Tuesday 2 August 2011

Romantic Cowherds, Goddesses and Giant Pythons...

The centuries-old Chinese festival of Qixi 七夕 will this year be celebrated on Saturday, August 6th.
Giant Python Emerges from the Mountains - yes, it does look a bit like a winkie...
Qixi literally means “the evening of the sevens”, and refers to the date in the traditional lunar calendar on which it falls - the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. There are various stories about the origins of the festival found across East Asia, but most of them are based on the legend of Niulang the Oxherd and the Weaver Girl.
To cut a long story short, the mortal Niulang falls in love with Zhinü, the daughter of the Goddess of Heaven, who otherwise spends her days at the loom, and they marry. When the Goddess of Heaven finds out that her daughter’s been dating a human behind her back, and has even jumped the broomstick with him (she was, it seems, preggers), she grounds Zhinü, which involves making her sit at her loom weaving clouds for eternity. Bummer. Meanwhile, Niulang’s ox tells him to slaughter it and ride up to heaven wrapped in its hide, which Niulang duly does. This is proving to be a pretty weird trip for Niulang so far. The Goddess of Heaven, finding that Niulang has come to look for her daughter, sets the Milky Way across the sky to divide them once and for all, Niulang forever on one side and Zhinü on the other. Niulang and Zhinü - the stars Altair and Vega to be precise - are fated to be apart for eternity, but all the Earth’s magpies (which in Chinese symbolism are ideals of marital bliss) once a year fly up to heaven to form a bridge across the Milky Way which the two lovers cross to be together for the night. August 6th is that night. 
Assuming the story’s true, then round about midnight Beijing time (5pm BST) you should see all Britain’s magpies flying off to do their bit. Where was I? Oh yes, Qixi festival. The authorities whose job it is to publicize the Sanqing Mountains in Jiangxi province are, as usual, tempting lovers all across China to visit them (they’re an official scenic area, and really are beautiful) to soak up the atmos and to do luvvy-duvvy things.
The Sanqing Mountains are associated with romance through the legend of the goddess Sichun and the mortal she fell in love with while bunking off from heaven, which was dullsville, to take a look at the human realm. To cut a longer story even shorter, Sichun ends up as a rock in the shape of a woman, and her lover ends up as a rock called Giant Python Emerges from the Mountains. They’re forever separated by a valley, and now romantic Chinese lovers travel to the Sanqing Mountains equipped with locks with their names engraved upon them, which they solemnly shackle to the handrails in the hope that they’ll never be parted.
So there you have it.