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Sung-Yun was a Chinese Buddhist monk who was sent by the devout Buddhist Empress Hu (?-528 CE) of the Northern Wei Dynasty with some companions including the monk Hui Zheng, Fa Li and Zheng (or Wang) Fouze, to northwestern India to search for Buddhist texts.


Period of Voyage to India

They left the Wei capital Luoyang, on foot in 518 and returned in the winter of 522 with 170 Mahayana Buddhist texts.[1]

The Voyage

Song Yun, who was originally from Dunhuang, and one of his companions, Hui Zheng, both wrote accounts of their journey, but they have since disappeared. Song Yun took the Qinghai Route via Xining, past Qinghai Lake and through the Qaidam depression, probably joining the main Southern Silk Route near Shanshan/Loulan. The route at the time was under the control of the Tuyuhun (Tibetan: 'Azha) people.[2]

Fortunately, much valuable information about their journey has been preserved in the Loyang Jielanji of Yang Xianzhi and other texts. There are some minor discrepancies among the surviving sources as to the exact dates of the journey and the names of the people who made the trip together, but Édouard Chavannes believes it is possible to work out the itinerary with some confidence.[3]

"Hui Zheng [and the others] were sent in the 11th day of the second month of the second Zhengui year (518); he and his companions arrived in Karghalik on the 29th day of the 7th month of the 2nd Zhengui year (519); in the second ten days of the ninth month, they met the king of the Hephthalites; at the beginning of the 11th month, they arrived in Bosi or Boji (southwest of Wakhan); in the second ten days of this same month, they entered Chitral and at the beginning of the 12th month they entered Udyana. Then, during the second ten days of the fourth month of the first Chengkuang year (520), they arrived in Gandhara. They stayed two years in Udyana and Gandhara until returning at the beginning of the third Chengkuang year (522), (and not the second year as one reads in the Account)." According to legend, they returned through the Congling (or "Onion") Mountains where Song Yun met the celebrated Damo or Bodhidharma who had died recently at Luoyang.[4]

They seem to have travelled to India along the difficult southern branch of the Silk Routes from Dunhuang to Yutian (Khotan) along the edge of the Taklamakan Desert, to the north of the Congling Mountains, and then, like Fa Xian had done previously, crossed the mountains. After passing through Wakhan, they met with the King of the Hephthalites, who had taken over the lands previously controlled by the Yuezhi and had recently conquered Gandhara.[5] He was apparently on tour at the time near the entrance to the Wakhan Corridor and not at his capital city Badiyan (Bâdhaghìs) which was near modern Herat in western Afghanistan.[6] The king, who had control over more than forty kingdoms, prostrated twice and received an Imperial edict from the Northern Wei Dynasty on his knees.[7]

Song Yun and his companions then travelled through Chitral and met the kings of the Swat Valley or Udyana.[8]

Visit of Peshawar A.D. 502

Alexander Cunningham[9] writes that The great city now called Peshawar is first mentioned by Fa-Hian, in A.D. 400, under the name of Fo-leu-sha.[10] It is next noticed by Sung-Yun in A.D. 502, at which time the king of Gandhara was at war with the king of Kipin, or Kophene, that is Kabul and Ghazni, and the surrounding districts. Sung-Yun does not name the city, but he calls it the capital, and his description of its great stupa of king Kia-ni-sse-kia, or Kanishka, is quite sufficient to establish its identity.[11] At the period of Hwen Thsang's visit, in A.D. 630, the royal family had become extinct, and the kingdom of Gandhara was a dependency of Kapisa or Kabul. But the capital which Hwen Thsang calls Pu-lu-sha-pu-lo, or Parashawara, was still a great city of 40 li, or 6⅔ miles, in extent.[12]

Another famous site was the holy Pipal tree, at 8 or 9 li, or 1½ mile, to the south-east of the city. The tree was about 100 feet in height, with wide spreading branches, which, according to the tradition, had formerly given shade to Sakya Buddha when he predicted the future appearance of the great king Kanishka. The tree is not noticed by Fa-Hian, but it is mentioned by Sun-Yung as the Pho-thi, or Bodhi tree, whose " branches spread out on all sides, and whose foliage shuts out the sight of the sky." Beneath it there were four seated statues of the four previous Buddhas. Sung-Yun further states that the tree was planted by Kanishka over the spot where he had buried a copper vase containing the pearl tissue lattice of the great stupa, which he was afraid might be abstracted from the tope after his death.

The enormous stupa of Kanishka, which stood close to the holy tree on its south side, is described by all the pilgrims. In A.D. 500 Fa-Hian says that it was about 400 feet high, and " adorned with all manner of precious things," and that fame reported it as superior to all other topes in India. One hundred years later, Sung-Yun declares that "amongst the topes of western countries this is the first." Lastly, in A.D. 630, Hwen Thsang describes it as upwards of 400 feet in height and 1½ li, or just one quarter of a mile, in circumference. It contained a large quantity of the relics of Buddha. No remains of this great stupa now exist.

