Lu – Dragon

Lu – Dragon

Among pictographs of deities with reptile/snake’s figure, analysis of Dongba manuscript evinced the dragon iconography, which is associated to the reading Lu, syllable probably derived by the Chinese term long.

Into the reptile-like deities, distinction among the serpent-like gods and the dragons are not a peculiarity just of Naxi – Dongba tradition, but is also met into Tibetan tradition with the differentiation among the ཀླུ Kluserpent and the ཧྦྲུག hBrugdragon[1]; according to Das Sarat Chandra, the Tibetan word ཧྦྲུག hBrug means “thunder, lighting, whirlwind“, and also “the mythical winged dragon, a creature which gives its name to one of the members of  the series of twelve animals in calendar cycle“.[2]

Association to thunder, lighting and weather phenomena to the Dragon is a common features, both into Chinese Long and Naxi – Dongba Lu iconology and iconography, as evinced for instance from pictographs [3] and [4] respectively to be meant as association of Lu to the power of making rain and snow and to the power of lighting and thundering from the sky, themes and pictographs which seems the iconic abbreviation of the Chinese common iconography

Casella di testo:  Beijing, Beihai, "The wall of nine dragons", particular. Author's picture, summer of 2005

of Dragon twirling among the clouds.

Tibetan ཧྦྲུག hBrug representation are perfectly according both to Chinese and Naxi – Dongba iconography of dragon, as for instance in tangkas, wall-painting and pottery decoration.

with dragons ride by deities. Dragon appears among clouds, with lighting and
roaring, the latter to meant as the thundering

Casella di testo:  Particular of Dragon and Phoenix of a wider scene depicting the deity Detail of the wall-paintings in the Mgon-khang (chapel of Wrathful deities) in the Serkhang, Shalu Monastery, Central Tibet, 1306 – 1320 about. Cfr. Stephen Little, 1992 "The Arhats in China and Tibet": 273 in Artibus Asiae Vol.52 n. 3/4: 255 - 281

Casella di testo:  Dragon decoration from a vessel. Cfr. Martha L. Carter, 1998 "Three Silver Vessels from Tibet's Earliest Historical Era: A Preliminary Study": 27, in Cleveland Studies in the History of Art, Vol. 3: 22-47

Such elements are evidently to be considered as common points with the Indian Naga iconology, where to such serpent deity class were attributed the power of making rain and water-controls as first causes for prosperity, as previously  discussed.

The Lu into manuscripts, although they are distinguished from the others Ssù snake-deities, sometimes are associated to the latter and/or sometimes stand alone. For instance, in Naxi – Dongba manuscript which relates about the origin of the Lu, entitled Bpo Lu K’u, the tradition believes that Lu and Ssù shared the same birth:

[pg. 13, r. IX]

“At first, when there were no human beings, heaven and earth were. In the center came forth white and black clouds.

They caused a magic and there came forth white and black wind.”

[pg. 14]

“from the latter came forth white and black dew.

This dew caused a magic and there came forth the lake.

The lake caused a magic and there came forth a golden egg.

From it was born the Yellow Golden frog named Ha shi bpa ma.

The frog for one year looked toward the east and there came froth a pair of siLuer eggs; one year she sat looking south and there comae forth a pair of blue eggs.

One year she sat looking west and there came forth one pair of black eggs.

One year she sat looking north and there came forth one pair of yellow eggs.

One year she looked up in the center and there came forth one pair of spotted eggs.

It was three years since the eggs had been laid, but there was no one to hatch them. […] it the east there will come forth from the pair of siLuer eggs the white Ssù-swe-pa and the white Lu.

In the south form the pair of green eggs”

As attested for the Ssù creations, with regional – colored Ssù, which color depends on the quarter of the compass they were born, so it’s for the Lu:


“ the green Ssù-swe-pa and the green Lu.

In the west, from the black eggs the black Ssù-swe-pa and the black Lu.

