Medieval transmission alchemical and chemical ideas between India and China

  • Posted on: 14 March 2019
  • By: vuttekar786

The possible point of contact in the development of alchemy in India and China during the medieval period is considered. The fact that alchemy developed on parallel lines in India and China, viewed in the light of intense Sino-Indian contacts in the medieval period, suggests transmission of alchemical ideas between them. Contacts through Buddhist monk-travellers continued for over a thousand years from the early centuries of the Christian era. These monks were trained in Buddhist philosophy and also in the secular arts and sciences of the day. They translated an immense number of Sanskrit and Pali, canonical and non-canonical, works into Chinese which contain references to alchemy. Examples are given of alchemical references in the Buddhist canonical work Gaṇda Vyuha Sūtra. This work was translated into Chinese in the early medieval period and is included in the Chinese version of Tripitaka. References to Indian alchemy are also found in a number of Chinese texts, dynastic records, dictionaries and compendia, A number of episodes involving Buddhist monk-travellers, well-versed in chemical. metallurgical, and alchemical operations, are also found in chinese texts.

References to Chinese knowledge of alchemy are also found in Indian texts. A Tamil alchemical text Bogar Karpam is discussed. The author Bogar is traditionally thought to be a Chinese alchemist who visited India in the third-fourth century A.D. Characteristics of medieval Chinese alchemy are discernible in this text. Since direct evidences of transmission of scientific ideas are rare, this text presents itself as a valuable specimen for investigating the exchange of ideas occurring as early as the fourth century A.D.

Thus, it is argued that frequent travels between the two cuntries by Buddhist monks and other travallers, who had knowladge of alchemical, chemical, and metallurgical operations, lad to a somewhat parallel development of alchemy in these two culture areas.

Author Name: 
Vijaya Deshpande
Publisher Name: 

Indian Journal of History of Science, Vol. 22, no. 1 (1987) 15–28.



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