For Tibetan people, dragons are not only mythical creatures, they are an integral part of their everyday life and culture. Like in many Asian countries, the dragon (also called "druk", "drug" or "zhug") is a central element in the cultural and spiritual identity of the country. Tibet is even known as the "the land of snow and dragons".
Mythological Origin of the Tibetan Dragon
The Tibetan plateau is a relatively isolated geographical area. This means that it took a long time before Chinese Zen and Feng Shui philosophies could influence the local Tibetan dragon traditions.
Surprisingly, there are even some evidence that elements of Indian folklore (such as the Naga) have "infiltrated" the ancient culture of Tibet. This was long before the Chinese influence (through the Tang Dynasty) was felt in Tibet. This atypical cultural fusion, Indian and then Chinese, implies that Tibetans perceive dragons in a slightly different way than their Asian neighbors.
Their Powers and Abilities
The Tibetan dragon is a wise and solitary creature. According to Tibetan legends, dragons have the ability to communicate ideas as well as a strong ability to discern what is true from what is fake. They are also known to meditate with monks, although it is forbidden to communicate verbally with them.
Dragons are invisible to the human eye. However, they announce their presence with a mighty thunderbolt, which also serves to awaken people whose life is going in the wrong direction. It is a way to help them to get rid of their false beliefs and bring them back to a virtuous path.
Physical Appearance of Tibetan Dragons
Here are the physical characteristics of the Tibetan dragon:
- A long body (about 40 feet) which is relatively thin (around 6 feet), especially compared to its Chinese cousin. This thinness can be explained as an adaptation to the high altitude at which they live.
- A neck and head that is smaller than the Chinese dragon.
- Five toes on their legs.
- Their bodies are of vivid colors, often red or orange, because they do not need to camouflage themselves.
- At birth, their eggs are laid in snow and are yellow, orange or green.
Where do Dragons live in Tibet?
Tibetan dragons live in snowy regions, mainly in the mountains. In summer, when the snow melts, they go to the top of the mountains. The oldest and wisest dragons are said to inhabit the summits of Himalaya. They are also found on Mount Kailash, which is the supposed home of the great Tsangpo.
Tibetan Dragons in Art
Because of the importance of dragons in Tibet, they are found on Tibetan prayer flags and prayer wheels. They're also found on the doors and roofs of many Tibetan temples as well as on the roofs of traditional Tibetan houses.
The Tibetan dragon is a strong symbol of luck and used to attract good of fortune.
These powerful creatures are everywhere, from the founding stories of Tibet to present day art. While Western dragons are mostly present in shows and movies, Asian dragons are omnipresent in the landscape of their countries. Tibet is no exception to the rule: they use its image on clothes, company logos, games...
While most Westerners perceive dragons as terrifying, bloodthirsty creatures, Asian people see them as a helpful and benevolent. For them, dragons bring health, energy, wisdom and prosperity.