As Xi Lands Today for Modi Meet, Mamallapuram Prepares to Renew 1,300-Year-Old Links With China
In today’s time, Mamallapuram does not witness enough Chinese tourists to establish any link between the two places. Historians and academicians hope the Modi-Xi meeting, to be held between October 11 and 13, will change this.
An illuminated view of Mamallapuram temples ahead of the second informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping (PTI)
Bengaluru: A major port city in the 7th century, Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu, is decked up Friday for the key free-wheeling one-on-one meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping, scheduled to be held between October 11 and 13. The old seaport town in Kanchipuram, also known as Mahabalipuram, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the meeting between the two leaders can open the doors for exploring the historical and cultural connection between Mamallapuram and China.
The land holds rich history to it, as it served as a gateway for import and export of goods to and fro South India and China back in 7th century.
Mamallapuram, the city of Mamalla, is named after the Pallava ruler Narasimhavarman-I. Kanchipuram was the capital of the Pallavas around the sixth century and Mamallapuram, a major sea port, was used to establish trade links with South-East Asian countries, including China.
“It is generally accepted that during the sixth or seventh century, Chinese pilgrims were coming over to Kanchipuram. Hiuen Chiang 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.
However, much of the Pallava history is said to be lost as compared to the Mughals, who came much later. The history of Pallavas is mostly in inscription and is fragmented, making it difficult to resurrect facts.
“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.
Explaining the connection between Bodhidharma and Pallavas, Venkatakrishnan says there are several theories about Bodhidharma and one theory claims that he was the son of a Brahmin king. Although it was unusual for Brahmins to be kings, but Pallavas themselves claim to be of Brahmin origin. This gives an indication that perhaps Bodhidharma was also a Pallava.
Although, in today’s time, Mamallapuram does not witness enough Chinese tourists to establish any link between the two places. Historians and academicians hope the Modi-Xi meeting will change this.
“There are many stories like these so it is important for us to see what the cultural connections are and whether this can provide the leverage for increasing the people to people contact. This is one area where we have not done enough,” says Commodore RS Vasan, director of Chennai Centre for Chinese studies.
“It is clear that both the nations will like to balance their equation. Both of them have faced difficulties in the past, especially with regards to border disputes. Wuhan summit opened the doors for a certain level of normalisation at an informal level. While we call it informal, it is not really informal. Wuhan showed the way by presenting another format in which the two leaders can engage in discussions on varying subjects. This format is perhaps here to stay,” Vasan adds.
President Xi will reach Chennai around 2 pm, from where he will proceed to Mahabalipuram. PM Modi is expected to show him around three of the site's ancient monuments - Arjuna's Penance, Panch Rathas and the Shore Temple. The two leaders will also watch a cultural programme with Shore temple as the backdrop. During PM Modi's visit to Wuhan, President Xi had given him a personal tour of the Hubei provincial Museum.
During their visit to the ancient town, the two leaders will sit together in the lawns of the Shore temple and exchange views on charting a new roadmap of development and cooperation. Then, the prime minister will host a private dinner for Xi at the temple complex.
On Saturday, the two leaders will have an one-on-one meeting at the Fisherman's Cove resort which will be followed by delegation-level talks. After the talks, Modi will host a lunch for Xi, and the Chinese leader will leave for Chennai airport at 12:45 PM.
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.
A grand ornamental arch to welcome the two leaders has been prominently put up at the entrance to Mamallapuram from the East Coast Road. Traditional arches made of banana trees and sugarcane have been put up in front of the hotel where Xi will stay.
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