
a rather low voice but with clear accent and beautiful tone. I was quite
happy with this distant darshan and came back to Santiniketan satisfied in
on I frequently met friends coming from Gandhiji. All of them asked me to
go and stay with him for some time. I told them about my long-cherished
hope of visiting Gandhiji and requested them to convey to him my respect
and admiration. As a matter of fact, I had even contemplated before coming
to this country that I would first stay with Gurudeva at Santiniketan for
some years and then go to Gandhiji to stay with him at the Satyagraha
Ashram at Sabarmati for two or three years or even to follow him forever,
if possible. But destiny often plays with our plans in a strange manner.
After having been at Santiniketan for little more than two years, I went
to Tibet in the winter of 1930 quite accidentally, an event which need not
be related here. When I returned to India from Tibet, again I was called
back home for certain family affairs. My original plans were altogether
upset. However, I could not leave India without meeting Gandhiji.
in Tibet, staying in the Residential Palace (Noblingone) of the
"Living Buddha" (the Dalai Lama) outside the city of Lhasa, I
had to answer many questions put by the late Dalai Lama, the 13th one, and
his ministers about India. By the way, I used to tell them what Gurudeva
and Gandhiji were doing in India and how their inspiration was going to
change India's destiny. His Holiness, the late Dalai Lama, was especially
interested in Gandhiji's way of living and his Satyagraha movement. He
therefore asked me to convey his personal message to Gandhiji when I was
returning to India. This sense of a special mission was a further fillip
to my eagerness to visit Gandhiji.
after my return to Santiniketan from Lhasa, I wrote to Gandhiji informing
him of my longing to visit him and requesting him to grant me a darshan.
He responded very promptly and asked me to meet him in New Delhi on any
near date which might be convenient for me. On my way to Delhi, I availed
myself of the opportunity of making a pilgrimage to all the important
sacred places of Lord Buddha along the Ganges, such Buddha Gaya, Rajagiri,
Nalanda, Sarnath, Kushinagara, Lumbini, Sravasti and Sankisa. But after
visiting these places. I was somewhat delayed and when I arrived in Delhi,
Gandhiji had already gone back to his Satyagraha Ashram at Sabarmati. I
then followed him there. As I have mentioned before, a stay of some years
at the Satyagraha Ashram has been part of my plans, and I felt happy that,
although I could not realize this long cherished idea, I could at least
see the place now. But when I arrived at the Ashram, Gandhiji had gone on
to Bardoli for some urgent and important meetings. The Secretary of the
Ashram, Sri Narandas K. Gandhi, was very kind to me; he showed me
everything in the Ashram and treated me just as a brother. He lost no time
to send a wire to Gandhiji who replied immediately that I was welcome to
Bardoli and that he would be staying there for a few days more. So I
followed him to Bardoli.
my way from Sabarmati to Bardoli, a very interesting incident happened
which has left a vivid impression on my mind even now. It occurred at the
Surat station where I had to change and take another train. As I had just
entered the waiting room, a " C.I.D." followed me and made some
inquiries as to who I was, where I came from, what I was doing in India
and what was my purpose in visiting Gandhiji. I told him all the truth and
he was satisfied and left. I then had a wash and prepared myself for a
little rest. But as soon as I came out of the bathroom, another gentleman
suddenly greeted me and asked: " Are you going to Bardoli to see
Mahatma Gandhi?' I was quite embarassed by such an unexpected query and
thought that he might be another" C.I.D." But he did not await
my reciprocation and went on: " I am also going there to pay homage
to the Mahatma. I have only recently come back from America where I stayed
for more than ten years. I went there first as a student and later on
started on a business career there after finishing my course of studies.
My name is Dua. Let us go together:' He also showed me some letters of
introduction. I felt much relieved and happy to have him as companion. We
then went together, In the train, he took off his American dress and put
on Indian Kurta and Dhoti. He was feeling a little shy of doing this and
explained to me. "I bought these clothes from Bombay especially for
visiting Mahatma Gandhi:' At the same time he looked at the "Gandhi
Cap" on my head and asked: "You also bought this cap for the
same purpose?" No, it was presented to me yesterday by the Secretary
of the Satyagraha Ashram at Sabarmati", I answered him "but
unfortunately I have not got any Kurta and Dhoti." We laughed and
talked and reached Bardoli in no time.
