Showing posts with label legend. Show all posts
Showing posts with label legend. Show all posts

06 May 2011

13. - 6 MAY: Drive to Wuhan, Yellow Crane

I visited the Yellow Crane Tower today after our flight from Yichang to Chengdu was cancelled and we had to come to Wuhan to catch a plane in time for the KLM flight back to Europe.

The tower was first built during the Tang dynasty, one of the most culturally flourishing periods of all Chinese history. Then the Sung, Yuan (Mongols), Ming and Qing all expanded and improved it. It suffered from five major fires during its long history, the last in 1884. Reconstructions was completed exactly one hundred years later, in 1984, but the main central wooden structur was replaced with one in cement.

Over the centuries, famous poets have dedicated poems to it and their verses are engraved in some rocks at the base. You can climb the many steps all the way up, but a lift is available provided you are at least seventy-years-old!

Several legends have been told about the yellow crane at the Wuhan Tower. Here is what they tell us...

One is that a drink house keeper was selling wine but business was slow. He had painted a crane on his door to make it attractive. One day a wizard arrived and to help him attract more patrons he painted the crane yellow with some pigment he had taken from orange peels and the crane came alive. The live crane attracted many patrons and business flourished. After a while the wizard came back and after seeing that business was brisk he decided the crane was not needed any more and took it with him to heaven. The keeper was so sad and he missed the crane so much that he made a sculpture of it, which is still standing today at Wuhan's tower.

A variation of the legend is the following: The Yellow Crane Tower was built by the family of an old pothouse owner living in Wuhan City long ago, named Old Xin. One day, a shabbily dressed Taoist priest came to the pothouse and asked for some wine. Old Xin paid no attention to him, but his son was very kind and gave the Taoist some wine without asking for money. The Taoist priest visited the pothouse regularly for half a year when one day the Taoist said to the son that in order to repay his kindness, he would like to draw a crane on the wall of the pothouse, which would dance at his request. When people in the city heard of this, they flocked to the pothouse to see the dancing crane. The Xin family soon became rich and they built the Yellow Crane Tower as a symbol of gratitude to the Taoist priest.

Today there is no more pothouse, but crowds of tourists and local families enjoy the restored tower and surrounding gardens...

Wuhan is the home of the writer Hu Fayun, known worldwide for his controversial books, especially about the Cultural Revolution. Here is an interview he gave to the New York Times.

02 May 2011

9. - 2 MAY: Dazu, legend of the country girl; board ship for Yangtse cruise

The highlight today is another Unesco WHS: the Dazu rock carvings dating from the 9th to the 13th century of our era.. I won't take time to describe them here, just click on the Unesco page linked above. It is a magical place, and worth spending a full day in. Maybe even two if your schedule allows.

Dazu Rock carvings



But I would like to share the "legend of the country girl", subject of one of the carvings, as reported to me by a local guide. I found it moving.

A beautiful country girl is invited to town by a bunch of boys she does not know. She does not want to go because she is shy, but they insist so much that she relents and accepts to follow them. And that's when her troubles start...

Once in town they take her to a party and force her to dance. But she is weak because of pregnancy and after many hours she collapses and aborts her child. Soon thereafter she dies of grief and goes to hell. Here she gemerates five hundred children with all the demons she meets in the ghastly place. Nonetheless, she never forgot her one child on earth and wants revenge against the town boys for her lost child. Strong of her afterwordly powers, she goes back to the town where she died, attends more parties and every night she eats a local child.

After this had been going on for a while Buddha Sakyamuni decides to intervene, sneaks up to her and kidnaps one of her 500 children. He then goes to pay a visit and finds her in a desperate state of mind and asks her why she is so cruel since, after all, she now has 500 children. What does she think of the mothers of the children she eats, Buddha asks her. She understands and stops eating children, at which point Buddha returns her kidnapped child to her. She then loved all children of the world for the rest of her life and became a goddess of children!


Recommended reading: This one below is one of several books on the Dazu carvings, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the best of the bunch, great binding, good photographs and detailed descriptions, in English, of each one of them. It is expensive: there are cheaper versions of this book but this is the one to buy if you can afford it. It is impossible to convey the sheer size and majesty of the carvings in pictures, but this is as close as it gets.


