With more than 5000 years of history, there are many legends and tales to tell when it comes to the heritage of tea. These legends vary from country to country, from China to Japan to India, and are closely linked to the religious cultures and the great characters of the time. Three legends are particularly prevalent to tell the story of the origin of tea.
A famous legend leads to Shen Nong, the last of the three mythical emperors, and the invention of the infusion of tea in 2737 BC. On one particularly hot day while the Emperor was resting in the shade of a small shrub, he boiled some water in a small jar. A slight breeze then stirred the branches above him, which caused the leaves of the shrub to fall into the jar. When he awoke and tasted his water, the Emperor found this improvised infusion wonderfully delicious. The beverage was slightly bitter, but it was rich and delicious in aroma. The Emperor was immediately inspired and he began planting a tea garden and encouraged his subjects to make tea their favourite drink.
The Hindu legend tells that when Prince Dharma was touched by grace, he travelled to preach Buddha's laws and guidelines in China. His mission was to spread the word for nine long years, during which the Prince vowed not to stop even to sleep. At the end of the third year, in a state of utter fatigue, Prince Dharma accidentally picked leaves of wild tea into which he instinctively bit. These leaves affected the Prince instantly, giving him the energy necessary to carry out his mission.
The Japanese legend is similar to a variant of the Indian myth of Prince Dharma. Exhausted by his Chinese mission, Prince Dharma finally surrendered to sleep and dreamed of the woman he loved. When he woke up, ashamed with himself and filled with rage, he tore his eyelids off and buried them, forcing himself to never be able to close his eyes again. Some time later, as he was passing through the same place, Prince Dharma noticed that two shrubs had grown where his eyelids were buried. Curious, he tasted the leaves and discovered with surprise that they had the virtue of energising and releasing him from thoughts of sleep.
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