Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A is for the Azure Lion


Azure is the color of the bright sky. It is named after lapis lazuli, a mineral of an enchanting bright blue color. It is also the shade of blue used in heraldry. In Chinese mythology, the Azure Dragon symbolizes the East (which makes sense, since geographically the East from China is equal to the ocean and the endless sky). When someone is looking for a good story however, another azure creature definitely takes the cake.

The Azure Lion is one of the antagonists in the old Chinese epic Journey to the West. At one point in their journey (Chapter 74 in the book) the Monkey King and Co. get word that on the mountain blocking their way there are three terrifying demon kings surrounded by an army of smaller demons. The three kings of Lion Camel Ridge are the Azure Lion, the Yellow Tusked Elephant, and the Golden Winged Great Peng who is essentially Garuda gone bad. Monkey uses some trickery to get rid of the small demons, by spreading rumors so horrifying about himself that even the kings start panicking. But while he is enjoying the chaos he created, Monkey gives himself away (with a giggle...), and gets captured by the Great Peng, who puts him in a magic jar that can liquefy any person in under an hour. Monkey gets very close to panicking himself, but in the end drills a hole in the side of the jar and escapes. He returns shortly after and fights the Azure Lion head on. It is a match between equals: just like Monkey, the Azure Lion had also stolen some of the Peaches of Immortality once upon a time, and fought the armies of Heaven. While Monkey can transform into many shapes, the Azure Lion can grow big enough to swallow an entire army. Taking advantage of this move, Monkey allows the demon to swallow him.
An amusing scene ensues when the Azure Lion returns home and tries to throw up the Monkey King... in order to cook him and eat him again. Monkey anchors himself in his stomach and refuses to be purged out, claiming that he had been looking for a nice warm cave to spend the winter in anyway. He explains how he will just nibble on the Azure Lion's intestines until spring rolls around. The Lion tries to purge him with copious amounts of wine, but instead of drowning, Monkey gets drunk. Finally he makes a deal with his host to come out, but suspects that the Lion will bite him in half on the way out, to sticks out his brass bo staff first, and the Azure Lion losses a few teeth in the deal. In order to ensure there will be no more shenanigans, Monkey ties a rope around the lion's heart; if he gets up to any more tricks, he can just yank on the rope and kill him. On order to stop the lion from biting down on the rope, Monkey comes out through the demon's nose, and gets sneezed into freedom.
This, however, is not the end of the Monkey-Lion situation that extends for another two chapters in the book. Long story short, in the end Monkey has to go and ask the help of the Buddha, who tells him that the Azure Lion and the Yellow Tusked Elephant are heavenly mounts that escaped, and sends their masters to subdue them. Manjusri, the bohisattva of wisdom, orders the Azure Lion to heel, and takes the unruly pet back home to the Western Heaven.

(This delightful episode is technically not the first time Monkey runs into the Azure Lion. Earlier in the story they fight him once, disguised as the Lion-Lynx Demon. In that case the Azure Lion was acting as an obstacle with Manjusri's knowledge and expressed permission at the Buddha's order, who decided that the heroes needed some extra villains to fight on the road to the West. Go figure.)

Literary note: Lapis lazuli is used to create the color known as Sacré Bleu. If you want to read a masterful, engaging, entertaining and hilariously funny novel on the magical history of the sacred blue, go and buy Christopher Moore's Sacré Bleu immediately.

31 comments:

  1. Nice take on the letter A. Apart from watching "Monkey" the TV series when I was younger, I've never read the book. But I do love to colour Azure.
    See you tomorrow for more. :)

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  2. Gosh - to think I would have never have found you without A to Z. Great to connect,
    http://aimingforapublishingdeal.blogspot.co.uk/
    Twitter: WriterBizWoman

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  3. Very interesting and informative post on Chinese mythology. Sneezed into freedom...clever monkey! Azure...a great color and word for the Letter 'A'.
    Sue at CollectInTexas Gal

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  4. I haven't read Chinese Mythology stories, Csenge. My son will love this, too.

    :-) Looking forward to every day!

    Love,
    Vidya
    Team Damyanti
    A to Z Challenge
    Affirmations
    The ABCs of Living with Type 2 Diabetes

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  5. Great post! I'd never heard that tale before, thank you for sharing it!

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  6. I don't know much about Chinese mythology so this was an interesting read! They have tons of fascinating stories, don't they?

