Dragons of Ancient Asia

Kinryuzan Sensoji Temple, located in Asakusa, Tokyo is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan. Dedicated to Kannon Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva of compassion, the temple is one of the most widely visited spiritual sites in the world with over 30 million annual visitors. Kinryuzan means the ‘Golden Dragon Mountain’. Legend has it that the Sensoji Temple was founded in 628 AD after two fishermen fished a gold statuette of Kannon from the Sumida River. Although the understandably confused fishermen tried to put the statue back into the river, it always returned to them. Therefore, the Sensoji temple was built nearby for the goddess represented by the statue found by the fishermen.

The Laughing Buddha and an Ancient Man’s Journey to Simplicity and Contentment

In India, Nepal and throughout Southeast Asia, Buddha is commonly depicted as tall, slender and serene. However, we are also familiar with the image of the “Laughing Buddha” – a short, well-fed, jolly man whose belly one can rub for good luck. This figure is popular in China and those areas to which Chinese cultural influence spread. Artwork of him from past to present shows him laughing gleefully – a stark contrast with the legendary Buddha.

The Legend of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl

In Japan, the annual meeting between the two stars is equally celebrated as the Tanabata (“Weaving Princess”) Festival. Traditionally, a bamboo plant would be brought into the house, and a picture of the two stars would be hung upon it. The Altair star is represented as a farmer leading a cow, and the Vega star is a princess with a loom. These celebrations originated in the ancient story of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.

The Five Eternal Virgins of Ancient India

Five is one of the mystical numbers according to Hindu belief.  There are five ingredients prescribed for worship: wine, fish, flesh, lard and chant, corresponding to the five senses in the human body: taste, smell, sight, touch and hearing. It is also believed that nature manifests itself in five forms: earth, water, fire, wind and sky. Each kanya is born of one of these elements, and these five elements of nature formed the essence of their characters.

It Ain’t Over till the Fat Lady Sings

Richard Wagner’s 19th century opera, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of Nibelungen), affectionately known as the “Ring” Cycle, may be considered by many as the height of operatic absurdity, with larger than life staging, costumes and voices. The image is so ingrained in the modern consciousness that opera lovers and non-lovers alike associate the opera, specifically the character of Brunhilde, with a heavy-set female opera singer wearing her hair in pig-tails, costumed with horned helmet and armor. As the opera went on to make its mark on popular culture, from featuring in an episode of Bugs Bunny to inspiring a Quentin Tarantino film, Brunhilde became a more visually recognizable figure.

The Bureaucracy of Death

“Each of the criminals is bound to an iron pillar and the ox-headed demon is in the process of administering punishment—using iron or copper blades he peels the skin of the person’s face, just as a butcher kills a pig and then flays it.” This passage is found in a Chinese Shanshu (“good book” or “morality book”) titled Diyu yu-chi (roughly translated as “Record of a Journey to Hell”). The book emerged in tenth century China and talks about the things that one would find in hell which, of course, include many forms of tortures.

Sisters and the Stones

There is an unusual rock formation in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia, on the north escarpment of the Jamison Valley. The three rocks stand close to the town of Katoomba and are one of the Blue Mountains’ best known sites, each towering above 900 meter (nearly 3000 foot) -heights. These three rocks, known as “the Three Sisters” seem to capture the sunlight and remain full of colors throughout the day. Even at night time, they look golden against the backdrop of the dark sky.

Ancient Stories of the Koala

The koala is a major draw for Australian zoos and wildlife parks. They are featured heavily in Australia-related advertisements, cartoons, and soft toys. If one were to name the animal most closely associated with Australia, it is very likely that the koala or the kangaroo would be mentioned.  Personality-wise, the koalas’ most enduring quality is probably their laid-back nature. They generally look as happy and comfortable being in the arms of humans as they are climbing trees and eating eucalyptus leaves. 

Rakshasas – The Beautiful, the Virtuous, the Sleepy

 Although they have the power to change their shape at will and appear as animals, monsters, or beautiful women, sculptures and literatures generally depict the Rakshasas with a terrifying appearance – fearful side tusks, ugly eyes, curling brows and carrying a variety of horrible weapon. But, as with everything else in life, not all Rakshasas are ugly.

The Lady of the South Seas

Nyai Roro Kidul is a well-known figure in Javanese mythology who is still venerated by the Javanese today as the spirit queen of the Indian Ocean. Living in her palace on the bottom of the ocean off the south coast of Central Java, she rules the ocean, the spirits, nymphs, and other beings from the underworld.