Culture of the Empire of Splendour:
Race, Social Order, Language, Geomancy, The Nine Arts, Births, Marriages and Deaths
Rao-Shimvar: Duty to Society
The nature of Imperial society can be summarised in one word: order. The Empire likes everything to have a place, and prefers it to remain there. The concept of rao-shimvar governs the place of people in the Empire. It has a two-fold effect. It determines where everyone stands in society, and it is the basis for a moral code.
According to rao-shimvar, one's actions should first be considered in light of their effects on society as a whole, then on one's family, then associates and finally on one's self. The term rao-shimvar is often used by Imperial authorities in the same sense as 'honour'; it is honourable, right and fitting to act for the good of the Empire before all else. The concept of rao-shimvar determines one's social rank.
Highest of all is the Emperor, then his court and the Magisters, then Artisans; those who not only create things but create things of beauty. Doctors, magicians and ceremonial priests are usually considered part of the Artisan class. Below the artisans are the Providers; farmers, fishers, miners and labourers. They perform physical work and produce something useful to the Empire. Below the Providers are the Merchants, who make money from the hard work of others. This low opinion of the Merchant class is one of the reasons why the clans who make up the Merchants League were instrumental in overturning the established Imperial order. Below the Merchants are the Untouchables who deal with dead or waste matter; butchers, tanners, undertakers, ordure collectors and so on.
Technically there is no Outcast rank, since the Empire considers its law to touch upon all citizens. Foreigners, however, are accorded a special ranking, theoretically below the Untouchables but in practise placed depending upon their use. A diplomat, for example, would be considered roughly equivalent to Magister rank in terms of honour due, although obviously of lower value than an Imperial diplomat. It is theoretically possible to change one's ranking. It is determined by trade, not by birth and so the daughter of a dung collector may rise to become a Magister. In practice, however, there is strong snobbery in die-hard Imperial regions and said daughter would find her path through the magisterial exam system to be difficult compared to the daughter of a Magister.
The Empire bequeathed two languages to the world - High and Low Imperial. High Imperial is the language of the learned, of official documents and of the Imperial Court. It has strict grammatical rules, most notorious of which are the 'respect' rules. Verbs must be conjugated according to one of five levels of respect shown by the speaker to the listener. These are High Exalted (mainly reserved for the Emperor), Honourific (a general purpose polite form), Polite (an every day form), Informal (used for speaking to inferiors, close friends and family members) and Humble (used for those two or more social ranks below). Adverbs must also match verbs, and there are a wide range of alternate nouns and adjectives used to describe people and items of different ranks (working out how honourable an object is can take many years of training. A plate, for example, is more honourable than a bowl). High Imperial is also very conservative, and new words and concepts must be translated into existing High Imperial terms. Written High Imperial uses a pictographic system, with modifiers for grammar.
Low Imperial is the form in common usage. Although it retains some of the honourific forms of High Imperial it is not so strict, relying mostly on the Polite form for sentences not directly related to addressing another person. It is able to cope with loan words and foreign language more easily (not least because written Low Imperial is syllabic), although often converting some syllables to a more Imperial form. The sound 'th', for example, is often converted to 'v'. Low Imperial is the form used by the majority of Imperial citizens and, thanks to the Merchants League, has some currency as a common trade language with many other nations.
The concept of geomancy is fundamental to many aspects of Imperial life. Its roots are ancient and probably precede the Empire. It holds that the four cardinal directions, and the fifth direction of 'centre', are tied to specific concepts represented by animal gods.
North (also known as Winter or Mountains) is the domain of Jade Gibbon, a loyal but none too bright creature who supports the sky and is the source of agriculture.
East (Spring, Rivers) is home to Glass Frog, who carries the Divine Emperor, the Sun, through the Underworld every night in his throat pouch. Glass Frog is the patron of soldiers and guardsmen.
South (Summer, Seas) is home to Bronze Porpoise, a cunning creature who patrons the sciences and technology.
West (Autumn, Hills) is home to Ruby Horse, a swift creature with hooves and mane of fire who brings inspiration to artists and scholars.
Centre is home to Golden Crow, aloof and wise, ruler of the other four creatures. Golden Crow is the patron of leadership.
Imperial cities tend to be built with geomancy in mind. The perfect layout for a city, as exemplified by the City of Blue Jays, is of a grid pattern, with gates at the exact centre of the four outer walls, aligned perfectly with the cardinal directions. The courts of the Magisters lie at the centre, agricultural markets to the north, guard barracks to the east, artisans workshops to the south and colleges to the west. Despite the best efforts of city planners, inhabitants tend to have an annoying habit of moving to the most convenenient location, thus throwing out the nice geomantic design.
Imperial music and arts are regulated along geomantic lines. The Four Voices of Heavenly Harmony is the perfect Imperial orchestral arrangement, featuring stone chimes for North, bagpipes for East, water chimes for South and harps for West. Even such musical elements as tempo and pitch are described in geomantic terms, from stately Jade Gibbon to flighty Ruby Horse.
