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.

Powerful Women and Higher Education of Ancient Islam

Mariam sponsored the Andalusian Mosque in 859 AD which still stands today. For her part, Fatima began buying properties adjacent to the mosque, thereby significantly increasing the size of the mosque to found the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and University.

But they were not the only women who sponsor buildings for their communities.

Ancient History of Cross-Dressing

Crossdressing is recorded around the world from the ancient past up to the present. In the ancient world, cross-dressing often mirrored gender-crossing actions of deities. In this context, it was tolerated, even supported, as an aspect of religious devotion. Also in this context, the transformation of gender is often associated with the process of coming closer to divinity by breaking down the categories of ordinary human experience. The manipulation of dress, therefore, is the most visible and convenient way for human beings to do what divine beings accomplish by other means, including crossing gender.

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?

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 Rise and Fall of the Forgotten Empire

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 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.

Thieves of Fire

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.

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 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”).