The Dragon Kings of Chinese mythology

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The Dragon Kings of Chinese mythology

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The 4 Dragon Kings 四海龍王

Here is the list of the 4 dragon kings:

  1. "Ao Guang" (敖廣), Dragon King of the Eastern Sea,
  2. "Ao Qin" (敖欽), Dragon King of the Southern Sea,
  3. "Ao Run" (敖閏), Dragon King of the Western Sea,
  4. "Ao Shun" (敖順), Dragon King of the North Sea.

"Dragon Kings" (龍王) occupy an important place in both Chinese and Japanese mythology. Generally placed high in the pantheon, they govern the climate and are therefore the intermediary between man and the gods. They mainly stay at the bottom of the sea. In Chinese mythology, there are four rulers of the four seas surrounding the "Central Land" (the most powerful being "the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea"[東海龍王]). They can take on human form and are often represented as a dragon-headed man. At one time, they were assimilated by Buddhism to the "Nagas Kings" (那伽王). They each live in an underwater palace, called "Crystal Palace" (水晶宮), guarded by crayfish and have under their command an army whose generals are crabs. They can unleash or calm the seas, but also cause rain and floods.

Dragon kings often appear in literature: "The Eight Immortals Cross the Sea" (八仙過海), "The Journey to the West" (西遊記)...


However, these four Dragon Kings are not very fervently worshipped, despite the many temples in China with their names on them. In popular religion, local Dragon Kings are actually worshipped. They are linked to every river or even every well. In northern China, each well has a miniature temple in which the statue of the dragon king is shown as a mandarin in ceremonial costume. The owner offers him a sacrifice consisting of three incense sticks the first and the fifteenth of each month. According to the "Magic Formula of the Supreme Ridge Cave" (太上洞淵神咒經), a Taoist text, there are 54 ordinary dragon kings and 62 superior dragon kings in all.


Dragon Kings are also addressed during droughts. In the major centres, a procession through the streets of the city is organized in their honour, with an effigy of the dragon surrounded by musicians and dancers. In small villages, we limit ourselves to offering the Dragon King a great sacrifice. If after a few days of prayer, the rain has not returned, the statue of the god is left by the side of the road, in full sunlight. We can imagine that this causes the dragon to suffer and ask the "Emperor of Jade" (玉皇大帝) for permission to make it rain. If the rain falls soon after, a big celebration is organized in his honour. If it rains too much and there is a risk of flooding, it is once again the Dragon King who is approached to stop the rain. Many temples were once dedicated to them in China, of which one remains in Beijing, built under the "Yuan" (元朝). They have sometimes been the subject of an imperial cult beginning with the "Emperor Taizong" (唐太宗) of the Tang. In 1863, under the "Emperor Tongzhi" (同治), the official in charge of waterways was ordered to worship the dragon king of the canals regularly.


In Japan, there are eight Dragon Kings, corresponding to the cardinal and collateral directions are called "Hachi dai ryu ô" (八大龍王). They were recognized as especially important and therefore of royal blood. In the representations they are generally reduced to a single image, that of "Nanda Ryû ô" (難陀王). They are mentioned in many books, including the "Sūtra of the Lotus" (妙法蓮華經). Some chapels are dedicated to them in Japan, as well as some pilgrimage centres, such as the one on "Mount Ikoma" (生駒市) near "Nara" (奈良市). Although they live at the bottom of ponds, chasms, or caves, their palaces are located at the bottom of the ocean.

According to tradition, their power would reside in a spherical jewel that they hold in one of their legs. They are represented either as dragons or humans, sometimes combining these two facets, the animal body then posing on that of a richly adorned human dignitary. He holds in his hands a basket filled with corals, symbolizing the treasures of the sea, his feet resting on an inverted lotus leaf, itself placed on a rock. According to some traditions, there is only one dragon, responsible for the rain, living in his underwater palace called "Ryujin" (龍神).

  • If you are passionate about dragons and mythology, check out our collection of Dragon statues to decorate your living space with dragons

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