When kR^iShNa was gifted Chinese stuff!

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Interestingly, mahAbhArata mentions clothes ‘made-in-china’ as worthy of royal gifts!

Here we find dhR^itarAShTra debriefing vidura, his half-brother and Prime Minister, about preparations for keshava’s imminent visit to hastinApura. He mentions the presents he would like to be prepared for the offering to kR^iShNa when he arrives. The list concludes as follows:

ajinAnA.n sahasrANi chIna deshodbhavAni cha
tAnyapyasmai pradAsyAmi yAvadarhati keshavaH
(udyoga-parvan)

“I shall also present keshava deer-skins produced in the country of chIna, a thousand in number, and also other things worthy of him”

This chinese mention comes at the end of a longish list of other such novelties, therefore probably meant as the best of all.

At another place, in sabhA-parvan the second book of bhArata, we find his eldest son duryodhana describing the gifts that yudhiShThira had received from various royalties around the world, during the rAjasUya feat of the pANdava-s. Describing the presents brought by the vAhlIka-s i.e. natives of balkha region, he mentions among other things:

pramANa rAgasparshADhyaM bAhlI chIna samudbhavam
aurNa.n cha rA~NkavaM chaiva kITajaM paTTajaM tathA
kuTTI kR^ita.n tathaivAnyatkamalAbha.n sahasrashaH
sulakShNa.n vastramakArpAsamAvikaM mR^idu chAjinam
(sabhA-parvan)

“And the vAhlIka-s also presented numerous types of exotic fabrics produced in chIna country: the woollens of finest texture; the fabric manufactured from metal wires (or deer skins); those of jute and others material; the fabric spun from fine silken threads produced by worms; they also gifted thousands of different fabrics, cotton and others, of brilliant colours like the bright lotus flowers, besides thousands of deer-skins, all of the velvety texture!”

Interesting, though not surprising. As we do know, until very recent times, Indians used to consider the skins of Deer (and also Tiger) as auspicious to be used as the bedsheets and cover sheets for religious occasions. Yogins and others even today use these texture as their seat-material and the cloth. Besides the himAlayan regions of India, the regions from chIna to Korea to Siberia is known to even today be a very rich habitation of diverse Deer species. Between China and India, almost all the species of Deer in the world can be found.

Similar is the case of silken and woolen fabrics. chIna is known to be a very old commercial source of the both. (silk route)

Not that the regions of bhArata did not produce these materials indigenously– the value of the gifts is in these being of foreign origin therefore exotic, and worthy of royal gifts. In both the cases, the import of these chinese goods into India is mentioned as done by foreigners. In the first case, dhR^itarAShTra mentions having received these as gifts himself from a certain hill-tribes, and in the second the gift is coming from Balkhans.

We must also add another caveat. “chIna” of the itihAsa-purANa-s is not the China of today. Most commonly chIna is used to refer to the North-west region neighboring the Balkh, around the modern turkmenistan and east, and border areas of modern chIna. it is mahAchIna, that is often used to refer to the China-proper.

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5 Comments to “When kR^iShNa was gifted Chinese stuff!”

  1. “Not that the regions of bhArata did not produce these materials indigenously– the value of the gifts is in these being of foreign origin therefore exotic, and worthy of royal gifts”.

    It is true in today’s context as well. If you visit the gift shops, these are full of Chinese stuff.

    An interesting post, and very informative indeed.

  2. yest very well informative. there also a mention in kautilya’s arthashastra “Chinnapatta”. this is the only reference that puts arthashastra around third century.

  3. bAhlika itself during the days of the bhArata was under the kuru rulers. somadatta, bhUrIshravas and the like who died on the field of kurukShetra fighting for duryodhana were members of a lineage from a brother of shAntanu.The kuru-s it appears had relatively recently acquired those regions via a marriage of pratipa with a princess from those regions.

  4. In the Tantras the word China is often used to describe Tibet, is it possible that Tibet is meant here instead of China?

  5. Tibet doesn’t seem famous for fabrics, esp. silk.

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