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Nezha (哪吒)

Chinese. Name of a Taoist child-deity. He was the third son of Li Jing, a high-ranking military commander at the Old Pond Pass, and Lady Yin. His elder brothers were named Jinzha and Muzha. His mother gave birth to a ball of flesh after being pregnant with him for 42 months. Li Jing thought that his wife had begotten a demon and he attacked the ball with his sword. The ball split open and Nezha jumped out as a young boy, already able to walk and speak at birth. Nezha would soon cause untold chaos and trouble, as one day, while playing near the sea, Nezha fought and killed Ao Bing (fig.), the third son of Ao Guang, the Dragon King of the East Sea, who in response threatened to report Nezha to the Jade Emperor and flood the Old Pond Pass, whilst capturing his parents. To save them Nezha sacrificed himself, offering Ao Guang all of his internal organs in exchange for his parents. The Dragon King (fig.) was moved by this gesture and –though killing the boy– he spared his family. Later, Nezha was brought back to life by an immortal, who used lotus roots (fig.) to construct a human body for his soul, and Nezha became a protection deity. In art, Nezha is depicted as a youth, usually holding a Golden Hoop, Ring of Fire or Universe Ring in his left hand and a Fire Spear in his right hand, whilst subduing a Sea Dragon, and standing on a Wheel of Fire (fig.), with which he can travel through the sky and that is able to carry him swiftly to whichever place he wishes to go. The Golden Hoop is a magical ring, which can change its size freely as Nezha wishes, whereas the Fire Spear is a fire-tipped lance that he uses as a weapon. His official Taoist title is Zhong Tan Yuan Shua, i.e. ‘First Commander of the Central Alter’, which is usually translated as ‘Marshal of the Central Altar’ (fig.), and –after he became a warrior deity– he was given the title Lian Hua San Taizi, i.e. ‘Third Lotus Prince’ (fig.). He is sometimes depicted with three faces, of which one is red and another green, and with six arms (fig.), a form known as san tou liu bi and used to describe his great power and remarkable abilities, such as his ability to spit rainbows, as described in certain legends. Originally, Nezha is a Vedic god known by the Sanskrit name Nalakuvara, son of the Hindu god Kuvera and twin brother of Manigrivia. The royal Thai-Chinese temple Wihaan Thep Sathit Phra Kiti Chaleum (fig.) in Chonburi is dedicated to this deity. Also pronounced Na Zha and sometimes referred to as Nazha (or Nezha) San Taizi (哪吒三太子), i.e. ‘Nezha, the Third Prince’.