Yei Theodora Ozaki's short story: My Lord Bag Of Rice
First, a large bronze bell.
Second, a bag of rice.
Third, a roll of silk.
Fourth, a cooking pot.
Fifth, a bell.
The Dragon King’s Daughter Retold
Once upon a time there was a hard working student named Liu Yi, who lived in the central region of China near the great lakes. He was on his way home from the State Examinations, when his horse bolted and took the wrong turn, galloping quite a distance before he could regain control. Looking up the road up ahead he spotted a young maiden standing by a flock of sheep.
As he advanced and came within closer proximity, he was genuinely struck with her rare, exquisite beauty. She appeared distraught and quite distressed and, though she did her best to hide them, unrelenting fresh tears cascaded down her frail cheeks and on to her worn, yet immaculately clean, clothes.
Being a compassionate young man, Liu Yi could not pass by and, after bowing to her in greeting, he politely inquired as to the source of her distress.
She was a proud being but confronted with such kindness, her emotions took hold and she begun to openly sob. Liu’s heart was crushed and he immediately jumped down from his mount and, rushing to her side, offered her his silk handkerchief. She accepted it gratefully and dried her tears. Standing off to the side he, with a lowered head, tentatively asked if there was any way he could be of assistance to her. His voice was so soothing and his intent so genuine that the girl was pacified in but a short time. As she dried the last of her tears she took a good long look at this gentle stranger. Liking what she saw, she decided to place her trust in him and explained the cause of her dismay.
“My father is the Dragon King of Lake Dong Ting,” she choked back fresh tears, “and some months ago he arranged for me to wed the second son of the Dragon King of the Jing River, whom I do not love and never did. My husband can be considered rather handsome and is deceptively charismatic, but he is selfish and thinks only of his own pleasures and his heart is as dark as his face is fair. He revealed his true nature to me soon after I came to live with him and his family. Both he and his relations delight in inflicting cruelty and they torment me endlessly. When I pleaded with my Father-in-Law for mercy he became incensed and exiled me here to herd these sheep. Lake Dong Ting is too far away for me to journey. They always keep me under close scrutiny so I am prevented from ever contacting my father to give vent to my grievances. At the beginning I tried many a time to send word to my father but each time they intercepted my messages and tormented me even more. Hanging on to a hope that a slim chance would appear, I’ve carried this written note on me for many weeks now, praying that someone will come along who could take it to my father. They treat me like a slave, oh, I feel so utterly alone and helpless, I don’t know how much longer I can endure this humiliation!”
Touched by the girl’s plight, Liu at once volunteered to take the message to her father himself but at the next moment he hesitated, as he became anxious as to how he might accomplish the task. One thing for sure, he would never back out of the offer of help, not after seeing that ray of hope in her eyes.
“How could they condemn such a pure spirit to become a mere shepherdess? You are far too beautiful and delicate to be taking care of the Dragon’s food.”
“Dragons do not eat sheep.” The princess kindly corrected Liu, “and these are not ordinary sheep. They are rainmakers kept inside the bodies of sheep.”
“Lightning, thunder, tempests, winds and the like all have their uses for Dragons and must be kept within easy reach.”
“I see. “ After a moment’s reflection Liu clearing his throat then tentatively voiced his prior concern. “I’ve lived all my life on the shores of Lake Dong Ting, but I am a mere human. How can I ever travel to your father’s palace in the abysmal depths of that great lake?”
The girl looked up at him and held his gaze for a long time before thoughtfully speaking, “If you are as strong in heart as I believe you are; you must go to the sacred tangerine tree on the northern shore of the lake. There tie your belt around its trunk, put my sash around your own waist and knock three times on the trunk of the tree. You will be led to the palace.”
Liu, nodding readily, agreed to undertake the journey for her. Hope sprung anew in the girl’s heart and she joyfully placed the hidden letter from the folds of her gown into his hand and handed her sash over to him as soon as he had secured the message. As Liu remounted his steed he turned to gaze at her once more and called out, “Rest assured, I shall not fail you, but after you return to Dong Ting, I earnestly hope that we shall meet again.” He then spurred his steed on, anxious to undertake this very dangerous adventure. After a spell he did look back but the girl and the sheep had already vanished.
After several days of riding, Liu at long last arrived at the northern shore of Dong Ting Lake. Ignoring his tiredness, he at once sought the sacred tangerine tree and right away tied his belt around its trunk, donned the Princess’ sash, and then knocked three times on the tree.
Suddenly there was a thunderous noise as though the skies would rip open and the churning waves of the lake parted to reveal a giant rising from the depths. “Who dares to disturb my peace?” He growled at the young man stoically standing his ground.