Bardoli station we took a horse carriage to the Swaraj Ashram where
Gandhiji was staying. We were received at the gate by some Ashramites and
put in a very neat and tidy guest room but without any furniture. Only a
few minutes later came Sri Devadas, Gandhiji's youngest son. He asked us
how long we could stay there. Mr. Dua said that he had some urgent
business in Bombay and intended to leave by the afternoon or the next
morning train if he could see the Mahatma immediately. Sri Devadas told
him that Bapu was having a meeting at the moment and also had several
engagements in the afternoon, however, he would see if Bapu could spare
some time in the evening. He then turned to me: " May I know your
programme? Gandhiji has been expecting you for some time past. Can you
stay with us for some days?" I said. Yes. I am not in a hurry and
would see Gandhiji when it will be convenient for him." He said:
" That's very good;' and left. After about half an hour, Devadas came
again and told us that Gandhiji would see Mr. Dua in the evening and meet
me the next morning, but I could also see him in the evening if I would
like to do so. He added that there were prayers everyday early in the
morning and fate in the evening and asked whether I would like to attend
these prayers, which Gandhiji himself conducted. I told him: " I
would certainly attend the prayers, but would like to meet Gandhiji next
morning as appointed by him."
the next day, the 27th April, 1931, I got up very early and attended the
morning prayer which began exactly at 4 a.m. and ended in less than half
an hour. As it was still dark and I was a little bit tired after a long
pilgrimage, I returned to my room after the prayer and slept again. And
Mr. Dua left for his destination. At half past ten, Sri Devadas came and
took me to Gandhiji. He was staying in the upper storey of a building. The
room was as neat and tidy as the guest room in which I was put up and also
without any furniture excepting a big square mattress and a long pillow
both covered with white Khaddar. Gandhiji was sitting and spining on the
mattress, supported by the pillow; and the pillow and the mattress were
backed by the wall. As soon as l came to the door of his room, he beckoned
me with a gracious call : "Come in ! Come in !" I paid him my
profoundest adoration and salutation. He took the precedence of me and
have been expecting you for a long time, first in Delhi, then at Sabarmati.
I was quite anxious whether anything had happened to you. Now, I am very
glad that at last you have come here.
"Many thanks for your kindness" I said, I am extremely
sorry that I have been much delayed on the way. But the delay was due to
my pilgrimage to the Sacred Places of the Lord Buddha. For this, I hope,
you will pardon me."
he quickly interjected. "You need not be sorry for that. Now, tell me
how long can you stay here?"
have come specially to pay my homage to you. As this is done, I may take
the first train for Bombay either this afternoon or tommorrow
morning", I answered.
then?" he interrupted me.
from Bombay I shall go to Madras; from Madras, Culcutta; and from
Calcutta, back to China."
you already booked your tickets for all these places?" He joked.
"But I am told by Devadas that you are not in a hurry. Fortunately I
did not see you yesterday, otherwise you might have gone this
morning." We all burst into laughter.
may I stay with you for ever?" I asked.
much I do not expect from you. You only stay here as long as I shall stay
and leave when I leave."
is a great privilege for me and I shall certainly do so", I said,
morning I wanted you to have a walk with me but found that you were
asleep", he told me.
was abashed by this unexpected revelation and could not know how to
express or explain myself. I regretfully asked: "Why did not wake me
immediately understood my awkward position and came to my relief, saying;
"You need not worry about that. It was better for you to have some
rest after such a long pilgrimage, journeying in the hot summer of India.
