The Eastern Dragon
The Eastern dragon is not the gruesome monster of European medieval imaginings. He is in fact, the very embodiment of goodness: nobility, veracity, kindness, strength, change and life itself. He wields the power of transformation, and the gift of rendering himself visible or invisible at will. He lies hidden in the deepest caverns of the most remote mountains, or lays coiled in the abysmal depths of the vast oceans. There he waits for spring when he ascends to the towering, lofty clouds to wash his golden mane in the brewing turbulence of the impending storms. HIs thundering voice is heard far and wide in the wake of rising winds that scatter debris and thrash the branches of trees newly laden with leaves. His claws are in the forks of lightening and after a good downpour his scales glisten on the myriad surfaces of the land. Thus, by the moisture that is spring, he heralds the awakening and the return of nature’s energies.
Then in the autumnal equinox he once more returns to the mountain caverns or the depths of the ocean and there he lays hidden to re-emerge once more in spring. That is why the dragon is seen as a symbol of renewal and spring.
In the In 200 A.D., the Shuo Wen dictionary had stated that among the 369 species of scaly reptiles, such as fishes, snakes and lizards, the dragon is considered the ruler. It could be that Chinese dragon is merely a modified form of the alligator that to the present day is infrequently spotted in the Yangtze River. The emergence of alligators from hibernation coincides with the arrival of spring, when the dragons are supposed to be exerting their influence. This fact however has not been verified.
Another possibility is that lamas and Chinese Buddhists could have incorporated the dragon (whose body seems to be distinctly serpentine, head made up of parts of various other animals, teeth of a mammalian carnivore, legs and claws those of a bird) with the mythical serpents of Indian myth.
In various parts of Northern China, fossil remains of Stegodon, Mastodon, Elephants etc., have been occasionally unearthed fostering this belief. The discovered bones are oftentimes identified as “Dragon’s bones” and the fossil ivory is called “Dragon’s Teeth”.
There are believed to be three major Eastern dragons:
· Lung, which is the most powerful and inhabits the sky.
· Li, which is hornless and lives in the ocean
· Chiao, which is scaly and resides in marshes and makes its den in the mountains.
Of the three, Lung is the only authentic species and is described as such:
It has nine resemblances: It has the head of camel, the horns of a deer, eyes of a rabbit, ears of a cow, neck of snake, belly of a frog, scales of a carp, claws of a hawk and palm of a tiger.
There is a ridge of scales along its back, eighty-one in number. The scales on the head are disposed like the ridges in a chain of mountains and those on the throat lie towards the head. It has whiskers on each side of its mouth and a beard under its chin. When a bright pearl is placed hanging under its chin, he becomes unable to hear; which is also the reason why deaf persons are sometimes called lung.
It is said that the dragon’s voice is like the jingling of copper pans; and when a breath emerges from the mouth, it resembles a cloud, sometimes changing into water or fire.
To the ancients water-spouts were thought to be a living dragon, and swelling waves were enchanted by the dragon that is said to possess the power of raising great waves to injure men and boats.
The round red object which seems to be the constant appurtenance of the dragon is variously described as the sun, the moon, the symbol of rolling thunder, the emblem of the dual influences of nature and the pearl of potentiality (the loss of which betokens deficient power). The Chinese imperial coat of arms from the Han to the Ch’ing dynasty consisted of a pair of dragons fighting for a pearl.
There is some interesting lore about this pearl:
A Minister of State-Chi Liang, Marquis of Sui- when he was visiting abroad, took a stroll one day and happened to come upon a wounded snake. Taking pity, he at once administered some medicine to the wounded creature and so saved its life. Some years later when he was again abroad, strolling in the evening he chanced on the same snake. This time the snake was holding a brilliant pearl in its mouth. When he accosted it, the snake is said to have addressed him: “I am the son of His Majesty the Dragon and, while recreating myself, I was wounded. I’m indebted to you sir, for the preservation of my life and hence brought this pearl in recompense for your kindness. “
The Minister accepted the pearl and presented it to his Sovereign, who placed it in the Palace hall where by its influence the night became as day