Modi-Xi 'informal' summit at Mamallapuram: Tracing history and China's connection with Tamil Nadu temple town

  • The name Mamallapuram or Mamalla, derives from Mamallan, or 'great warrior', a title by which the Pallava King Narasimhavarman I was known

  • It was during his rule that Chinese Buddhist monk-traveller Hiuen Tsang visited Kanchipuram, the Pallava capital

  • Narasimhavarman II., also known as Rajasimhan, built on the work of earlier Pallava kings to consolidate maritime trade links with southeast Asia

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet on 11 and 12 October in the coastal town of Mahabalipuram, or Mamallapuram, almost 60 kilometers south of Chennai, for their second informal summit after the first was held in China's Wuhan in 2018.

Many might question why Modi chose this town over New Delhi, which has been the traditional venue. While some eyebrows might be raised over the prime minister's persistent message to the Dravidian parties of BJP making inroads in Tamil Nadu, the meeting between the two Asian leaders can also open doors for exploring Mamallapuram's historical and cultural connection with China.

When did the Pallavas rule Mamalla?

The name Mamallapuram or Mamalla, derives from Mamallan, or "great warrior", a title by which the Pallava King Narasimhavarman I (630-668 AD) was known. It was during his rule that Chinese Buddhist monk-traveller Hiuen Tsang visited Kanchipuram, the Pallava capital, News18 reported.

 Modi-Xi informal summit at Mamallapuram: Tracing history and Chinas connection with Tamil Nadu temple town

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping. Reuters

"It is generally accepted that during the sixth or seventh Century, Chinese pilgrims were coming over to Kanchipuram. Hiuen Tsang had come here and was welcomed by Mahendra Pallava. It appears that this is a place with which the Chinese were very familiar a long time ago when this was a busting town for trade," says Sriram Venkatakrishnan, a historian based in Chennai.

Narasimhavarman II (700-728 AD), also known as Rajasimhan, built on the work of earlier Pallava kings to consolidate maritime trade links with southeast Asia.

According to The Indian Express, in his 2003 work Buddhism, Diplomacy and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations, 600-1400, historian Tansen Sen  recorded that Rajasimhan had sent a military troupe to the Tang court in 720 AD to help China in keeping a check on the growth of Tibet as a powerful nation.

The emissaries of the Pallava king sought the permission of Emperor Xuangzong to fight back Arab and Tibetan intrusions in south Asia. "Pleased with the Indian king’s offer to form a coalition against the Arabs and Tibetans, the Chinese emperor bestowed the title of huaide jun (the Army that Cherishes Virtue) to Narayansimha II’s troops," Sen wrote.

The historian also noted that the Pallava ruler's offer of help had more to do with enhancing trade ties and garner the prestige of association with the Chinese emperor, rather than the real prospect of helping to keep enemies at bay.

Bodhidharma, one of the famous Buddhist Monk in China is believed to be the third son of a Pallava king, also travelled from Kanchipuram to China in 527 AD.

According to Archeological Survey of India (ASI), it was a sea-port during the time of Periplus (AD 1) and Ptolemy (AD 140), and many Indian colonists sailed to South-East Asia through this port town. While there is some evidence of architectural activity going back to the period of Mahendravarman-I (AD 600-30).

"There is also the disputed legend of Bodhidharma who went to China and stayed there for a long time. The beginning of martial arts can be attributed to Bodhidharma,” said Venkatakrishnan.

However, much of the Pallava history is said to be vanished as compared to the Mughals, who came to India much later. The history of Pallavas is mostly in inscription and fragmented, making it difficult to resurrect facts.

However, putting the history aside, there is another reason to select Mamallapuram for the summit, according to Business Standard.

The aircraft carrying Xi Jinping and his top officials requires a larger runway, which was not available in some of the cities shortlisted for the summit, including Modi's own constituency, Varanasi. Chennai fitted the requirement list to accommodate such aircrafts while, Mamallapuram is the closest and also pertained the historical connections with the Chinese.

Whatever may be the reasons, the seed sown over 2,000 years ago from this temple town is one of the key reasons that brought India-China bilateral trade to reach $60 billion today.

In the 21st century, China is India's second largest trading partner in goods and India is China's largest trading partner in south Asia.

Chinese president to to reach Mamallapuram at 5 pm 

At around 2 pm, Xi will reach Chennai and then proceed to meet Modi for tea at a luxury hotel. From the capital of Tamil Nadu, Xi will then proceed to Mamallapuram.

According to The Times of India, Modi and Xi will hold four separate meetings on Friday, lasting a total of five hours.

The summit will begin at 5 pm with the leaders touring iconic monuments for an hour – Arjuna’s Penance, Panch Rathas and Shore Temple.

All the monuments in Mamallapuram to be visited by Xi were spruced up while colourful gates have been erected along the routes from Chennai to this coastal city. According to reports, wooden walkways have been set up for the leaders and natural grass lawns have been used for landscaping.

The leaders are expected to exchange views on charting a new roadmap of development and cooperation. Later in the day, Modi will host a private dinner for Xi at the temple complex.

 

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Updated Date: Oct 11, 2019 13:45:16 IST