SPECIAL: Isaan folk tales (part five)

Our Isaan folk tales series today takes you to Chaiyaphum and Kalasin for two tales of magical swans and sacred caves.

Story 9: The Hunter and the Golden Swan

IN THE PROVINCE OF CHAIYAPHUM THERE IS A BEAUTIFUL, LITTLE POND. It is near the mountains and it is filled with water all of the time. Near the pond there is a statue of a swan. This is the story of why the statue was built.

Long, long ago there was a flock of golden swans. Every afternoon they would fly out of the sky and swim in this little pond. Not many people knew about this, but some people did and they liked to watch the swans swimming. They thought that they were very beautiful. Some people believed they were holy. The swans were really fairies from the Green Mountain which was nearby. Every day the fairies changed into the beautiful swans as the sun rose. They flew from the   mountain to the pond. But every day at sunset they changed back into fairies. No one knew that the swans were fairies, and they always wondered why the swans left before the sun had set.

The people living near the pond loved the swans very much. They did not want to hurt them, and they told their friends not to hurt the beautiful swans. But sometimes people came to their village who did not know about the swans. This is what happened when a stranger visited the pond.

A hunter from another province came to the pond. He had never been there before, and he did not know that anyone lived nearby. He saw the swans, and he wanted to have one for himself. The hunter thought for a moment. How could he catch a swan? He was surprised that the swans were not afraid of him, they were not afraid of anybody. So the hunter took out a long rope and he threw it around the neck of one swan. Suddenly, the other swans were frightened. They saw the hunter catch the swan, and they flew away.

The swan that the hunter had caught was very sad. She knew that she could not escape. If she could not escape, then she would become a fairy and everyone could see her. So she knew that she had to die before the sun set. The swan held her breath until she was dead.

When the people in the village saw all of the swans flying away from the pond so early in the afternoon, they were surprised. “Why are the swans leaving,” they wondered as they ran to the pond. They saw the hunter standing there with the dead swan. “What have you done?” they shouted.

The hunter told them what had happened. The people were very angry now, and they said, “Those beautiful swans did not hurt anybody. Everyone loved them, and they were not afraid of us because we were kind to them. But you were very greedy, you wanted a swan just for yourself. Now that swan is dead and the rest are gone. That will teach you what happens when you are selfish.”

The hunter was very sorry for what he had done, but what could he do? He could not make the dead swan alive. He thought, “Perhaps the swans will come back tomorrow, and I can help them in some way.” But the swans never returned to the pond and no one has ever seen them since. Several days later the hunter decided to build a statue of a beautiful swan by the pond. He spent many years working on it. Near the statue he buried the dead swan. Finally the statue was finished. Everyone agreed that it was very beautiful, and they forgave the hunter for his evil deed. Today if you go to Chaiyaphum, you can see the statue of the swan. It is by the pond called the Pond of the Golden Swans. Near the statue is a clear, deep well. Tradition says the well is where the swan was buried. Today it is holy.

Story 10: The Red Hand of the Buddha

BEFORE PEOPLE HAD PAPER TO WRITE ON, THEY WROTE ON STONES OR BRICKS. Sometimes, if they wanted their writing to last, they would write on the walls of caves. And the writings and pictures found in caves today are often very old. In the country of France there are some drawings of deer and other animals that are over four thousand years old.

A

In Thailand, too, hundreds of years ago, people wrote on the walls of caves. They wrote religious stories. In Korat there is the Red Cattle Cave (or in Thai: Tam Ngua Dang) In this cave there are many pictures telling the story of the god, Esuan. In Buriram there is the Golden Duck Cave (or in Thai: Tam Phed Thong). The pictures and writings on the wall of this cave tell the story of the ancestors of the Cambodian kings.

One of the most famous caves in the Northeast is in Kalasin. This cave is called the Hand Writing Cave. On the ceiling of the cave a big red hand has been painted. This is a religious painting, it is supposed to be the hand of the Buddha.

B

The villagers who live near the cave tell this -story of how the Hand came to be painted in the cave:

One time the Buddha passed through this part of the world. He came to this mountain late in the day, and he decided to rest there that night. He looked for a place to sleep, and he found the cave. So the Buddha slept in the cave all night long. The next day he was very thankful for this place he had found to rest in. He decided to leave something in the cave.

Nearby he found some red soil which he made into red paint. And before he left the area, he painted a hand on the ceiling of the cave. The hand looked like the Buddha’s hand, only it was many times bigger.

C

Maybe you do not believe this story. Archaeologists say the hand was painted about one thousand years ago. That means the Cambodians must have painted it there when they ruled this part of the country. But if you go to the Hand Writing Cave, and if you talk to a villager, he would disagree.

The villager would say, “How does the archaeologist know? He has not lived here all his life? But everyone who has lived here knows that the Buddha painted the hand himself. Our parents told us. And our grandparents told our parents.” This story has, therefore, become a legend, and even if it is not true, the people living near the Hand Writing Cave believe this story.

Today you can see the Hand Writing Cave if you go to Kalasin. It is a very holy place, and many people go to worship the Buddha there. And that is why the Hand was put there in the first place – for worship. So it does not matter who made the painting, but it does matter that; the hand was painted to remind people of their belief in the Buddha and his teachings.