In the north, from the yellow eggs the yellow Ssù-swe-pa and the yellow Lu.

In the center from the spotted eggs the spotted Ssù-swe-pa and the spotted Lu.”

The Lu thus shares a common origin with the Ssù as both are said to be born form colored eggs, which color depends on the quarter of the compass:[5]

· East = white Ssù-swe-pa and white Lu

· South = green Ssù-swe-pa and Lu

· West = red Ssù-swe-pa and red Lu

· North = yellow (gold) Ssù-swe-pa and yellow Lu

· Center = spotted Ssù-swe-pa and spotted Lu

The close relationship between Ssù and Lu is not limited to their common origin and regional being, but sometimes they act in the same way, as attested from manuscript Ssùndo ngv-gu-bpu, page 14:

and from manuscript Ssù-ndo ngv-gu-bpu, page 1, rubric V:

[pg. I: ]

the 9 Ssù took a rope and tied it around the people of the land, they caused the jackal to follow the sheep, and they sent the demons Nder after the cattle

Ssù and Lu also tied a rope around the family.

Before dawn the family sent a boy to invite the Dongba able to chant and Dongba Shilo, thus Dongba Shilo invited the Ssù and Lu

Here Ssù and the dragons Lu act together against the humans: they tie ropes around the family.[6]

Referring to the struggles among humans, the Lu share common features with the Ssù, but are also repository of more  specific others which aren’t to be directly found among Ssù powers, as the ability of moving tremendous natural forces or natural elements, especially those related to the weather conditions.

According to manuscript Dter gko ssawInviting the Dtergko[7] the Lu are spirits able to control [8] the rain and the snow, [9] the lighting as it shots arrows from the sky, and generally associated to the sky and the see/lake, meant as water. From manuscript Yu-ma ssawinvite the Yu-ma [10] the Lu is depicted roaring, and its roar shake the sky and the ground, making the thunder and the earthquake; the same is attested in another Yu-ma ssaw manuscript [11] with different iconographies of Lu, beautifully depicted while walking on the ground, provoking the earthquake and the thunder.

Lu attestations just quoted evinced two main iconographic variants for the same deity:

A. the sign for Lu is written as a complete portrait of the dragon

B. the sign for Lu is written just by depicting its head, and if the deity is represented while doing something, as for instance roaring, or catching something with its claw, with the particular part of the body used in the action highlighted

The latter is the most frequent iconography attested in available manuscripts for the Lu, and such double possible representation of the same sign, one complete portrait and the other the significant particular which is sufficient to  “abbreviate” the complete representation, is a technical feature that is found in pictographs used into Naxi – Dongba manuscript tradition.

C. a third iconography is also here distinguished, although it could be gathered into A – complete  one. It’s evidently a representation of a Dragon, but pretty different from the A type for some features, as for instance the four legs and the fact that it’s depicted while walking and not flying.

A resuming plate of Dragon signs attestations is here presented:

With an eye to the Lu as deity associated with natural elements then it was possible to attest the following concordances:

Such last iconographies emerged from manuscripts, characterized by associations of Lu to natural elements as rain, snow, thunder, lighting, earthquake, clouds and wind, have to be related to the iconology of Dragon and Naga.

About the Naga the Indian tradition considered it as god who can controls the weather,[12]as it is also attested by the presence into the Sutra of the Naga as givers of rain,[13] and a  thunder and clouds gods.[14]

Moreover, the Chinese Dragon Long seems to inherits all the Naga features, an iconology which seems to be represented by the iconographies of the Lu pictographs belonging to Naxi – Dongba manuscript tradition, with association of Lu to the thunder, the clouds and the wind, images which could be related with the Chinese tradition of Long as a thunderstorm god,[15] as a storm was believed to be the manifestation of “dragons fighting in the open filed […] with blood dark and yellow“,[16] or again as in a passage of Yi Qing is related about “Chen is thunder, is a Dragon, is dark and yellow“,[17] all attestation of the Chinese believes of the Long as the god of the thunder[18] and a givers of rain[19]
which appears as dark and yellow clouds.[20]

[1] Das Sarat Chandra “A Tibetan English Dictionary with Sanskrit Synonyms” Calcutta, 1902: 479

[2] Ibid: 932

[3] Ibid:8-VI

[4] Ibid: 17-X

[5] and the eggs from which they came forth the Ssù and the Lu use to have the color of the region whence they originated

[6] Means that they are making curses which are tiding and afflicting the living member of a clan. And if the curse won’t be broken, then it will afflict next generations.

