Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Quetzalcoatl and the Nak

One of the interesting legends to examine cross-culturally is the Mexican deity Quetzalcoatl, who is depicted at times as a plumed serpent and other times as a human being. Quetzalcoatl was considered the god of the wind, wisdom and life.

In contrast, the mythical nak of the Lao are often connected to bodies of water, such as the rivers, lakes, and oceans, and they were symbolic of fertility, wisdom and immortality. The nak are capable of also appearing as human beings.

From a speculative literature point of view, it might be interesting to consider the possibilities were the two to ever meet, especially given both cultures' later engagement with colonial powers. But would they find other interesting points of commonality or conflict worth exploring?

Stories of a plumed serpent named Kukulcan emerged around 500 BC to AD 900, and around the end of the 12th century, the king of the Toltecs, Topiltzin conferred upon himself the title of Quetzalcoatl. At some point, the Aztecs incorporated legends of the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl into their pantheon.

According to one legend, after a series of conflicts and  the treachery of his nemesis Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl was said to have left the Americas on a raft of entwined serpents, sailing to the east, although the Aztecs predicted one day he would return.

In Lao art, the nak appear on the balustrades of temple causeways and platforms, personifying the rainbow, bridging the earthly and celestial worlds. Increasingly, a number of free-standing nak are appearing at Lao cultural centers such as the wat Lao, many in more dynamic positions than have been previously presented in the past.

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