A romance written in the stars

A photo of a Google doodle commemorating the Qixi Festival. Photo credit: Pinterest. 

By Karen Bong

KUCHING, Aug 7: Today marks the Qixi Festival — sometimes referred to as the Chinese Valentine’s Day — that celebrates the romantic Chinese folk tale of a humble cowherd called ‘Niu Lang’, who is only allowed to meet his heavenly weaver girl ‘Zhi Nu’ on this day.

The festival is often known as the ‘Double Seventh’, as it falls on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar (Aug 7).

The 2,000-year-old festival originated during the Han Dynasty from a legend, in which a fairy married a mortal but were banned from seeing each other as the Goddess of Heaven (Xi Wang Mu) was against their marriage.

Here’s the story behind the love and romance of an earthbound cowherd who met a weaver girl visiting from heaven.

An illustration of Niu Lang carrying two children chases after Zhi Nu as the Heavenly Guards take her away.

Legend has it that thousands of years ago, a kind-hearted cowherd Niu Lang lived with an old ox, Niu, which turned out to be a former god said to be Taurus, was exiled to earth as a farm animal because he violated a rule of the Heavenly Palace.

One day, Niu told Niu Lang of a sacred pond, where young goddesses bathed. Under the ox’s guidance, he found a group of goddesses bathing in the pond and hid the clothes belonging to one. The owner of the dress was of Zhi Nu.

Zhi Nu was renowned not only for her beauty but also for her skills as a weaver and seamstress. Niu Lang then returned to give her clothes back. The two fell in love at first sight and were soon married. The couple had two children.

An illustration of Niu Lang and children separated from Zhi Nu by the Heavenly River or the Milky Way.

Before the old ox died, it told Niu Lang that its hide could help a man fly up to heaven and so urged him to preserve it hide properly.

Niu Lang and Zhi Nu lived happily for many years but their happiness was cut short when the Jade Emperor (Yu Huang) discovered the union. He ordered the Empress to retrieve Zhi Nu.

Niu Lang was devastated. He immediately took the hide of the old ox and carried his children in a basket slung over his shoulder. They then flew off in pursuit of the Empress and Zhi Nu.

The Empress became angry when she saw Niu Lang and his children. In a fit of rage, she slashed her silver hairpin across the sky and a raging river flowed in the heavens. This created Tian He, or the Heavenly River, which separated the lovers.

Niu Lang and Zhi Nu is only permitted to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month via the bridge made by magpies.

Today, if you gazed to the night sky, you can catch a glimpse of the stars Altair and Vega meeting. Niu Lang is Altair and Zhi Nu is Vega. The Heavenly River that keeps them apart is the Milky Way.

Moved by their strong love, the Emperor of Heaven allowed them to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

Every year on the Qixi Festival, a flock of magpies forms a bridge over the Milky Way. The family reunited on the magpie bridge or queqiao.

So what do people do to celebrate this festival? Traditionally, girls go to the temple to pray to the weaver maiden for wisdom and true love.

Nowadays, people take advantage of this day to celebrate with their lover or express their love to someone they like. Here’s wishing all a lovely Qixi Festival, and don’t forget to look up at the Milky Way tonight. — DayakDaily