SPECIAL: Isaan folk tales (part three)

In its republishing of Isaan folk tales, The Isaan Record moves today north to Nong Khai and south to Khon Kaen with two tales tied to historical events in the metropole of Bangkok.

Story 5: Three Buddhas from Laos

LONG AGO THE KING OF LAOS HAD THREE BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTERS. Each of his daughters loved her father very much, and they decided to make something for their father. Each daughter made a statue of the Buddha. The statues were very beautiful and for many years people from all over Laos came to Vientiane to see the statues.

Many years later the King of Laos became the enemy of the King of Thailand. A war was fought, and the Thai king won. When the Thai king went to Vientiane, he saw the three statues. They were so beautiful that he decided to take them with him to Thailand.

So he put the statues in ox carts and took them to the Mekong River. Then he put them in boats. As they were crossing the river, a rainstorm came and one boat was sunk. The statue in it was also lost. But the other two statues were not lost, they were taken to Nong Khai where they were kept for many years.

When Mongkut became the King of Thailand, he wanted to bring the two statues to Bangkok. So he sent his servants to Nongkhai to take the statues. Again the statues were loaded in ox carts, and the long journey from Nong Khai to Bangkok began. They had not left the town of Nong Khai before one ox cart broke. Its statue fell to the ground. The people   would not let anyone put the statue into another cart, they said, “Prasai does not want to go to Bangkok; he has broken the ox cart by a miracle because he wants to stay in Nong Khai.”

The king’s servants did not know what to do. The king had told them to bring both statues to Bangkok, but they only had one. They decided to tell Mongkut the story. When he heard it, Mongkut decided to leave the statue named Prasai in Nong Khai. Mongkut agreed that Prasai did want to stay in Nong Khai. [“wanted to stay”?—ed.]

So only one statue is in Bangkok now. It is named Praserm. The statue which fell into the Mekong River was named Prasuk. It is still in the River because no one could ever find it. And Prasai is still in Nong Khai. You can see this famous statue in the Temple of the Po Tree (or in Thai: Wat Po) in Nong Khai. Many people believe that Prasai has strange powers. They believe that it can make the rain fall, or keep the rain from falling.

Story 6: The Famous Tree of Khon Kaen

IF YOU GO TO THE RAILWAY STATION IN KHON KAEN, YOU WILL SEE A BIG LOG with the name of the city carved into it. This log shows you what the name means, but do you know how Khon Kaen got its name?

A

Over two hundred years ago when the Northeast was still ruled by the King of Laos, a man named Kunlaung was the Prince of Suvannapum. His wife was Chantra. When they had been married for several years, they had a son, Piamuang. Piamuang was very handsome, and everyone thought he was a fine, young man. When he was nearly an adult, many parents wanted him to marry their daughters. Piamuang did not know how to choose a wife, so he said to his parents, “Will you choose my wife? I am afraid I cannot choose wisely.”

Kunlaung and Chantra agreed to do this. They looked for a very fine young woman to be Piamuang’s wife; one day the Prince said to his son, “We will be very pleased if you marry Oumaradee.” Piamuang saw that she was very beautiful and he gladly agreed. Piamuang and Oumaradee lived in Suwannapum for several years. Finally, the Prince and Princess said, “Suwannapum is too small for all the people living here. Why don’t you begin a new city, Piamuang? You can lake some people with you.”

B

So Piamuang and Oumaradee left Suwannapum to begin their new city, and about four hundred people went with them. They finally came to the little town of Kam. In the center of the town was a huge tamarind tree. It was nearly dead. Piamuang thought, “It is foolish to leave that, dying tree there, its wood may be valuable.” He said to a villager, “Why do you leave this log here?”

The villager replied, “Five years ago this big tamarind tree died. But a wise man told us it would become alive again. When it becomes alive again, our village will have some good luck. Just this year it has become alive again. Every week it has more and more leaves.”

Piamuang was impressed, and he thought, “Perhaps this tree is holy. It should not be destroyed.” Piamuang and his people built a chedi to protect the holy tree. When this was completed they decided that Kam was such a nice little town that they wanted to live in it. Some of the people said, “It has very fertile fields, we will all become rich here.” So they built their new homes in Kam.

C

About this time King Taksin defeated the King of Laos and all of the Northeast became part of Thailand. Many of the princes of the Laotian king decided to send presents to the Thai king. In his village, Piamuang convinced the people that they must be loyal to their new kings. They decided to send presents to the Thai king too.

When Rama I became King of Thailand, he remembered the loyalty of Piamuang and the people in the village of Kam. The King said, “Because of your loyalty, Piamuang, I will make you a governor. And your little village will become the capital of a new province.”

D

For many years the famous Piamuang and the beautiful Oumaradee ruled the town of Kam. But one day a man came to them and said, “Governor, our tamarind tree is dying.”

Piamuang was very sad. He thought, “My own life is now like that of the tamarind tree. When it dies, I think I will die too.” Finally, the tree died; and very soon after that Piamuang died too.

By this time Kam was a big town, the people decided it needed a new name. The most important thing about the town was its famous tree. The people said, “Our town’s power is like the strength of a tree. It is very great.” So they named their town, the Hard Log (or in Thai: Khon Kaen).

Today Khon Kaen is a big city. It is no longer like the quiet village in which Piamuang lived. Trains, buses, and planes all come to Khon Kaen because it is the capital of northeastern Thailand. The power of the city is now much greater than the strength of the tamarind tree.