Mar 16, 2011

Tengu, scourge of the skies… and people with protruding lumps on their faces

Painting of a winged Tengu, and a Buddhist Monk. Image was found on

The Tengu are an ancient spirit creature from Japanese, and Buddhist myth. They have taken on many forms, from flaming comets, to red faced bearded men with unusually large noses.  Originally, the Tengu were known as Tiangou, and were portrayed as fierce, canine-like creatures, which would fly across the sky like burning comets. They were said to produce a sound like thunder as they rode, and bring war wherever they landed. They would later evolve into birdmen, with canine-like faces, but instead of having muzzles they had beaks, and these beaks would later evolve into very large noses. These versions of the Tengu, would later inspire the first Japanese animated film, "The Old Man's Lump Removed" (瘤取り爺さん Kobu-tori Jiisan), which features both Tengu with wings and beaks, and Tengu with large noses. It is unclear however, as to how this evolution from flaming comets to birdmen came to be. One possibility is that the birdmen characteristic came from the Buddhists, who believed in a race of creatures called Garuda, which like the later Tengu, were humanoid creatures with wings, and beaks. But, unlike the Tengu of Japanese mythology, the Garuda was characterized as relatively placid creatures, which would only express aggressive behavior if provoked. But whatever the reason for this evolution in characteristics was, the legend of the Tengu has had a major impact on Asian culture, and continues to hold influence to this day. 


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