“I must talk to the Dragon King.” Liu shouted in order to be heard over the tumult. “It’s a matter of utmost importance.”
The giant nodded, and slowly diminished in size to equal Liu. He next placed a blindfold over Liu’s eyes, and taking him by the forearm led him into the depths of the water. With each bold step Liu noted the growing silence engulfing him and his body’s temperature becoming colder and colder still, until he was rendered numbed all over. Then something extraordinary happened; after going through a sticky curtain all the warmth suddenly flooded back into his body and he felt normal again, neither hot nor cold. When finally the blindfold was removed, Liu found himself in a great big palace with many towers and arches of glittering marble, countless doors, columns and arches holding up tall azure ceilings that were inlaid with pearls, precious stones and innumerable other unnamed treasures that had no correlation in the surface world.
“What place is this?” Liu Yi asked his guide.
“The Palace of the Divine Void.”
His guide ushered him into the Pavilion of the Dark Pearl, a vast chamber where Liu saw a man clad in purple robes and holding the jasper sceptre whom his guide now proclaimed to him, as being the powerful Dragon King, seated amidst gathering mist upon a mighty throne.
Upon the King’s slight nod, Liu was led forward. Liu bowed low respectfully and waited to be formally addressed.
After a brief scrutiny, the King spoke: “Our Kingdom is occult and fathomless, quite unsuitable for those who live on the surface. What enterprise has brought you here from such a distance? You may speak freely sir.”
“I am Liu Yi, a resident of the land around this lake, and I met your daughter, the Princess, while returning from the examinations as she herded sheep beside the Jing River. She was ill-clothed and without shelter or any protection from the wind and rain, and she, teary-eyed, was beset with such sorrow that I felt obliged to do something to alleviate her suffering. I therefore asked her how she had come to this sorry state and she told me how her husband’s cruelty and the neglect of her parents-in-law had consigned her to this sad fate. I entreated her to allow me to help her and she gave me this message to give to you, her father, along with her plea for your loving kindness.” Liu retrieved the message from his inner pocket and, bowing low, humbly presented it to the Dragon King.
As the King read the letter his face filled with anger, then his visage became solemn. His eyes glistened with tears and his hands trembled slightly as he lowered the message and handed it to his steward along with orders to deliver it to the Queen. He addressed Liu next, “I have been both blind and deaf. Though I am indeed her loving father I had no idea of her suffering in her new home. It took you, a perfect stranger to her, to come to her rescue. As long as my Kingdom endures you shall not be forgotten and your bravery and kindness shall not go unrewarded.”
Just then however, he was interrupted by a loud wailing and weeping emanating from the Queen’s chambers. Quickly, he ordered an attendant to quell the commotion. “Tell the ladies to be quiet, lest they arouse Qian Tang.”
Lui, very much aghast, forgot his place and blurted out in astonishment, “Qian Tang?”
“Qian Tang is my younger brother, once the ruler of Lake Qian Tang.” The Dragon King answered him directly, overlooking in his gratitude Liu’s breach of protocol. “Unfortunately Qian Tang has a quick temper that lands him in terrible trouble. His ill temper has sadly, caused untold misery, devastation and floods in the region where once he reigned. You may have heard of the Nine Year Flood during the reign of your King Yao; that was but a small example of his boiling angers. When, in his rage, Qian Tang even threatened the Five Holy Peaks, the incensed Jade Emperor had him banished from his lake. I managed to, by entreaty, sway the Jade Emperor to show leniency, on the condition that I, his elder brother, would guarantee Qian Tang’s good behaviour and house him in my palace. “
“This news would infuriate him, as he is particularly fond of his niece. I fear that he would be unreasonable and exact revenge, therefore landing him in still more trouble.” As the Dragon king voiced his concern, there was suddenly a tremendous crash, the Palace shook and the chamber filled with blinding mist. In the tumult of thunder, lightning and deluge, a thousand foot long crimson dragon tore through the Pavilion of the Dark Pearl, issuing the most powerful roar as billows of cloud and flashes lightning steamed from his nostrils.
Liu was so terrified that his shaking knees buckled under him, and he dropped to the floor. Fortunately the fearsome dragon had disappeared as swiftly as he’d appeared.
“That was my unruly brother Qian Tang,” The Dragon King explained, as he helped the mortified Liu to his feet. “Hope he didn’t frighten you too much, he only takes that form when he is angry.” A gesture of the hand led them to a more private room where Liu, seated across from the King, was served wine and food by the attendants. They talked amiably then, about great many things, including Liu’s career and the life in the capital. They were deep in conversation when waves of soft clouds, borne upon gentle breezes drifted through the Palace ahead of the Queen and her attendants as, smiling and jovial, she glided into the room. Among the thousands of attractive girls clad in brightly coloured silk adorned with glittering jewels, Lui’s eyes were drawn to one whose exceptional beauty drown out all the others’ charms. As she drew near Liu recognized the Dragon King’s daughter, the same girl he had met on the road.
