Tales of the Divine Monkeys

Stories of Hanuman’s heroic deeds have been passed down through generations for thousands of years. us monkey was born in East Asia through the first Chinese novel Hsi-Yu Chi (“Journey to the West”). The story is based on a Buddhist monk who journeyed to India in search of Buddhist sutras from 602-664 CE. Protecting him on his journey, according to the book, are four companions also led by a divine monkey, Sun Wu Kong.

The First Woman

The story of Adam or Eve is by no means universal. According to the Iroquois, Huron and Navajo people, the first human being was, in fact, a woman. Nevertheless, the role of the woman in many legends are the most intriguing as, varied as they are in the way in which they were created and in their circumstances, the first woman share many similar characteristics across cultures – they are beautiful, they change the course of the world through their mere existence and they provide us with glimpses of personalities that women around the world still inherit to this day.

The Monstrous Faces of the Guardians of Time

Apart from being a shrine to the Lord Buddha, Borobudur is also a temple for Buddhist pilgrimage. A pilgrim’s journey begins at the base of the monument and follows a path around the temple. The pilgrim then ascends to the top of the monument through the three realms in the Buddhist cosmology. Those three realms are Kamadhatu (“the world of desire”), Rupadhatu (“the world of forms”) and Arupadhatu (“the world of formlessness”). However, to experience this journey, the pilgrim will first walk through the gate of the temple adorned with a terrifying head which gives the illusion of the gate looking like the open mouth of the giant. The giant head represents Kala (“time”).

Semar, the Great and Powerful

Semar is probably one of the oldest characters in Indonesian mythology who was said to not have been derived from Hindu mythology. He was made famous by performances of Wayang (Shadow Puppets) in the islands of Java and Bali as a rather unattractive, short man with breasts, a great sized behind, and uncontrollable urge for farting. However, underneath his peculiar appearance, Semar plays a major part in the Indonesian creation myth as the elder brother of the supreme god Batara Guru (the Hindu god Shiva).

Sibyls – The Women Behind Power

Virgil, in his Aeneid, describes Deiphobe, better known as the Sibyl of Cumae, as coming from “a hundred perforations in the rock, a hundred mouths from which the many utterances rush”. But she was not the only Sibyl. There were others. Many of these women rubbed shoulders with the greatest warriors and leaders of their ages, shaping the future instead of merely foretelling it.

The Ancient Price of Speaking Truth to Power

In an ideal world, celebrating one gender should not come at the expense on another. But we are not living in an ideal world. The roles of the women in Mahabharate are defined by their relationships to the men, women are placed merely on the periphery of the epic – typecast as devoted mothers, virtuous wives and innocent maidens. Amba is a different character from the women in the epic. She had to pay the price for her courage to speak her mind against the most powerful man of the age.

From the Sirens’ Lips

Ancient cultures around the world saw the sea as a dangerous place, filled with beings who preyed upon people – especially men. The legatus of Gaul once wrote to Emperor Augustus claiming that he found a considerable number of nereids dead upon the sea-shore. Although most retelling of the Odyssey depict the sirens as little more than dangerous women leading men to their deaths, there have also been some studies that provide more depth.

An Unhappy Divine Marriage

Marriage is a beautiful thing. However, even the most optimistic among us will agree that marriages are challenging and takes a lot of work to maintain. It is so challenging that it takes two people to maintain a working marriage – the two people are, of course, the husband and wife who want to make it work. Some marriages maybe downright difficult, miserable and even unsalvageable at times. Even Hera, the ancient Greek goddess who were actually in charge of family and marriage, had to constantly battle the many infidelities of Zeus, her philandering husband.

Tale of Two Concubines

Empress Euphemia’s rose from a freed slave to the most powerful woman in Rome in her time through her marriage to Justin I (450-527 CE). Historia Arcana (“Secret History”) by Procopius of Caesarea (c. 500 – c. 554) introduced the Empress Euphemia as Lupicina – a slave and a barbarian concubine of her owner.

Demons from the Wilderness, Lovers from the Sky

Half-human half-beast creatures are found in myths and legends of nearly every, if not all, culture in the world. Although many of them made their first appearance in stories from ancient Greece, Mesopotamia and Egypt, these creatures are most likely a much older concept that was passed down over generations. Ancient Greek’s Pan, who symbolizes and rules over the untamed wild, is depicted with the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat while otherwise being mostly human in his appearance. One of the most popular representations of Anubis, the Egyptian god of death, depicts him as a figure with the body of a man and the head of a jackal with pointed ears holding a gold scale while a heart of the soul is being weighed against Ma’at’s truth feather. In Buddhist mythology, there is the Kalaviṅka, a divine bird with a human head who preached the Dharma through its songs and, in South east Asian mythology, two of the most beloved mythological characters are the benevolent half-human, half-bird creatures known as the Kinnara and Kinnari, celestial musicians who come from the Himalayas and watch over the well-being of humans in times of trouble or danger.

The Rabbits on the Moon

Before the first moon landing in 1969, the Chinese moon goddess Chang’e was mentioned in the Apollo 11 Air-to-Ground Voice Transcription between the Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas and the Apollo 11 crew. The center said, “Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, there’s one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4,000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.” To this, astronaut Buzz Aldrin replied, “Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.”