    ~ Visiting from A to Z

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  7. I have watched a TV soap on the Azure lion, with English subtitles. The Chinese mythology is amazingly varied!

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  8. For one who loves the sea, "Azure" was always a good color to wake up to after a stormy night.

    Great article; I am already amazed at the variety I have encountered just today.

    Great to be here.

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  9. I am very happy I found your blog with the A to Z Challenge. You have a new reader for sure. :)

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  10. Azure is such a beautiful variation on the colour blue... and I've written a story that features a lapis lazuli pendant and loads of nostalgia...
    Writer In Transit

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  11. I love mythology from anywhere. Sometimes they're thought-provoking and sometimes they're ridiculous, but always entertaining.

    The word "azure" has, for me, always brought to mind a beautiful sky.

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  12. Love the post, love Monkey King, he's such an interesting character. Love the word Azure too. Can't wait to see what else you do!

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  13. Hmm. Azure. Lions are important in Chinese mythology and symbolism, but it seems like I've mostly run into red or golden ones! I wonder what meaning azure had to those who first told this tale? Fascinating to think about!

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  15. Clever monkey tying that rope around the lion's heart while swinging out through the nose. Oh my gosh, the kids in upper elementary and middle would devour this tale from China! Thank you so much for sharing!

    Sue Kuentz
    http://www.door2lore.com/power-of-story-blog.html

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  16. Csenge, I really enjoyed this too! Love blue,and Monkey is always fun! Thanks for talking/writing me into trying this challenge. This is fun! Now if I could just capture that badge....--Barra

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  17. Believe it or not, I've sneezed throughout your post. Maybe it's my cold ... MAYBE IT'S THOSE DARNED MONKEYS!!!

    Don't you love an azure sky?

    Happy A to Z!

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  18. An interesting and well-written post. Thanks!

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  19. I like the lion just for stealing the Peaches of Immortality. Very cool. Excellent post!

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  20. CSenge, This is so interesting; I like many of your other readers, know nothing, or little of Chinese mythology, but one thing jumped out at me in reading the Azure Lion. I play "Runescape" which is shameless at taking bits and pieces of mythology from everywhere.

    The game is in it's 3rd iteration and it has grown more and more complex over the years, which is to be expected to maintain a healthy community for higher-level players.

    Last year saw the introduction of Legendary Pets, which came in several forms, dragon-hounds and Bloodpouncers, a sort of sabre-toothed tiger-vampire hybrid. You acquire them as babies and grow them up and they do various things. Well, they had a third, called a Skypouncer, an azure lion, with wings, which I had to have. I am mad for cats in all their forms, but I strongly suspect that when Jagex was looking around for something really cool to add to the game, they tripped over the Azure Lion and then said, "Ya know what would make this cooler?" Mod Mark asked what" "Some wings. Let's make this guy soar!" He doesn't really soar, my Linus, but he's an awesome companion, my azure lion. Now, I know his history! Thanks, Csenge! Mary

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  21. Thanks for sharing this! I discovered something new today.
    jetgirlcos visiting via Forty, c'est Fantastique

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  22. What a clever monkey! Really cool word Azure, I like it! :D

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  23. Wow! I love that story! A true battle of wits! :D

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  24. I'm not familiar with Chinese mythology, so I really enjoyed this post. The Monkey makes me think of when I was a kid and used to imagine I had a mouse living in my stomach (true story).

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  25. Lapis is one of my favorite gemstones! I don't know much about Chinese mythology, so this post was really interesting to me.

    ~MPL

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  26. Ah ha - you like Christopher Moore! My brother-in-law, Rob, has been introducing me to his books. I started with Lamb, which, being familiar with the bible made me laugh out loud at times (and cry mind you). He wasn't so keen on Sacre Bleu, but I might just try it after the rec.
    Happy A to Z
    Sophie
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles - A to Z Ghosts
    Fantasy Boys XXX - A to Z Drabblerotic

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  27. And now I am left wanting to learn more about the Azure Lion! I love myth stories, especially if they involve funny talking animals. While I knew both were blue, I had no idea that the words azure and lapis lazuli were derived from the same source. Cool!

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  28. I do think you know more about Chinese mythology than I do! :)

    anna @ Deeply Shallow

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  29. What a great story. I love old tales like this. They have an ambiance all their own.

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