11 Shocking Facts Revealed About Bakunawa (A Mystical Dragon)

The Bakunawa is a powerful dragon that is believed to bring harm and destruction to the world, and it is said to be responsible for the eclipses that occur in the sky. This creature has captured the imagination of people for generations, and it remains an important part of Filipino folklore to this day. In this post, we’ll be exploring the origins of the Bakunawa, the legends and stories associated with it, and the role it has played in Philippine culture and history. So sit back, relax, and read on as we explore the world of the Bakunawa.

1Bakunawa Is Responsible For Eclipses And Earthquakes

The Bakunawa, a dragon-like serpent in Philippine folklore, is believed to be responsible for natural events such as eclipses, earthquakes, rain, and wind. It was used as a geomantic calendar system by ancient Filipinos and played a role in the shamanistic rituals of the babaylan (a pagan priest). 

2Bakunawa Is A Giant Sea Serpent & Its Roots Originated From Hindu Mythology

The Bakunawa is usually portrayed with a looped tail and a single horn on its nose, and is considered a sea serpent. Some believe it inhabits the sky or underworld.

As a result of expanding trade connections with South Asia and the spread of Indian culture in Southeast Asia, the Bakunawa became blended with the Nāga, Rahu, and Ketu from Hindu-Buddhist mythology.

3The Word Bakunawa Originated From The Combination Of Two Words “Bent & Snake”

The Bakunawa is thought to have originated from the combination of two words, “bent snake”, from the Proto-Western-Malayo-Polynesian *ba(ŋ)kuq (meaning “curved” or “bent”) and *sawa (meaning “large snake” or “python”). There are several spelling variations, such as Vakonawa, Baconaua, or Bakonaua.

4Bakunawa Lives In The Dark Ocean & Wants To Illuminate The Ocean With Moonlight

According to folklore, Bakunawa is a serpentine dragon that resides in a dark ocean. It desires to eat the moons, not just because of their beauty, but also to light up the ocean, as the moons’ light grows dim every hundred years. Bakunawa is portrayed as a sea serpent-like dragon with a large mouth, a red tongue, whiskers, gills, and small wires on its sides. Depending on the legend, it may also be described as having wings or front limbs. Its color varies but is commonly depicted as white, dark blue, or red.

5Bakunawa Is Associated With Hindu Version Of Naga, Rahu & Ketu

The Bakunawa is sometimes referred to as Naga, reflecting its association with the Hindu-Buddhist serpent deity of the same name. The Bakunawa was also merged with the Hindu-Buddhist celestial entities Rahu and Ketu, who were responsible for eclipses of the sun and moon respectively.

According to Fr. Tomas Ortiz, Practica del Ministerio (1731) via Zuniga’s Estadismo (1893), During a lunar eclipse, people from various regions in India usually go outside, armed with bells and panastanes, and make a lot of noise by striking them forcibly. They do this to defend the moon which they believe is being consumed by a dragon, tiger, or crocodile. In the Philippines, it is common to use the phrase “the dragon, tiger, or crocodile is swallowing the moon” to describe a lunar eclipse. The Tagalogs also use a similar phrase, “Laho swallowed the moon”.

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6Another Philippine Dragon Laho Shared Many Similarities With Bakunawa

The Bakunawa appears in other myths in the Philippines under different names, but all share the common theme of causing eclipses. One of the closest versions to the Bakunawa is the Tagalog Laho (also known as Nono or Buaya), which is derived from Rahu and is depicted as a serpent-like dragon responsible for causing lunar eclipses. In Kapampangan mythology, Láwû is portrayed as a bird-like dragon or serpent that causes both solar and lunar eclipses and is more similar to the demon Rahu. Both the words “laho” and “láwû” mean “eclipse” (or “to disappear” or “to vanish”) in Tagalog and Kapampangan respectively.

7Regardless Of Bakunawa, Philippine Culture Have Several Mythical Giant Creatures In Their Mythology

The Mandaya and Manobo Tambanakua, the Bagobo Minokawa, the Maranao Arimaonga, the Hiligaynon Bawa, Bauta, or Olimaw, and other mythical beings are connected to the Bakunawa. Nevertheless, they don’t always resemble serpents. For instance, the Hiligaynon Olimaw is a winged serpent, the Bagobo Minokawa is a giant bird that resembles a dragon, and the Mandaya Tambanokano and Manobo Tambanakua are giant crabs (occasionally also depicted as giant tarantulas or scorpions). The Maranao Arimaonga is a dragon that resembles a lion. 

