Chapter 4: Lao Folk Epics


Folk epics and heroic narratives are synonymous in this context.  This chapter aims at presenting heroic figures in the eyes of Lao people.   The first hero that most Lao people know is Khun Bulomrajathirat (most people call him Khun Bulom, (the word khun could be equivalent to lord in English.), as he was supposed to be the first human king sent from heaven to lead Lao people to prosperity.  The version to be presented here is summarized from three original versions--one by the Literature Department, the Lao Education Ministry, one by Sila Viravongs and Nuan Suthepsakda, and one in Thai script transcribed from the first two by Jaruwan Thammawat.1   The second legendary hero in Laos is Thao Hung Thao Cheuang who is supposed to leave concrete objects as a reminder, the gigantic jars made of solid stone.  These jars of various sizes were scattered over the vast plateau in Xiang Khuang region outside of Phonsavanh district. This area is called The Plain of Jars (mqj'wssuo) which is "an archaeological mystery"2 to many.  They are estimated to be at least 2,000 years old.  This mystery is by no means a mystery to Lao people as they believe that "these gigantic jars are whiskey or wine jars of their great Khmer king, Thao Cheuang."3   Thao Hung Thao Cheuang is a hero of the Lao people as well as of peoples in various countries in Southeast Asia, as the settings of the story covered a wide range of area: in  the present day northern Thailand, in Laos, Vietnam, and Burma.  Versions and variations of the story exist in Laos, Vietnam, and nothern Thailand.  Each version shares the same plot structure with varying details in the middle and at the end.  In this course, only summaries of the story will be presented here due to time and length of the epic.  There are at least four versions of the summary for those interested to examine: one in a Lao textbook for the ninth grade students (Matthayom pithi sam), two by Sila Viravongs in the book entitled The Benefits of Literature (payot khong wannakhadee) and in Thao Hung Khun Cheuang, the Hero of the Two Sides of the River Banks and in Thao Hung Thao Cheuang Epic, and the last two by Doungdeuane (Viravongs) Bounyavong.  She presented the summary of the story in Thao Hung Khun Cheuang, the Hero of the Two Sides of the River Banks and in Thao Hung Thao Cheuang Epic by Sila Viravongs.  The version presented here is slightly adapted from the English translation by Duangdeuane (Viravongs) Bounyavong.4 The last folk epic to be introduced here is Phadaeng Nang Ai (King Phadaeng and Princess Aikham.5   Although the last folk epic is not about a Lao folk hero, it is presented here as the story that is still alive in Lao people's lives and as the story is a part of the Lao people's fertility rite, the bun bangfai (the rocket festival).6   Phadaeng Nang Ai has been translated into English and it is quite easily accessible through libraries.  Thus, the article about the rocket festival in Laos will be presented here. 

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Khun Bulomrajathirat or Lord Bulomrajathirat

The setting of Khun Bulom was in the two worlds: one being Thaen or the highest celestial being in heaven (sometimes these celestial beings are called phi (ghosts); the other being the human on earth.   In those days, the ghosts or the celestial beings and the humans could travel back and forth to visit one another.  There were three human leaders or lords named Pu Langxoeng, Khun Khan, and Khun Khet.  They built their territories on earth called Muang Lum (the lower world).  They made a living by hunting, fishing and planting rice; thus, the people enjoyed eating meat, fish, and rice.  Thaen sent his messenger down to tell the three lords to follow his instructions in the following verse:7

kin   khao  hai    bok   nai Eating rice, you might let your Lord know.
kin ngai hai bok kae thaen Eating late morning meal, you must tell Thaen also.
kin sin ko hai song kha Eating (an animal's) meat, you must send its legs.
kin pa ko hai song hoi hai thaen Eating fish, you must send some to Thaen.

The people neglected Thaen's command.  So he sent his messenger for the second time, but the people still neglected Thaen's instruction.  After the third time, Thaen became so humiliated that he sent a flood to Muang Lum and the great flood injured and killed many people.  The three leaders realized that they were the cause of Thaen's wrath so they built a raft, put their wives and children on the raft, and went to heaven to visit Thaen.  Thaen spoke the following verse and sent them to be with another celestial being.

su bo yi  ci bo thao You had no respect, you would never reach old age.
su bo yam cao ci bo yuen You had no fear, you would not live long.
su bo fang khwam a-yu su bo mi You did not obey me, your age would never reach
   thoeng song hoi khuab   two hundred.

