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An examination of Japanese rooster symbolism, mythology, and the funerary and folkloric connections

Chicken haniwa, 3rd century, Asadaiseki no. 3 Kofun tomb (Photo: Asahi Shimbun)

The rooster was a universal solar symbol across Eurasia, the Near and Middle East and Europe as a bird that heralded the dawn with its crowing and that would dispel evil spirits as the light of day dispelled darkness. Veneration of the rooster in East Asia was particularly widespread, but is best known today and associated with Japan and China where the rooster is entrenched as the tenth of the twelve animal symbols in the Chinese zodiac.

The Chinese ideogram for rooster is 雞/鷄, 鸡 ( qi/chi/kai), homophonous to the one meaning “favourable” while the word for chicken crest is the same sound as that of an official (guān).  Its appearance and its behaviour symbolize the “five virtues”: civil virtues, because its comb makes it look like a mandarin and therefore suggests advancement and promotion; martial virtues, because of its spurs; virtues associated with courage because of its conduct in battle; virtues in association with kindness, because it protects its hens; virtues related to confidence because of the accuracy with which it heralds the dawn. It also spoke of reliability, epitome of fidelity and punctuality. In Chinese Taoist and fengshui beliefs, the red cock or rooster on the walls of the house symbolizes protection of the house from fire; the white cock – protection from and chasing away demons. Five (cocks)- reminding parents to educate their sons (and hopefully daughters as well).  Brilliant white in China is the color of purity and is linked with the Rooster. The Rooster’s direction is associated with West (death and burial).

In Japan, its crowing, associated with the raucousness of the deities, who lured Amaterasu, Goddess of the Sun, out of the cave where she had been hiding. Courage is the virtue that the Japanese (like other Far Eastern peoples) attribute to the rooster. The white cockerel as an auspicious symbol Japanese Shinto or shrine tradition likely has its origin in Taoist practices that filtered through from the Chinese court during the Tang dynasty and Nara periods.  Chickens are thought of as errand messengers of the gods at the Isonokami Shrine where many sacred roosters are seen roaming. Roosters are also seen at the Ise Shrine, where roosters are associated with the Amaterasu myth where the rooster in the myth crowed at dawn just as she was tricked into leaving her cave-grotto.

In China, during the spring Hanshi festival the cock, like fire/sun, was considered a yang symbol and symbol of the sun, was temporarily extinguished and then relit. In Taoism, to have a rooster fight another rooster, stood for fire-renewal or regeneration … the rooster and the cockfight then takes its place as an indispensable spring ritual (although the Hanshi festival was eventually moved to coincide with the Qingming Festival or the Pure Brightness Festival which still includes the rooster and cockfight).

The dancing also recalls the raucous, erotic and ecstatic rituals of the Cock Festival (or Minam Bharani Festival) at Sri Kurumba Kavu in central Kerala is known for the raucous, erotic rituals. Thousands of devotees take part annually in the singing of highly explicit sexual songs and in the ceremonial pollution of the  (attributed to Syrian/Hellenistic world influences) — see Scandalizing the goddess at Kodungalur

Comparing traditions, the Han Chinese myth of the divine archer Hou-Yi shooting three suns, the motifs of the sun palace and the celestial cock appear to have been mythical motifs that were separate, while some Miao versions have the merged myths of both Yi the archer shooting the sun as well as the sun entering the cave and refusing to emerge until the celestial cock crows.  The story is set in the context of the reign of Emperor Yao, who is said to be ancestor to Han dynasty emperor Liu Bang or “the son of Emperor Ku and Qingdu, the emperor’s third concubine surnamed Chenfeng. Yao was also named “Yaotang Shi” and widely known as “Tangyao”, due to the land conferred upon him in Yao and Tang areas. At the age of 15, Yao began to assist his elder brother Emperor Zhi in ruling the country.”

