Revolutionary Girl Utena’s Ohtori Academy as Himavanta Forest (Happy Thai New Year!!!)

Thai New Year is celebrated from April 13th through the 15th.  Best wishes to the Thai and to all nations who celebrate their New Year around this time (there are many!).  You have to thank kitsune for this post.  I was aware of the date but wasn’t planning to make a post in tribute of it until kitsune put Thailand and this blog together in my head again…

Ohtori Academy is of course the school in Revolutionary Girl Utena.  What then is Himavanta Forest?

If you have studied Indian thought I imagine you’ve heard of Mount Meru (or Sumeru).  This mountain is the center of the universe, and is traditionally placed amidst the Himalayas.  Himavanta Forest is at the foot of Mount Meru.  The mountain is the abode of the gods, while the forest is inhabited by all sorts of magical creatures which tend to be mixtures of humans and animals, animals and animals, etc.  Himavanta Forest is basically the land of chimeras.

The point of this post is that there is value in seeing Ohtori Academy as a modern-day Himavanta Forest, where the students are the creatures and the castle in the sky functions as Mount Meru.  Himavanta Forest is well-known in Thai tradition (Th. Himmaphan = หิมพานต์) and there is a nice English-language site [here] describing the mythical place and its residents from a Thai perspective.  I will present potential connections between Himavanta/Himmaphan and Ohtori with a particular emphasis on Thai tradition, simply because a) I’m celebrating Thai New Year, duh! and b) I have never been to India, so my personal experience with this myth complex and related imagery has been through the Thai vision.

If you don’t understand what I’m trying to do in this post, let’s at least be clear on what I am NOT doing: I am not claiming Utena‘s writers were poring through Sanskrit texts for inspiration 😀  Actually, my two posts called Metapher und Kritik have the answers if you need them.  Anyway, this is potentially a huge topic, but I might as well start by telling you how I first thought of the connection.  It sounds terribly cliché, but it started with elephants.

TO THE INDIAN SOURCE

In episode 8, Nanami tries to mess with Anthy’s curry and the whole thing explodes.  Anthy and Utena switch bodies (one of many transformations/mixings in this show) and Nanami is forced to travel to India to fix things.  Significantly, the ever-helpful shadow girls call this 因果応報 (= inga-oho),  a Japanese Buddhist term which has been subbed as “divine justice”, essentially meaning “do good and get good, do bad and get bad”.  In short, it’s a description of the power of karma.  It makes perfect sense then that the Japanese Nanami has to go to the source (India) to re-learn her karmic lesson.

(Of course it later turns out that the accident wasn’t Nanami’s fault, and so the final message of the episode is ambivalent: are we supposed to take from this that intention is what matters, and so Nanami was always at fault?  Or does this episode want to criticize and overturn the concept of karma by pointing to the complexity and inscrutability of causes and effects?)

So Nanami starts being hassled by elephants.  First there are 3 elephants, then a whole herd, then 1, then 1 more, then 3, then 1.  Later on in episode 24 the curry saga is recapped, with additions.  Here we see the 3 bespectacled dudes waiting for their curry, and immediately after that there are 3 elephants in the window.  All six end up eating the curry.  We find that the first 3 elephants that chased Nanami were part of a bigger herd of 12.  Then when Nanami returns and trips on the banana peel, we can see how the 3 dudes and the 3 elephants have morphed into 3 manophants!  And at the end when Tsuwabuki is bared an elephant rises (elephallus)!

Nanami is surrounded by the number 3 (men, girlfriends, elephants), this much is obvious, but what struck me most when I first saw episode 8 were the 3 elephants, because they reminded me of a three-headed elephant that resides in Himavanta Forest: Airavata.  Airavata (Th. Erawan = เอราวัณ) is a majestic creature, the mount of Lord Indra and deserving of the title Lord himself.  He has 33 heads but because this is so tough to represent he usually ends up depicted with 3.

Erawan is very important in mainland Southeast Asian iconography.  The Thai coat of arms (used in the 19th cent.) had Erawan representing North, Central and South Siam.  The Lao flag used to have Erawan representing the three former kingdoms of Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Champassak.  Arun Temple in Bangkok has Erawan in prominent display.  The relatively new Erawan Museum in Samut Prakan province boasts the most impressive statue (43 meters tall) that I personally have ever seen:

CELESTIAL BEINGS

Twins Kozue and Miki have a perfect match in Himavanta Forest: the male Kinnara (Th. Kinnon = กินนร) and the female Kinnaree (Th. กินรี).  In India they are half-horse half-human, but in Thailand they are half-swan half-human.  The Thai version strikes me as more appropriate to their character, which is universally held to be that of eternal lovers (of each other) and fantastic musicians.