After the flood was over, the three human lords went to pay respect to Thaen and asked for permission to go down to earth again.  Thaen gave a buffalo with beautiful horns and sent them to Na noi oy nu (Muang Thaeng--presently it is Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam.)  After three years the buffalo died and from its nostrils sprouted a vine with three giant guords.  Pu Lang Xoeng heard noises inside the guords so he pierced a hole with a  glowing red fired drill.  From the hole came many people.   Khun Khan used a huge chisel to pierce another hole.  From that hole came more people; it took three more days for all the people to come out.   The people from the first hole split into two groups: one was called Tai Lom and the other Tai Lee.   Those from the second hole split into three groups: Tai Lo, Tai Loeng, and Tai Kwang.

At first the people did not know how to survive; thus Pu Lang Xoeng taught them how to survive and instructed them to become husbands and wives and build households.   He taught them to respect the elders and to have funeral ceremonies.    The Tai Lom and Tai Lee must have cremation for the deceased, but the other groups must have burial ceremonies.  A flag must be placed at the grave and a small hut built so the living could send rice and water to the spirits of the deceased.   For those who could not build a hut, they must prepare a place in their own home for this purpose.  They must call the spirit of the deceased to come and have food.   The people in those days could live until they were three hundred years old.   More and more people populated the earth.  They were too many for Pu Lang Xoeng, Khun Lang, and Khun Khet to manage.  So, they went to Thaen and asked for help.  Thaen sent Khun Kha and Khun Khong down, but they could do nothing much because they were intoxicated most of the time.  The three original human leaders decided to go ask Thaen for help again.  Thaen called back Khun Kha and Khun Khong and sent Khun Bulomrachathirat or Khun Bulom who came down with many bards and wise people.  Yet, there were still troubles.  So Khun Bulom sent his messenger to ask for help from Thaen.   This time Thaen sent a messenger to teach people how to plant vegetables and fruit.   The people were also taught how to weave and how to make tools.  The messenger also taught people what to do and what not to do.   Once Thaen was certain that the people could take care of themselves, he told them not to travel back and forth to heaven again.  He also had the bridge to heaven collapsed. 

After awhile the vine of the gourds became overgrown and blocked the sunlight.   Khun Bulom ordered many people to cut down the vine, but nobody could do it.   At last, he sent an old couple, Pu Nyoe and Ya Nyoe to cut down the vine.  The old couple sacrificed their lives to do so.  Before they undertook the task, they asked people to remember them by calling their names to join every activity.  Thus, the word "nyoe" appears after the Lao action words.  When people are going to eat, they would say, "kin yoe (Please eat Grandma and Grandpa Nyoe)." 

After the giant vine was cut, the human world prospered again.    Later, Khun Bulom had seven sons from his two wives, Nang Yomphala and Nang Et-khaeng.  Then, he found seven beautiful princesses to marry his sons.  After that he taught them how to rule the kingdom peacefully.  He also taught his daughters-in-law how to be good queens and housewives.  Then he distributed all kinds of treasures to his seven sons and allocated people, noble men, and ministers to help them rule their new cities.

Khun Bulom sent his seven sons to rule various cities: Khun Lo was sent to Chawa (Luang Phra Bang) Lan Xang, Xiang Dong Xiang Thong; Yi muang phalan to Nongsae; Jungsawang to Muang Kaewluang or Muang Phakan; Saiphong to Muang Yuanyao; Ngou-In to Muang Sidayothaya; Lokkom to Xiangkhom, Khamkao, or Khamkoed; Jetcheuang to Muang Phuan.8