[7] Actually in Harvard-Yenching collection with number 12885250, Joseph Rock collection number 5067

[8] Ibid:8-VI

[9] Ibid: 17-X

[10] This manuscript is preserved as a copy into the Harvard-Yenching collection with catalogue number 13812109, Joseph Rock private collection number 1247. The pictograph is in page 9, rubric 10

[11] This is another copy of Manuscript Yu-ma ssawinvite the Yu-ma. Harvard-Yenching number 9904030,
Joseph Rock collection number 1965. This pictograph is attested in page 23, rubric 8.

[12] Robert Beér, “The encyclopedia of Tibetan symbols and motifs”: 164; Robert Beer, “The handbook of Tibetan Buddhist symbols”: 43; Omacanda Hāṇḍā, “Naga cults and traditions in the western Himalaya”: 195; Omacanda
Hāṇḍā, 2001 “Temple architecture of the western Himalaya: wooden temples‎ “: 55

[13] M. W. De Visser, Loren Coleman, 2008 “The Dragon in China and Japan”: 24 – 39; Michel Conan, “Sacred gardens and landscapes: ritual and agency”: 63 – 66; Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekera, “Encyclopedia of Buddhism: edited by G. P. Malalasekera, Volume 1, Part 4″: 551, 580, 672

[14] M. W. De Visser, Loren Coleman, 2008: 16, 24 – 25, cfr. In particular the Divine Nagas, who benefit mankind by causing the clouds to rise and the rain to fall. Also cfr. Cheng Chien,Cheng Chien Bhikshu, “Manifestation of the  Tathāgata: Buddahood according to the Avataṃsaka Sūtra”: 112; Dineschandra Sircar ,1971 “Studies in the religious life of ancient and medieval India‎”: 135; AA. VV., “Epigraphia Indica”, Volume 30: 238; J. Vogel – 2005, “Indian Serpent Lore Or the Nagas in Hindu Legend and Art”: 243; Omacanda Hāṇḍā , 2004 “Naga cults and traditions in the western Himalaya‎”: 195 – 196; M. Oldfield Howey, 2005, “The Encircled Serpent a Study of Serpent Symbolism in All Countries And Ages‎ “: 262

[15] Sir Reginald Fleming Johnston, 1910 “Lion and dragon in northern China”: 388; M. W. De Visser, 2003: 204;  Donald A. McKenzie, 2005 “Myths of China and Japan‎”: 61

[16] M. W. De Visser, 2003: 37, (2)

[17] M. W. De Visser, 2003: 37, (5), (6)

[18] Hampden C. Dubose, 1886 “The dragon, image, and demon: or, The three religions of China‎”: 73; M. W. De Visser,
2003: 201; Sir James George Frazer, 2005 “The Golden Bough. A Study in Magic and Religion”. IV. Part 3. “The Dying God”, Volume 4: 107.

[19] Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland by Trübner & Co., 1873 “The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland” Volume 2: 375; Stephen Denison Peet, 1888 “The American antiquarian and oriental journal”, Vol. 10: 54; Sherry Garland, 1993 “Shadow of the dragon‎”: 50; M. W. De Visser, 2003: 74; G. Elliot Smith , 2007 “The Evolution of the Dragon”: 131

[20] Sir Reginald Fleming Johnston , 1910 “Lion and dragon in northern China‎” 390; M. W. De Visser, 2003: 38, 39, 45.

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