I believe the being below (from Phra Kaew Temple, Bangkok) is a kinnara, but it’s actually really hard to tell a kinnara from a kinnaree.  The only real iconographic difference is in the breasts, but even that is slight (which fact should remind you of Miki and Kozue once more).  Recently, however, kinnaree images are being made with larger bosoms [e.g. this].

NANAMI’S TRUE PALS

Nanami herself is subject to a transformation in episode 16 (the 3 bespectacled men are also involved in this).  Nanamoo keeps the blond hair and her purple eyes but everything else is pure cow.  You might be thinking that a creature like this probably exists in Himavanta Forest.  In fact there are several (!!) provided that you are open to thinking of Nanami as a lion.  I don’t think it’s a stretch considering her personality and her blond mane 😀

Himavanta residents include the maned lion (called that to distinguish it from other creatures with heads other than a lion’s, thus not maned), which is like a regular lion but with oxlike legs.  There is also a lion with two cow-like horns.  There is another creature with a lion’s body and a cow’s head (something like a reverse Nanamoo).  There are also purple lions to mach Nanami’s eyes.  In short, there is a large variety of lion-like creatures in this forest, some of which have mixed cow traits.  I think Nanami would feel right at home there.  The pic below is of the maned lion.

THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN TOUGA AND SAIONJI

According to Indian tradition the sage Kasyapa married thirteen sisters.  Two of them were fierce rivals.  Kadru prayed for many children so she could outrank her sister.  Vinata was smarter, she asked for strong children, however few.  In the end she gave birth to two: Aruna and Garuda.  Aruna is the god of dawn and the Arun Temple I mentioned above is named after him.  Just as Airavata is Indra’s mount, Garuda is Vishnu’s.

Vinata had a great number of serpent creatures called Nagas.  Many in Thailand and Laos believe there are Nagas in the Mekong River today (look here).  In any case, Garuda and the Nagas, both inhabitants of Himavanta Forest, have been mortal enemies ever since they were born, even though they’re half-brothers.  So what’s this got to do with Touga and Saionji, you ask?

Well, here’s a picture of the Emblem of Thailand, which is an image of Garuda (Th. khrut =ครุฑ) :

And here are are a couple of Nagas (Th. naak = นาค) from Wat Huawiang temple in Mae Hong Son province (they have golden crowns on their heads, just as Garuda does):

If what I’m getting at isn’t clear yet, then think HAIR.

Garuda hair vs Naga hair 😀  And if Garuda is Vishnu’s mount, then I could see Akio…no, but I’m not sure so I’ll stop.  BTW, I believe that in the battles between Garuda and the Nagas the former usually has the last laugh…

Juri hasn’t really undergone any transformations so far that would allow me to pin her down for one of these creatures.  And I’m not even going to try figuring out what would go well with the troika of ??? (Anthy, Utena, Akio).  For all I know they should be associated much more with the deities of Mount Meru!

NO SPOILERS PAST EPISODE 25!!

~ by Haloed Bane on April 13, 2011.

4 Responses to “Revolutionary Girl Utena’s Ohtori Academy as Himavanta Forest (Happy Thai New Year!!!)”

  1. That’s a lot to sink one’s teeth into… but beyond “Oh wow it kind of fits” what are we seeing here?

    Is it how the RGU story can be expressed/found in the archetypal narrative traditions? Should it be read as such? What can be discovered in such a reading?

    • I’m happy with “it kind of fits” 🙂 But if you want me to get specific then:
      I’d say it really gets me thinking on the importance of hybridity in the show, of all these mixtures and transformations, and how much of the “animal” is in all of this. Also, it makes me even more curious about the castle in the sky and its relationship to the school.. The Buddha gave a sermon (Himavanta Sutta) where he talks of the Nagas nurturing themselves in the Himalayas and then coming down into the world, growing in size and prosperity. Right now I feel that RG Utena has an opposite flow, but who knows? (maybe you do, but don’t tell me!!!)

  2. A spellbinding New Year Tale! Thank you! Happy NY 🙂

    • Happy new year to you too! Harry Potter can cast a spell in seconds, but it took me hours to write this up. I need one of them wands.

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