Before the sons traveled to their cities Khun Bulom taught them an important message.   "Each of you must not mistreat the others; (each must attend to his own city).  Do not ever invade the other's city.  You must follow our ancient kingly rules.  For the elder brother (s), you are already prosperous; you must not be greedy, trying to take over your younger brothers' cities.  Or, you will face all kinds of misfortune in the future.  As for the younger brothers, I bless you with prosperity.  You must keep your older brothers informed of your well being.    If anything or anyone, belonging to the other, comes to you, you must return it to the owner.  Do not ever appropriate anything that is not your own."   . . .9

So his teaching went on to cover all topics necessary for all cities to live in peace and harmony while the sons listened attentively.  Khun Bulom continued ruling the city, putting down all kinds of law and order which later became Khun Bulom's Law (kod mai thammasat khun bulom).10   Not long after that, Khun Bulom died and his sons held a royal funeral, fitting the great king.  After the two queens died and after the seven brothers took an oath to be friends, they left to rule their own assigned cities. 

With that the story of Khun Bulom ends.

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Thao Hung Thao Cheuang

Thao Hung, or Cheuang, was a son of Khun Chomtham, ruler of Suantan or Nakhong Kingdom (now Chiangrai, Thailand ).  When he was three years old, the Phangdam tribe presented him with a sword and a couple of silver gongs, and later on he was offered a white elephant named Xangpheuakphankham. Khun Chomtham died when Thao Hung was in his teens and his mother, together with the people of Suantan Kingdom, crowned Thao Cheuang, Thao Hung's elder brother, the ruler of Muang Suantan, and Thao Hung was his viceroy. Thao Hung trained his elephant in the arts of warfare and sometimes he rode it to faraway places.  One day he met Nang Ngom, daughter of Nang Meng, who was a ruling princess of the Kingdom of Xieng Kheua (Nang Meng was Thao Hung's aunt). Thao Hung fell in love with Nang Ngom, so he requested his elders to ask for her hand in marriage from her mother.   Nang Meng demanded too much brideprice for Thao Hung to afford.    Thao Hung therefore secretly entered his lover's room to consummate their love.

At that time there was a Vietnamese (Keaw Moy) prince from Muang Khamwang  named Einka; he was the nephew of Thao Kua, ruler of Muang Pakan (now Xieng Khouang).     After his father's death, Einka became ruler of Muang Khamwang.   At that time, he was not yet married; thus, Einka wanted to marry a beautiful girl.     Hearing of one named Nang Oua, daughter of Khunjum, king of Muang Ngoenyang (now Chiang Saen in Thailand) he sent an envoy to ask her hand in marriage, but Khunjum did not agree.   Moreover, Khunjum told the envoy that he would give Nang Oua to his own nephew, Thao Hung.  (Khunjum was the elder brother of Khun Chomtham).

On receiving this report from his envoy, Einka hastened to inform his uncle, Thao Kua, at Muang Pakan. The latter was so angry, that he sent an envoy to Khunjum threatening that, if he did not agree to let his daughter marry Einka, his kingdom would be in jeopardy. Khunjum, hearing this, was also angered, and immediately told the envoy:

Since I have ruled Ngoenyang,
No-one, but you, dared to utter arrogant words.
He who marries my daughter must be of her race;
No-one else has the right to speak thus. 11

When these insults were reported to Thao Kua and Einka, they were infuriated, and led their armies to attack Muang Ngoenyang.  Eleven of Einka's commanders took part in this war: Hunbang, Kuankae, Aiykam, Maenfong, Kaewthong, Maensom, Ngodpong, Xiangpha, Thao Daed, Kaewkong, and Aiy-hing.

While they were marching towards Ngoenyang, Thao Kua told Naymat to ask Samma-heng, chief of the Phu Thum tribe, for directions and for help.  Thao Kua also asked Aiyhad, chief of the Pha Lod tribe for help.  Samma-heng and Aiyhad then were told to lead his troops ahead.  However, Samma-heng and Aiyhad, who were allies of Khunjum, decided to inform Khunjum about the attack so that he could be ready for it.   Khunjum, hearing of his enemies' plot, prepared to defend his kingdom.  His commanders were Naychanh, Nguawat, Kham-yong, Sammahio, Aiykad, and Samma-heng.