You might also have some sweet dreaming in the dawn. That's why I did not
wake you up."
all again burst into laughter. I then solemnly presented him the letter
which I had brought from His Holiness, the late Dalai Lama, and told him
how I had brought it and what was my communion with His Holiness. He was
very much delighted at the matter and asked: "What has His Holiness
written? Is it written in Tibetan?"
do not know what His Holiness has written. But it might have been written
in Tibetan. For, His Holiness does not know any foreign language and the
letter was written by himself with his own hand. To be faithful to him and
to you, as a messenger, I did not and could, not see it."
well, you can see it now." He laughed and opened the letter.
"Oh, you are right. It is exactly written in Tibetan. Can you
translate it for me?"
I have no knowledge of the Tibetan language and only learnt the alphabets
while at Lhasa."
it will never be understood by me." We all broke into laughter once
letter was written on a typical Tibetan paper in long shape, bearing two
seals in vermillion ink, one of big size, the official one, and the other
of smaller size, the personal one. It was wrapped with a long piece of
pure white cloth, called "Cartar" in Tibetan. The "Cartar"
is an emblem of love, affection and respect. In Tibet, when people meet
for the first time or on some special occasion, they exchange their "
Car-tars" as we exchange our cards. When they receive or visit
elderly and respectable persons, they first offer their " Cartars"
as we offer our garlands. The Tibetans also do their worship with "
Cartars" as we do with flowers. Although Gandhiji could not read the
letter, yet he appreciated and enjoyed it much. I asked him whether he
would be so kind as to acknowledge receipt of and reply to the letter. He
quickly responded: " Oh, yes, I shall write to him, but not the
reply, because I, do not know the contents of his letter. Since I do not
know Tibetan, I shall write in Gujrati so that he may also not understand
it but enjoy it as I do." He said joyfully?
you certainly understand each other without knowing each other's language.
As Lord Buddha said, all Buddhas understand each other by heart and not by
speech. Don't you think so?"
looked at me smiling. We then talked about China and India, about the
religious and cultural contacts, the old and intimate friendship in the
past, and the importance of reviving these contacts and friendship today,
between the two countries, He told me that he had great admiration for
Chinese culture and civilization, and love for the Chinese people. When he
was in South Africa, he had many Chinese friends there and many of them
had even joined his Satyagraha Movement there. I told him that the Chinese
people had the greatest respect and profoundest love for two great persons
of modern India, namely himself and Gurudeva, and regarded them as the
living Bodhisattvas of the Buddha country. There had been a long-cherished
desire among the Chinese people for his visit to China as they had
Gurudeva's in 1924.
is also my earnest desire to visit that great country" he said,
" but there is one thing always standing in my
I cannot leave and will not leave India until she is free. However, I hope
I shall be able to go to your country
least once in this life of mine".
you will certainly be able to do so. India will soon be free. I most
earnestly pray for your long life."
the meeting had been sufficiently long, I took leave of him and said
Leave and Good-bye? Are you going away immediately? Will you not stay here
for some time more?"
I am staying."
take leave when you leave, and say good-bye when you go away:' He gave his
blessing in joke once again. In the evening, there was a mass meeting in a
distant village. Gandhiji sent Sri Davadas to me asking me to accompany
him and to attend the meeting. We went together half the way on foot and
half the way by car, It was Gandhiji's habit to have a walk in the morning
and in the evening everyday. But as the village where the meeting was held
was a little too far away and he could not walk all the distance, a car
was waiting for him at halfway. While walking along the road, he was
interested in talking about the Chinese way of living.
people are very artistic. They lead even their daily life artistically.
But one thing I do not like much, that is that they take too much meat. Is
it not so?" He remarked. I "No, it is not quite true, Mahatmaji.
Most of the Chinese people do not take much meat. Especially the village
people of China are almost pure vegetarians. They may have meat only on a
few special occasions in a year, such as the New Year and other seasonal
festivals or when they have
important guests. Moreover, cow-slaughter is usually prohibited. Your
conclusion is drawn perhaps only from the habit of the few Chinese friends
living in the big cities of India such as Bombay and Calcutta or some such
place:' I explained to him.
am very glad to hear your explanation." He intervened: "Are you
I have not yet been. But I prefer vegetarian diet to meat." I told
"Then, I would advise you to give up all non-vegetarian food
and be a pure vegetarian. Can't you?" He persuaded me.