Imperial magic also features geomantic elements. Jade, for example, is used as a component for spells involving fertility and harvests. Glass is used in spells of protection, ruby for spells involving movement, bronze in magic that creates or modifies matter and gold for magic that affects the mind or will of others.
The Nine Arts
The Divine Emperor was first to discover the vital elements of civilisation known as the Nine Arts, and later appointed other Immortals to impart the knowledge to humanity. Sadly, the knowledge seems to have become confused between immortal and mortal realms, as there is disagreement about exactly what the Nine Arts are. Agriculture, Writing, Medicine, Music, Mathematics, Law, Architecture, Metal-Working, Animal Husbandry, Sericulture, Weaving and Magic are all candidates for the Nine Arts, each with its own patron deity or deities. Other skills and sub-skills come under the title of the Ten Thousand Tasks.
Births, Marriages and Deaths
In a political entity embracing many cultures, these aspects of Imperial society are amongst the most varied. Some practices are more common than others, however, and are often considered the 'typical' Imperial form. Overseeing births is the goddess Mansharga, who typifies the no-nonsense Imperial view of child-bearing and said to inflict the pain of child birth as a test of character. The concept of rao-shimvar tends to promote the idea of sex for creating new Imperial citizens, and the most ubiquitous text on matters sexual, The Lotus Book, deals more with mechanics than sensation. However, attitudes vary considerably and the use of the contraceptive herb bitter tea is widespread.
An Imperial marriage, at a bare minimum, must be ratified and witnessed by a Magister Administory to make it legal (all levels of Magister may do so). It is usually the case that several priests bless the couple as well, to ensure fortune. A proper Imperial wedding ceremony is an all-day affair. The couple begin the ceremony dressed in simple white shifts, and are gradually attired in layers of symbolic clothing. These elaborate costumes in lucky yellow include venerable family heirlooms and articles made by the bride and groom in their spare moments. Divorce is permissible under Imperial law, and a case may be brought by either party. Decisions are not biased by gender.
Death is symbolised by the colour red, perhaps due to the colour of sunset when the Divine Emperor, the Sun, 'dies' at the end of each day. Shrinam is the Immortal who oversees death, his sixty four arms each representing one of the possible outcomes for a soul after death. Imperial belief is that part of the soul, the Essence, is reborn in part or in whole in a new life. The Essence has no knowledge of former lives but can be increased or decreased in 'purity' by each mortal life it follows. The other part, the Personality, normally only lives one life. Sometimes it is sent to the Gardens of Heaven or the Pits of Hell, sometimes it fades away to Blissful Oblivion, sometimes it is reborn in part or in whole in a new mortal life. Death Sixty Three, the Emperors Death, is where the Personality lives on forever as an Immortal in the Gardens of Heaven, and the Essence is reborn as the Divine Flame in the next Emperor. Death Sixty Four is the most feared death of all - both Essence and Personality are eradicated forever.
The most common Imperial funeral custom is cremation. The ashes are treated in a fashion appropriate to the deceased's role in life. A farmer may be scattered on his fields whereas a Magister would find a place in an ornate urn in an official mausoleum. In Dronistor, worthy individuals are entombed in an ossuary and others are left on funeral platforms to be devoured by sacred aadrul carrion birds. Along the Anhoi River, burial is often performed but this is considered barbaric by most Imperial citizens.
(c) 2006 The Creative Conclave.
Anhoi River States
Empire of Splendour
Imperial Culture Part Two
Law and order, magic, Imperial Couriers, travel.
Imperial Culture Part Three
Arts and entertainment, bathhouses, dragon scales, clothing and costume.
Discuss this article
Racial Types of the Empire
There are many different appearances of human living within the Empire, some divided along social lines, others geographical. There is also considerable intermixing of racial types.
The nekuu are the most common type of human found from Ut'Bharma to Oksa. Golden skinned, dark haired and broad faced, nekuu are often treated as the 'working' class of citizen although they can be found in all levels of Imperial society.
Seeing themselves as aristocratic, ashara are tall and slender with coffee-coloured skin, stright dark hair,almond eyes, generally fleshy lips and an overall androgynous appearance. Perpetuation of the idea of asharan superiority means that a higher number of asharan types can be found in Imperial government.
With a tendency towards stoutness, curly dark hair and snub-noses (in contrast to the aquiline asharan nose), the anhoi come from the eastern Empire along the Anhoi River. They are often treated as the 'merchant' class and a common stereotype is that they are shrewd with money.
The dron come from Dronistor and are quite striking. Their skin is a vibrant orange, their eyes are sky blue and their hair bright yellow. These dronish characteristics seems to breed true - a person of mixed parentage either appears fully dron or not. There is no clear categorisation of the dron in Imperial society.
Rare in mainstream Imperial society, the Thells come from Thellingerstan in the northeast Empire. They are tall, pale skinned and blonde or red haired, and twins are common anomgst them. Thells are considered barbarians by most Imperial citizens.
Another outlandish colouration, the atala are green-skinned and haired. They are quite rare except in the southern coastal lands and it is rumoured that their homeland was once an island in the southern seas that sank or was otherwise destroyed.