Episode 5: Dragons of South East Asia, Part I

Welcome to episode 5 of Mythsterhood of the Travelling Tales. Anike is back in business, and our paths wandered over to the dragons of South East Asia. The one thing we could tell right off the bat is that this region is too large and too varied to fit into one episode. But we don’t mind spending two episodes in such amazing spots, do we, Mythsters? 

As always, a full transcript is available if you scroll down and next week, a complementary blog post will follow, featuring even more awe-inspiring dragons. So grab your MythsterMap and dive with us.

Later Mythsters!

Dragons of South East Asia Podcast Transcript

Anike: Hello Mythsters. I can’t tell you how good it feels to be back. Feel like I’ve slept for weeks, but I’m starting to get back to some semblance of functionality, finally. I hope you have all been fine and well. And I hope you didn’t miss me too much, Jaz?

Jaz: Oh, I did, I did. I hope our listeners had a bit of fun with the bonus episode, but it just wasn’t the same without you, Anike.

Anike: Well, as long as you were on your best behaviour…

Jaz: Oh uhm… Yes. Yes, I was. Picture of innocence. I mean, did you expect anything less?

Anike: No, no, of course not.

Jaz: Anyway, I think we’d better get cracking. And strap in for this one, because Southeast Asia is a whirlwind of cultures, dragon mythology included. 

Anike: Right. Strapping in as we speak. It will be hard work but at least we won’t get thirsty.

Jaz: Yeah, you’re going to have to explain that one because I’m not following. 

Anike: Oh, come on Jaz, do keep up! It’s because we’ll be visiting plenty of watering holes this week, remember? Starting with the Philippines. 

Jaz: Riiight! Look at you chomping at the bit. 


Anike: Funny you should say that. Because our first dragon is a famous chomper — not a bit, though, Bakunawa was known for trying to devour the moon. And now for inspiring this week’s cover art, of course.

Jaz: Ohhh! Bakunawa. Sounds interesting. I even love the name. Do tell.

Anike: Well, there are a bunch of myths about Bakunawa, all of which involve him eating the moon for various reasons. Bakunawa most likely was inspired by the Hindu god, Rahu, who drank the nectar of the gods and was beheaded. His head fused with the body of a serpent, and as revenge, he swallows the sun and moon. This is how locals explain eclipses. It is thought that under Spanish influence, these tales further demonized the god, and the evil Bakunawa was born. Basically, he’s a serpent that lives in the deepest part of the ocean off the coast of the Philippines and occasionally jumps from the water, nipping at the moon.


Jaz: You just said how they explain eclipses… I spy present tense, so that’s still going on? 

Anike: Yep. During eclipses, Filipino people will yell, scream, and bang pots and pans and gongs to scare off Bakunawa and to force him to spit out the moon. Children still play games involving the giant serpent. Also, houses are built according to Bakunawa’s current position in the ocean. Supposedly the serpent’s head faces a different direction each season, and builders want to make sure the house is protected from his venom. 

Jaz: So Bakunawa is alive and well. What’s he look like? 

Anike: Hmm, that’s the thing, each part of the Phillipines has a different description for Bakunawa. Commonly, he is depicted as a serpent with the head of a shark, gills, a lake-sized mouth, and a striking red tongue and whiskers. Two powerful ash-gray wings allow the beast to move across the sky, while smaller wings along its sides allow it to stay suspended in one position. But in some areas, Bakunawa has different names and different appearances. The Maranao Ari mao nga is a lion-like dragon; while the Hili gay non Oli maw is a winged serpent; the Bagobo Minokawa is a dragon-like giant bird.

Komodo Dragons

Jaz: A dragon of many faces. I like my dragons with just a single face, to be honest.

Anike: Oh, you mean like the Komodo Dragon in Indonesia? 

Jaz: No fair, we already talked about those in our Pacific Island blog. 

Anike: We did, but I’ve got some more mythology about them. You know you want it. 

Jaz: Okay, you’re right. I do. 

Anike: Settle in, Mythsters, and we’ll tell you the story of Putri Naga, aka The Dragon Princess of Komodo. Once upon a time there was a man named Empu Najo, who was the chief of a village in Loh Lavi Bay on Komodo Island. This village was constantly attacked by nomadic sailers, so Empu Najo took the villagers and left the bay, building houses high in the mountains. His wife fell pregnant on their last night in Loh Lavi and later gave birth to twins: one a human boy and the other a girl with speckled, scaly skin, hooded black eyes, and a tail — just like the giant lizards that roamed the savannah. 

