Even with its riches and long history, Srivijaya was, for a long time, largely forgotten. Although Palembang, the capital of Srivijaya became a part of Indonesia, even the modern Indonesian people never heard of the empire until the first hint of its existence was alluded to by French scholar George Coedes who published his findings in Dutch newspapers in 1918, based on inscriptions found in Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. It was not until 1992 that another French scholar, Pierre-Yves Manguin, pin-pointed the center of Srivijaya as the Musi River, between Bukit Seguntang and Sabokingking in South Sumatra.
The art of shadow puppetry, or shadow play, is an ancient form of storytelling which utilizes flat translucent screen. It has a long history in China, India, Nepal, and Southeast Asia, as well as in Turkey and Greece, surviving everything from war and famine to cultural revolutions. Shadow puppetry is so embraced by many different cultures that each culture seems to have their own history and legend of the first shadow play performance— therefore claiming it, or at least different versions of it, as their own.
They are rarely mentioned in historical records but female warriors have increasingly been studied and researched. Of female martial artists, the accounts are rarer still, and generally become a mix of historical facts and legends. One such story is the Shaolin Abbess Ng Mui, her student Yim Wing Chun, and their roles in the conception of a martial art called the Wing Chun Kung Fu.
As fire is “divine” and heavily associated with creation (creation of food, creation of warmth and so on), a lot of ancient myths imply that fire was meant for the gods, not mankind, to control. Therefore, the giving of fire or, more often, the theft of fire for the benefit of humanity who were not meant to hold such power, is a theme that recurs in many world mythologies.
As the bird is the symbol of the spirit of life, the serpent is the symbol of the sting of death. This was a very wide-spread ancient belief. The association of the bird and the serpent to life and death goes back to the last part of the stone age, later represented by ancient Greek’s Medusa, all the way to ancient China where the two animals are revered as embodiments of power and nobility.
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”).
Rome would stand “as long as the pontifex climbs the Capitoline beside the silent Virgin,” the poet Horace said. The “silent Virgin” was a Vestal virgin, a priestess of Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth and home. She was an embodiment of the city and citizenry, and her well-being was fundamental to the well-being and security of Rome. A vestal is a woman of the city. Beloved and closely watched by the people. But what usually happens to the woman who is “watched by the people”?
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).
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 Olympics took place every four years for more than a millennium. However, as important as this was to the Greeks, participation in the Olympics was open primarily to men and boys. Women were of course discouraged to participate. But this did not stop the ladies from having their own athletic competitions, even competing against the men and winning.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,” as Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, “than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” He was right. The things that go on in people’s minds are very real and can influence worldly events. In fact, it often seems that they are the only things that can influence the world. After the Great Enlightenment, humanity’s perception of “reality” permanently shifted, never to be the same again. We started to place high values in progress, rationality, science, logic and belief. Our whole modern world is built on them – but there were immense costs involved too.
The general appearances of ancient Chinese deities lead us to think of them as sober imperial bureaucrats. Mostly, they look like middle aged men dressed in official-looking robes, spending their time reading formal petitions and responding by giving stern orders to their underlings – rather like the more artistic version of our modern politicians. Although several of the most popular deities are female, gender immediately raises problems for the bureaucratic image of some important deities as governing elites tend to favor a religious practice that reflected themselves (male, old, humourless etc). Women, as well as men who are viewed to be rebels or misfits, tends to be excluded from the sites and definitions of power. But a group of joyful misfits changed all that.