Khunjum's troops could not resist Einka's army, so they withdrew into the town. Khunjum then sent a message to his nephew Thao Hung, asking for help. The latter set off with his army to aid his uncle.  His generals were Aiykhuang, Einkhon, Hengphay, Khunkhan, Khonxay and Chason.   At the same time, Nang Ngom, Thao Hung's lover from Xiengkheua, commanded a troop of twenty elephants and many important generals to fight along side Thao Hung.  Her generals were Khunkeuan, Khun-pheng, Khun-yia, Xailue, Einphay, Aiyphong, Khunkhon and Thao Xoy.

Arriving in Ngoenyang, Thao Hung's troops, together with his lover's, attacked Einka's soldiers, who were hiding in the surrounding area. The latter fled in disorder and split into small groups. In the course of the fighting, Thao Kua, prince of Pakan, was killed on the battlefield, while Thao Einka was captured by Khun-yia, Nang Ngom's general.    Thao Kua's commanders were also killed. The rest of Einka's troops, 30,000 in number, were captured. Those who managed to escape were Thao Pong, Hunbang, Kaewthong, Maenlay, Maenfong, Kuankae and Xiang-hang.

In this war, Thao Hung lost three thousand men. When the war was over Thao Hung, with the three armies from Suantan, Xiangkheua and Ngoenyang, had driven their enemy up to the frontier. Thao Hung's army returned home in the fifth month with Nang Oua and Nang Amkha accompanying him as far as the land called Xiangkhuan.  Nang Oua rode an elephant named Phang-hoen-pakhuemad, while Nang Amkha rode an elephant named Inkong. From there, Thao Hung led his army to Tha-yong Phalod where he found a number of Hunbang's elephants and horses.  Hunbang was able to escape.  Then Thao Hung's army went on their way to Phu Thum where the Phangdam tribe lived.  After Phu Thum, they arrived at Muang Pakan on the same day.  

The following morning, Thao Hung and his army attacked Xiangban.  According to a local chronicle Xiangban had a population of 500,000 and 1,000 elephants.  Its borders were Sithom in Khen (Khmer) and Ho (Lao Nongsae).  Xiangban was seized that morning.  Kaewphoeng, Thao Daed, and Maenhuang were captured.  Kaewhuak jumped off the elephant's back and fled to Muang Pakan to tell Thao Kua's wife to defend the city.  Thao Kua's wife rode an elephant leading an army to fight against Thao Hung until she was killed in the battle.  After Thao Hung seized Muang Pakan, he appointed his noblemen and ministers to administer fourteen sections of Xiangkuan region and to oversee the tributary collection.

1. Khun-yia ruled the large Rice field, and was in charge of elephant tribute 

2. Einkhon ruled Xiang Ban Rice field, a prosperous trade centre 

3. Khonxay ruled Kongthun Rice field, where they levied more agricultural produce

4. Patcim (the western) Rice field which was the border of Phalod region was apportioned to Nang Meng

5. Nakham Rice field, formerly belonged to the land of Kaewkam, was apportioned to Xaylue

6. The plain Rice field of Pha Tham was apportioned to Einphay.

7. Rice field of Maenluean was apportioned to Nanoy

8. Rice field of Maenfay was under the administration of  Ngoenyang

9. Abundant Rice field of Xiang Khuan, with its beattle nut and coconut plants were

apportioned to Nang Oua.

10. Rice field of Dong Chan was apportioned to Nang Amkha

11. Rice field of Khamwang was apportioned to Aiy-keuan

12. Rice field of Kaew Heuak, in the eastern sector at the Chinese border, was

kept as a tributary state.

13. Rice field on Bang Bin river bank was apportioned to Uncle Phouang

14. The plain Rice field outside of the city was apportioned to Chason.

Thao Hung nominated Thao Khuang ruler of Muang Pakan.  After he finished his duties, he led his army back to Ngoenyang via Xiangban.  After ten days, he arrived home.  Upon his arrival, he asked Nang Chom, his mother, to be the ruler of Xiangkhuan which was the border city of Muang Pakan.  Thao Hung ruled Ngoenyang for seventeen years.  Nang Ngom bored him a son named Thao Khamhung.  While he was ruling Ngoenyang, the following foreign guests brought him tributes.