Laliya Sahi Jat of Kabul

Bhim Singh Dahiya[13] writes that

[p.221]: This important dynasty under Kabul and Gandhara was founded in 477 A.D. under king Hephthal II, of Balkh. His coins have been found and show that Balkh was his capital, because the legend on the reverse of his coins, in Tokhri script, mention the name of Balkh city. In 456 A.D. the Iranian emperor Yezdegird II was still fighting with the Jats when the latter sent an embassy to the Chinese Court of Emperor Wei. This is further proof of the fact that Hephthal II was a sovereign ruler. In 457 A.D. the Jats crushed the power of Sassanid emperors and Yezdegird II was killed. It was during this period that one of their clans, the 'Jaula' occupied Gazni and adjoining areas. They conquered Gandhara in 477 A.D.; Kashmir was taken in 478 A.D.; and in 479 A.D. they occupied Sogdiana and before 500 A.D. they had taken over Turfan and Qarashahr.

This date of occupation of Gandhara in 477 A.D. is further proved by the Chinese pilgrim, Sung-Yun, who stated in 520 A.D. that the Yetha had conquered Ye-Po-Lo, about two generations ago. Here the Ye-Po-Lo of the Chinese stands for Jauval/Jabul and the Yetha, of course, stands for the Jats; the Chinese Ye, giving the sound of 'J'. It is interesting to note that Hephthal III, who defeated and killed the next Iranian emperor Peroz, in a decisive battle in 484 A.D., is called Ye-ta-i-li-to meaning (Jaṭlāṭa) the king of the Jats. 65 As shown above the Yetha/Yeta is the Chinese transliteration of the word Jat, and Lāṭa or Rāṭa is a

64. U. Thakur, The Hunas in/ndia, pp. 109-110.
65. See Note I at the end of this section.

[p.222]: Scythian word for king. Buddha Prakash says that it is a manifestly non-Indian name, Rata being a suffix of foreign names.66

The Chinese sources further say that one, Laelih was made ruler of Gandhara by the Yetha. Now the name Laelih has not come down in coins or other literary works. However, the coins of a king named, Ramanila have been found and these coins are related to this very period. We know that the paramount ruling clan was the Jaula, the 'gotra' of Toramana and Mihiragula. It is also known that the ruler of Gandhara was a Tegin meaning Governor- a subordinate title. From these facts it is easy to conclude that paramount rulers had appointed Ramanila, a Jat of Lalli clan (Laelih of the Chinese) as Governor of Gandhara. Thus we find that 'Sung-yun was correct in naming the ruler of Gandhara but, as often, he gave the clan name and not the personal name of the ruler, the latter being Ramanila of the coins. This however, does not mean that Gandhara, Kabul and Gazni were not under the Jats earlier. We know that up to the first century B.C. it was continuously ruled by them and the Jaulas had only replaced the Kasvan Jats, the so-called later Kushana/Kidarites.67

However, It seems that when after Mihiragula and his son/ successor Ajitanjaya, their Indian empire was disintegrating the Jaula secured Jabulistan for themselves. As shown earlier, the word is Jauvlistan, the land of the Jauvlas, written as Jabulistan by the Arabs. 68 On this basis, its king was mentioned simply as Janbil by the Arabs. However, when Hiuen- Tsang visited this area in 644-45 A.D. he found that the king of Jabulistan had succeeded a long line of kings and he was a follower of the sun-god.69 Coins of a king of this dynasty, named Vakbha, have been found and the legends on these coins show that they had become markedly Indianised by this time.70

66. SIH&C, p. 140.

67. See Note II at the end of this section.

68. Sec Note III at the end of this section.

69. BRWW, Vol. II, p. 285/86.

70. R. Ghirshman, La Chionites-Hephthalites, p. 45.

External links


  1. Chavannes, Édouard (1903). Voyage de Song Yun dans l'Udyāna et le Gandhāra. (in French) (1903 ed.). Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient Volume 3, Numéro 1,p.379–380
  2. Silk Road in Rare Books
  3. Chavannes, Édouard (1903). Voyage de Song Yun dans l'Udyāna et le Gandhāra. (in French) (1903 ed.). Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient Volume 3, Numéro 1,p.381
  4. Chavannes, Édouard (1903). Voyage de Song Yun dans l'Udyāna et le Gandhāra. (in French) (1903 ed.). Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient Volume 3, Numéro 1,p.381–382,386
  5. Beal 1884, p. xv
  6. Chavannes, Édouard (1903). Voyage de Song Yun dans l'Udyāna et le Gandhāra. (in French) (1903 ed.). Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient Volume 3, Numéro 1,pp. 402, n. 3; 404, n. 1
  7. Chavannes, Édouard (1903). Voyage de Song Yun dans l'Udyāna et le Gandhāra. (in French) (1903 ed.). Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient Volume 3, Numéro 1,p.404
  8. Chavannes, Édouard (1903). Voyage de Song Yun dans l'Udyāna et le Gandhāra. (in French) (1903 ed.). Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient Volume 3, Numéro 1,p.407, n. 2.
  9. The Ancient Geography of India/Gandhara, pp. 78-81
  10. Beal's translation of 'Fah-Hian,' p. 34.
  11. Beal's translation of 'Sung-Yun,' p. 202.
  12. Julien's ' Hiouen Thsang,' ii. 104.
  13. Jats the Ancient Rulers (A clan study)/Harsha Vardhana : Linkage and Identity,pp.221-222

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