Foshi and Shili Foshi

As mentioned in the previous article, Yi Jing lived in Shili Foshi (Sumatra) for approximately 10 years and his stay has left a deep impression in his mind. As written in his notes, in the fortified city of Foshi, there were thousands of monks engaging in the study of all subjects that exist in Madhyadesa, India and advised that prior to taking up studies in India, one should first stay and study in Foshi for one or two years. In Mulasarvastivadaekasatakarman (根 本 说 一 切 有 部 百 一 羯 磨), Volume 5 T24/477C, he writes:

又 南 海 諸 洲,咸 多 敬 信。人 王 國 主,崇 福 為 懷。此 佛 逝 下,僧 眾 千餘。學 問 為 懷,並 多 行 缽。所 有 尋 讀,乃 與 中 國 不 殊。沙 門 軌 儀,悉 皆無 別。若 其 唐 僧 欲 向 西 方 為 聽 讀 者,停 斯 一 二 載,習 其 法 式,方 進 中天,亦 是 佳 也.

(you nanhai zhu zhou, xian duo jing xin. ren wang guo zhu, chong fu wei huai. ci foshi kuo xia, seng zhong qian yu. xue wen wei huai, bing duo xing bo. suo you xun du, nai yu zhongguo bu shu. sha men gui yi, xi jie wu bie. ruo qi tang seng yu xiang xifang wei ting du zhe, ting si yi er zai, xi qi fa shi, fang jin zhongtian, yi shi jia ye).

“Many kings and rulers in the islands of the Southern Sea admire and have faith (in Buddhism), and their hearts are set on performing good actions. In the fortified city of Foshi, Buddhist monks number into the thousands, whose minds are bent on learning and engaging in virtue. They analyze and study all the subjects that exist just as in the Middle Kingdom (Madhyadesa, India); the rules and ceremonies are not at all different. If a Chinese monk wishes to go to the West in order to listen to (lectures) and read (the original texts), he had better stay here for a period of one or two years and practise the proper rules and then proceed to Central India.”

Shili Foshi was apparently very glorious during the time of Yi Jing, where he resided there for approximately 10 years, studying and translating Sanskrit and Pali texts into Chinese language. It appears that the capital was initially called Foshi, and when the kingdom became great and extended so far as Melayu, the whole country as well as the capital received the name of Shili Foshi. Prof. J. Takakusu transliterated Shili Foshi and Foshi as Sribhoga and Bhoga, respectively. Prof. J. Takakusu noted that Foshi was most probably the capital, whereas Shili Foshi likely referred to the country, although Yi Jing used both terms alternately.

Given that Yi Jing was the earliest writer to mention these names, his notes deserve careful scrutiny. From his two works, Nanhai Ji Gui Neifa Zhuan’ (南 海 歸 內 法 傳) and ‘Datang Xiyu Qiufa Gaoseng Zhuan’ (大 唐 西 域 求 法 高 僧 傳), a number of facts are quoted hereunder:


  • Foshi, the capital, was on the Foshi River, and it was the major trading port with China, where ships were sailing regularly between Foshi and Guangdong. The king of Foshi as well as rulers of the neighbouring states, were supporters of Buddhism. The capital was a centre of Buddhist learning in the islands of the Southern Sea, and there resided thousands of monks. See The Life and Travels of Yi Jing.
  • The distance from Guangdong to Foshi was about 20 days under favorable wind conditions, up to one month. Melayu, which newly received the name of Shili Foshi, could be reached within 15 days by ship from the capital of Foshi. The sailing time from Melayu to Jiecha (Kedah) also took 15 days. See Notes on Some Geographical Names.
  • Gold seems to have been abundant. Yi Jing once referred to Shili Foshi by the term ‘Jinzhou’, which means ‘Gold Isle’. It was common for the people to present golden lotuses to the Buddha (Chapter IX). They used jars of gold and possessed statues of gold (Chapter IX).
  • The people wore ganman (sarong) [see General Introduction].
  • Other products were areca (Chinese: binglang, Skt. puga), nutmegs (gati), cloves (lavanga), and camphor (karpura) [Chapter IX]. They used fragrant oils (Chapter IX). People in these places made sugar-balls by boiling the juice of plants (or trees), and the monks ate them at various times of the day.
  • The language used was known as ‘Gunlun’ (Malay) [see Notes on Some Geographical Names].

Regarding the location of Shili Foshi, Yi Jing noted thus in Chapter XXX of Nanhai Ji Gui Neifa Zhuan’:

“In Shili Foshi, in the middle of the eighth month and in the middle of spring (second month), the dial casts no shadow, and a man standing has no shadow at noon. The sun passes just above the head twice a year” (Chapter XXX).

Note by Prof. Takakusu: According to the Chinese calendar, a year is divided into four seasons, each consisting of three months: the first, second and third months are the spring season; whereas the seventh, eighth and ninth falls in autumn. Therefore, ‘middle of the eighth month’ refers to ‘mid-autumn’ while ‘mid-spring’ is the middle of the second month. Yi Jing also pointed out that ‘the sun passes just above the head twice a year’, which relates to the autumnal equinox and vernal equinox. According to the Chinese calendar, the equinoxes fall on a day either before or after the 15th of the second month and the 15th of the eighth month. Therefore, if ‘middle of the eight month’ and ‘middle of spring (the second months)’, were exactly the autumnal and vernal equinoxes respectively, the location of Shili Foshi may be determined.

In various accounts, it is mentioned that the distance of Shili Foshi in the Southern Sea to Guangdong was approximately 20 days by ship, but would sometimes take up to one month. This capital of the country was an important trading port, and people seem to have already embraced Buddhism for some time. They wrote using Sanskrit letters and also understood Chinese letters. According to the records, this area was abundant in gold, where the lotuses of gold were a typical gift.



  • A Record of the Buddhist Religion as Practiced in India and the Malay Archipelago’ by Prof. Takakusu. Publisher: Oxford at the Clarendon Press (1896).
  • Datang Xiyu Qiufa Gaoseng Zhuan (大 唐 西 域 求 法 高 僧 傳; ‘Memoirs of Eminent Monks who Visited India and the Neighbourning Countries to Search for the Law under the Great Tang Dynasty’), by Yi Jing.
You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply