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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”).
In English djinns are called genies, a name that came indirectly from the same ancient Semitic root “GNN” (meaning concealment or invisibility) as the Arabic word “djinn”. From this root the Romans got “genius”, referring to a guardian spirit of a person or place. In PreIslamic Arabia the djinns were often worshipped much as the Romans worshipped their “household” gods – they were considered to be the protective and helpful gods of a person, family, household or location – the “genius” of a person or place.
“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.
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.