Xuanzang's Report on Daily Life in 7th Century India

Introduction: The reports of Chinese pilgrims to the holy sites of Buddhism in India are of inestimable value not only for the study of Buddhism, but also as eyewitness accounts of the political and social life, subjects which are rarely touched in contemporary Indian sources. The  most famous Chinese Buddhist pilgrim was Xuanzang (Hsiuen-tsang) who travelled in India in the age of Harsha from 630-43 and studied at the Buddhist monastery of Nalanda. He returned to China with 644 Buddhist texts of which he translated 74 into Chinese with financial support of the Chinese emperor.
( see also AHOI, Ch. 3, section: Harsha and the Dawn of Medieval India)

(Quoted from Si-yu-ki. Buddhist Records of the Western World. Translated from the Chinese of Hiuen Tsiang by Samuel Beal, London 1906, Vol.I, pp., 88-9)

The climate and the quality of the soil being different according to situation, the produce of the land is various in its character. The flowers and plants, the fruits and trees are of different kinds, and have distinct names. The pear, the wild plum, the peach, the apricot, the grape, &c., these all have been brought from the country of Kaśmîr, and are found growing on every side. Pomegranates and sweet oranges are grown everywhere.

In cultivating the land, those whose duty it is sow and reap, plough and harrow (weed), and plant according to the season; and after their labour they rest awhile. Among the products of the ground, rice and corn are most plentiful. With respect to edible herbs and plants, we may name ginger and mustard, melons and pumpkins, and others. Onions and garlic are little grown; and few persons eat them; if any one uses them for food, they are expelled beyond the walls of the town. The most usual food is milk, butter, cream, soft sugar, sugar-candy, the oil of the mustard-seed, and all sorts of cakes made of corn are used as food. Fish, mutton, gazelle, and deer they eat generally fresh, sometimes salted; they are forbidden to eat the flesh of the ox, the ass, the elephant, the horse, the pig, the dog, the fox, the wolf, the lion, the monkey, and all the hairy kind. Those who eat them are despised and scorned, and are universally reprobated; they live outside the walls, and are seldom seen among men.
With respect to the different kinds of wine and liquors, there are various sorts. The juice of the grape and sugar-cane, these are used by the Kshattriyas as drink; the Vaiśyas use strong fermented drinks; the Śramaṇs Buddhists and Brâhmaṇs drink a sort of syrup made from the grape or sugar-cane, but not of the nature of fermented wine.

The mixed classes and base-born differ in no way (as to food or drink) from the rest, except in respect of the vessels they use, which are very different both as to value and material. There is no lack of suitable things for household use. Although they have saucepans and stewpans, yet they do not know the steamer used for cooking rice. They have many vessels made of dried clay; they seldom use red copper vessels: they eat from one vessel, mixing all sorts of condiments together, which they take up with their fingers. They have no spoons or cups, and in short no sort of chopstick. When sick, however, they use copper drinking cups.


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