Jaz: You mean the Komodo dragons?


Anike: Of course. Empu Najo named his son Si Gerong and his daughter Orah. Orah went out on her own and explored the village long before her brother could walk. Being a lizard, she was especially interested in the chickens. Her father began to feed her meat but warned her not to attack the goats and chickens. But the villagers were suspicious of Orah. Only her brother would play with her. 

Jaz: She began to leave the village and visit the wild dragons, learning to hunt from them. She stayed away longer and longer periods until she left altogether. Years passed, and Si Gerong forgot Orah. He grew wise and strong and became a good gardener and excellent hunter. While out hunting, he saw a deer. Just as he was about to cast his spear, a dragon, hunting the same deer, interrupted him. He turned on the dragon, about to kill her. 

Anike: But a bright light flashed, and his mother appeared, asking if he would kill his own sister? His memories suddenly returned and he realized the dragon was Orah. Their mother reminded him to treat his sister as an equal, as they were born together. Orah returned to the savannah and Si Gerong to the village. And from that day forth, Si Gerong and his people treated the dragons with kindness. The lizards roamed freely in the surrounding woods, feeding themselves on the wild pigs,  deer, and the other creatures that dwelt there. And if a dragon became too old to fend for itself, the people of the village would feed it as though it were a member of their own family.


Jaz: Aw. That’s so sweet. Is that why the Komodo dragons are allowed to roam free? 

Anike: Yep. But that’s not the only Indonesian mythology about dragons. Want another story? I’ve got one about Antaboga, who is the Javenese and Balinese naga serpent inspired by the Shiva-Hinduism Ananta Sheshna. 

Jaz: I dare you to say that three times, fast. 

Anike: I don’t think I can. But I can tell you that Antaboga is what’s called a world serpent, meaning it created the world. 

Jaz: Oooh! Like the Rainbow Serpents? 

Anike: Similar. Supposedly, at the beginning of time, only Antaboga existed. She meditated and created the world turtle, from which all other creations sprang. Antaboga is also credited with the birth of Dewi Sri, the rice goddess of Java and Bali. 

Jaz: Wow, that sounds promising.

Anike: It’s a great story. The Batara Guru (supreme god), commanded all the lower gods to help him build a new palace. Anta was anxious because, being shaped like a snake, he didn’t have arms or legs and couldn’t help build. Anta became very upset and cried. Three teardrops fell to the ground, becoming eggs, and he planned to take the eggs to Batara Guru for leniency. 

Nyi Pohi Sanghian Sri

Jaz: It says here in Koji’s notes that on the way to the palace, a black bird approached him and asked him questions. Anta could not answer because he carried the eggs in his mouth. The bird grew angry and attacked him, shattering two eggs. 

Anike: Eeek. But Anta made it to the palace with the third egg, which Batara Guru accepted, and Anta stayed to hatch it. The egg opened and became a beautiful baby girl, which Batara Guru and his wife adopted and named Nyi Pohi Sanghian Sri. As she grew up, she was so beautiful that even Batara Guru was attracted to her. 

Jaz: Awkward. The gods became worried and conspired to separate the two. They poisoned her and buried her body on earth, in a hidden place. From her eyes, the first rice paddies grew. So he’s the old sleeze, and she’s the one getting poisoned?

Tioman Island

Anike: Well, I can’t say that’s a nice story, but it’s definitely interesting. Do you have any nice stories, Jaz?

Jaz: Hm, let’s see. Dragon turning to stone and falling into the sea, no. Ah. Malaysia’s Tioman Island has a kind of bittersweet story. A princess was traveling to Singapore to be with her prince but on the way was turned into a dragon. After, she looked around and realized how beautiful the water was around her, she decided to stay. She put her body into the water and turned herself into Tioman Island to offer shelter to any travellers who needed it. 

Anike: That is sort of sweet. I guess Malaysia wins the good-dragon award. 

Jaz: Not so fast. They also have quite a few stories about dragons haunting lakes. 

Anike: Haunting like spirits?

Jaz: Nope. Haunting like inhabiting and terrorizing the locals. Sort of like the Loch Ness Monster, or the evil imugi from episode four.

