But when he returns home, he realises several centuries have passed and everyone he knew is long dead
- Then, he opens a box given to him by the fairy princess
- As soon as he opens it, he becomes old. And dies.
- This idea of time travel is found in mythologies across the world
There is a Japanese tale of a fisherman who saves a turtle from a fishing net. So, the turtle takes him to the Dragon Kingdom, under water, where he meets a spirit-like princess and spends a few hours with her. But when he returns home, he realises several centuries have passed and everyone he knew is long dead. Then, he opens a box given to him by the fairy princess. As soon as he opens it, he becomes old. And dies.
Irish mythology also has a similar tale of a hero called Oisin, who travels to the land of eternal youth and lives there for several centuries. He comes back only to find the world has changed. And even turned Christian. Like in the Japanese tale, he is told never to get off his horse, but he does so. As a result, he becomes instantly old.
This idea of time travel is found in mythologies across the world. In India, we have the story of King Raivata, who goes to Brahmaloka with his daughter to get his daughter married. When he comes back, many centuries have passed. No one recognises him. People have grown shorter in height. In another tale, Indradyumna goes to invite Brahma for a festival on earth, but when he returns, thousands of years have passed. In Himachal folklore, a shepherd encounters Shiva and they play a game of dice all afternoon. When he returns home, his wife is an old woman and his children have children of their own.
In Christian tradition, there is the story of the seven sleepers who hide inside a cave to escape persecution by Roman kings who are pagans and polytheists. When they wake up some 300 years later, they realise the world has become Christian, and monotheist, and there is no more persecution.
In Islamic lore, Uzair (Ezra) wondered how the resurrection will take place on the Day of Judgement. So, Allah caused his death and had him brought back to life after a hundred years, during which time Solomon’s temple was broken. Uzair rode on his revived donkey and entered his native place. No one recognised him, except an old maid, who was now an old blind woman. He prayed to God to cure her blindness and she could see again. His son, now older than he was, recognised him by a mole between his shoulders. He then led people to locate the only surviving copy of the holy books.
In Chinese mythology, there is a story of the Monkey King who travels back and forward in time. This time travel is indicated by showing different dynasties of kings ruling China. The Monkey King’s story belongs to the Tang dynasty as he helps a monk of this period travel to India. When he travels back in time, he encounters the Qin dynasty that united China and when he travels into the future, he meets the Ming emperor (who had commissioned the novel Monkey King to be written).
Thus, we realise time travel is not just a modern concept created by physicists or by fantasy writers who speak about wormholes. It’s part of global folklore. These people also realised that time moves differently in different realms. What is a moment for the gods is a lifetime for humans. Perhaps this was a warning, never to engage too much with the gods and the supernatural. It is best to keep a distance from the non-human world.
The author writes and lectures on the relevance of mythology in modern times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org