A Selection of Asian Love Stories and Symbols of Love from around Asia
Folk stories have entertained and educated every nation, every tribe, around the world since the beginning of time. Some speak of heroes, some of villains, but more often than not, they speak of love. The renowned American writer, Richard Bach, once said, “True love stories never have endings.” But perhaps ‘true love stories never have happy endings’ best describes the world’s most famous love stories.
And the selection of love stories from Asia that we have gathered for you in this edition are as tragically romantic as any of the world’s favourite and time-honoured tales of romance such as Romeo and Juliet or Anthony and Cleopatra.
Light some candles, set some flowers, put on some romantic music and enjoy the following selection of famous love stories from Asia to get you in the mood for romance this Valentine’s Day.
Bali’s Romeo and Juliet, Jayaprana and Layonsari
Many centuries ago in Kalianget (now a village in Buleleng Regency), there was a young boy named Jayaprana who was orphaned by a terrible plague that claimed many lives in the kingdom, including his whole family. The King of Kalianget took pity on the handsome and courageous young boy and adopted him as his son, and so Jayaprana was taken to the palace and received training as a soldier.
Jayaprana did not disappoint and over time, he grew to be a strong soldier who was very loyal to his father, the king. One day, strolling the markets, he came across a beautiful young girl selling flowers. They both fall in love with each other the moment their eyes met. The beautiful young maiden stole his heart and they soon decided to unite and celebrate their love in marriage. The king joyously agreed and threw a big and glorious wedding ceremony for his son. After the wedding, Jayaprana escorted his beloved new wife, Layonsari, to pay respect to his father and the king was immediately besotted by his son’s new bride. Layonsari’s youthful glow, beauty and lithe figure enchanted the king, and long after the newlyweds had left, he continued to think of the beauty of his adopted son’s wife and a dark obsession grew.
The king’s desire to possess the wife of Jayaprana so overpowered him that he forged a heinous plan to get rid of Jayaprana and take Layonsari for himself. He summoned his general and ordered him to take Jayaprana away and have him killed. The order shocked the general, he liked Jayaprana, but the king was unwavering in his desire. Jayaprana was ordered to join the general on a mission to protect a village in the Teluk Terima forest that was apparently under threat of attack from a group of bandits. He bid farewell to his tearful bride who promised her undying love and devotion to her new husband, wishing him a speedy and safe return from his mission. Once out of sight and within the forest the general attacked Jayaprana but try as he might he was unable to kill the young soldier. Jayaprana was immune to every weapon the general attacked him with. Confused, the young man asked the general why was he attacking and trying to kill him. The general, exhausted from his murderous efforts, told Jayaprana of the king’s plan to possess Layonsari and how he had ordered the general to murder him.
Jayaprana was shocked and distressed to learn of the king’s cruel plans, however the young man’s unwavering loyalty to the king led him to tell the general of his powerful amulets that had made him immune to the general’s attacks.
He removed his sacred amulets, a flower in his headdress and his kris (a Balinese dagger) and handed them to the general to allow the king’s order to be completed. The general then stabbed Jayaprana with the kris and the young man died. As Jayaprana died on the forest floor a fragrant scent filled the air and every bird and animal within the forest was saddened and mourned the death of the young soldier. At this point a white lion rushed the general from out of the trees and killed him, avenging Jayaprana’s death.
The news of the king’s plans and the death of Jayaprana and the general in the forest was soon relayed by the returning soldiers to all the people of Kalianget. Layonsari was horrified and sickened by the loss of her husband to the king’s evil plan. Immediately after being forced by the king to marry him, she took her own life. The people of Kalianget so saddened by the death of these two young lovers, took Layonsari’s body to the forest where Jayaprana lay, and buried the two lovers together. A temple was built on the site of the grave, becoming the Balinese Pura Teluk Terima temple, commemorating the memory of the couple’s love and loyalty. The loyalty that Jayaprana showed to his father and the faithfulness of Layonsari to her husband are still celebrated today.
Star Crossed Lovers and the Origin of the Tanabata Festival
This love story has its own holiday and festival and is celebrated both in China and in Japan. The Tanabata Festival of Japan was introduced to Japan by the Empress Kōken over 1,200years ago and celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi, who are represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively. The manga series, Sailor Moon, was inspired by this famous legend. According to legend the lovers are separated by the Milky Way and are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunar calendar.
