[INDOLOGY] Origin of Mah?c?na

Andrea Acri andreaacri at mac.com
Sun Mar 13 13:16:15 UTC 2016

The issue as to what were the geographical entities denoted by the terms cīna and mahācīna (at different times, mainly in Buddhist Tantric texts) has generated quite a lot of discussion; however, I was not aware of an Eastern Indian/Burmese identification. Here suffice it to say that Mahācīna appears to refer to China proper in the Aṣṭasahāsrika-Prajñāpāramitā Nepalese manuscript of AD 1015, since it locates Mañjughoṣa there (mahācīne mañjughoṣe, which refers to Mañjuśrī at Mt Wutai). 

According to Geoff Wade, Zina was the term used by the inhabitants of Yelang (a polity in the western Guizhou region) to refer to themselves, and is possibly the source of Sanskrit cīna (see ‘The Polity of Yelang and the origin of the name ‘‘China’’’, Sino Platonic Papers 188, May 2009, available online).



On 12 March 2016 at 7:13:10 am, Loriliai Biernacki (loriliai.biernacki at colorado.edu) wrote:

I located the Dvivedi quote, in case anyone is interested: --“ityatra varṇitau cīnasnānanamaskārau islāmadharmānuyāyināṃ vaju-namaj-karmaṇī anuharataḥ”- this comes from the intro to the Śaktisaṁgama Tantra, vol.4, p.42.

Maybe yes, my own sense is that in this context C?na points less to a known region and more simply functions as a place-holder for the category of the foreign; in part I think this because the practices in the C?n?c?ratantra, which are primarily sexual in nature, appear to be rooted in practices popular in Bengal and Western Assam, unlike the practices associated with Eastern Assam, Sadiya for instance, and Burma, known for human sacrifice.
Of course this doesn’t discount your point that C?na might have simply referred to a vague geographic region that these writers supposed to be located where contemporary Burma, Nagaland etc are. I suspect that the Bengali and Western Assamese writers use the term because it already signified a functional geographic “other”, in this case somewhat denigrated, (maybe similar to the medieval and early modern European uses of the “orient”?), and maybe also not so different from one of V.V. Dvivedi’s 20th century introductions where he compares the c?n?c?ra practice to Muslim practices.
All best,

From: INDOLOGY <indology-bounces at list.indology.info> on behalf of Dominik Wujastyk <wujastyk at gmail.com>
Date: Thursday, March 10, 2016 at 9:17 PM
To: Indology <indology at list.indology.info>
Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] Origin of Mah?c?na

I'm an outsider in this discussion, so pardon any naive remarks.  I was under the impression, though, from something I read somewhere (that statement wouldn't get past Wikipedia) that C?na in Tantrika texts, especially the Mah?c?n?c?ratantra, referred to what we today call the Assam-Burma region.  Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, Northern Burma that sort of area.


Professor Dominik Wujastyk*
Singhmar Chair in Classical Indian Society and Polity
Department of History and Classics
University of Alberta, Canada

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