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Behind the Design: The Nine Color Deer

August 30, 2016 2 min read

“Long ago there lived a deity that took the form of a deer. He was a beautiful creature with a sparkling coat of nine different colors and majestic antlers that shone bright white, glittering and translucent like jade. He was known as the Deer of Nine Colors.”

So begins the legend of the Nine Color Deer, as translated by Li Guishan in “Frescos and Fables: Mural Stories from the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang”.

The story continues with the Deer of Nine Colours grazing near the river, when suddenly he hears the desperate cries of a man swept downstream by the fast-flowing water: “Gods in Heaven and Gods on earth, please save me now!”

Illustration of "Nine-Coloured Deer Jātaka" (Dunhuang)

The deer plunges into the ice cold river and rescues the drowning man, who clings gratefully to his back. When they reach the riverbank, the man reveals his name as Tiao Da, and promises to faithfully serve the deer until the end of his days. However, the deer says to him kindly: “You are free to return to your home. Just make me one promise - you will never tell anyone you met me here by the river”. Tiao Da agrees and thankfully goes home.

Illustration of "Nine-Coloured Deer Jātaka" (Dunhuang)

One night the imperial concubine becomes very ill. She had dreamed of a deer of nine colors, and became obsessed with the thought of the beautiful, spell-binding cloak she could have with such a skin. Greed for the deerskin ate away at her and made her ill. When the King is told of the cause of her sickness, he issues a royal proclamation, offering great rewards to anyone who can help capture the Nine Color Deer.

When Tiao Da hears of the great riches to be gained, he quickly travels to the royal palace to inform the King. Completely renouncing his promise, he leads the King and his soldiers to the exact place where his life had been saved, and there they find the Deer of Nine Colors.

As the King’s men prepare to shoot their arrows, suddenly the deer springs forward and speaks to the King: “Before I die I have but one wish. You must know that your subject Tiao Da is a traitor and a liar. He has broken his promise never to reveal my whereabouts. Such a person brings shame to your kingdom.”

The King was truly moved, and told his soldiers to lower their bows. He banished Tiao Da from the kingdom, and let the Nine Color Deer go free. From that time all deer were protected, especially the Deer of Nine Colors.

Yun Boutique pays homage to this charming and inspiring folktale with our own Deer of Nine Colors necklace. This beautiful, unique necklace is formed in the shape of the deer head and antlers, and comes in both silver and gold.

Deer of Nine Colors necklace.


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