Monday, December 27, 2010
The Magpie Bridge
She is the daughter of the great emperor of the heaven, and is blessed with divine skills of weaving. They live in the palatial dwellings among the clouds. She is loved by both of her parents just like a princess is and should. They call her Zhenoo--Weaving Maid.
The skies are hung with brightly colored silky hues of her weaving. The earth is covered with every color one can imagine. She weaves day and night, never stops to have fun, for the demand of change of season and skies are too many.
She does her duties happily and faithfully until a mysterious condition starts to worry her parents. She is sluggish in her weaving, and her eyebrows are locked in an unhappy knot. Her laughter is dimmed and her appetite has largely disappeared. The heaven’s guards have to report this to her father, who rules everything in heaven and on earth.
The emperor, with his endless wisdom of a ruler, thinks about this for a while and knows what is wrong with his daughter. He calls for her presence and asks her gently:
“Who is the young man you are occupying your heart with, my daughter?”
Her face turns pale with fright, but then turns to pink after realizing her secret is no longer a secret.
“Father, his name is Niulang--Cowherd Boy, who lives on the other side of the Milky Way,” she says, “but it is not easy for us to meet, for the Milky Way is vast.”
The great emperor is happy that his talented daughter finds a hardworking young man and orders a wedding to be prepared. He sends his daughter to cross the Milky Way with his strong imperial clouds to live with her new husband.
Being newlyweds, they both are literately on cloud nine, and the rest of the world disappears from their eyes. She stops weaving, and the skies and the earth look the same every day, day after day. He, at the same time, forgets about his herd and they are scattered all over the heaven. There is cow dung everywhere.
The emperor gets the report and is angry. This is not how they should behave, he thinks. He for a moment forgets that he, too, was a newlywed and forfeited his duties briefly.
He issues a harsh order for his daughter to return home immediately. They are to live on the opposite side of the Milky Way and to only see each other once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month. 1
The heartbroken lovers beg the emperor but could not make him change his mind. The order is given and is to be obeyed.
The effort to cross the Milky Way is too great, for their clouds are not as strong as the emperor’s. Thus the day of their rendezvous is even shorter from the long commute. Zhenoo’s tears touch deeply in the hearts of the magpies--the bird of happiness--so they conspire to help the lovers out.
On the seventh day of the seventh month, the magpies come together and form a bridge in the sky with their bodies. The young couple meets in the middle of the bridge to pour their hearts out to each other. For seven days the top of the magpies are bald from the steps of the lovers.
If you look carefully at the Hunter‘s constellation, you can see the carrying pole with a basket on each side in the sky. Niulang puts their two children in the baskets and carries them on his shoulder to meet their mother. 2
Young maidens have since been setting up altars in their backyard in midnight on the day of Niulang and Zhenoo’s yearly reunion, and pray for loving and faithful husbands for themselves. Surely their wishes will be granted from a pair of lovers who do not wish others to suffer the kind of heartaches they have.
(1. The Lunar seventh day of the seventh month is the Chinese Valentine’s Day. 2. In a male dominate country I guess it’s only normal that the man gets to keep the kids.)