The Master of Rain
Origins of the Master of Rain
The Master of Rain ( 雨師 Yushi ) is the Rain Spirit ( 雨神 Yushen ), who is also called Pingyi or Xuanming. The Rain Spirit of ancient China has an early origin. The "Great Master of Sacrificial Rites ( 大宗伯 Da Zongbo ) " in the Rites of the Zhou ( 周禮 Zhouli ) mentions "burning firewood to worship the Controller of the Center ( 司中 Sizhong ), the Controller of Destinies ( 司命 Siming ), the Master of Wind ( 風師 Fengshi ) and the Master of Rain". Zheng Xuan made a commentary on it, saying, "the Master of Rain is the Constellation Bi ( 畢星 Bixing ) ". He means, "when the moon is far away from the Constellation Bi, it rains in torrents. So the Master of Rain is the Constellation Bi". Cai Yong of the Eastern Han dynasty says in his Independent Judgement ( 獨斷 Duduan ), "the Spirit of the Master of Rain ( 雨師神 Yushi Shen ) is the Constellation Bi. It conjures up rain when its image appears in the sky." Constellation Bi is one of the Seven Western Constellations ( 西方七宿 Xifang Qisu ) of the 28 constellations. Here the Master of Rain is regarded to be a constellation. The Rain Spirit may also be conceived in a human form. Qu Yuan's Questions on Heaven ( 天問 Tianwen ) says, "it rains at Ping's command". Wang Yi of the Han dynasty annotated it, saying, "Ping is Pingyi, the name of the Master of Rain". The Comprehensive Explanations to Customs ( 風俗通義 Fengsu Tongyi ) says, "according Zuo's Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals ( 春秋左氏傳 Chunqiu Zuoshi Zhuan ), the son of Gonggong is the Master Xuanming", and "Zichan, the Senior Official ( 大夫 Dafu ) of Zheng, averted disasters by praying to Xuanming". Xuanming is in fact the Master of Rain. The Jin dynasty Investigations into the Divine ( 搜神記 Soushen Ji ) says, "Chisongzi is the Master of Rain during the time of the Holy Farmer ( 神農 Shennong ) ". The Comprehensive Collection of Investigations into the Divinities of the Three Doctrines since their Origin ( 三教源流搜神大全sanjiao Yuanliu Soushen Daquan ) took the Master of Rain to be a divine bird, saying, "the Master of Rain is Shangyang, and Shangyang is a divine bird with a single claw. It can become big or small and make seas dry when it sucks. It is the Spirit of the Master of Rain". After the Tang and Song dynasties, the worship of the Dragon King ( 龍王 Longwang ) born out of Buddhism gradually began to replace the Master of Rain.
In the name 'Master of Rain', "Master" refers to a spirit. According to the section Sacrificial Rites ( 祀典 Sidian ) of the Comprehensive Explanations to Customs, "master means multitude. Water is extensive in the soil. Thunder shakes ten thousand li, and even reaches the Supreme Mountain ( 太山 Taishan ), and so does the wind. But rain is different. It may rain everywhere under heaven within a morning. Rain's merits are so extensive and great that only rain is titled Master". Because the rain moistens the land, "brings birth to everything, and does meritorious deeds to human beings, kings offer sacrifice to it in order to repay its contribution".
The worship of the Master of Rain was already classified as one of the country's sacrificial rites during the Qin and Han dynasties. The Important Documents of the Tang ( 唐會要 Tang Huiyao ) says that the worship of the Master of Rain was promoted to a sacrificial rite of the middle rank, and "an altar must be set up in each prefecture" so that the rites could be held simultaneously with kings' sacrificial rites. Some Daoist temples also set up halls to enshrine the Earl of Wind ( 風伯 Fengbo ), the Master of Rain, the Father of Thunder and the Mother of Lightning (雷公電母 Leigong Dianmu ). The statue of the Master of Rain is always a black-bearded robust man with a jar in his left hand where there is a dragon, whose right hand seems to be sprinkling water. He is called the Master of Rain and the Heavenly Sovereign Chen. His divine birthday is on the 20th day of the 11th lunar month. But now the sacrificial rites particularly held for the Master of Rain are rarely seen because the worship of the Master of Rain has gradually been replaced by that of the Dragon King in modern times. The spirit tablet of the Master of Rain is merely set up at large-scale Daoist rituals of Fasts and Offerings ( 齋醮 Zhaijiao ), for the Master of Rain to be worshiped along with other spirits.