The story goes that Orihime, the weaving princess, who was the daughter of Tentei the Heaven King, wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa or heavenly river (the Milky Way). Her father loved the clothes she wove for him, so she worked hard every day weaving to please him.
While Orihime was driven to please her father, she was also regretful that she had no time to find a lover. Concerned about his daughter, Tentei arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi, the Cowherd Star, who lived and worked on the other side of the Amanogawa. When the two met, they immediately fell in love with each other and were soon married.
Now married and dutifully taking care of her husband, Orihime no longer wove beautiful clothes for her father. And Hikoboshi the cowherd, allowed his cows to stray all over Heaven. In anger, Tentei separated the two lovers, placing them either side of the Amanogawa, and forbade them to meet. Orihime became miserable at the loss of her husband and pleaded with her father to let them meet again. Tentei, moved by his daughter’s tears, allowed the two to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month if she worked hard and finished her weaving.
The first time they tried to meet, however, they found that they could not cross the river because there was no bridge. Orihime cried so much that a flock of magpies came and promised to make a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies cannot come and the two lovers must wait another year to meet. Rain on Tanabata day, is called ‘The tears of Orihime and Hikoboshi’.
The date of Tanabata varies by region but the first festivities begin on the 7th of July with celebrations held on various dates between July and August.
Ma Mya, a Lanna love story.
The Kingdom of Lanna was a state apart from Siam until as recently as 1884 and encompassed northern Thailand and parts of the Shan State of Myanmar. The kings of Lanna ruled from the ancient walled and moated city of Chiang Mai, the kingdom’s capital city. Even today, the story of ‘Ma Mya’ is well known to everyone from Lanna.
The story of Ma Mya is a story of the unrequited love of a 19th century Lanna Prince and a Mon girl living in Burma that has been told and retold many times in popular songs and in movies. The many songs and movies may have embellished the facts somewhat over time, but the story is based on real people and real events.
Ma Mya is the story of Prince Sukkasem, who was a son of Kaeo Nawarat, the last Lanna King, and the young Mon girl, Ma Mya, and their true love denied. The young prince was sent for his education to St. Patrick’s School in Moulmein, British Burma, where he met Ma Mya, a beautiful young Mon girl. The daughter of a middle-class family in Moulmein, Ma Mya helped her family out by selling hand-rolled cigarettes in the market.
The course of true love rarely runs smoothly, and this story is no exception. Prince Sukkasem’s father had already betrothed him to a Chiang Mai nobleman’s daughter, a marriage of families arranged since the couple were still children. On completing his education the young prince was recalled to Chiang Mai where unable to bear the thought of never seeing her lover again, Ma Mya decided to disguise herself as a young man and travel as a friend of the prince, and return with him to Chiang Mai.
When the ruse was discovered by the prince’s father the prince was ordered to send Ma Mya back to Moulmein. The day of her departure the couple swore eternal love to one another as they made their tearful goodbyes, with Ma Mya promising to wait for her prince, both convinced the day would come when they would be reunited.
In time the prince was forced to accept the family’s obligation and accept the marriage as arranged to the Chiang Mai princess in 1905. When the news reached Ma Mya in Moulmein that her prince had married she vowed never to love another man and became a nun devoting the rest of her life to religious studies. Sadly the prince’s marriage was a loveless one with no children to bless the union. The prince pined after his Ma Mya and died a short time later at the too young age of 33years old on the 20th March 2913.
Daragang Magayon and Panganoron
The tragic lovers Daragang Magayon and Panganoron have been immortalised in the Philippines not only as a popular folktale but also as an active, threatening volcano that was named after them, bringing new meaning to the term a hot romance.
Daragang Magayon, which means beautiful maiden, was the only daughter of Makusog, a great Rawi chieftain. The beautiful maiden soon grew into a beautiful woman and was sought after by men far and wide. But Daragang Magayon was not interested in anyone, not even Pagtuga, a great hunter and the chief of the Iniga who always showered her with expensive gifts.
One day, while bathing in the Yawa river, Panganoron, the son of a chief from the Tagalog region, spotted her. He was so enthralled by her beauty that he slipped and fell into the river. Once submerged, he noticed that Daragang Magayon was not in fact bathing, but drowning and struggling for her own life. Leaping into action, Panganoron rescued her and the romance between them had started.
Panganoron proposed, and with the girl’s father’s blessing, the stage was set for the couple to live happily ever after…if only life, and love, were that simple.