The cave and rooster cult-myth of the Japanese is however closest to that of the Miao tribes of East and Southeast Asia, with whom the Japanese share the same M7 mitochondrial DNA ancestry or roots.  The Miao/Hmong-Miao people are associated with cave culture. Their Dancing in cave Festival calls to mind the Japanese myth of the dancing that takes place to draw out the goddess Amaterasu from her cave. The Miao people have lived in the mountains since ancient times. The Dancing in Cave Festival of Miao people in Gaopo County lasts from the fourth day to the ninth day of the first lunar month every year. The jolliest event during the festival is dancing the Chinese Bagpipe Dance in caves. Miao people in Gaopo County said that celebrating the festival in caves is to honor their ancestors. Caves play a significant role in local Miao people’s daily life. Young people would choose caves to develop a romantic relationship; ancestors of Miao people even lived in caves; and caves were the place where the dead were buried…” — Dancing in Cave Festival From January 4 to 9 of every lunar year, the Miao people in Gaopo celebrates “Skipping Cave Festival” alongside the Lusheng dance in caves, which is intended to commemorate the lives of their ancestors as well as the traditions of the Miao ethnic group.  In the Matang Village, 18 kilometers north of the city of Kaili, is a Gejia ethnic minority village, of the Gejia people who are classified as a subgroup of the Miao ethnic minority – the Gejia believe insist that they are the descendants of Houyi, the God of the Arrow, and the mythical marksman who shot down nine suns, leaving only the present one. His actions saved the world’s people from overheating and the drying up of all fresh water.

The chicken features in mortuary death rites and has the dual role “to guide the newly deceased family member’s soul to find the ancestral land” but also “In the process of Miao marriage, chicken is a symbol throughout every stage, from courting, proposal, betrothal, and wedding, to having children.” More is written about the symbolism of the rooster cock to the Miao below:

“Rooster divining: chicken in Miao myths: To understand the symbolic meaning of the rooster divining ritual, we may turn to the cultural motif which recurs in Miao myths and legends. Using a rooster to predict the future of a marriage reflects its mystical function in the mind of the ancient Miao. There are various Miao sun-bird/ sun-rooster myths, which demonstrate that this ritual may have something to do with the association of bird/chicken with the sun. One of their widespread sun myths is about a rooster calling the sun out: long ago, there were twelve (nine in a different version) suns hanging in the sky. The people could not stand the heat aThe nd asked a brave hero to shoot eleven (or eight) of them by arrow, leaving only one. But the last sun was so scared that it hid, not daring to come out until a rooster started crowing (Pan, Yang, and Zhang 1997; Tapp 1989; Wu 2002). There is a similar myth popular in West Hunan (Lu 2000) and Southeast Guizhou (Bender 2006) about a hero who rides a golden pheasant to rescue the sun taken by a demon to bring life, joy, and hope back to the earth. These myths show that in Miao belief, the rooster is the medium connecting the secular and supernatural worlds; it is a sacred bird, a messenger of the sun god. It is capable of delivering requests for blessings to ancestors and gods in the supernatural world, and carrying messages about the future from the supernatural world to the Miao. This also explains the use of roosters in Miao funeral ritual for guiding the soul of the deceased to find the path leading to the realm of the ancestors … , in the Miao’s flood myths, the thunder god is in charge of the rain, and the image of the thunder god is a rooster.” – Chicken and Family Prosperity: Marital ritual among the Miao in Southwest China

Above: Boat-of-the-dead rowing towards sun with rooster leading the way,  Ikegami site of the Yayoi Period, Izumi city, Osaka; Below:

The cock as funerary and solar symbol in Japan dates back even earlier to the Yayoi period with the introduction of rice agriculture and then during Kofun Period where haniwa ceramic cocks and chickens were placed on top of tomb mounds.  Haniwa chickens are found from the very beginning of the custom of placing these sculptures on tombs and they continue right through the period of haniwa use.  Chicken form of haniwas appear in greater numbers than finds of other haniwa birds and are distributed from Kagoshima to Iwate Prefectures, a distribution, correlating to the distribution of kofun with haniwa…indicating a Yamato-nation-wide burial custom and Afterlife Worldview.

Somewhat rarer to be found than chicken clay haniwa, the cock motif also appears tomb mural paintings at the helm of a boat heading towards the sun.

“Boat of the dead with bird perched on prow” late 6th century tomb mural, Mezurashiizuka Kofun tumulus, Ukiwa city, Fukuoka

Drawings of the haniwa pottery incised pictures of the “boat of the dead” from the early 4th century Higashi Tonozuka Kofun, Nakayama-cho, Tenri city, Nara prefecture

Origin of cock symbolism in Kofun Period mortuary tomb haniwa

Procession of chicken and bird (among other animals) haniwa figurines, Hodota-hachimanzuka Kofun, Takasaki city, Gunma Prefecture (Photo: Kamitsukenosato Museum)