1  Ho Nhay ( Grand Ho ) of Nongsae

2. Phaya Fa-huan of Tumwang,

3. Ruler of a Chinese Kingdom,

4. Rulers of Muang Phakho, Muang Nan and Muang Chawa

5. Rulers of Muang Phayi, as well as Khmer and Lue.

Later on, Hunbang, commander-in-chief of Thao Einka, who had fled and taken refuge with Phaya Fa-huan of the court of Tumwang, led guerillas to attack Pakan territory.    Aiykhuang, the ruler of Pakan, reported this to Thao Hung, who immediately sent troops to Tumwang to subjugate Hunbang. There, Thao Hung's envoy, Khun Khon, negotiated with Phaya Fa-huan over the matter of surrendering Hunbang and Thao Hing, but Phaya Fa-huan refused to do so, saying that both men had requested refuge in his court.    When the negotiation had failed, Thao Hung decided to attack Tumwang.

Phaya Fa-huan was not strong enough to resist the attack, so he sent Maensom to submit to Thao Hung, but the latter did not accept this protocol, not trusting the enemy.    He decided to overthrow Tumwang.  Phaya Fa-huan therefore sent two of his soldiers to seek help from Thaen Lo of the Kingdom of Kalong.  The distance between Tumwang and Kalong was 15 days' journey by oxcart.  Upon arrival, Thaen Lo led his army to fight a bloody battle against Thao Hung and his troops. Most of Thao Hung's generals were killed, so he withdrew to Muang Pakan, sending a message to tell Aiycheuang and Khunjum ( his father-in-law ) to send reinforcements. The fighting was so fierce that Nay Phouang, one of Thao Hung's generals, feared that if they fought to the last man, it would result in genocide. He therefore asked permission to send his mother, Nang Chomsom, and  the children, among whom were Thao Khamkheuang and Thao Khamhung, sons of Thao Hung to Ngoenyang, while Thao Hung himself fought on until he was killed on the battlefield.

The local chronicle further states that, after his death, Thao Hung's spirit became commander-in-chief of the ghost army.  He led these troops to attack the Thaen Kingdom through Muang Khakhiow.  Einkhon, his most important general, had gone to ask Tai Eing the way to Muang Fa (Thaen's city in heaven).  It was also said they had to go by monkeys' ladder, by which they reached Linkham River toward Muang Lianphan, which was  Thaen's city.  After conquering Muangphan, Thao Hung led his ghost troops towards the luminescent land of Indra.  At Muang Kongthun, Thaen Lom, the city ruler there paid him homage.  At Muang Kamma, Thaen Nguang paid homage to Thao Hung.    After that he passed other cities of the Thaen and they all came to pay homage to him.  These Thaen city rulers included Thaenthao, Thaenmeng, Thaenkokay, Thaen-thuang, Thaenfeuang, Thaenmok, Thaenlee, Thaenlom, and Thaensong.

Meanwhile, Thao Cheuang ( Thao Hung's elder brother ), Khunjum, Thao Khamheuang and Thao Khamhung led the troops from Ngoenyang to attack Phya Fa-huan again.  Finally,    Phya Fa-huan was killed and the troops from Ngoenyang occupied Tumwang.  

And the story ends at this point.

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Phadaeng Nang Ai: The Folk Epic and the Fertility Ritual

The story of Phadaeng Nang Ai is alive and well in Lao people's lives.  Every year, the story will be told in the "Rocket Festival" to request rain from the rain god, Phya Thaen.  Here is an article written about the festival in 1999 by Thanongsack Vonsackda.12

Rocket Festival

Why do we prepare the rocket festival?

        Traditionally, rocket festival falls in the sixth month.  . . .  It is a very important event that has been passed on since the early period of time. It is also the symbol of unity and friendship of the Lao people to fight against dry weather, requesting for  rain.

        Even though, the belief in the god of rain is not as strong as in the past,  Lao people  continue the rocket festival as one of the significant activities before the rice planting season begins.  In addition to the rocket preparation, some Buddhist ceremonies such as Buddhist monk ordination and blessing ceremony for the reverent and elderly monks are also performed.

