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Unicorns in Asian Folktales

Niina is a folklorist and a storyteller who loves to research and explore myths from all around the world.


History of the Unicorn

There are unicorn-related tales from all around the world. These magical animals resemble horses and deer and have a horn in the centre of their foreheads. Some early sources describe the unicorn as the first creature to be created and the most magnificent and pure creature to ever exist on earth. According to various Asian myths, a unicorn was said to be a kind creature who wouldn't kill a fly. When strolling, unicorns took care not to step on any flying insects.

When they ran, their hooves hardly made contact with the grass. This may be related to the idea of ahimsa from the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jaina religions, where one of the primary tenets is to respect life because every life is holy.

According to Eastern mythology, the gentlest of all creatures, the free and untamed unicorn, would hide in the ethereal Otherrealms until the day mankind abandoned its bad ways. Then and only then would humans see unicorns and be able to tame them.


The Qilin

According to Chinese legend, the Qilin is a hybrid animal with the head of a dragon, the hooves of a horse, the tail of an ox, and the body of a deer or tiger. Like a fish, it has brilliant green scales all over its body. According to some depictions, the Qilin possesses clouds for its feet and wings, or at the very least the capacity to fly. The solitary horn that protrudes from the forehead Qilin is not a straight spiral horn. The horn of Qilin curls backwards. For those who appreciated it, the Qilin was regarded as one of the most beneficent creatures, providing shelter, solace, prosperity, and direction.

Like other Asian unicorns, the Qilin stands for goodness; it also has a kind heart and doesn't want to hurt any living thing. The Qilin is associated with wisdom, harmony, purity, knowledge, tenderness and the gift of prophecy.


Unicorns From Vietnam

Unicorns are referred to as Qué ly or Lan in Vietnamese folklore. The first accounts of these creatures date back to the Duong Dynasty, 2700 years ago, when they served as symbols of wealth. The qué ly was one of the most revered creatures in Vietnamese culture and was depicted in many temples.

Typically, Qué ly or Qué lan was shown as having a dragon's head and a horse's body. More in-depth fanciful depictions claim that it also had a crocodile's mouth, dog ears, a lion's nose, and a deer's horn. It might also have a catfish-like moustache and scales covering its body. It stood for good fortune,

Japanese Unicorns

There are two different kinds of unicorns in Japanese mythology: Kirin and Sin-You. Kind and reserved, Kirin is a kind being. Sin-You is more likely to pass judgment. According to legend, Sin-You possesses the capacity to recognize truth from lies and the ability to identify liars. If Sin-You judged the wrongdoer guilty, it would pierce their heart with its horn to cause death.


Kiringul, the Korean Unicorn

The history of Kiringul is intertwined with that of the former Kogyryo kingdom. The founder of this ancient Kingdom, King Tongmyong, is said to have ridden a kiringul. It was thought that Kirin and Kiringul resided in caverns and on mountaintops in Vietnam and Korea.

These tales may be connected to the history of these two nations, where several ancient civilizations once resided in caves. Inside some of the caves was a whole ecosystem, complete with lakes and fountains. These mystical animals lived in exquisite settings there.


Kardakann From Persia

The ancient Kingdom of Persia also had its unicorn tales, but the Persian Kardakann was a terrifying and fierce warrior, unlike its other Asian cousins. According to some tales, it had three hooves on each of its four legs, six eyes, and nine mouths. The Kardakann also had the ability to change its shape at will. The most remarkable feature was allegedly its pure gold horn.

All the other animals, with the exception of the ringdove, were said to be intimidated by the Kardakann, an aggressive beast. According to legend, the only thing that could tame the ferocious beast was the ringdove's singing, which Karkakann was particularly fascinated by.

It's probable that rhinos influenced parts of the ferocious Kardakann's mythology, and the creature's viciousness was probably a reflection of Persian military might. A kinder translation of the Kardakann describes it as a stag, horse, antelope, or deer with one horn. This type of Kardakann had a friendly disposition and, like other western unicorns, was capable of purifying water by dipping its horn into a stream, lake, or pond. However, doing so would cause all females to become pregnant immediately.


Indian Unicorns

In Indian folklore and stories, unicorn-like creatures frequently appear. Rsya is the most well-known of them. Rsya is a creature with a horn growing from its forehead, like an antelope or a water buffalo. An entity named Rsyasrnga that resembled a human being with a horn on his forehead is mentioned in the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata.


The Origins of Unicorns

Artists in each of the above-mentioned nations and cultures have enjoyed depicting legendary animals. The majority of the time, animals with antlers typically growing on each side of their forehead serve as inspiration for unicorns; however, because of natural anomalies, one-horned deer, antelopes, and bulls can occasionally be born. Depending on the species, some animals shed their horns or antlers during or after mating season, as they mature, or during combat. Such anomalies and animals with missing horns might have served as the sources of the unicorn legend.


Alexander, Skye. (2015). Unicorns: The Myths, Legends, & Lore. Adams Media.

Lavers, Chris. (2010). The Natural History of Unicorns. Harper Perennial.

© 2022 Niina Pekantytar