Nezha the Prince Enfant Terrible
By Joe Hung, The China Post
December 29, 2008, 9:43 am TWN
Nezha (哪吒) is made popular in the West by a DVD anime, “Nezha Conquers the Dragon King,” which has won an international award. He is a deity, popularly known as San Taizi (三太子) or Third Prince, because he was born the third son of General Li Jing (李靖), according to Taoist mythology. His honorific names include Zhongtan Yuanshuai ( 中壇元帥) or Middle Altar Marshall, Nezha Qiansui (哪吒千歲) or Nezha the Thousand Years, Loche Taizi (羅車太子) or Prince the Silk Wagon, Jinkuan Yuanshuai (金環元帥) or Gold Ring Marshall, and Yuhuang Taizi (玉皇太子) or Jade Emperor's Prince. Because Li Jing sired him, he is also called Li Loche (李羅車) Li Silk-wagon. He is also a well-known Taoist deity in Japan. The Japanese call him Nataku or Nata which is Nezha pronounced in Japanese. Most Japanese come to know Nataku by reading Xiyuji or Seiyuki (西遊記) in Japanese, a popular Chinese novel translated into English as “The Journey to the West,” the hero being Sun Wugong or Son Goku(孫悟空) in Japanese or the Monkey King who accompanies Tripitaka (三藏) to India to acquire holy Buddhist sutras.
Though Nezha is deified by his Taoist faithful, he is originally a deity of Indian mythology. As he is almost always depicted as a toddler flying in the sky with a wheel of fire under each foot and a spear in his hand, his best sobriquet may be Nezha the Prince Enfant Terrible. In The Journey to the West, Nezha fights against the Monkey King. He loses the fight, though.
Inasmuch as his Buddhist mythological origin is concerned, Nezha is the son of Vaisravans (毘沙門天) or the God of Treasure. Vaisravans is married to a daughter of Hariti (鬼子母神) or the Goddess of Children. Vaisravans is one of the four gods guarding the Buddhist temple. A lay Buddhist writer during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Zheng Qing (鄭棨), recorded an encounter between Nezha and Abbot Xuanlu (宣律).
Xuanlu was the abbot of Ximing Temple (西明寺) at Zhangan (長安), which is present-day Xian (西安) in northwestern China. (Zhangan is an ancient capital of China. It was the capital of Tang emperors.) He was on his way back to his temple one winter night. It was very dark and he fell off a high hill road. As he was falling, someone got hold of him and lifted him up. Up on the road again, the abbot was surprised to find his rescuer was a small boy. “Why were you here in the middle of night?” the abbot asked. “I'm not an ordinary child. I'm Nezha, son of Vaisravans the God of Treasure. I was ordered to guard you and I've been guarding you for a long time,” the child replied. The abbot then said: “I've been practicing the Dharma and I don't think I need a guard. I don't want to impose myself on you. But you are so powerful and can do whatever you wish, and so I wish - for I've heard there's something good in the West (India) for the propagation of the Dharma - you could get it for us.”