Anike: Ohhh, more cryptid dragons. Go on. 

Jaz: Okay. Well, first you need a little geography. In Malaysia, there are two lakes, somewhat near each other, called Lake Chini and Lake Bera. Supposedly they’re connected by an underground river, although this hasn’t been proven. 

Anike: Underground river has “dragon” written all over it. 

Dragon Lakes

Jaz: I know, right? Well, apparently a man took a wife in Chini. They grew old and had a grandson who lived with them. One day the woman was out digging with her grandson and they found some eggs. They left them at home and continued to dig. When they came home, the grandfather had eaten all of the eggs. He couldn’t explain why he had eaten them, he just felt an urge to do it.. 

Anike: Well, well, well. You know who else eats eggs? Most serpents. 

Jaz: Shhh. Don’t ruin the surprise. Okay, so wife and grandson come home, all confused and mad that the grandfather ate all the eggs. Then, he demanded a drink of water. As it turned out, he ended up drinking all the water in the house. His wife and grandchild went to fetch more. First they fetched buckets, then grew tired and fetched cans. They grew weaker and weaker and he was still thirsty, so they made a house at the pool of water. The man kept drinking. His body grew huge from all that water. Eventually, he turned into a snake. Not just any snake, but one so big that his body filled the pool of water. He told his wife and grandchild that they didn’t need to stay with him, but should come to see him once every seven days. At first they did, but eventually they stopped coming. Wanting to be free of him, they fled to Lubuk Keruing. The husband followed them, making an underground tunnel. 

Anike: Ahh. Cool story, but it doesn’t sound like a haunting. 

Lake Bera

Jaz: That’s because we’re not done yet. So we’re at Lubuk Keruing and a dog starts barking at a log. Not just barking, but going completely crazy. The children went out to see what the dog was barking at and opened the log. It was filled with fat. They took it home for supper and while they were eating, an old man appeared. This was the same old man who had turned into a snake, but they didn’t know this, of course. He stuck his walking stick into the ground and they invited him in to eat. 

Anike: Apparently, he didn’t eat because the fat came from his own body. I wouldn’t want to, either. When he was ready to go home, he ordered the children to pull out the staff, but none could do it. The adults joined in the effort and couldn’t pull it out either. The old man pulled his stick out with his left hand, then vanished. Where his staff was, a spring formed, which grew and grew, even though they tried to plug it. The water chased the people, asking for things, interestingly… a basket, a knife… and so on. And whenever the people dropped the items, the spring stopped for a moment.

Jaz: But it always started again. This continued until the water demanded his “grandchild”– the grandmother refused and ran with the child. But the child fell in and the water stopped, having grown to Lake Bera. 

Lake Chini

Anike: Oh, no. That’s terrible. 

Jaz: Apparently Lake Chini has a very similar creation myth, and the people around it know that the dragon in the lake used to demand sacrifices. In the 1950’s, there was a huge flood, and the people wondered if it was the serpent demanding a sacrifice. Eventually, a young girl fell from her raft and drowned. The waters receded immediately. 

Anike: Okay, that’s creepy. 

Jaz: I get goosebumps thinking about it. 

Anike: Maybe we should move onto something a little bit more cheery, then.

Dragon Maiden

Jaz: That sounds like a plan. How about a nation who claims their first ancestors were a dragon and a fairy? 

Anike: And a fairy? Oh, yes please!

Jaz: Then we’re off to Vietnam. Long, long ago there lived a magician king called Kinh Duong Vuong, who could walk on water as well as land. One day while out on the lake, he met Long Nu (the Dragon maiden), the daughter of the Long Vuong (the Dragon King of the sea) and married her. Although some people say it was the Dragon Queen herself, Long Mẫu Thần Long. Either way, they had a heroic son named Lac Long Quan, who became the Dragon King of ancient Vietnam.

Lac Long Quan, with the power from his mother and magic from his father, did a lot of cool things. He basically wandered around, restoring peace and order and slaying evil monsters. 

Anike: Oooh, like Ulysses. Also, Long as in the Chinese name for dragon?

Jaz: Oh my Goddess, how did I miss that Chinese connection? But it can’t be a coincidence, can it? OK. So, back to our story. It is somewhat similar to the Ulysses myth, except we’re talking god-like power, so maybe more like Herakles. Anyway. While he was out performing all these heroic acts, Mr. Dragon King happened upon a fairy being attacked by a monster. He saved her and they immediately fell in love. 

