China (Cinaratha) in the Epic of Mahabharata
It is well known that in the Mahabharata the Cinas appear with the Kiratas among the armies of king Bhagadatta of Pragjyotisa or Assam.
In the Sabhaparvan this king is described as surrounded by the Kiratas and the Cinas. In the Bhismaparvan, the corps of Bhagadatta, consisting of the Kirtas and the Cinas of yellow color, appeared like a forest of Karnikaras.
It is significant that the Kiratas represented all the people living to the east of India in the estimation of the geographers of the Puranas. Even the dwellers of the islands of the Eastern Archipelago were treated as Kiratas in the Epics.
The reference to their wealth of gold, silver, gems, sandal, aloewood, textiles and fabrics clearly demonstrates their association with the regions included in Suvarnadvipa.
Thus, the connection of the Kiratas and Cinas is a sure indication of the fact that the Indians came to know of the Chinese through the eastern routes and considered them as an eastern people, having affinities to the Kiras, who were the Indo-Mongoloids, inhabiting the Tibeto-Burman regions and the Himalayan and East Indian territories, the word Kirata being a derivation from kiranti or kirati, the name of a group of people in eastern Nepal.
In early Indian literature China is invariably shown to be connected with India by a land-route across the country of the Kiratas in the mountainous regions of the north. In the Vanaparvan of the Mahabharata the Pandava brothers are said to have crossed the country of the Cinas in course of their trek through the Himalayan territory north of Badri and reached the realm of the Kirata king Subahu.
The Cinas are brought into intimate relationship with the Himalayan people (Haimavatas) in the Sabhaparvan also. The land of the Haimavatas is undoubtedly the Himavantappadesa of the Pali texts, which has been identified with Tibet or Nepal.
In the Sasanavamsa this region is stated to be Cinarattha.
Thus, it is clear that China was known to the Indians as lying across the Himalayas and was accordingly included in the Himalayan territories.
In the Nagarjunikonda inscription of Virapurusdatta, China (Cina) is said to be lying in the Himalayas beyond Cilata or Kirata.
These references to the proximity of China to the Himalayan regions, inhabited by the Kiratas, show that there were regular routes through the Tibeto-Burman territories, along which the Indians could reach China.
Some such land-route is implied in the remark of the Harsacarita ofBanabhatta that Arjuna conquered the Hemakuta region after passing through Cina.
Of course, the route across Central Asia is perhaps alluded to in the itinerary of Carudatta from the Indus Delta to China across the country of the Hunas and the Khasas, described in the Vasudevakindi, and there is probably a reference to the sea-route, passing through Vanga, Takkola and Suvarnadvipa, in the Milindapanho.
But there is no doubt that in a large number of ancient Indian texts China is mentioned near the eastern Himalayan regions, through which regular routes, connecting this country with India, passed from fairly early times. It was along these routes that India came into contact with China for the first time and developed commercial relations with her, that are referred to by Chan K'ien in the second century B.C.
In Yunnan there is a large number of old pagodas. Some of them are the oldest and most beautiful in China. Their cornices and corner decoration, showing rows of pitchers (mangala ghata), betray unmistakable Indian influence. Many bricks of these pagodas bear Sanskrit inscriptions, containing Buddhist mantras and formulae in a script, which is identical with that current in Nalanda and Kamarupa in the 9th century. The beautiful bronze statue of Avalokitesvara from the pagoda of Ch'ung Sheng Ssu near Ta-li is an index to the high standard of culture and craftsmanship attained by the Buddhists of Yunan.
In earlier times, the people of the east, Magadha and Videha, were in contact with Yunan, as the traditions of Purvavideha show. The two names, Purvavideha and Gandhara, seem to represent these two successive eastern and western streams of Indian colonial and cultural expansion in this region.
Henry Rudolph Davies (1865 - ) says that Besides Buddhism, Shaivism was also popular in Yunan as is manifest from the prevalence of the cult of Mahakala there. This ancient Indian colony in the south of China was the cradle of Sino-Indian cultural relationship for a long time.
It was an important outpost of Indian cultural expansion along the eastern land-routes, which Colonel Gerolamo Emilio Gerini (1860 -1913) author of Researches on Ptolemy's geography of eastern Asia (further India and Indo-Malay archipelago p. 122 -124 has described as follows:
"During the three or four centuries, preceding the Christian era, we find Indu (Hindu) dynasties established by adventurers, claiming descent from the Kshatriya potentates of northern India, ruling in upper Burma, in Siam and Laos, in Yunnan and Tonkin, and even in most parts of southeastern China.
From the Brahmaputra and Manipur to the Tonkin Gulf we can trace a continuous string of petty states, ruled by those scion of the Kshatriya race, using the Sanskrit or Pali language in official documents or inscriptions; building temples and other monuments after the Indu (Hindu) style and employing Brahmana priests for the propitiatory ceremonies, connected with the court and state.
Among such Indu (Hindu) monarchies (Theinni) in Burma, of Muang Hang, C'hieng Rung, Muang Khwan and Dasarna (Luang P'hrah Bang) in the Lau country; and of Agranagara (Hanoi) and Campa in Tonkin and Annan."
"The names of peoples and cities, recorded by Ptolemy in that region, however few and imperfectly preserved, are sufficiently significant to prove the presence of the Indu (Hindu) ruling and civilizing element in these countries, undoubtedly not so barbarous as the Chinese would make them appear."
"It is evident through the medium of those barbarians that China received part of her civilization through India."
Among these colonies Tagong and upper Pugan were called Mayura; Prome was Sriksetra; Sen-wi (Theinni) was Sivirastra; Muang Hang, Chieng Rung and Muang Khwan were the three divisions of Ching Rung kingdom, which the prince of Yong, named Sunandakumara, united under Mahiyagananagara;
Luang P'hrah Bang was Dasarna;
Hanoi was Agranagara; Tagaung was Brahmadesa (P'o-;o-men),
where a Sanskrit inscription, dated in Gupta era 108 426 A.D. refers to Hastinapura,
situated in that country; and, of course, Yunana was Purvavideha or Gandhara.
Thus, from Arakan, where the Mrohaung inscriptions attest the efflorescence of Indian culture, language and literature, to Yunnan, whose history we have traced above, Indian culture made a triumphant advance in ancient times.
(source: Yün-nan; the link between India and the Yangtze by Henry Rudolph Davies Cambridge
University press 1909 an India and The World - By Buddha Prakash p. 141-150).