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.

Secret Stories of the Ancient Poets

A woman’s face, dubbed Hilda, was reconstructed from an ancient skull housed in The University of Edinburgh’s Anatomical Museum. Hilda lived between 55 BC and 400 AD and was of Celtic origin. She was probably more than 60 years old when she died, nearly double the life expectancy of the time, as a female’s life expectancy in her era was roughly 31 years. Having a long life during the Iron Age indicates a privileged background. Hilda’s was one of the six ‘Druids of the Hebrides’ skulls presented to the Edinburgh Phrenological Society in 1833. Therefore, Hilda was most likely a female druid.

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 Warrior Priests of the Goddess of Love

An ancient legend says that Targitaus, a supernatural being who dwelled in the Black Sea domain, has three sons. Together, the three brothers ruled the land until four golden implements fell from the sky. The implements were a plow, a yoke, a battle-ax and a drinking cup. Suddenly, the four implements began to blaze. Out of the three brothers, it was Colaxais, the youngest brother, who was the only one able to pick up the burning objects. Thus, Colaxais became the first sole ruler of the Scythian kingdom. The culture of the Scythians, a group of ancient tribes of nomadic warriors who lived in what is now southern Siberia, flourished from around 900 BC to around 200 BC.

The Rise of a Great Adventurer

When he was only 10 years old, the Yunnan province was reconquered by Chinese forces led by Ming Dynasty generals. His father was killed in the battle that ensued, and he soon found himself among the boys who were captured by the Ming army. He was castrated as was customary for juvenile captives. He survived this ordeal and was forced to serve in the army. Years later, this little Muslim captive from Yunnan became one of the greatest adventurers in history.

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.

The Four Great Beauties of Ancient China

The Four Great Beauties are four ancient Chinese women renowned for their beauty which they skillfully exercised to influence Chinese history. Although each of the Four Great Beauties frequently appear as the subjects or objects of arts, one seldom learns much of them beyond their names, descriptions of their looks and brief mentions of their skills, which was then preserved by Confucius as part of his philosophy.

Fame and Ancient Celebrity

Ancient Greek and Roman world gave us many individuals who were celebrities in their day and whose careers provide us with what we recognize today as different aspects of the modern celebrity culture such as endorsements, groupies and 15 minutes of fame – albeit without the terminology. The price of fame in the ancient world is also surprisingly, and in some cases chillingly, similar with what we see today.

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.

 Nasreddin Hodja  

People in Turkey have known the jokes and stories of Nasreddin Hodja, a comedic writer said to have lived in the 13th century, since their childhoods. His stories have traveled over land and sea, making their way into the hearts and minds of tribal members of various cultural backgrounds, from Turkey to the Persian, Arabian and African cultures, even along the Silk Road to China and India. His messages are so universal that every culture seems to claim this man as their own. However, despite his popularity, there are still debates about his very existence. So, who is Nasreddin Hodja and did he really exist?