Dec 5th: The Legend of Milky Way

By on December 5, 2013 in
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Podcaster: Richard Drumm

FolkloreTitle: Folklore Series: The Legend of Milky Way

Organization: Astrosphere new Media

Link : http://www.wingsof100viet.org/milkyway.htm

Description: Today we will bring you a folklore from Vietnam about the Milky Way

Bio: Richard Drumm is President of the Charlottesville Astronomical Society and President of 3D – Drumm Digital Design, a video production company with clients such as Kodak, Xerox and GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals. He was an observer with the UVa Parallax Program at McCormick Observatory in 1981 & 1982. He has found that his greatest passion in life is public outreach astronomy and he pursues it at every opportunity.

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Transcript:

This is 365 days of Astronomy. Today we bring you folklore related to astronomy from Vietnam to introduce a story related to the sky or astronomy event. The story based on Vietnam folklore stories at Wing of the Hundred Viet. The same story also a part of Stars of Asia Project.

The Weaver Girl and the Cowherder

In east asian culture, the mythological gods and heroes of ancient times are also associated with visible stars. Originating in China but shared among Chinese-influenced cultures like Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, the best known romantic love story is the legend of The Milky Way or the love story of (in the Vietnamese version) Nguu Lang and Chuc Nu.

Chuc Nu was the daughter of the Jade Emperor, the ruler of Heaven. She was beautiful, hard working, and a skillful weaver who could make the most exquisite tapestries.

She could weave the sun’s rays together with moonlight, and adorned her work with twinkling stars to make the most exceptional materials. From these, her father’s robes and the fairies’ dresses were made. Now being a beautiful princess, she had many suitors, but she could not find love among the magnificent and handsome princes of heaven, for none could make her happy.

One sunny summer’s day, she happened to look out the palace window and saw her father’s herdsman driving the royal cattle along the banks of the Milky Way. Their eyes met, and both knew that this was love at first sight. As the herdsman Nguu Lang was a very handsome and conscientious worker who had always been a loyal servant in looking after the royal cattle, the Jade Emperor allowed them to get married.

The couple was very happy together, and their love grew stronger and sweeter each day thereafter. However, they were a bit too devoted to each other, and consequently neglected all their work. Chuc Nu forgot her weaving. The weaving wheel stood still and gathered dusty cobwebs, while the royal cattle roamed far and wide across the heavenly meadows, destroying heaven’s crops

The Jade Emperor warned them repeatedly, but they were so deeply in love that they kept forgetting their duties. The Emperor decided to banish Nguu Lang to the other side of the Milky Way, so that he could tend the cattle there, and the two lovers could never meet again.

Chuc Nu pleaded with her father not to pass such a harsh sentence, but to no avail. However, soon after, the Jade Emperor took a little pity, and promised that they could meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. So every year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, Chuc Nu stands on one side of the Milky Way and appeals to the crows to help the parted lovers be together again. The crows from all over the world would unite, and form a bridge so that Chuc Nu and Nguu Lang could cross and be together again.

Now the crows in this legend are most likely the birds that migrate across the sky during the seventh lunar month. In Vietnam during this time of the year, a light rain falls throughout the day. The Vietnamese call this rain “Mua Ngau,” and associate it with the happy tears of long parted lovers. During hot summer days, these light rains are welcomed with joy, for it means the crops will have enough water and drought is avoided.

The two lovers represent specific stars. He is Altair and she is Vega, on opposite sides of the Milky Way. The tale of The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd has been celebrated in the Qixi Festival since the Han Dynasty. The earliest-known reference to this famous myth dates back to over 2600 years ago.

Now the Chinese version of the story goes this way:

A young cowherd, Niulang (literally transated as “cowherder”), came across a beautiful girl – Zhinü (literally “weavergirl”), who was the seventh daughter of the Goddess of Heaven Xī Wángmǔ, the “Golden Mother of the Shining Lake”. She had just escaped from boring old heaven and had come to Earth looking for some fun. It’s a happenin’ place down here, you know? Zhinü soon fell in love with Niulang, and they got married – without the (01:04:16–not voiced) knowledge of the Goddess.

Well Zhinü proved to be a wonderful wife, and Niulang was a good husband. They lived happily together and had two children. But the Goddess of Heaven (or in some versions, she wasn’t a goddess, just Zhinü’s mother) found out that Zhinü, a fairy girl, had married a mere mortal. The Goddess was furious and ordered Zhinü to return to heaven. (Alternatively, the Goddess forced the fairy princess back to her former duty of weaving the colorful clouds, a task she’d neglected while living down on earth.)

Back on Earth, Niulang was very upset that his wife had disappeared. Suddenly, out of nowhere his ox began to talk, telling him that if he killed it and put on its hide, he would be able to go up to Heaven to find his wife. Crying bitterly, he killed the ox, put on the skin, and carried his two beloved children off to Heaven to find Zhinü. The Goddess of Heaven discovered this and she was very angry. Taking out her hairpin, the Goddess scratched a wide river in the sky to separate the two lovers forever, thus forming the Milky Way between Altair and Vega.

Zhinü as the star Vega must sit forever on one side of the Silver River, sadly weaving on her loom, while Niulang as Altair watches her from afar while taking care of their two children, his flanking stars β and γ Aquilae.

Altair gets its name from an-nasr aṭ-ṭā’ir, translated as “The flying eagle”. Beta Aquilae is Alshain from the Perso-Arabic term aš-šāhīn “the peregrine falcon“.

Gamma Aquilae is Tarazed, from the Persian šāhin tarāzu “the beam of the scale”, referring to their very logical asterism of the Scale, α, β and γ Aquillae. Look at a star map of Aquila and you’ll see what I mean. Google it if you have to. It makes a very nice constellation equivalent of a weighing scale. The Persian word šāhīn means “royal falcon”, “beam”, and “pointer”, and gives its name (as “falcon”) to Beta Aquilae. This begins to explain how we have come to know the constellation Aquila in the European tradition as the Eagle.

The Chinese names for the flanking stars is Hè Gu 1 or Hé Gŭ yī, the First Star of River Drum, and Hè Gu 3 or Hé Gŭ sān, the Third Star of River Drum. Hè Gu is the Chinese name for the 3 star asterism. The River Drum refers not to the name of the river, but to the military “drum at the river” that this asterism also represents. There are 11 asterisms in the Chinese constellation or “Mansion” of the Ox, which includes this area.

But, but where was I? Oh yeah!

Zhinü was weaving on her loom on the Western side of the Silver River & Niulang and the kids were on the Eastern side. But once a year all the magpies in the world would take pity on them and fly up into heaven and form a bridge (“the bridge of magpies”, Que Qiao) not next to Altair, but over the star Deneb in the nearby constellation of Cygnus, so that the lovers may be together again for a single night, the seventh night of the seventh moon.

This is  the legend of The Milky Way or the love story of Nguu Lang and Chuc Nu.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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About Richard B. Drumm

Richard Drumm is President of the Charlottesville Astronomical Society and President of 3D – Drumm Digital Design, a video production company with clients such as Kodak, Xerox and GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals. He was an observer with the UVa Parallax Program at McCormick Observatory in 1981 & 1982. He’s found that his greatest passion in life is public outreach astronomy and he pursues it at every opportunity.

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