As seen from the reconstructed Kofun mortuary artefacts in the photo above, Japan probably derived its funerary cock symbolism from the Mongolic/Xianbei/Hun-Xiongnu kurgan culture in Eurasia-Central Asia and/East Asia, and Nara period symbolism from Tang China where it is an auspicious symbol, and not from its Tibetan lineages – since Tibetan Buddhism regards the rooster as an exceptionally ill-fated symbol (where it appears in the centre of the Wheel of Life, alongside the hog and the snake, as one of the three poisons, symbolizing lust, attachment and covetousness that put in motion the Wheel of the Law). The emerging-from-the-sacred-cave motif in the context that Emperor Yao appears in the Korean royal founding myth of Tangun (Dangun) — suggests an affinity and connection among the Korean-Mongol/Xianbei-Chinese-Miao-Japanese cave traditions.

A further question that might be asked is how these East Asian cave cult traditions might be related to the Roman-Mithraic cave-cock cults and the Bactrian-Kushana cock imagery found on coins and statues. A possible clue may come from the Yingpan Man mummy. The Yingpan Man is a 2,000-year-old Caucasian mummy discovered in 1995 in the town of Yingpan, which was an crucial trade node on the Silk Road. Yingpan Man’s head rested on a pillow shaped like a cockerel. Since the Yingpan man was buried with rich grave goods with a Greek gold mask and wearing elaborate golden embroidered red and maroon wool garments with images of fighting Greeks or Romans, he is thought to have been one of the wealthy Sogdian traders who plied the Silk Road, who were an Iranian-speaking people hailing from a place near Samarkand in what is now Uzbekistan. His head rested on a pillow in the shape of a crowing cockerel. Taken together with Colin Renfrew’s Anatolian hypothesis and ideas about the origins of the proto-Europeans, we can guess how the funerary cock motif might have spread via the Silk Route East-West-Mediterranean trade contacts and networks.

A further connection is suggested below in the Out of India section]

The Gaxian cave in the north-eastern Inner Mongolia

Gaxian Cave (Show Caves of China)

The location of this ancestral cave is thought to be Gaxian Cave is located in the Da Xing’an Range, 10 km northwest of Alihe (the administrative center of the Oroqen Autonomous Banner) in northern Inner Mongolia. This cave, whose southwest facing entrance is easily accessible from a small fluvial plain ten meters below, is 120 m deep and 22 m high. The surrounding landscape is covered by Manchurian primeval forest.  In recent history, Gaxian Cave is known to have been used as an occasional shelter by Tungusic-speaking Oroqen hunters, the original inhabitants of the region.

A study of the cave was initiated in 1980 by Prof. MI Wenping, a prominent specialist on Manchurian archaeology and history, who upon his fourth visit to the cave, located on the west wall close to the entrance an engraved inscription comprising 19 lines of 201 Chinese characters. This inscription was in a style typical for the Northern Wei empire (386-581) and was a passage from the Wei Shu, the dynastic history, records the sending of a mission by the Wei emperor to visit an ancestral temple in his tribal homeland, It also contains a date equivalent to A.D. 443, was soon found to be almost identical to a passage in the Wei Shu, the dynastic history of the Northern Wei empire.  Gaxian Cave may have been this ‘temple’. The ethnic group that established the Northern Wei empire is known historically as Tabgach (Tuoba) and thought to be the descendant of the Sienpi (Xianbei), both of which are believed to have been linguistically related to the later Mongols. Gaxian Cave thus provides tantalizing perspectives on early ethnic migrations in protohistoric Manchuria and Mongolia and the possibility that it may be common ancestral cave temple of the Wei Shu imperial mission, as well as of the Manchurian, Korean people of the Xianbei lineage. (Source: A visit to Gaxian Cave, Inner Mongolia Society for East Asian Archaeology (SEAA) – EAANnouncements 15 by Juha Janhunen)

In Korea, people “believed roosters knew time well and considered them a symbol of hopeful beginnings and good omens. It was said that when the chicken made sound, all evil spirits disappeared. The characteristic of intelligence was attributed to the rooster’s crest. When it eats, it shares its food with others, showing patience. A rooster stays awake all night and cries at a certain time every morning, giving an impression of trust. Its sharp toenail represents the science of war, and its continuing to fight until death was compared with bravery”. — Animals, Life in Korea

Sacred white rooster

Japanese white Yokohama cockerel (Photo:

In Japan, the white rooster is a sacred symbol, and it is allowed to run freely in Shinto temples where its morning call is thought to awaken the sun goddess Amaterasu.   According to, the Japanese white chickens probably originated sometime in the late 16th Century in what was then Southern China and taken to Japan in the early 17th Century. The earliest long tailed fowl were found in China, but during the 17th century Japan became the centre for their development. The Japanese are said to be experts in keeping their tails growing all season. Japanese Bantam Chickens were first known as Chabo Chickens and are an old and well established ornamental Asian bantam breed.