He watched with heartfelt joy the warm embrace between the reunited father and daughter as she sat by his side. With eyes brimming with love, the Dragon King asked her forgiveness for allowing her to marry such a wretch then, with equal affection, she responded by bestowing a heartfelt kiss and a joyous tear upon his brow.
Suddenly all went quiet in the chamber as all eyes had turned on the elegant, vigorous young man that had just entered. The Princess was the first to rush over and embrace him.
“Behold the Dragon Prince of Qian Tang.” The Dragon King, with a slight incline of his head, said quietly to Liu, before he initiated the formal introductions. Liu was both relieved and delighted to make the acquaintance of this fearsome yet charismatic Crimson Dragon who so vastly differed in form than his previous appearance.
Then Liu was addressed by Qian Tang, “My unhappy niece was nearly undone by that black-hearted rogue. If it were not for your compassion and gentlemanly honour, she would have been condemned to endure that wretched life forever. My gratitude to you is beyond words.”
“As is mine,” said the Princess, standing beside her heroic Uncle.
After the Dragon King cleared the Pavilion of all save family and Liu Yu, Qian Tang explained how he had battled the Jing River Dragon and his army.
“Oh they, her late husband and father mounted a darn good defence but even so, it only took an hour to breach it. “ He chuckled. “I slew six hundred thousand of their supposed mighty warriors, like swatting flies. Still, my wrath was not assuaged, so I flooded three hundred squire miles of their fields, after which the battle was as good as won.”
Seeing the perturbed expression on his brother, the Dragon King, Qian Tang hastened to explain, “After it was all over, I visited the Jade Emperor to justify my actions and to apologize. I declared sole responsibility for the revengeful act and remained most willing to receive his worst punishment. Yet, Elder Brother, His Highness approved of the justice I had meted out to the Jade River Dragons and, in his leniency, showed me more kindness than I deserved. The Jade emperor expressed due sympathy for my nieces past plight and, after a word of warning, generously absolved me of all blame.”
“I am relieved to hear the Jade Emperor has already forgiven you,” Dragon King smiled, “otherwise I would have been hard pressed to say anything further in your defence. You’ve exhausted all good arguments. You must be less hasty in the future. “
He waited to receive an affirmative nod from Qian Tang before he continued, “Now enlighten me on one small fact; what became of my daughter’s erstwhile husband?” He knew well what the answer would be; still he wanted to hear the affirmation.
“I ate him.” Qian Tang replied casually with a shrug of his shoulders, as they both looked away and suppressed their laughter.
The dragon king, deferring the serious talk till later, called for the celebrations to be held in the Emerald Palace to commemorate the safe return of the Princess and to honour her champion redeemers, Qian Tang and Lui Yu. The Dragon King and Queen lavished numerous gifts on Liu. The King presented him with a rhinoceros horn casket inlaid with jasper and a key that parted the waves of the lake. Prince Qian Tang gave him an amber bowl bearing pearls that glowed when struck by moonlight and the Queen had her Maids of Honour pile silk and jewels around him until he could not see over them until he stood up; then they all drank countless toasts to his health and future.
After much delectable food, and even more choice wine, Qian Tang pulled Liu aside and said to him, “My favourite niece has been saved thanks to you. She is beautiful, is she not? She feels boundless gratitude towards you, but I can’t help feeling there is something more. I have also noted your covert looks, exposing the infatuation with her that you‘ve endeavoured to conceal behind your wine goblet. I therefore propose to speak to her on the morrow on your behalf, and make the suggestion that she be wed you without delay. What say you to that?”
Liu was tongue tied by this bluntness and did not know how to respond. He was in truth quite enamoured by the Princes but a marriage to the Dragon King’s daughter was not to be taken lightly. Besides, he deeply doubted his own worth, his suitability for such a high honour. He pondered: “Qian Tang is inebriated as he makes this proposal. If I were to take his words at face value and agree now to his suggestion, what would he think later when he is in a sober state? Surely he would regret this. Could I survive his fantastic anger at my presumption? Oh, my!” An involuntary shiver passed through Liu just thinking of the possibilities. Regretfully, Liu dissuaded Qian Tang of the thought of his niece ever marrying a mere human.
The following day Liu, with the longing to be united in matrimony with the Dragon Princess still lodged deep in the private corners of his soul, attained a private audience with the Dragon King and expressed his urgent desire to return home.
