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Dragon Tales: From Pakistan to Central Asia

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

Legend has it that life is symbolized by a celestial tree, the Tree of Life, connecting three spiritual planes. Its roots delve into the underground, where demons lurk, entwined by a colossal dragon—a chimaera bridging terrestrial, water, and underground realms. The dragon acts as a mediator between these worlds, its snake body embodying the terrestrial and aquatic, its head and feet reflecting the average land, and its wings reaching the heavenly realm, where benevolent spirits, often portrayed as birds, reside. The belief is shared across nations, religions, and cultures. Our quest to explore it begins in Pakistan, where ancient tales intertwine with the enchanting tales of Central Asia.

Behold the dragon—a mystical chimaera-like creature, embodying the essence of three realms in one magnificent creature. Picture a sinuous serpent, a symbol of the terrestrial, water, and hidden underground domains. Yet, its head and feet bear the fierce visage of a predator, representing the everyday, earthly world. Ascending from its formidable form are wings, reaching for the skies. This awe-inspiring amalgamation positions the dragon as a sublime mediator, seamlessly bridging the terrestrial, the average, and the heavenly realms—a creature of enchanting significance, dancing between worlds.

Venturing into Central Asia, we encounter the Kazakh cryptid dwelling in Lake Kokkol, in Zhambyl —the Azdaha. With a trumpeting call and healing properties attributed to its wake, the Azdaha is a mysterious, 50-foot creature, with a head that is 6 feet long and 3 feet wide, a very long neck, and a large hump, captivating the imaginations of locals.

Picture this: the tranquil lake, its waters mysteriously swelling and rippling, beckoning locals to seize the moment. Why the urgency? Because within the creature's wake lies a coveted elixir—a healing water that promises wonders.

Now, imagine the allure of this enchanted remedy if only the serpent, with its insidious intentions, weren't coiled around the sacred Tree of Life, cunningly attempting to snatch the precious eggs from the ethereal bird spirit.

Enter the stage of legends, where hero after hero descends into the realm of myth, drawn by the quest to silence the serpent's sinister hiss and safeguard the sacred balance between worlds. An epic tale unfolds, blending the allure of healing waters with the age-old struggle against a malevolent force, weaving a narrative of courage, magic, and the enduring quest for harmony.

Yet, the serpent's presence around the Tree of Life complicates matters, as legends unfold of heroes descending to slay the dragon attempting to devour the eggs of the bird spirit. A Kyrgyz poem, the Epic of Manas, weaves a tale of the heroic founder of Kyrgyzstan, Manas, who stands immortalized in Bishkek, slaying multiple-headed Azdahas. The epic's enormity, comprising 500,000 lines, attests to the enduring significance of these mythical creatures.

Manas, the valiant hero, faced not just one-headed adversaries but engaging in epic duels against castle guards, each Azdaha boasting an array of multiple heads. The intrigue deepens as we unveil the astonishing revelation—these monstrous creatures, the epitome of mythical chaos, bear not just a handful but an astonishing sixty to a hundred heads each! The epic of Manas is approximately twenty times the length of the Odyssey and Iliad put together.

The epic is known as ماناس داستانی in Kazakh The mausoleum of Manas still stands tall, and delegates often visit to pay their respects. UNESCO recognised both the epic and his statue in Bishkek.

The legend found its way into Russian, Uzbek and Azerbaijani folklore.

Although the epic is believed to date back to the 18th century, most events coincide with happenings of the 9th century, on Kazakh interactions with the Chinese and the Turkic communities.

An artist has done a remarkable job at animating the whole story!


Next stop: Turkmenistan

In the annals of Turkic legend, step into the captivating narrative of Oghuz Khagan—a formidable hero whose early years were marred by the menacing presence of Kiyant, a dreaded dragon terrorizing his land. Picture a young Oghuz Khagan, fueled by the fire of destiny, devising a cunning trap for the winged menace. A life-sized chess game unfolds as he hangs a deer in a withered tree, luring the dragon into the checkmate of fate. With unparalleled skill, Oghuz Khagan thrusts a spear, ending the draconic reign of terror and triumphantly severing the creature's head.

But the tale doesn't end there. Oghuz Khagan emerges not just as a dragon slayer but as the revered forebear of the Turks in the intricate tapestry of Turkish and Altai mythology. His saga is immortalized in the Oguz Kagan Epic, where he strides alongside figures like the prophet Zulkarneyn and Mete Han, ruler of the Asian Hun State. The narrative unfurls, weaving together the threads of heroism, ancestry, and epic destiny.

Yet, the enigma of Kiyant persists—an intriguing debate echoes through time. Is it a rhino, a serpent (Azdaha), or the very essence of mythical ambiguity? The linguistic dance of legends hints at Kıyankandan, Old Turkish for rhinoceros, adding a layer of mystery to this age-old tale. Oghuz Khagan's legacy, entwined with the uncertainty of his vanquished foe, beckons us into the realms where reality and myth dance in the shadows of a Turkic legend.

Pakistan, a land that once cradled nine dragon lakes, now shrouded in the enigmatic whispers of legend—only one remains, a testament to the ancient tales that linger in the air.

In this diverse tapestry of beliefs, Pakistan's proximity to Central Asia, China, Iran, and India unveils a fascinating mosaic of dragon lore. Picture the East and Northeastern echoes in Naga beliefs, where mythical beings half-human and half-cobra reign supreme. Yet, the narrative takes a Persian turn with the Chitrali Azdhaar—a majestic breed of winged serpents adorned with golden manes reminiscent of regal lions.

As we delve deeper, these Azdhaar emerge as guardians of treasures and formidable foes, their wings casting shadows over legendary battles. A warrior's skill becomes the key, wielding a sword in a dance of courage and strategy. Imagine this valiant figure, facing the Azhdaar, sword held aloft with the blade in one hand and the hilt in the other, poised to tear through the fish-like maw of the mythical serpent.

Nagas, born from the looms of Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain mythology, emerge as potent entities—potentially perilous yet often bestowing benevolence upon humankind. Behold Islamabad, the capital, where the very name traces its roots to a legendary Naga King, etching the mythical into the very fabric of the city.

Delve further into the chronicles, and a tale from 330 BCE unfolds—a tale whispered by Alexander the Great himself. Picture an ancient Pakistani landscape where a colossal dragon, residing in the shadows of a cavern, hissed and breathed fire. In the hearts of locals, a blend of worship and fear danced, sculpting the creature into a formidable figure etched in the annals of history.

Persian influences have also resulted in belief in dragons being capable of seamlessly transitioning between wholly human and wholly serpentine forms. The Nihang and the Nang, Aquatic Dragons and Cyclops in Khowar lore also make for an interesting study.

Dragon Lake, Waziristan

Curiosity leads us to Gomal Zam, a lake in Wazriristan, shaped like a flying dragon.

Is it a mere coincidence or a missed legend waiting to be uncovered?


This blog has been written by Komal Salman.

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