8In Cebuano mythology, Bakunawa Swallows The Moon Created By God Bathala

According to legend, the Bakunawa is responsible for causing eclipses. In pre-colonial times, the people of Cebu believed that their supreme god, Bathala, created seven moons to light up the sky. The Bakunawa, enamored with their beauty, would emerge from the ocean and swallow the moons, inciting Bathala’s anger and making them mortal enemies.

To prevent the moons from being completely consumed by the Bakunawa, ancient Filipinos would go outside their homes with pans and pots, making loud noises by banging them with force in an attempt to scare the dragon into spitting out the moon back into the sky. Some villagers would play soothing music with their instruments in the hopes of putting the dragon to sleep, allowing brave men to try and slay the beast. Despite its reputation as a “moon eater,” the Bakunawa was also dubbed as a “man eater.”

Some older Filipinos believe in the existence of two types of Bakunawa: the flying Bakunawa and the land Bakunawa. It is believed that the Bakunawa is a moving island that has communities mounted on its back.

9According To West Visayan Mythology, Bakunawa Devoured 6 Moons Out Of 7 Created By Bathala

The legend of the Bakunawa and the Seven Moons was first recorded in 1913 in Mga Sugilanong Karaan by Buyser and became more widely known when it was published in 1926 as a segment of the Mga Sugilanong Pilinhon collection, including Buyser’s personal accounts of the belief in the Bakunawa. 

According to the old tales, when the supreme god Bathala created the moon, he made seven of them to light up the night sky each day of the week. The nights were bright and stunning due to the seven “Queens” who continuously shone in the sky.

But the happiness and contentment of the people on the planet didn’t endure. The gorgeous sky was no longer a sight to behold when one evening a frightening monster appeared, wrapping around the world like a malevolent serpent, as described by Saint John in the book of Apocalypse. Jealous of the magnificent creations of the divine, the monster, named Bakunawa, caused great distress among the earth’s inhabitants by devouring six of the moons.

Upon observing the monster consuming all but one of the moons, Bathala took action. He planted bamboo trees on the remaining moon, which appeared as “stains” on its surface from a distance.

The people were devastated by the loss of the six stars, so they made a concerted effort to protect the last remaining moon from the monster Bakunawa. One night, the world was thrown into a state of panic as the serpent attacked the moon, causing the deafening screams of the people, the beating of drums and other loud noises to fill the air. Everyone, regardless of age or gender, cried out “Return our moon!” and other impassioned words. The cries and moans blended together and filled the hearts of the people with fear that the world would end if they lost the only moon left to them. They emerged from their homes and knelt on the ground in prayer, begging not to be deprived of their moon. It was a sorrowful sight to see that the people did not understand what an eclipse was. The noise eventually subsided as they watched the Bakunawa finally release the moon.

The people’s joy upon the return of the moon was beyond words. They lifted their hearts to the sky like blooming flowers and expressed their thankful praises to the all-powerful creator.

Even with advancements in our understanding, many people still hold belief in the Bakunawa and continue to shout “Return our moon!” during eclipses, particularly in mountainous areas and along the shores. This was evident in recent eclipses that have taken place in our towns.

The people’s joy upon the return of the moon was beyond words. They lifted their hearts to the sky just like beautiful blooming flowers and expressed their thankful praises to the all-powerful creator.

Even with advancements in our understanding, many people still hold belief in the Bakunawa and continue to shout “Return our moon!” during eclipses, particularly in mountainous areas and along the shores. This was evident in recent eclipses that have taken place in our towns.

10According To Bicolano Mythology, Bakunawa Was Once A Beautiful Goddess

In Bicolano mythology, Bakunawa is depicted as a massive sea serpent deity of the underworld, often believed to be responsible for eclipses. She was once a beautiful goddess who lived in the depths of the sea and was enchanted by the light of the moon. Upon seeing the moon’s beauty, she tried to win its affections, but was rejected. In response, she transformed into a dragon and tried to consume the moon. However, Haliya, the sister of the moon, battled against Bakunawa and this resulted in the changing phases of the moon and eclipses. 

11Warrior Got Immense Powers When They Have Bakunawa Engraved On Their Swords

Many ancient Filipino swords are adorned with figures of Bakunawa’s head on their hilts. These swords, which have their origins in Panay, are said to imbue the wielder with the fearsome presence and power of Bakunawa or any other deity or animal depicted on the hilt. The warriors who carry these swords, known as hangaway or mandirigma, are believed to have this power in battle.