“We shall all miss your company; however, we understand your homesickness.” The Dragon King acquiesced and gave his permission for Liu to depart at the earliest convenience.
Soon after Liu met with the Princess, Queen and the Dragon King, and left his best wishes for the absent Qian Tang, who had returned to take up his duties at Lake Qian Tang now the Jade Emperor had forgiven him. The Queen instructed her daughter to thank her benefactor, which she did then, with deep sorrow written on her face, she turned to Liu Yi and asked, “Is it too much to hope that we two shall meet again someday?” Liu Yi was filled with remorse at seeing the Princess’ true feelings and deeply regretted spurning the Dragon Prince’s suggestion. Soon afterwards Liu left the Dragon Place mounted on a fine stallion laden with gifts and accompanied by the many servants needed to carry them all the way to his home. Once he was back on dry land and settled in, with the gifts stored in a safe place, he gave his permission for the retinue to take the horse and return to their home and King.
Many months passed, and the now affluent Liu still could forget neither the haunting beauty of Dragon Princess nor her enchanting ways. Whether awake or sleep, daily he yearned for his lost love and the life that he’d forsaken so foolishly. Regrets being of no use and mindful that he could not pine for the Princess forever, he finally consented to marry a beautiful girl from a very good family. Their wedded bliss was short lived however, as she was inexplicably stricken with a high fever and died soon afterwards. Liu remained a widower for many a year, but over time loneliness again haunted him and once more he consented to marry. As bad luck would have it she, too, succumbed to a strange illness and passed away a short time later.
Often he sank into despair and lamented, “I am cursed. I shall never find ordinary happiness, having forsaken the rarest of Heaven’s gifts!” With some reluctance he was again persuaded by concerned family and friends to again marry. He stipulated one condition however; that his chosen mate is obtained from outside the region. This time around he actually did attain matrimonial bliss and his beautiful wife soon bore him a fine son. As time went by, Liu began to detect some odd similarities between his young wife’s appearance and mannerisms and those of the Dragon King’s daughter.
“How can that be?” he wondered. Twenty years had passed since his visit to the underwater Kingdom and his young wife by that account would have been but an infant at that time.
After the birth of his second son, when his suspicions again surfaced, this time not holding back, he voiced a direct question to his wife, in a tone that boded no argument.
“The time is at hand; I shall be frank.” His fair wife acquiesced and, after moment’s hesitation, admitted that she was indeed the Dragon King’s daughter. She had been so bitterly disappointed when Liu rejected her uncle’s generous suggestion and had secretly mourned for many a year. Then she had recollected Liu’s last words to her when he left the Jing River and hope sprung anew in her heart. “Do you remember your words to me then?” She hesitated; worried that he would scorn her for her deception of all these years.
“Yes,” He nodded. He remembered every minute detail of every word, everything pertaining to her. He smiled affectionately, as he repeated the words, “Rest assured I shall not fail you, but when you return to Dong Ting, I earnestly hope that we shall meet again.”
“I did return to Dong Ting and when your second wife died I seized the opportunity to become your third wife”. She was uttering these words more to herself.
“And I am most grateful that you did. You’ve given me a rare second chance; I love you all the more for that.” He took her hands into his and looked lovingly into her eyes, erasing all doubt from her heart.
They lived happily for countless years and raised a large family. And whenever she was homesick, they took all their family and visited the Dragon King’s palace beneath the deep waters of Lake Dong Ting. In time even Qian Tang forgave Liu, noting the enduring happiness of his favourite niece. Besides, he loved his new nephews and played with them often, getting them into countless, endearing mischief. The Dragon Princess, being immortal, had stayed just as fresh as the day Liu had first met her, but the same could not be said of Liu. His advancing years necessitated increasingly extended visits with the Dragon King, the Queen and Qian Tang, as it revitalized Liu and prolonged his life. Then one day Liu, the Dragon Princess and their children all left the land of mortal men and took up permanent residence beneath the waves.
At the celebratory feast that night Liu was presented with the elixir of long life, which the Dragon King had obtained from the Jade Emperor as a reward for Liu’s lifelong rectitude. Liu with deep gratitude accepted this honour and ingested the nectar whereupon he was instantly transformed to his former young self. Though he never could become a dragon and live ten thousand years, he did live a long and happy life and saw all his sons grow up to be fine young dragons themselves.
Legends of Red and White Dragons and Merlin
One could expect that the legends surrounding Merlin the Mage in Arthurian legend would contain tales of dragons, and so they do. Merlin’s dragons, in fact, appeared when the Romans first invaded Britain, well before Arthur took over the throne and long before Merlin was born.