Japanese Bantams, a.k.a. Chabo  (Photo:  John deSaavedra)

The white rooster is also a symbol of Lampang a province of Thailand. It is a symbol of the province adopted from one of the region’s oldest temple shrines; the Wat Phra Tat Lampang Luang Lampang, Thailand. Like in Japan where the rooster is depicted roosting on a tori arch, the white rooster is depicted seated in a ‘mondapa’ which is an arched structure with a pyramidal roof. The idea of the mondapa has in turn been derived from the ancient temple just named above. The Lampang Rooster Lampang has been further modified and incorporated within the design of Lampang province’s seal. A replica of the symbol of the white rooster can be seen adorning the horse carriages running on the streets of Lampang.

The Lampang Chicken icon

The white rooster is the “bird depicted on the Polish Coat of Arms. Often times, this chicken is incorrectly referred to as an Eagle or a Hawk. The Legend: This emblem originated when Poland’s original founder Lech saw a white chicken resting in it’s nest one early morning when he was out hunting. Lech hunted the bird while it rested in it’s nest, which was situated in a grassy valley in an area currently known as central Poland. He was so pleased with the ease at which this bird (chicken) was hunted, that he decided to settle there and placed rooster on his emblem (as opposed to the chicken that was originally hunted). … Lech decided to use a white rooster on his emblem instead of a chicken to symbolize the fact that the bird that rises earliest (the rooster) gets the easiest prey (the chicken resting in it’s nest). Initially, the emblem depicted a white Rooster. After generations and generations of being passed down, the rooster began being drawn as a white bird wearing a royal crown, paying respect to the Polish royal monarchs of the past. In later renditions, the original rooster was drawn as resembling a hawk or an eagle; This is what has led to the common modern misconception about the origin of the emblem.”

Rooster as fertility or sacred symbol in Southeast Asia

The rooster is also thought to counteract the evil influences of the dark night that it drives from the house if the inhabitants paint its effigy on their door.

The Miao (a.k.a. Hmong) people are traditionally animists, shamanists and ancestor worshipers with beliefs having been affected in varying degrees by Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity. At the Miao New Year there may be the sacrifice of domestic animals and there may be cockfights. The Hmong of Southeast Guizhou will cover the rooster with a piece of red cloth and then hold it up to worship and sacrifice to the Heaven and the Earth before the cockfight.  The Miao are famous for their animal imitation dancing such as the cockfight dancing. In Shamanism in the Hmong culture, a shaman may use a rooster in religious ceremony as it is said that the rooster shields the shaman from “evil” spirits by making him invisible as the evil spirits only see the rooster’s spirit. In a 2010 trial of a Sheboygan Wisconsin Hmong that was charged with staging a cockfight, it was stated that the roosters were “kept for both food and religious purposes” resulted in an acquittal.”

In Vietnam, fighting roosters or fighting cocks are colloquially called “sacred chickens”.

The veneration of the traditional spirits (anito) is still practised in northern Philippines. Animist beliefs extend to the rooster and the cockfight, ”a popular form of fertility worship among almost all Southeast Asians”.

Kaharingan, an animist folk religion of the Iban branch of the Dayak people, accepted as a form of Hinduism by the Indonesian government, includes the belief of a supreme deity as well as the rooster and cockfight in relation to that of the spiritual and religious and some with the belief that humans become the fighting cocks of god, with the Iban further believing the rooster and cockfight was introduced to them by god. Gawai Dayak a festival of the Dayaks includes the cockfight and the waving of a rooster over offerings while asking for guidance and blessings with the rooster being sacrificed and the blood included in spiritual offering, while the Tiwah festival involves the sacrifice of many animals including the chicken as offerings to the Supreme God.

In East Timor, the roof of the house is reserved for gods and spirits of ancestors, the lower portion remains for the nature spirit and usually occupied by animals, and the cock is admired because of courage and perseverance, with the courage of a man compared with that of the cock, with the cockfight occurring regularly and “many tais designs include the cock”.