        Rocket festival provides a chance to request the rain from the rain god, Phya Thaen. According to the great belief in the ancient time, when the land was dry and farmers did not have enough water for their ricefields and other crops, they would organize the rocket festival. It is believed that when the rocket was shot up into the sky, the rain god would be reminded that the riceplanting season is approaching.  The people need rain so it is time Thaen send rain to earth.

Two stories are told and retold in this festival: one is Phya Khankhaak, the Toad King and the other is Phadaeng Nang Ai. 13

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Phya Khankhaak, The Toad King

        Once upon a time, when the lord  Buddha was not yet enlightened, he had to be born and reborn to accumulate sufficient merit fitting to be the Buddha.   In one of his lives, he was born Phya Khankhaak, the Toad King.

        Due to his merit making and loving kindness, alll the humans and animals respected him. The news of this well-respected human king made the rain god, Phya Thaen so jealous and  humiliated.

        In order to spoil the name of the Toad King, Phya Thaen did not send the rain to the earth for 8 years and 8 months.   People had no water for cultivation and consumption.  A huge number of vulnerable people and animals died.   Only the strong could survive.

     All surviving creatures on earth decided to fight Thaen for rain. The Naga King and his naga or mythical serpent troops volunteered to start the war against the god of rain.  In this battle, the Naga King and his naga or mythical serpent troops lost and they received many wounds.  After the wounds were healed, the naga and snakes' bodies became multi coloured.

        Then the King of Bees and his army took over the war. The fighting took many days and  huge numbers of bees were killed.  The King of Bees and his troops met the same fate as the Naga army and their bodies became multi-coloured as well.

        All other creatures were very afraid.    Finally, the Toad King decided to go to the front and he had a clever plan of three steps. The first step, he sent the termites to eat the handles of the swords of the god of rain and his army.

        The second step, he sent the King of Scorpions and his troops to the sky to hide themselves in the firewood and clothing of the gods and goddesses and be ready to bite at any time. In the morning when the God of Rain and his soldiers woke up, they would be bitten when they took their firewood and when they got dressed. When they took the handles of the swords, all handles would be destroyed and broken and become useless.

        The third steps, the Toad King ordered his troops to begin the fight.  Since the God of Rain's soldiers were suffered from the bites of scorpions, they were not brave enough to fight. When they took the weapons, all their weapons became useless.  The King of the Toads sat on the horse back and chased after the God of Rain.  And finally the God of Rain was captured and tied up.    The King of Toads was the winner.  They made an important treaty after they had seized the God of Rain.

        The peace treaty was made.    Some articles were outlined as follow :

        1. The rocket must be made to communicate between the earth people and the God of Rain. Every year, before the rainy season arrives, the earth people have to prepare the rockets and send them to the sky to remind the God of Rain to pour the rain down for ricefields and other crops.

        2. The sounds of the frogs are the signals to show that the rain has already fallen down. So when the rain arrives, the frogs have to shout out, signaling that there is plenty of rain available for rice planting.

        3. Kites and the flute sounds are the means of signaling that the harvest season has arrived.  There is no longer need for rain.  When the God of Rain hears these sounds, he has to stop sending the rain and wait until he sees the rocket in the next year.

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Thao Phadeng-Nang Ai

        Once upon a time, King Phya Khom ruled Muang Nonghaen or Thitanakhon peacefully and the people were contented.

        Unfortunately, the rain did not fall for 8 years and 8 months.   It was a very hard time. People and animals were killed. The God of Rain was so angry he did not send the rain and the land was very dry.

        In order to request for rain Phya Khom instructed his people to make the rockets for competition. The winner would receive half of the kingdom and the hand of his daughter, Nang Ai.

        The news of this festival spread everywhere.    Many kings such as Thao Xianghian, Xiangda, and Muang Song brought their people to join the festival.  Among these kings was Thao Phadaeng of Phaphong Kingdom.   All of them wished to be the winner so that they could claim their rewards and have the beautiful Nang Ai or Nang Aikham as their wife.