The Fable of Llefelys and Llud:
At the time of the Roman invasion there were two brothers, Llefelys the King in France and Llud who ruled in Britain. Llud’s kingdom was cursed by horrible screams, so fearsome that they caused the women and beasts of the kingdom to miscarry. These screeches and shrieks occurred on every Beltane (the modern May Day). Llefelys, who had all the wise men of France at his disposal, told Llud that the screams came from a Welsh dragon trying to defeat a foreign dragon. Llud was instructed to return home and to measure his kingdom lengthwise and width-wise to find the center point. Once this was done, Llud was told to have a cistern, or large well constructed on the spot. The cistern was to be filled with strong mead and covered with brocaded silk. Then Llud himself was to sit by the side of the cistern on Beltane and apply Llefelys’ second set of instructions.
Having followed his brother’s first set of instructions; Llud found that the center point was at Oxford. He constructed the cistern there and filled it with mead then placed a silk covering on top. He was rewarded on the night of Beltane by the sight of two dragons furiously fighting above him in the air. Finally they exhausted themselves, changed into the shape of pigs, and fell into the vat where they commenced gobbling the alcoholic mead. After drinking their fill they fell asleep and Llud was able to wrap the cloth around them and take them captive. From Oxford Llud took the sleeping dragons to the most secure spot in his kingdom: the Citadel at Ffaraon Dandde in Snowdon where he had the dragons permanently imprisoned. From then on Beltane was free of shrieking and the overjoyed people celebrated with true merriment.
Merlin and the Red and White Dragons
After the Romans left Britain the site was re-named Emrys’s Citadel and it was at that time that it entered into Arthurian legend through the exploits of the Wizard Merlin.
About 450 AD the Constantine, King of the Britons was killed by a Pictish assassin and his eldest son, Constans, became King. Vortigern had married Princess Severa, the daughter of Constantine’s predecessor, Magnus Maximus, and from this position he installed himself as the Reagent to the young king. Soon the young King Constans met his untimely end. When Vortigern took over the throne the infant brothers Aurelius Ambrosius and Uthar Pendragon (Arthur’s father) were spirited to safety in Brittany.
Vortigern’s hold on power was shaken when the kingdom was attacked by Picts living north of Hadrian’s Wall. Since he did not have enough fighters to repel the Picts permanently, Vortigern enlisted the aid of two armies of Saxon and Jutish mercenaries from the Baltic, led by the Princes Hengist and Horsa. The Jutes and Saxons were paid with a grant of land between the Britons and the Wall. This proved to be an uwise move when, soon after, the Saxons and the Jutes betrayed Vortigern and attacked the Britons.
The distraught Vortigern called together a council of twelve wise men and asked for their advice. They told him to construct a fortress in one of the remote areas of his kingdom from which he could mount a defence against the Saxons. The place that was chosen for the fortress was Dinas Ffaraon, also known as Ffaraon Dandde, near mount Snowdonia in Wales. Construction began but, no sooner than the material s were gathered and the foundations were laid, the structure crumbled to rubble overnight. Three times Vortigern attempted to build his fortress and three times his efforts were foiled. Again he called on his council and asked them to determine the reason for this failure.
In those times human sacrifice was an accepted practice where infants were sealed up in walls or the blood of the sacrificial victims was mixed into the mortar. When the council of twelve told the King, “You must find a child born without a father, put him to death, and sprinkle the ground on which the citadel is to be built with his blood.” he accepted their advice and sent his servants throughout Britain to find a fatherless boy. One of the servants, Dafydd Goch, discovered a boy called Myrddin Emrys in Bassaleg. Emry’s mother was named Aldan and his father was reputed to be a demon, though it was more likely that the father was a Royal Prince whose name could not be publically revealed, and for this reason he’d acquired the reputation of being fatherless. The boy was brought back to Dinas Ffaraon to be presented to Vortigern as the appropriate sacrifice.
Emrys faced Vortigern boldly, “Why did you have me brought here?”
“To be put to death so that the ground on which my citadel is to stand may be sprinkled with your blood.” Vortigern replied.
“Who advised you thus?”
“The law stipulates that a condemned man may plead for the King’s justice. Bring the council thither that I may argue my case.”
When the councillors were brought before the King the boy spoke, “I will soon reveal everything to your Highness, but first I require that these men disclose what is hidden in the earth beneath this structure.” The King granted Emrys permission to do this, at which point Emrys turned to the councillors, “By what means was it revealed to you that this citadel could not be built unless the ground were sprinkled with the blood of an innocent? Speak without guile and profess your true reasons.”
The councillors exchanged nervous looks and could not give an answer.
The boy with a wry smile then said, “Under us there is a pool if you but delve to find it.”