Aluk or Aluk To Dolo a sect of Agama Hindu Dharma as a part of religion in Indonesia, within the Toraja society and the people of Tana Toraja, embrace religious rituals such as the funeral ceremony where a sacred cockfight is an integral part of the religious ceremony and considered sacred within that spiritual realm. In several myths the cock has the power to revive the dead or to make a wish come true and is well known in Torajan cosmology.

Khasi people (with curiously Christian-like symbolism) believe the rooster is sacrificed as a substitute for man, it being thought that the cock when sacrificed “bears the sins of the man.

Out of India and Buddhist iconography

In India, hens and roosters were regarded as sun birds. They were named this way for their chickensong at sunset and by this allegedly warning people that evil spirits began wandering around the earth having just conquered the sun. Signing the end of the night at dawn, the roosters with their crowing were thought to let people know that the sun has gathered its power and conquered the evil spirits.

In India, it is the attribute of Skandha, personification of solar energy – also known as Lord Murugan. Skanda, is variously known as Lord Murugan a Bachelor god as well as the Kārttikeya/Kumara, the Warrior God of War, who wields a bow in battle. The lance called Vel in Tamil is also a weapon closely associated with him. The Vel was given to him by his mother, Parvati, and embodies her energy and power. His army’s standard depicts a rooster. [From Persia/Parthia/Kushan-Bactria to India?  In the Iranian counterpart of Skanda, the Avestan deity Sraosa (which had its Sanskrit equivalent ‘Srausa’ which means “obedient messenger of the sun god”) is a killer of demons, like Skanda, has attributes of conqueror, protective martial deity for Zoroastrianism, and acts as the watchful and obedient messenger o f Ahura Mazda, and like Skanda, the cock is an animal sacred to the Sraosa. Sraosa is described in Pahlavi texts as repelling evil powers  of the night with the help of a cock. According to Richard D Mann the earliest depiction of Skanda/Karttikeya with a cock and cock statuary comes from Mathura and dates to the Kushana era. The author suggests Parthian coinage influence upon the Bactrian-Kushans and that bird-falcon association with Parthian warrior gods was borrowed by Kushan/Bactrians, and that a Bactrian legend in Greek script identifies the figure holding bird-topped standard found on Kushan coins to be the Hindu-Kushan deity Mahasena.  Mann (at p. 126) notes that “all of the cock statues with the bird/cock from the Kushana era occurs in an area geographically close to Parthia, where Scythian and Parthian culture spread … owes its presence on these statues to those cultures….The cock itself relates these images of Mahasena to another Iranian martial deity Sraosa”.  According to Mann, Sraosa was assimilated with Indian Karttikeya, the Avesta Mithra is flanked by Rasnu and Sraosa, the latter pair is thought to be the origin of the Indian Purana’s Rajna and Srausa. In Pahlavi texts:

“The cock is created to oppose demons and sorcerers, as a collaborator of the dog. As He says in the Religion: those are the material creatures, those are the collaborators of Sros [Sraosa], the dog and the cock …  for that cock, they call the bird of righteous Sros. And when it crows, it keeps misfortune away from the creation of Ohrmazd”

Hence, we have two schools of thought, one, that cock symbolism in India originated from the Iranian/Parthian/Bactrian quarter, while the other sees cock symbolism as indigenous to India and hailing from much older fertility cults or festivals. [We break in here to suggest that the beloved folk Jizo deity is likely the Japanese counterpart to Sraosa/Srausa as Jizo is also seen as Conqueror/Victor of death, navigating the Underworld assisting hapless humans, especially children, and equally associated with the appearance of cocks, and their crowing at dawn dispersing the demons in Japanese folklore, although the Jizo icon was later transformed into a bodhisattva with the arrival of Buddhism and the cock association sometimes lost.]

The Bhil peoples of Central India, who believe in the myth of Bhagavan a personal supreme god and worship Bhagavan in their central sanctuary. They practise a human-oriented cult of the dead front of the dead person’s house, in which the main ritual called Nukto purifies the spirit of the dead, uniting it with Bhagavan. In the Nukto ritual, Gothriz Purvez the role of a spirit rider  who accompanies the spirit on part of its journey to the afterworld.  Now in the Bhil myth, Bhagavan creates two washer-folk, a brother-sister pair who become progenitors of the human race after a flood deluge that turns the world upside down. Bhagavan  saves the pair  by telling them to make a cage, step into it taking pumpkin seeds and water. After the rains subside, God discovers their survival through the crowing of the cock, and questions how they survived.  A DNA study published in Feb 2012 determined that the Bhil tribal people from Central India are unequivocally Indo-Aryan, speak Gujarati, an Indo-Aryan language, although they may live close to Austro-Asiatic tribes.