        Thao Phangkhi ( the son of the Naga King ) heard the news of the acclaimed beauty of Nang Ai and fell in love with her.  He decided to join the festival as well.  He transformed himself into a white squirrel with a golden bell around his neck. 

        Every morning and evening, Phangkhi squirrel gently jumped on the brances of the fig tree near Nang Ai's palace. When Nang Ai saw him, she liked him and wanted to have him as her pet.

        The day for the rocket competition arrived. Many rockets were fired. Some launched up while some stood on the station. Xianghian's rocket went up to the sky.  It was the highest one.  Phadeeng's rocket was broken. Phya Khom's rocket stayed in the firing station for three days and nights. Nang Ai should be the wife of Xianghian and half of the city should be allocated to him as well.    But Nang Ai had fallen in love with Phadaeng so she was very sad.

        Nang Ai told the hunter to catch the squirrel for her.  The hunter could not catch it alive so he decided to use his arrow to shoot the squirrel. The squirrel fell on the ground and died. Before he died, he begged the god: "Please make my meat about 8 oxen carts full and enough for all to eat.   The people who eat my meat, will die like me."

        After he died the city people shared the meat with everyone but the widows.

        When the Naga King heard that Thao Phangkhi was killed, he was very angry. He sent his troops to destroy Muang Nonghaen.  All people were killed except for the widows, for they did not eat Thao Phangkhi's meat.

        While the people of Nonghaen were meeting their disaster, Phadaeng rode his horse to rescue Nang Ai, but they could not escape because she also ate the squirrel meat. 

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  1.  The Literature Department, Ministry of Education, Phuen Khun Boromrajathirat sabab buhan tae (The Myth of Lord Boromrajathirat, the truly ancient version), Vientiane: The Literature Department, Ministry of Education, 1967. (Version 1)

Maha Sila Viravongs, Phuen Khun Boromrajathirat sabab doem (The Myth of Lord Boromrajathirat, the old version), Vientiane: the Ministry of Education, 1967. (Version 2)

Jaruwan Thammawat,  Lae lod phongsawadan Lao (Glimpses at the Lao Historical Chronicles), Mahasarakham: Mahasarakham University, nd. (Version 3)

This herioic narrative of Khun Bulom has been translated into English, but it is not for circulation.

Phothisane, Souneth. The Nidan Khun Bulom: Annotated Translation and Analysis, University of Queensland, Australia, OCLC 40872003, PH.D., 1996.

Interested persons could contact The University of Queensland's library in Australia:

    2.  "The Plain of Jars," in Essential Laos, Vientiane, Laos: Department of Publishing Library and Advertising, Ministry of Information and Culture, 1997, pp. 40-41.

    3.  Doungdeuane (Viravongs) Bounyavong, Watchananukom pakob huup (Lao Pictorial Dictionary), Vientiane: K. S. Kanphim, 1998, p. 41.

    4.  "Thao Hung Thao Cheuang" in Baebhian phasa lae wannakhadee san matthayom pithi song (A Textbook on Lao Language and Literature for the Eighth Grade Students), Vientiane: The National Research Institute of Science and Education, Ministry of Education, 1997, pp. 122-128.

Sila Viravongs,  "Luang Thao Hung Lue Thao Cheuang" in Payot khong wannakhadee (The Benefits of Literature), Vientiane: Phainam Kanphim, 1996, pp. 65-102.

________. "Thao Hung Thao Cheuang" in Thao Hung Khun Cheuang, Weeraburut song phang khong (the Hero of the Two Sides of the Mekong River Banks), Bangkok: Phikkhanet Printing Center, 1995, pp. 96-116.

Doungdeuane (Viravongs) Bounyavong, "Naewkhid lae udomkhati nai mahakab Thao Hung Thao Cheuang" in Thao Hung Khun Cheuang, Weeraburut song phang khong (the Hero of the Two Sides of the Mekong River Banks), Bangkok: Phikkhanet Printing Center, 1995, pp.182-253.

Sila Viravongs, Thao Hung Thao Cheuang Epic: Adaptation into Modern Prose (sic. Verse), adapted and annotated by Doungdeuane (Viravongs) Bounyavong and others, Vientiane: The National Library of Laos, 2000).