Upon learning about Panganoron and Daragang Magayon’s engagement, Pagtuga was furious. He captured the girl’s father, Makusog, and held him hostage, demanding that his daughter marry Pagtuga instead. In an effort to save his bride and her father, Panganoron led his warriors into a battle against Pagtuga. After a brutal and bloody battle, Panganoron defeated his rival and killed Pagtuga.
After the battle, Daragang Magayon, who had watched the spectacle in fear, ran into her lover’s arms for a kiss. As they embraced, one of Pagtuga’s warriors shot a final arrow which went straight into Panganoron’s heart killing him instantly still in his lover’s embrace. In a Shakespearean twist, Daragang Magayon on realizing her lover was dead could not bear to live another day without him, so she took a knife from his belt and thrust it into her own heart calling out his name with her last breath as she died.
To honor their love and their legacy, Makusog buried the young couple together. From their grave a beautiful mountain with fire inside started to grow. The volcano grew to be as impressive and as beautiful as Daragang Magayon, and it is said that the surrounding clouds are her lover, Panganoron.
In January 2018 Mt. Mayon, as the volcano is now known, erupted. Local people claimed that the clouds and smoke around the erupting volcano created a vision of the two lovers locked in one last embrace.
An Iconic and Beautiful Monument to Love
To talk of Asia’s greatest love stories and the symbols of love in Asia, perhaps there is no monument more beautiful or story more iconic than that of the Taj Mahal, in Uttar Pradesh in northern India.
It was in 1607 that Shah Jahan, grandson of Akbar the Great, first met his beloved. At the time, he was Prince Khurram, in line to be the fifth emperor of the Mughal Empire. He met Arjumand Banu Begum, a 15-year-old young woman whose father was soon to be the emperor’s chief minister and whose aunt was married to Prince Khurram’s father. Although it was love at first sight, the two were not allowed to marry right away with an auspicious date set by the court astrologers, 5 years away. Prince Khurram, during the 5 year wait to marry his love, married Kandahari Begum, a political union that blessed him with his first daughter. He would take many wives over his lifetime and father many children, but his only marriage of love was with Arjuman Banu Begum who became Mumtaz Mahal on her marriage to Shah Jahan.
It was on March 27, 1612, that Prince Khurram and his beloved, on who he conferred the name Mumtaz Mahal (“chosen one of the palaces”), were married. Mumtaz Mahal was beautiful as well as smart and tender-hearted. The public were as enamored, in no small part because she truly cared for the people. She diligently made lists of widows and orphans to ensure that they were given food and money. The couple had 14 children together but sadly only seven lived past infancy. It was as a result of the birth of the 14th child that Mumtaz Mahal died from a postpartum hemorrhage.
In 1631, three years into Shah Jahan’s reign, a rebellion led by Khan Jahan Lodi was underway. Shah Jahan took his military out to the Deccan, about 400 miles from Agra, in order to crush the usurper. As usual, Mumtaz Mahal accompanied her beloved despite being heavily pregnant. Early in the morning of June 17, Mumtaz Mahal died in her husband’s arms, just one day after the birth of their daughter. She was buried right away according to Islamic tradition near the encampment at Burbanpur, but her body would not stay there long.
In December 1631, with the feud against Khan Jahan Lodi won, Shah Jahan asked that Mumtaz Mahal’s body be exhumed and brought the 435 miles home to Agra. Her return was a grand procession with thousands of soldiers accompanying her body and mourners lining the route.
The Mughal Empire was one of the richest empires in the world at the time of Shah Jahan’s reign, and this meant that he had the resources to make a beautiful monument to his love, where she could for all eternity and where he would join her on his death.
An army of workers was brought in and housed nearby in a town built especially for them called Mumtazabad. White marble is one of the most striking and prominent features of the Taj Mahal. The marble used was quarried in Makrana, 200 miles away. And it is said that it took 1,000 elephants and an untold number of oxen to drag the heavy marble to the building site.
And as the structure increased in height a giant, 19-mile-long earthen ramp was built to enable lifting the heavy marble in place to its final height of 73metres. The Taj Mahal is topped with a huge double-shelled dome that is also covered in white marble. Four thin, white marble minarets stand tall at the corners of the second plinth and surround the mausoleum with the whole structure set in front of gardens and a reflecting pool. The Taj Mahal took 22,000workers, which reputedly included a Venetian and Frenchman, 22years to build. Can there be any more beautiful testament to love than the Taj Mahal?
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Happy Valentine’s Day