Stephen Oppenheimer in his book “Eden in the East” noted the close resemblance of the Bhil flood deluge mythical components to the flood myths of a broad swathe of Austro-Asiatic minority peoples of northern Thailand,Vietnam, Laos and southern China. Particularly strong is the resemblance of the Noah’s ark style myth of the Bahnar or Ba Na tribe of the highlands of Vietnam’s central provinces – where a brother and sister pair escape from a sea flood, by shutting themselves into a sealed chest that has with them a pair of every sort of animal. The chest floated away for seven days and seven nights until the brother heard a cock crowing outside, a bird sent by the spirits to let the pair know that the flood had abated and that they could emerge safe from the chest.

Kukkuta Sastra (Cock Astrology) is a form of divination based on the rooster fight and commonly believed in coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh, India. It is prevalent in the state, especially in the districts of Krishna, Guntur, East Godavari and West Godavari and the Sankranti festival.

Cocks and cockfighting have been depicted on Indus valley seals and Tamil cities have been named cock-cities which is believed to have occurred with the migrations of the Dwarakans (at about 1,500 B.C. at the end of the Indus civilization) who brought the word “kozhi” for cock and cockfighting practices to pre-existing Tamil lands such as Kerala, Calicut, Urayur, all cock cities associated with kozhi. Cock fighting is a traditional pastime, known also as the 43rd Womenfolk were particularly good at the art and gaNikas (courtesans) of Royal court since the times of Ramayana were trained in the 64 arts including the cock fights.

Despite being forbidden in the Vedic philosophy of sattvic Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Theyyam deities are propitiated through the rooster sacrifice where the religious cockfight is a religious exercise of offering blood to the Theyyam gods. A popular Hindu ritual form of worship of North Malabar in Kerala, India is the Tabuh Rah blood offering to the Theyyam gods. Scandalizing the goddess at Kodungalur is a study of the Cock Festival (or Minam Bharani Festival) at Sri Kurumba Kavu in central Kerala is known for the raucous, erotic, and insulting devotional practices of its participants. Thousands of devotees take part annually in the singing of highly explicit sexual songs and in the ceremonial pollution of the goddess Sri Kurumba’s shrine. This festival is controversial but popular, and resembles in many ways descriptions of the ecstatic cults of the ancient Near East that spread throughout the Greco-Roman empire. Oracles of the goddess, called veliccappatus (illumi­nators), reveal her wishes through trance and in their possessed state cut their foreheads with swords as they dance.

In 2011 the Madras High Court Bench ordered the rooster fight at Santhapadi and Modakoor Melbegam villages permitted during the Pongal religious festival.  Again in 2011 a public interest litigation petition caused the Madras High Court Bench to grant permission to villagers of Kodaioor village to conduct a rooster fight during Deepavali coinciding with a local temple festival from the claims that the “villagers’ religious sentiments would be hurt if the cockfight was not allowed “. In many parts of India, tribal or folk deities are propitiated through cock sacrifice.

Bayon Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple that also incorporates elements of Hindu cosmology (see next section)  includes “a depiction of a cockfight” within the walls of the temple which continues today within a debate of “religious sanctity”.

With the rambling strutting roosters of the Buddhist temple of Wat Suwankhiri on a Payathonsu cliff near by, during April, Three Pagodas Pass becomes a site of the Songkran Festival with cockfights.

Sacred Buddhist amulets are made within that religious schema, created and blessed in various temples in Thailand, many depicting Buddha with cocks in fighting stance, sacred within that religion.

Balinese Hinduism also includes the religious belief of Tabuh Rah, a religious cockfight where a rooster is used in religious custom by allowing him to fight against another rooster in the religious and spiritual cockfight of the Balinese Hinduism spiritual appeasement exercise of Tabuh Rah. The altar and deity Ida Ratu Saung may be seen with a fighting cock in his hand with the spilling of blood being necessary as purification to appease the evil spirits. Ritual fights usually take place outside the temple proper and follow an ancient and complex ritual as set out in the sacred lontar manuscripts.