Diggers were brought and they found the pool, just as Emrys had said. “Now, you who are so wise, tell me what is in that pool.”
They were ashamed and could not reply.
“There are two vessels there.”, and it was indeed discovered that there were two vases joined neck to neck in the pool.
“What is in these vases?” The councillors could not answer this question any more than they could answer the others. “There is a silk tent in them, pull them apart and find it is so.”
By the King’s command the vases were separated and a folded tent was found inside. “What is in the tent?” asked the boy and again they could not speak.
“Inside the tent are two serpents, one white and one red, reveal them and watch what they do.”
The instructions were obeyed and two sleeping serpents were discovered. Once exposed to the air the creatures changed into Dragons and began to fight upon the silk tent. The white dragon raised himself on his hind legs and threw the other into the middle of the tent, then drove him back to the edge. Three times the white dragon assailed the red and three times the red, apparently the weaker of the two, was driven to the edge of the tent. In a turn of events the red dragon recovered his strength and threw the white dragon completely off of the tent and into the pool. Here the pursuit continued and both dragons disappeared into the bottom. Once the dragons were seen no more the boy turned to the councillors and asked them what meaning they put to the actions of the dragons. Perplexed, they again admitted their ignorance.
“The pool is this world, and the tent is your kingdom, oh King. The Red Dragon is the dragon of the Britons and the White Dragon that of the Saxons. At length, however, our people shall rise and drive the Saxons back into the sea from whence they came but you, oh King, are constrained from raising you citadel on this mountain. You must depart and build elsewhere. Emrys also prophesied the defeat of Vortigern at the hands of Prince Ambrosius before the eventual expulsion of the Saxons.
Vortigern, seeing how he had been deceived by his councillors, put them to death and ordered them to be buried in a nearby field. The boy’s life was spared and he became known in later years as the great Mage Myrddin Emrys (Merlin in English) and the mountain which had housed the captive dragons was re-named Dinas Emrys and became his home until he was found by Aurelius Ambrosius, who persuaded Merlin to come with him. Merlin helped Ambrosius become King and, after him, helped his younger brother Uthar Pendragon strengthen the kingdom.
The Red Dragon of this Legend went on to become the symbol of the Welsh people.
The Taming Dragon Lohan
Buddhism, centering on the teachings of Buddah, is one of the world’s most popular religions.
The 18 Lohans (or Arahats) were followers of Buddhism’s “Eightfold Path” who had achieved full spiritual fulfillment. They had reached “Nirvana,” the state of absolute freedom from worldly cravings, and because of this they were no longer subject to reincarnation. Their eternal status makes them akin to guardian angels, adept at protecting adherents from evil and allowing them to open themselves to meditation and spiritual enlightenment.
Originally there were only 16 Lohan. Sometime between the late Tang Dynasty and early Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period of China, two more Lohan were added, increasing the number to 18. The 18 Lohan were first painted in 891 A.D. by the Chinese Buddhist monk Guan Xiu, who is said to have been visited by the Lohan in his dreams. Yet these added representations only gained foothold in China, while Japan and India continue to recognize only 16 of the Lohan.
Here’s an interesting fact: In China at the end of the ninth century the Buddhist faith had suffered greatly, being subjugated to great persecution under the reign of Emperor Tang Wuzhong who preferred Taosm. A cult was born, out of this staunch resistance which incorporated the Lohan as the powerful guardians of the Buddhist faith. The last two additions, the Taming Dragon and Taming Tiger Lohan were, in fact, thinly disguised swipes against the thriving Taoism of the time.
The Taming Dragon Lohan’s Sanskrit name is Nantimitolo. Nanti stands for happy and mitolo, a friend. Together the name means happy friend. He is called the Taming Dragon Lohan for his brave act of vanquishing the ferocious dragon. There is a charming verse describes him thus:
“In the hands are the spiritual pearl and the holy bowl,
Endowed with power that knows no bounds,
Full of valour, vigour and awe-inspiring dignity,
He succeeds in vanquishing the ferocious dragon.”
According to lore his story goes:
Once upon a time in ancient India the people of a small kingdom, being incited by a demon, went on a rampage against the Buddhists and their monasteries. In the mayhem of destruction, some had even shamelessly stooped to steal the Buddhist sutras.
The Dragon King of the undersea, outraged by this unruly behaviour of humans, punished them all, innocents as well as the guilty, by flooding their entire kingdom. As he deemed them most unworthy of benefiting from the wisdom within these writings, he took custody of the sutras and stored them in his palace.
In time the repentant people having suffered so long, wanted the sutras back but nothing would sway the Dragon King’s resolve. It took an extraordinary being, Nantimitolo, to succeed in subduing the dragon guard and restoring the sutras back to earth. Hence he is called the Taming Dragon Lohan.