In the US and worldwide buy it here:



In the UK buy it here:





My guide tells me another legend, which I struggle to understand: a woman who had a chicken was sent to hell because during her lifetime she had fed this chicken lots of prime food. In doing so she made the chicken fat. One man thought the fat chicken would be very tasty, killed it, cooked it and ate it. If the chicken had not been fed so well she would not have looked so mouth-watering and the man would not have eaten it. OK I'll need some time to think this through.


It is a rainy day, and the long bus ride makes a few of us doze off... I stay awake, mostly, and from my seat at the front of the vehicle keep looking at the two flags our nostalgic driver has glued to his dashboard...

Nostalgic driver...

After the visit to the carvings' site we go for lunch, but first we stumble into another great temple. The Longevity temple, built in 1178, and now again in use after decades of neglect during Maoist times.

In the evening we board our cruise ship, the "President", for a 3-day run down the Yangtse, which in some languages is referred to as the Blue River, the longest river in Asia and the main artery of life in China since time immemorial!

17 March 2009

L'islam alle Maldive

Il muezzin richiama alla preghiera con la consueta regolarità, si sente da tutto il centro di Malé. Di regola, quando parte la registrazione di «Allah-u-akhbar», anche i negozi dovrebbero chiudere per consentire a tutti di pregare senza distrazioni, ma di fatto questo spesso non succede, anzi nel centro di Malé non l'ho mai visto fare. Magari si vede il cartello di prammatica «CLOSED» sulla porta, ma dentro le contrattazioni continuano.

La grande cupola dorata del centro islamico è una delle prime architetture che si vedono arrivando a Malé, il sole la fa brillare e si staglia prepotentemente e fotogenicamente, per dimensioni e colore, sulla monotonia urbanistica dell'isola e sul cielo blu. Il grande edificio di candido marmo bianco è stato inagurato nel 1984 e contiene un'enorme sala di preghiera che può contenere fino a cinquemila persone ed una sala per conferenze sull’Islam. I non mussulmani sono liberamente ammessi, tranne che durante la preghiera, ovviamente come tutti senza scarpe, e senza fotografare l'interno. Entrando noto che l'atmosfera è serena, anche molto fresca se paragonata al caldo esterno, accogliente. Quando arrivo non c'è nessuno, solo qualche bidello che fa le pulizie ed un impiegato che gentilmente mi scorta dentro per una visita.

Non mi fanno entrare, invece, nella vicina moschea antica, detta «del venerdì», per la quale mi dicono serva un permesso speciale, ma ho l'impressione che più semplicemente il guardiano di turno non fosse di buon umore. Forse ci potrò riprovare un’altra volta perché è la moschea più antica delle Maldive e pare che contenga mobili e suppellettili pregiati, con pannelli di legno su cui sono scolpiti i versi del Corano.

La moschea è un luogo preminente nella città. La fede islamica occupa infatti un ruolo preponderante in tutti gli aspetti della vita maldiviana dal tempo della conversione nel 1153. Come in molti altri paesi mussulmani, il ruolo dell'Islam acquisisce qui una dimensione che va al di là della religione per toccare la politica, la vita sociale ed anche quella personale. Ma la commistione tra potere religioso e temporale ha visto comunque, con poche eccezioni nella storia del paese, prevalere quest’ultimo, anche se spesso incarichi religiosi venivano usati per poi acquisire potere temporale. Ma come si è arrivati alla conversione all’Islam delle genti delle Maldive? Non lo sappiamo con precisione, anche se sappiamo che mercanti arabi frequentavano con assiduità i porti della regione a partire dal VII secolo. Ma, come spesso accade in tutto il mondo, dove la storia ci abbandona viene in soccorso la mitologia.

C’era una volta un demonio, chiamato Rannamari, che ogni mese veniva dal mare a minacciare e ricattare le genti delle isole...

Questo post è un estratto del mio libro sulle Maldive. Per comprare il libro cartaceo o in in formato kindle su Amazon clicca qui.

30 June 1994

The Storyboards of Palau

While in Micronesia and Palau I bought some woodcarvings. The most important among them is a Palauan storyboard. These are high quality works of art made by local artists on hard wood, and their subjects are local legends, more legends are here.

The storyboard I bought tells the legend of Osile Ra Ulong, which I report below as taken from the National Palau Museum website.