Cowherd and Weaver Girl

Myths

Who doesn’t like a good myth?

And if there is romance involved, then bingo!

Ok, so today, I will tell you about one of those romantic tragic myths, from China.

Its to do with the traditional Qixi (“Double Sevens”) Festival. The Chinese have been celebrating this particular festival since the time of the Han Dynasty (approx 2000 years). On the seventh night of the seventh month, young women would work with needle and thread in the moonlight and pray for a good marriage in the future. A Chinese version of the Indian Shivaratri, just without any dongs.

The girls burn incense and gaze at the night sky for the two stars, Vega and Altair, which are separated by the vast Milky Way, and make their wishes. These celebrations originated in the ancient story of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.

In legend, the Vega and the Altair Stars were in love. However, it was forbidden for the stars to fall in love. The Celestial Queen Mother and the Heavenly Emperor heard of their love and became furious.  The Celestial Queen Mother banished the Altair Star down to earth. The Vega Star was punished to weave the clouds in the sky for all eternity. Because of this, she became known as Zhinu (“the Weaver Girl”). In the legend, clouds in the skies were weaved by the Zhinu with celestial silk. Different colors were weaved according to different times of the day and season.

On earth, the Altair Star was reborn into a farming family. After his parents passed away, he stayed with his brother and sister-in-law, who treated him badly. Eventually, he was chased out of their home with only an old ox and a broken cart. He and his ox were inseparable, plowing and working hard to make ends meet. Because of this friendship, the people in the village came to know him as Niulang (the Cowherd).

Niulang and Ox

One day, the Heavenly Maidens, servants of the Celestial Queen Mother requested her permission to descend to Bi Lian Lake in the mortal world. They took pity on the heartbroken Weaver Girl who had done nothing but work hard on her weaving, and requested for her to be allowed to join them on the trip. The Celestial Queen Mother granted their request.

Unbeknownst to Niulang, his old ox was the reincarnation of the Golden Ox Star Jinniu, one of the stars who dared speak against the Celestial Queen Mother in his defense. One day, the ox suddenly spoke to him, “Go to Bi Lian Lake today. You will find the coats of heavenly maidens by the rocks, while they are bathing in the lake. Take the red coat and the maiden will become your wife.”

Niulang obeyed. He hid near the lake and, true to the Ox’s words, heavenly maidens gracefully danced down from the sky. The maidens placed their dresses by the rock and stepped into the Lake. Seeing his chance, Niulang took the red cloaks. The maidens were frantic to find there was man near them. Putting on their cloaks in haste, they flew back to heaven. Only one heavenly maid was left in the lake, Zhinu.

Niulang stepped forward and asked Zhinu to be his wife. At this moment, Zhinu recognized him as the Altair Star whom she still loved and happily became his wife. She lived with him on earth and bore him a son and a daughter. However, their joy did not last, as when the Celestial Queen Mother soon deployed heaven guards and soldiers to bring Zhinu back to the sky.

Back on earth, the loyal old ox was dying. He asked Niulang to keep his ox hide well, so that one day Niulang will be able to make a cape of the hide and fly into the sky. Once the ox died, Niuland and Zhinu peeled the hide and gave the ox a burial. Suddenly, the heavenly soldiers came and took Zhinu away. She could do nothing except to be taken back to the clouds and skies with the soldiers. As she was flying, she heard a voice, “Wife, wait for me!” It was Niulang. Looking back, she saw him flying behind them, wearing the magical ox hide, holding a basket with their two children in it. Soon, she could see the faces of her children and hear their cries for her. When they were almost reunited, the Celestial Queen Mother appeared and with a wave of her hairpin, created the Milky Way between them, separating them forever.

The couple and their children gazed tearfully across the Milky Way at each other. All the stars and gods in heaven cried with them, pained that a loving family had to be separated. Soon, even the Heavenly Emperor felt sorry for them. He allowed the family to stay in the sky and remain as stars, permitting them to see each other once every year on the seventh day of the seventh month. On that day, magpies formed a living bridge to reunite the Cowherd, the Weaver Girl and their two children in the skies.

So at least for one day a year, they could be together and be happy.

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