Anike: Aw, sweet. Love at first slay. 

Vietnamese Dragons

Jaz: Haha. Good one. So, this was Au Co. She soon bore an egg sac with 100 eggs, which were the original Vietnamese people. But Au Co missed the mountains, so she took 50 of the eggs with her back to the mountains and Lac Long Quan stayed down by the sea with his fifty.  

Anike: Now that’s good shared custody. And what do Vietnamese dragons look like? 

Jaz: Well, they’ve changed over time. During prehistory, the Vietnamese dragon was the combination of a crocodile, snake, cat, rat and bird. Historically, the Vietnamese people lived near rivers, and they called crocodiles “Giao Long”, the first Vietnamese dragon. Archaeologists have found objects with different types of dragons. The crocodile-dragons had the head of a crocodile and the body of a snake. The cat-dragon has a shorter head and long neck, its wings and dorsal fin are long lines, and it has whiskers and fur.

Anike: I’ve heard of lion dragons, but a cat dragon sounds pretty cool. 


Jaz: I know, right? And the cat imagery continued through the Ngô Dynasty from the 10th century. Then the dragon was short, with a cat-like body and a fish’s dorsal fin.

Anike: During the Lý Dynasty, from the 11th through to the 13th century, the image of dragons changed drastically. The Ly Dynasty laid the foundation for feudal culture and the slender, flowing dragon represented the vassal kingdom. These dragons curve in a long sinuous shape, tapering gradually to the tail. Pretty similar to what you saw in the cover art for the Korean episode. Their body has 12 sections, symbolising the 12 months in the year. The dragons also always keep a jewel in their mouths, which is a symbol of humanity, nobility, and knowledge. These dragons were able to change the weather, and were responsible for crops.

Jaz: From the early 13th century to the 1400s, the Tran Dynasty changed things up again. Their dragon was similar to the Ly Dynasty dragon, but it looked more rugged and it had arms and horns. Its fiery crest became shorter. Its slightly curved body became fat and smaller toward the tail. The Tran dragon symbolised the martial arts, because the Tran kings were descended from a mandarin commander.

Anike: There is a lot of specific detail about them. Is this recorded history? 

Jaz: It’s actually found through archeology. Since dragons are such a prominent figure, they’re carved into many objects, from temples to clay pots. Historians were actually able to form a great picture of how the dragons progressed throughout Vietnamese history. 

Anike: Continuing on, during the Le-Mac Dynasty from 1428 to the late 18th century, the Vietnamese dragon evolved into the typical form of Vietnam’s modern dragons. These dragons were majestic, with lion-heads. Instead of a crest, they have a large nose. Their bodies only curve in two sections as opposed to 12, and their feet have five sharp talons.


Jaz: Finally, we come to the Nguyễn Dynasty from 1802-1883. The dragon from the Nguyen dynasty has a spiral tail and a long fiery sword-fin. Its head and eyes are large. It has stag horns, a lion’s nose, exposed canine teeth, and curved whiskers. Dragons of the Nguyen dynasty represent the powerful southern emperors with glory and honor.

Anike: On that glorious note, Vietnamese dragons are shown as ascending from water. They might appear imposing and fierce, but they are never threatening. Now these dragons sound amazing but… 

Jaz: Anike! Look at the time. We’ve got to wrap up. 

Anike: Already?! What about the rest of Southeast Asia? Cambodia? Laos? Thailand!?! 

Jaz: We’ll get to those in the next episode. Until then, I’ll wish you days like dragons greeting clouds. 

Anike: What?

Jaz: It’s a Vietnamese saying that means favorable conditions. 

Anike: Oh, well, then I also wish you and all our Mythsters days like dragons meeting clouds.

Jaz: That’s all she wrote for now, Mythsters. Stay tuned for the second half of our trip through South East Asia.


Music: Wanderer by Alexander Nakarada (www.serpentsoundstudios.com) Licensed under Creative Commons BY Attribution 4.0 License


One Comment

  1. […] also common in many cultures. They have fin-like ears, which reminds me a lot of the drawings of Bakunawa from the Philippines. It also gives a nod to Asian mythology associating dragons with water rather than […]

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