Japanese dragons are huge, wingless serpentine creatures with tri-clawed feet. They are often depicted as water deities; beings associated with seas, rivers, and ponds or with storms and rainfall. Almost always the Japanese dragon myths amalgamate the native legends with imported dragon stories from China, Korea and even as far as India.
I shall endeavour the retelling of one of these folktales.
Once upon a time in a small village by the Sea there lived a good hearted young fisherman, named Urashima Taro, and his aged mother. Every morning at dawn he would follow the narrow path to the seashore, where he had moored his boat in a sheltered spot and return at dusk with the day’s catch. This day being no different, he was following the narrow goat trail down when he spotted a group of children mercilessly torturing a small turtle trapped in some reeds by the shore. Rushing to the spot, he wrenched the poor thing from the hands of the biggest bully just before he was about to subject the distressed creature to yet another cruel prank.
“Leave the poor thing along, shame on you all. How would you like it if someone did this to you? ” He berated the rowdy children who responded with curses, protesting his intrusion. Eventually they dispersed, grumbling under their breath and promising dire repercussions.
After losing the bullies Taro carried the turtle to his boat and set it down on a soft cloth. Once the brief examination ensured that the turtle was not grievously injured, he commenced rowing.
When he was bit further out from the shore he stopped at an ideal spot, picked up the turtle and, gently lowering his hand over the side of the boat, watched as the poor thing slowly slid off of his hand and dove into the safety of the sea. Smiling, Taro turned back to the business of fishing.
On the next day when he was once more out at sea a rather huge turtle stuck his head out of the ocean and addressed him in human speech. This remarkable turtle told him how the small turtle he’d saved was none other than the daughter of Ryujin, the Emperor of the Sea.
“His highness wishes to see you and to thank you in person. Are you willing?” the giant turtle asked Taro.
Taro was elated to learn that the little turtle had returned to the safety of her home. This seemed enough and he was about to decline, saying no thanks were necessary, when his curiosity got the better of him and he acquiesced.
“First, you need to get into the water.” The giant turtle directed, and Taro readily complied. Even though he was a very good swimmer, Taro hung onto the side of his boat with one hand for safety sake. “Close your eyes.” the giant turtle instructed him then, once Taro complied, the turtle began an incantation.
Opening his eyes, Taro was elated to find that he had been endowed with gills. Hanging on tight to the shell, he rode the giant turtle to the bottom of the ocean. Along the way the wonders he saw delighted his senses and immeasurably lifted his soul.
At the spectacular palace of the Ryugu-jo he was granted an audience with the Dragon King attended by all his courtiers. After the formalities he was properly introduced to the small turtle, who appeared in her true form as the beautiful Princess Otohime. So taken was Taro by the Princesses’ charm, poise and beauty that he agreed to stay for a few days as their honoured guest.
For three days he experienced such wondrous things, delectable foods, fruit, drinks, music, colours, and entertainment that he entirely forgot the human world above. Besides which, he reminded himself, there were enough reserves of dried fish, beans and rice , to last his mother until his return.
Being a conscientious boy however, his worry about the welfare of his mom soon soured all his experiences. Reluctantly he asked Princess Otohime’s permission to leave and return to his home in the village. Of course the Princess was saddened by this request; however she understood his desire and wished him well. As a parting gift she gave him a magic box called a tamtebako. He was told that the box will protect him from all harm but that he must never, under any circumstances, open it. Securing the box, Taro with tearful eyes bid the Princess farewell and climbed onto the same giant turtle to begin his swift ascent to the surface. He was carried up close to the shore and was able to swim the rest of the way to the beach.
A great shock awaited him when he finally arrived where his home had once been, for everything was completely different. The house had been reduced to rubble, and the little sapling he had once planted was now a huge tree. Making his way to the village which, in three days had grown into a sizeable town, hoping against hope, he inquired after his mother and his relatives. But no one had ever heard of her, nor did they recollect the other acquaintances he named. In his desperation, he asked dozens of people, if anyone had ever heard of a young man by the name of Urashima Taro. The response was always a baffled look and a resounding “No, no, no!”
Finally an investigation of the temple records revealed the existence of someone named Urashima Taro who had perished at sea 300 years ago. Dumbstruck, his head in a daze, he groped his way back to the seashore, collapsed on the sand and, covering his face, began to sob. As he watched the sun setting on the horizon, grief-stricken and dismayed, his hand chanced on the box. In his confused state, he withdrew it from his pocket and absentmindedly opened it. Almost immediately he began to grow old. His hair turned all white, his smooth skin began to wrinkle and sag and his back became bent. As he continued to decay, just before he felt his body turn to dust, the sweet, sad voice of the Princes reached his ears. “All is lost now; I warned you not to open the box. It held your old age.”
