SIXTEENTH TOPIC: SHESHA AND DRAGON GODS AROUND THE WORLD

Today we’re talking about dragons. Lots of dragons. All kinds of dragons.

Previous topic: Tenkai and the Edo Mandala.

About the classification of dragons

  • in the Megaten series: Ryuujin ( 龍神 ‘Dragon’, ‘Dragon God’), Ryuuou ( 龍王 ‘Snake’, ‘Dragon King’) or Jaryuu ( 邪龍  ‘Drake’, ‘Evil Dragon’);
  • broadly speaking, dragons are separated based on their appearance resembling snakes, lizard of crocodiles and most don’t fit into the ‘winged scary dino’ archetype -> in Megaten: Yamata no orochi (multi-headed snake), Pendragon (close to the traditional, lizard-like image), Seiryuu (snake-like dragon with tiny legs);
  • snake-like dragons are Asian, while lizard-like dragons are western (the legends of Yamata no orochi in Japan and Seiryuu in China and the legend of Pendragon in the west);
  • however, we’ve also got the dragons from Sumerian and Babylonian origin myths, with snake-like dragons also in western legends, leading to inconsistencies -> we’re not going to call them ‘Asian’ and ‘western’, but ‘dragons’;*
  • in most parts of the world, the prototypical image of the dragon is actually the snake one, especially since in legends snake-like dragons tend to be materialisations of the threats of nature, like rivers of lightning;
  • lizard type dragons are like the demons in topic 14, believed to be something that was developed in relation to Christianity: the snake that tempted Eve was a personification of the Devil; the Leviathan God fought in Isaiah (Old Testament) is a synonym for the Devil;
  • in Medieval Europe legends about Christian saints and stories of knights were connected -> the popular Saint George defeating the dragon;
  • Medieval Europe also had to deal with vikings, who opposed Christianity -> were called demons -> their ships’ prows resembled dragons;

Dragons that birth the world, dragons that encircle the world

  • dragons aren’t only scary creatures, they also fulfil the role of mother goddesses (see Medusa and Greek mythology), although both mothers and children look like monsters;
  • the Babylonian mother goddess, Tiamat, gave birth to her monstrous son Kingu, but her slain body was also the basis of heaven and earth;
  • her appearance is never described as that of a dragon in the original text (that we know of), but ever since the discovery of the Enuma Elish text, she has been associated with this creature**;
  • a myth similar to Tiamat’s is Pangu’s (touched in topic nine), a giant from whose corpse the world was formed; usually considered male, but the books containing the creation myth (Shuyi jiThree Five Historic Records) don’t address his appearance -> it’s unclear whether he even had a human shape at all;
  • the myth of the dragon that encircles the world was closely related to people’s conceptions of the creation and end of the planet -> the flat earth theory;
  • Norse mythology: the world of humans, Midgard, is encircled by the poisonous serpent Jörmungandr, Loki’s son with the giantess Angrboda and brother to the wolf Fenrir and the goddess of the underground realm Hel;
  • Jörmungandr wasn’t there since the creation of the world, but was thrown into the sea by Odin and grew up encircling Midgard;
  • another famous serpent is related to the old Indian view of the universe: the flat earth with Mount Sumeru in its centre was placed on the backs of several gigantic elephants, which were in turn sitting on the back of an even more gigantic turtle, all tied from top to bottom by a string-like gigantic cobra;
  • this description of the snake and of Vishnu’s turtle avatar, although well-known, can’t be found in any ancient Hindu text and is believed to be a modern European notion***;
  • the concept of the snake and turtle could also be related to the Chinese Genbu, as part of a general ‘Asian ancient world view’;

How ancient India really saw the world

  • in topic three we discussed about changes suffered by Indian mythology depending on each time period -> Rig Veda, part of the sacred texts of Brahmanism, also considered the oldest basis of Indian mythology, appeared during the Indus civilisation;
  • various world creation myths -> one talks about the first man named Purusha who was offered as a sacrifice to the gods -> the world and gods were born from his corpse;
  • other gods said to have created the world: Hiraṇyagarbha (‘golden womb’) from whom were born Brahmaṇaspati (’lord of prayers’), Vishvakarman (’creator of everything’);
  • Brahmanism lost influence while Buddhism became the main religion -> the ideas of Brahmanism were inherited by Hinduism;
  • it’s said that the existence of Hinduism is related to the creation of the Great Vehicle of Buddhism (Mahayana Buddhism);
  • Mahayana: ‘teachings on how to save people without the need for strict practices’; Hinduism: ‘teachings to save people, not to save Brahmans’;
  • major reform: from polytheism to monotheism with Vishnu as the sole god -> Vishvakarman was included in the worship of Vishnu as well;
  • in Hinduism, Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva are each considered ‘main god’, but this actually refers to different factions within monotheism;
  • Brahma was mostly incorporated into Vishnu, but both the Vishnu and the Shiva factions proclaimed the other an avatar of their own chief god;
  • Vishnu’s son Ganesha was also a prominent god; another influential god, Krishna -> claimed by the Vishnu faction as an avatar of their main god;
  • Shesha -> detailed in the Vishnu Purana, an important text of the Vishnu faction;
  • Shesha is considered one of the Nagaraja, the kings of the Naga, a tribe of snakes dwelling in the underground -> best known in relation to Vishnu;
  • back when the world before the Samudra manthan was nothing but the original water, Vishnu already existed and was lying on top of a huge coiled snake -> Shesha, also equated with Ananta;
  • ‘Ananta’ = ‘infinite’ – ‘Shesha’ = ‘that which remains’;
  • Shesha/Ananta = also an avatar of Vishnu -> Vishnu can take Ananta in -> Ananta is ‘infinite’ -> forced out -> ‘that which remains’ = Shesha;
  • for the ones who worship Narayana, Vishnu sleeping on top of Shesha is an extremely important topic -> Brahma is said to have been born from the sacred lotus flower growing from Vishnu’s navel -> Brahma incorporated into Vishnu;
  • the naga, including Shesha, are said to live in an underground realm named Patala -> Shesha is an important figure who carries there the cosmic egg with its seven layers (world of humans, of gods, etc) on his head.

*this is an absolutely horrible move coming from Shioda and I hope he steps on a trillion legos; anyway, the madman actually uses three different words for dragon: for snake-like creatures we have  龍 (ryuu, like the ending of Seiryuu, basically -the- Chinese dragon), for lizard-like creatures he uses  ドラゴン (doragon, it’s just…dragon) and for both (or all?) of them, the word is  竜 (also ryuu…). It seems that in Japan 龍 is the older form of  竜, which is part of the common kanji used nowadays. But wait! The plot thickens, because it seems 竜 is historically the older one, but in order to show how cool and important the word is, it was turned into a more difficult kanji…(it’s actually the reverse in China, where 龍 was the older one, with  竜  as a short form; is anyone brave enough to draw a timeline);

** most likely because she gave birth to dragons, serpents and so on;

***he probably refers to this specific combination, see more at the Description section here.

 

(Source)

About dijeh

I translate things, mainly almost everything that has to do with gods screwing with humans' lives and getting their asses kicked in return.
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1 Response to SIXTEENTH TOPIC: SHESHA AND DRAGON GODS AROUND THE WORLD

  1. Pingback: SEVENTEENTH TOPIC: SIEGFRIED AND TALES OF HEROES | dijehtranslations

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