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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Kaiyuan Temple: A Symbol of India-China Cultural Exchange

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Kaiyuan Temple, located in Quanzhou, China, is a site of immense cultural significance in the history of India-China relations. Built during the Tang dynasty in the 7th century, the temple is one of the largest Buddhist temples in Fujian province, with an area of 78,000 square meters. But what makes Kaiyuan Temple truly unique is its history as one of the few surviving Hindu temples in Mainland China.

Behind the temple’s main hall, the Mahavira Hall, there are columns with fragments as well as an idol of Lord Vishnu from a temple built in 1283 by the Tamil Ainnurruvar Valanjiyar Merchant community in Quanzhou. The carvings were made in the South Indian style and share close similarities with 13th-century temples constructed in the Chola Nadu region in Tamil Nadu. The temple was originally built in 685 or 686, and in 738, it was renamed “Kaiyuan Temple,” a name that is still in use today.

The history of Kaiyuan Temple is a testament to the longstanding cultural exchange between India and China. The Silk Road by sea brought South Indians to China, and the Chinese to Southern Indian ports, fostering a rich exchange of ideas, goods, and culture. It is likely that the Indians took the knowledge of silk cultivation and fabrics from China back to India, while the Chinese were exposed to new ideas, philosophies, and artistic traditions.

The inscription of Kaiyuan Temple on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2021 is a recognition of its significance in the history of global maritime trade based in Quanzhou and its testimony to the global exchange of ideas and cultures. It is a reminder that the flow of goods and ideas between India and China was not only limited to the modern era but has been a part of the historical fabric of these two great civilizations.

The presence of Lord Vishnu’s idol and carvings at Kaiyuan Temple is also a symbol of the enduring connections between India and China, despite the cultural and geographical differences. The influence of Chinese culture in South India, as evidenced by the presence of Chinese fishing nets in Kochi and fine china pottery still referred to as “Chini chatti” or Chinese pot in Tamil, is a testament to the two-way exchange of knowledge and culture that took place through trade and cultural interactions.

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Kaiyuan Temple Quanzhou 20 Edited

Kaiyuan Temple serves as an important site for people-to-people exchanges between India and China, a place where visitors from both countries can experience the rich and complex history of cultural exchange that has taken place between the two civilizations. It is an opportunity to appreciate the depth of the ties that bind the people of India and China and to celebrate the shared heritage that has evolved over centuries.

In conclusion, Kaiyuan Temple is an invaluable part of the shared heritage of India and China, a testament to the enduring cultural connections that have shaped these two civilizations. Its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List is a recognition of its historical and cultural importance and a reminder of the importance of preserving and promoting our shared cultural heritage. Through continued people-to-people exchanges, we can deepen our understanding and appreciation of the rich and diverse cultural tapestry that binds us together.

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