Cocks in Hinduism

Makar Sankranti is a Hindu festival dependent on the position of the sun and celebration of Sankranti who is considered a Deity for Hindus and is celebrated in many ways including worship for the departed ancestors and to worship Saraswati. In the western Indian state of Gujarat, an event of the Makar Sankranti festival is kozhi kettu, the rooster fight. Kozhi kettu is an ancient ritual of Tulunadu and an ancient ritual associated with the ‘daivasthanams’ (temples) there. Kozhi kettu organized as part of religious events are permitted.

Feathers have been ruffled and controversy brewed when some Hindu temples used a symbol of a peacock rather than a rooster on their flags for Kavady festivals. Gonaseelan Moopanar, chairman of the Hindu temples foundation, confirmed that the rooster was the correct symbol, not the peacock saying, “According to religious scriptures and the teaching of our elders, the rooster is the correct symbol. It has been the symbol for many years. “The peacock symbolises the transport for Lord Muruga, but the rooster is the victory flag.”

Cockfighting arrived in Bali, Indonesia, it is not  known when, but probably together with Hindusim. Cockfights,called tajen, meklecan or ngadu, in Balinese, are part and parcel of temple and purification (mecaru) ceremonies. The Tabuh Rah ritual to expel evil spirits always requires a cockfight to spill blood. Tabah Rah literally means pouring blood. There are ancient texts disclosing that the ritual has existed for centuries. It is mentioned in the Batur Bang Inscriptions I from the year 933 and the Batuan Inscription from the year 944 (on the Balinese calendar). The blood of the loser spills on the ground, an offering to the evil spirits.

The origin of cockfights:  Cock fighting is said to be the world’s oldest spectator sport and was entrenched in ancient India, China, Persia, and other Eastern countries, and was introduced into Ancient Greece in the time of Themistocles (c. 524–460 BC). In Persia, the sport goes back 6,000 years in Persia and the term “Persian bird” for the cock or fighting cock,is thought to have been given by the Greeks after Persian contact “because of his great importance and his religious use among the Persians”. It is however noted that even long before that time, in Iran, during the Kianian Period, from about 2000 B.C. to about 700 B.C., “the cock was the most sacred” bird. It is also thought that cockfighting has its origin in the Indus Valley Civilization, and spread from South Asia after the Persian armies conquered India in the 4th century B.C. The Persians adopted the sport and are thought to be at least partly responsible for its introduction to the Mediterranean basin through military and commercial pursuits. The sea-faring Phoenicians are also thought to be responsible for the widespread distribution of gamefowl from the orient to Africa, the Middle East, and along the European coast (source: Encyclopædia Britannica (2008) and History of Aseel (old game breed)).


In the Near East in the ancient land of Babylonia (including modern day Iraq), there is the lore of the True Shepherd of Anu(SIPA.ZI.AN.NA – Orion and his accompanying animal symbol, the Rooster, with both representing the herald of the gods, being their divinely ordained role to communicate messages of the gods. “The Heavenly Shepherd” or “True Shepherd of Anu” – Anu being the chief god of the heavenly realms. On the star map the figure of the Rooster was shown below and behind the figure of the True Shepherd, both representing the herald of the gods, in his bird and human forms respectively.[Source: “Rooster“, Wikipedia]

Nergal, an idol of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, and Persians, whose name means, “a dunghill cock.”(Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Brewer, 1900) Astrological mythology of the Assyrians and Babylonians was that the idol “Nergal represents the planet Mars, which was ever the emblem of bloodshed”

The Middle East and the rooster in Judaic tradition

Arab and Islamic traditions:  In pre-Islamic Arabia, Arab Bedouins attributed generosity to the cock.  In Islam, the rooster enjoys a particular veneration. The Prophet himself is alleged to assert that the white rooster is his friend because it announces the presence of the Angel. Moreover, the Prophet is said to prohibit cursing the rooster, which calls to prayer.  In Islamic dream analysis, both snake and rooster are interpreted as symbols of time.”

The cock is a divine Islamic symbol – in the words of Muhammad of that Abrahamic religion in one of the six canonical hadith collections of Sunni Islam, stating that of “when you hear the crowing of cocks, ask for Allah’s Blessings for they have seen an angel” as well as the mention where “the cock is also venerated in Islam: it was the giant bird seen by Muhammad in the First Heaven crowing.”

Judaic tradition:  Although rooster worship is considered by some within the Judeo-Christian ethic as a form of Baal or Baalim worship, roos