Legendary Creatures: Dragons
One mythological creature that has captured hearts and minds of many around the world is “The Dragon”. History reveals that this creature evolved from Chinese mythology where it was regarded as a creature possessing healing powers. It was also believed to be a harbinger of good luck for its people. However, western culture attached a rather different and sinister meaning to this creature making it appear evil.
Characteristics of a Dragon:
A dragon has been represented as a large serpent or a reptile. It may or may not possess wings. Dragons in western mythology have been shown to have bat like wings to enable it to fly. Dragons of the East have been known to possess some magical flying capability since they usually do not have wings. Ancient stories depict dragons as serpents with no legs while relatively new ones describe them as two or four legged creatures. Some mythologies portray dragons as fire breathers while others regard them poisonous. While the physical characteristics of dragons may vary from culture to culture, there have been certain consistencies such as long fangs and twin horns. Their size is generally larger than an elephant.
Most dragons are covered in scales but some possess leathery skin. They may be of any color but they are more commonly depicted in black, green, red and golden colors and their colors have significance as well. They are also believed to have magical powers such as breathing fire as a weapon. Some modifications in this weapon include breath of frost, gas or lightening. The scientific point of view on these myths is that the discovery of bones of dinosaurs may have led to propounding of such stories about dragons.
Dragons in various cultures:
In middle-east where snakes are generally huge and deadly ones, the dragon was a representation of evil. Greeks and Romans accepted the idea of dragons being evil but at the same time depicted Drakontes to be beneficent powers. The belief of dragons being evil found larger acceptance and Europe made it even stronger. Christianity refused to accept serpent deities and it symbolised dragon to be sin and paganism.
Europeans have depicted dragons as fierce creatures. A number of legends tell the stories of knights slaying dragons to save the humans. They are generally fire breathers and winged creatures. The dragon from Chaldea called Tiamat was shown with four legs, wings and a body full of scales. “The Old Serpent” or the biblical dragon of Revelation had many heads like the Greek Hydra. Dragons have also been used as warlike emblems since they were believed to possess both protective and terrorising qualities apart from being good decorative effigies. Dragons were painted on shields and dragon heads were carved on the prows of ships of Norse warriors. England saw Dragon as the chief royal ensign in wars instituted by father of King Arthur. Armorial bearings of Prince of Wales officially incorporated the Dragon in 20th century. Dragons have generally been shown as an element of the earth with caves and underground lairs as their habitat. European dragons have been depicted majorly as malevolent ones to whom maidens were sacrificed.
Asia has seen dragons with reverence and admiration. The Dragon has managed to retain its prestige in the far east where it is still known to be a generous creature. Emperor Huang Di is credited with the rise of the dragon symbolising imperial power in China. Legend has it that when Huang Di went for his heavenly abode, he was remembered by his dragon emblem. According to several other legends in China, the future emperor was born with a dragon birthmark as the sign of the future emperor of China. He was destined to overthrow the current oppressor to give people a better life. The Chinese dragon Lung represented Yang or the principle of activity, maleness and heaven in the Yin Yang of Chinese cosmology. It has always remained the symbol of Imperial family until China became a republic in 1911 when it found a place on the Chinese flag. Japan received the Dragon from Chinese culture. Both Japanese and Chinese dragons are regarded as powers of air although both of them are wingless.
Asian countries host dragon races and dragon parades and celebrate year of the dragon. Chinese have often associated dragons with water and they have been seen as protectors of lakes or river systems. Chinese have always strived to be called dragons as it associates them with royalty, however, with the westerners associating dragons with evil, this inclination the Chinese has subsided.
Types of Dragons:
There are four types of dragons in Chinese legends based on their personalities and purpose:
1. The Fire Dragon
They are red in color and their aim is to guard the natural elements such as sky, lightening, wind and fire.
2. The Earth Dragon
They are green colored and their aim is to guard the crops, earth and mountains.
3. The Metal Dragon
They guard the most precious of all metals and are hence golden in color. They are the guardians of all precious metals and jewels.
4. The Water Dragon
They are blue colored and guard water bodies such as wells, seas, waterfalls etc.
Since many Chinese villages suffered floods and droughts, sacrifices were the order of the day in an attempt to appease the dragon. Besides the dragons listed previously, there were 4 main dragon kings in Chinese mythology who exercised control over water related weather phenomenon. They were:
1. The Dragon of the East Sea who ruled the East China Sea.
2. The Dragon of the West Sea who ruled the Indian Ocean and beyond.
3. The Dragon of South Sea who ruled the South China Sea.
4. The Dragon of the North Sea who ruled Lake Baikal.
Dragons have always captured people’s attention and imagination. There are innumerable stories and legends featuring dragons. Dragons have featured in a number of books, video games, cartoons and TV shows. Whatever you may regard them as; evil or good; dragons are going to be there forever, even if only in the fantasy world of the humans.