Korean Dragon

Korean Dragon

Korean dragons are legendary creatures in Korean mythology and folklore. The dragon's appearance reflects its influences from its counterpart, the Chinese dragon.

Korean dragons

While most dragons in European mythology are linked to elements of fire and destruction, dragons in Korean mythology are primarily benevolent beings related to water and agriculture, often considered bearers of rain and clouds. Therefore, many Korean dragons are said to have lived in rivers, lakes and oceans or even deep mountain ponds.

The dragon symbol has been used extensively in both Korean mythology and ancient Korean art.

Ancient texts sometimes mention dragons as intelligent speaking beings, capable of understanding such complex emotions as devotion, kindness and gratitude. One Korean legend in particular speaks of the great King Munmu, who on his deathbed wished to become a "dragon of the East Sea in order to protect Korea."

The Korean dragon in many respects is very similar in appearance to the dragons of Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese mythology. It differs from the Chinese dragon in that it developed a long beard.

Very occasionally a dragon may be depicted as carrying an orb known as yeouiju (여의주), the Korean name for the mythical chintamani, in its claws or in its mouth.

It was said that anyone who could wield yeouiju would be blessed with the abilities of omnipotence and creation at will, and that only four-fingered dragons (which had tips with which to celebrate the orbs) were wise and powerful enough to wield these orbs, unlike lesser, three-fingered dragons.

As in China, the number nine is significant and auspicious in Korea, and dragons are said to have 81 (9×9) scales on their backs, representing the essence of yang.

Korean Dragon as Imugi

Korean folk mythology states that most dragons were originally imugis, or lesser dragons, said to resemble giant snakes. There are a few different versions of Korean folklore that describe what imugis are and how they aspire to become full-fledged dragons. Koreans thought that an imugi could become a real dragon or yong or mireu, if he caught a yeouiju that had fallen from the sky.

Another explanation states that they are hornless dragon-like creatures that have been cursed so they were not able to become dragons. By other accounts, an imugi is a "proto-dragon" that must survive a thousand years in order to become a full-fledged dragon. In any case, they are said to be large, benevolent, python-like creatures that live in water or caves, and their sighting is associated with good luck.

In the 2007 South Korean film D-War, two imugi, of which one was good and the other evil, were seen competing for possession of a source of power (the yeouiju) by which one of them could become a dragon. Ultimately, the bad imugi is destroyed by his rivals moments after he had captured the source.

Here, the two are shown physically different, in that the bad imugi is darker in color, thinner, and distinguished by an uncompromising cobra-like hood; while the good Imugi is paler, stockier, without a hood; and resembles more of a python snake. The narration in the film implies that many Imugi exist at once, of which one is designated to become a dragon.

Christopher Pike's Alosha series, features a variation of the imugi called a koul. A koul is a proto-dragon snake that must pass three tests of courage; coming to the aid of others, the act of swimming and a literal "leap" of faith in order to become a dragon.

By coming to the aid of others, the koul grows legs; after swimming through the water, the koul is able to breathe like a Chinese dragon or a Korean dragon of the type described above.

Korean Cocatrice

The Korean cocatrix is known as a gye-lyong (계룡/鷄龍), literally meaning "chicken-dragon"; which do not appear as often as dragons. They are sometimes seen as beasts to pull chariots for important legendary figures or for the fathers of legendary heroes.

One such legend involves the founding of Silla; whose princess was said to have been born from a cocatrix egg. It is also the origin of the name of the city of Gyeryong in South Chungcheong Province.