By Gaurav Sharma
In the present age of violent radicalism brimming with religious intolerance, 7/7–the inflexion point of the seventh day with the seventh month of the year– is a grim reminder of the London bomb blasts which claimed the lives of more than 50 people.
Associating the day with a poignant cultural event would, in this regard, seem like an aberration.
Yet, in the East, 7/7 represents a heart-warming and soul-touching cultural carnival with its roots grounded in Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
Named as the Qixi Festival in China, the fiesta adopts different monikers in various countries, such as Tanabata or the Star Festival in Japan, Chilseok in Korea and That Tich in Vietnam.
However, the foundational idea based on a mythological story behind the festival remains the same. The Night of Sevens alludes to the annual meeting between a cowherd boy and a weaver girl.
The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd Boy
Legend has it that two romantic lovers by the names of Zhinu, a weaver girl symbolizing Vega star and Niulang, a cowherd boy representing Altiar were not allowed to embrace each other and were instead banished to opposite sides of the Silver river(denoting the Milky way galaxy).
Zhinu was the daughter of the Goddess of Heaven and a charming young lady who had managed to escape boring heaven in search of some fun. On her inter-galactic odyssey, Zhinu fell in love with Niulang (an Earthly man) and married him in secrecy from her mother.
Zhinu, who had hitherto been assigned the task of weaving wonderful, colorful clouds now grew accustomed to married life and mothered two children. She started neglecting her job as a weaver and instead enjoyed her life with a mortal on Earth.
After coming to knowledge of her daughter’s wedlock with a mere mortal and her subsequent dereliction of duty, the Goddess fumed in anger and commanded her to return back.
Zhinu then sacrificed her family life and goes back to heaven. But her husband, crying in separation, longed to meet her. After the divine intervention in the form of an ox drives Niulang to heaven, the Goddess pulled out her hairpin and inundates the sky with a river that created the Milky way between the two stars, Vega and Altiar.
The river forever separates Zhinu and Niulang while Zhinu sadly sits on the banks of the river weaving on her loom and Niulang helplessly watches her from afar.
However, once every year (7/7), their broken hearts glimmer with the light of reunion. Magpies take a pity on the separated lovers and build a bridge to reconnect the two, hence culminating into the Night of Sevens.
Traditional and Modern Celebration
To mark the importance of the annual event, people go to temples to pray to Zhinu for wisdom and burn paper items as offerings.
Girls recite prayers for a begetting a loving husband and imbibing dexterity in needlework, considered to be traditional talents of a good spouse. While earlier needle threading would be done under dim light or low glare, nowadays women present toiletries in honour of the maidens.
As part of the jamboree, a festoon is placed in the yard and half of the face powder, a queer offering, is splashed on the roof while the other is divided among the women to bound themselves in beauty with Zhinu.
Chinese gaze at the sky to look at the stars Vega and Altiar and believe that if there is rain on the day, it is the tears of separation of the legendary couple.
The festival is symbolic of a happy marriage and magpies who are the connecting link between the distanced lovers, are emblems of conjugal happiness and faithfulness.
In times when more couples are bickering over trifle matters, quarrelling and and separating from each other, the story of the mythical couple is a reminder of what love actually stands for, standing by each other through times of bitter separation.