Fa Xian began his journey back home from Bengal. He boarded a ship belonging to some merchants. They had barley travelled for two days when they were caught in a storm. The merchants began throwing their merchandise overboard so as to lighten the load and save the ship from sinking. Fa Xian threw away his meagre personal belongings, but clung to his books and the statues of the Buddha that he had collected. Finally, the storm subsided after 13 days. This is how he describes the sea:
“The sea itself is boundless in extent – it is impossible to know east or west, except by observing the sun, moon, or stars in their motions. If it is dark, rainy weather, the only plan is to steer by the wind.”
It took him more than 90 days to reach Java, where he halted for five months, before boarding another merchant ship that took him to China.
Xuan Zang, and other pilgrims spent time studying in Nalanda. It was the most famous Buddhist monastery of the period. This is how he describes it:
“The teachers are men of the highest ability and talent. They follow the teachings of the Buddha in all sincerity. The rules of the monastery are strict, and everyone has to follow them. Discussions are held throughout the day, and the old and the young mutually help one another. Learned men from different cities come here to settle their doubts. The gatekeeper asks new entrants difficult questions. They are allowed to enter only after they have been able to answer these. Seven or eight out of every ten are not able to answer.”
It comes from the Sanskrit term bhaj meaning ‘to divide or share.’ This suggests an intimate, two-way relationship between the deity and the devotee. Bhakti is directed towards Bhagavat, which is often translated as god, but also means one who posseses and shares bhaga, literally good fortune or bliss. The devotee, known as the bhakta or the bhagavata, shares his or her chosen deity’s bhaga.
The word ‘Hindu’, like the term ‘India’ is derived from the river Indus. It was used by Arabs and Iranians to refer to people who lived to the east of the river, and to their cultural practices, including religious beliefs.
About 2000 years ago, Christianity emerged in West Asia. Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, which was then part of the Roman empire. Christ’s teachings were that he was the Savior of the world. He also taught people to treat others with love and trust others, just as they themselves wanted to be treated.
Here are a few verses from the Bible, the holy book that contains the teachings of Christ:
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God and peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”
Christ’s teachings appealed to ordinary people, and spread through West Asia, Africa and Europe. The first Christian preachers came from West Asia to the west coast of the subcontinent within a hundred years of Christ’s death.
The Christians of Kerala, known as Syria Christians because they probably came from West Asia, are amongst the oldest Christian communities in the world.