In Slavic mythology Dragons are either male or female. Often seen as siblings, they represent different forces of agriculture. In the Bulgarian mythologies the female dragon is always depicted as being hateful of mankind, locked into a perpetual battle with her male sibling. She represents water characteristics, adverse weather and is associated with destruction of crops. The male dragon on the other hand has a fiery nature and is depicted as being a caring, loving, shielding benefactor of men working to further their crops and their survival. In Bulgarian folklore both male and female dragons are depicted with three heads, snake bodies and have wings.
Dragons in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Serbian lore are all unvaryingly represented as being hostile. They are depicted with anywhere from one to seven or more heads, three and seven being the most favoured, and the heads always re-grow upon decapitation unless fire is used to cauterize the neck. Their Dragon blood is so poisonous that, when spilled, the Earth cannot absorb it. Always represented as being evil, these four legged, winged, fearsome monsters have few redeeming qualities. They mercilessly extract tribute from strained settlements by way of maidens, gold or food, all of which the poor inhabitants can ill afford.
The Chuvash Dragons of Bulgaria reflect the myths of the Volga River before the Turkish dominance and differ from Turkic counterparts like the Zilant. The best known of the Chuvash Dragons is the Veri Selen [fire snake] which, like the Russian Gorynych, has multiple heads and flies through the air trailing fire. These dragons are said to hatch from the dead bodies of illegitimate children, killed by their mothers and discarded. At night the Veri Selen assumes human form and seeks revenge for their betrayal by seducing the men and impregnating the women.
Islamic influence on dragon myths can be seen in the account of the Bulgars who founded the town of Bilar. They discovered a big snake living nearby and resolved to kill it, but the snake begged them to leave it in peace and that night pleaded with Allah (God) to give her wings. Taking pity on her Allah granted her the gift of wings and she was able to fly away from this danger, never to be seen again.
Ibn Fadlan visited Bulgaria around the time of their conversion to Islam in the Tenth Century, and found numerous snakes in the area around the Volga, particularly in the trees. One huge tree, over a hundred feet high, had fallen and around the trunk a huge snake, as long as the tree was high, was coiled. The Bulgars allayed Ibn Fadlan’s apprehension, assuring him the snake was not dangerous. Another great snake, sometimes referred to as a Dragon, inhabited a pagan temple tower at Alabuga, and the legend of this particular reptile persisted after the Islamic period until the invasion of Tamarlane.
The Wawel Dragon
The Polish Wawel Dragon, according to lore, once lived in a cave on the Vistula River below Wavel Castle near the city of Krakow during the time of its founder, King Krakus. Every day the dragon would emerge from its cave to wreak havoc across the countryside, destroying farms and homes, killing the people it found and devouring their livestock. In many variations of the story the Wawel Dragon was particularly fond of eating young girls and could only be deterred from his destructive rampage if the townsfolk of Krakow left a young maiden outside his cave once every month. This situation continued as the King’s knights, testing their mettle against this terrible beast, one by one fell to the Dragon’s fiery breath, and eventually all the young girls of the town and the surrounding area were all sacrificed. All but one that is, and now came the turn of the beautiful daughter of King Krakus himself. He loved his daughter very much and in his desperation, he promised her hand in marriage to anyone, regardless of his station in life, who could defeat the Dragon and end this terrible carnage.
Coveting this legendary beauty, great warriors thronged to the capital from near and far to try their luck. Unfortunately the fierce Dragon destroyed all these fine knights as if they were but cattle herded to the slaughter. Finally, with all the challengers exhausted, there came the turn of a poor cobbler’s apprentice named Dratewka. The resourceful boy, undaunted by the jeers and mockery of his friends, set to work at once. He did not need to attain any fine armour or weaponry for he had his wits about him instead. He had only one night to complete the seemingly impossible task, so he quickly obtained raw sulphur and tar and concealed it in the carcass of a slaughtered lamb. He then carried it all the way up to the entrance of the dragon’s cave, left it just outside and quickly hid. Almost immediately after eating the bait the Dragon developed an unbearable thirst, so strong it was that it could not be assuaged by any amount of water. The Dragon drank and drank, swallowing almost half of the Vistula River, yet his thirst could not be quenched; meanwhile, his stomach swelled so much that suddenly, with a thunderous sound, he exploded.
The king and all the townsfolk were overjoyed and Dratewka became their most beloved hero there and then. The sovereign, honouring his word, blessed the marriage of Dratewka to his beautiful daughter and they all lived happily ever after.