I can:' I boldly answered and agreed : "I have been contemplating for
some time past to take only pure food. Now, as you have so graciously
advised me, I will certainly try to be a vegetarian and will regard this
as a happy memory of our meeting."
was much pleased with my undertaking of the pledge and wished me all
the time we had already come to the place where the car was waiting the -
place was surrounded by hundreds of people including men and women, old,
young and children. They gathered together there simply for a darshan of
the Mahatma. When they saw Gandhiji, they shouted in one voice "
Mahatmaji Ki Jai!" Then
they made Pranama to him and
took the dust of his feet. The men offered him money, some with big notes,
some with a few rupees, some with a few annas. The women offered him yarn
spun by themselves, and children gave flowers. Similar incidents occurred
at several places on the way and it took us quite a long time to reach the
venue of the meeting. I was deeply moved by the scenes. I bad never seen
such a thing before a simple man with no authority behind him having such
great influence over his people and held in such profound reverence by
them. I was reminded of the Chinese sage Mencius' saying: " A man who
influences people with virtue gets the heart of people:' Also I remembered
the saying of the great Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu. "The more one
does for others, the more the other will do for him; the more one gives to
others, the more the others will give to him." These words uttered by
the Chinese sage and philosopher more than two thousand years ago were
proved by Gandhiji that day.
meeting lasted for about two hours and we returned to the Ashram late in
next day was Gandhiji's silence day. Although he did not speak, he worked
as usual. His programme had been suddenly changed by some urgent important
affairs. He had to go to Surat in the afternoon. I too, therefore,
prepared to leave Bardoli. I saw him once again in the morning and
requested him to bless the Chinese students with a message. He answered me
in writing saying that he would send me the message and his reply to the
Dalai Lama after some time and asked me to give my Calcutta address to
him. He also asked me to go by the same train if I were so prepared, for I
had to change my train again at Surat for Bombay.
left Bardoli at 5-45 p.m. and arrived at Surat about one and a half hours
later. The station was already flooded with thousands of people. They
shouted at the arrival of Gandhiji Some local leaders of the Congress came
up to the train to receive him. But Gandhiji was still observing silence.
He answered the continuously thunderous hail of the people and returned
greetings to the leaders with a smiling face and folded hands. I intended
to take leave at this juncture, but those friends very affectionately
asked me to go to their place with Gandhiji for a while and told me that
there was still ample time for me to get my train for Bombay. So I went
with them. Such was the rush of visitors that we could hardly get out of
stayed there for about two hours and had dinner with them. After that,
Sri. Devadas and two other friends took me round the ancient city of Surat
and accompanied me to the station. Before leaving, I again paid Gandhiji
my profoundest salutation and adoration, and asked him: "May I take
your leave and say good-bye to you know !" He grasped my hands,
nodded, smiled and looked at me just as a father grasping the hands of his
child. I almost wept at his boundless Maitri and Karuna, and felt great
sadness at leaving him. All friends there said in one voice: "you
must come again", and I bade them all "Farewell !"
touring through Bombay and Madras, I came back to Calcutta on 6th May,
1931. Gandhiji's message to the Chinese students along with his reply to
His Holiness, the late Dalai Lama, had already reached my Calcutta
address. His reply to the late Dalai Lama was really written in Gujrati
with his own hand as he had said at Bardoli, but his message to the
Chinese students, which was attached in a short letter addressed to me,
was in English and this also with his own hand. I posted the Gujrati
letter to His Holiness, the late Dalai Lama, without knowing the contents.
I took the other message to China, which was widely published in almost
all the important Chinese journals and was appreciated, not only by the
students, but by the whole people of my country. This was his first
message to China.
quote this message below, not only as a loving memory of my first meeting
with Gandhiji but as an emblem of the long, great and intimate friendship
which started two thousand years ago and will continue for ever between
China and India :-
You must come
again whenever you like. My message to the Chinese students is :- Know
that the deliverance of China is through Ahimsa pure and unadulterated.
at Sabarmati. 4-5-31,"
©1999 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
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