Doungdeuane (Viravongs) Bounyavong, Ibid, pp. 33-36.

For those interested in the English summary of the northern Thai version of Thao Hung Thao Cheuang entitled, Tamnan Phraya Cheung, please click at the title.   

At the end of "Notes," there are also a  forward by the director of the Lao National Library, and  the authors' prefaces (2000, 1991, and 1988) to Thao Hung Thao Cheuang Epic by Doungdeuane (Viravongs) Bounyavong. 

     5.  Phadaeng Nang Ai : a Translation of a Thai-Isan Folk Epic in Verse, translated and edited by Wajuppa Tossa, Lewisburg, PA:  Bucknell University Press,1990.  Click here to view a summary of Phadaeng Nang Ai.

    6.  This festival is held annually in the sixth lunar month.  It is believed that the shooting of the local bamboo rockets in the sky is a signal for the rain god, Phya Thaen, to send rain to earth.  In this festival, the story of Phadaeng Nang Ai is related.   See more details in "Rocket Festival" in Muong Lao Magazine, July-August 1999, pp. 32-35. 

     7.   The original Lao verse, its transliteration, literal translation, and smooth translation is presented in the following tables:

Line 1:

  Thaen's Message to the people Translation
Lao Verses ກຶນ   ເຊົາ      ໄຫ້     ບອກ  ນາຍ Eating rice, you might
Transliteration kin   khao  hai    bok   nai   let your Lord know.  (In this case,
Literal translation eat   rice    must   tell     master master  or Lord refers to Thaen)

 Line 2:

  Thane's Message to the people Translation
Lao Verses ກຶນ  ງາຍ                    ກໍ        ໄຫ້       ບອກ   ແກ່   ແຖນ Eating morning meal,
Transliteration kin ngai                  ko      hai      bok   kae  thaen you must tell Thaen also.
Literal translation eat  morning meal then   must   tell      to    Thaen  

Line 3:

  Thane's Message to the people Translation
Lao Verses ກຶນ    ຊຶ້ນ      ກໍ      ໄຫ້     ສ່ງ       ຂາ Eating (an animal's) meat,
Transliteration kin   sin     ko    hai    song  kha you must submit its legs.
Literal translation eat   meat   then  must send   leg  

Line 4:

  Thane's Message to the people Translation
Lao Verses ກຶນ   ປລາ   ກໍ       ໄຫ້      ສ່ງ        ຣອຍ      ໄຫ້      ແກ່     ແຖນ Eating fish, you must
Transliteration kin  pa    ko      hai     song   hoi         hai    kae    thaen send its trace toThaen.
Literal translation eat  fish  then  must  send    its trace must  to     thaen  

      8.  The names of these seven sons and the names of the cities assigned to them vary. The following table shows the differences of these names for the three texts used.

Version 1

Literature Department, Ministry of Education

Khun Lo Muang Chawa, Lan Xang
Yeemuangphalan Nongsae
Jungsawang Muang Kaewluang, Phakan
Saiphong Yuanyao (Greater area of Yuan)
Ngou-in Sida Yothaya
Jetjueang Muang Phuan
Lokkom Xiangkhom, Khamkao, or Khamkoed

Version 2

Sila Viravongs

Khun Lo Muang Chawa, Lan Xang, Xiang Dong Xiang Thong
Khun Lan Muang Ho Wong
Khun Song Muang Junlanee Phommathatraj
Khun Khamphuang Muang KumkamYonok Rajaphun Xiangmai
Khun In Lawo Yothaya
Khun Jetjueang Muang Phuan 
Khun Jetjiang Muang Muan
Version 3
Jaruwan Thammawat
Khun Lo Muang Chawa
Yeephalan Muang Ong
Jusong Muang Junlanee or Muang Kaew
Saiphong Yuanbuhan or Yonokpathet
Ngou-in Ayutthaya
Jetjueang Muang Hun Phuan or Muang Phuan
Lokkom Pathet Man, Muang Hongsawadee (Burma)

       9.   The Literature Department, Ministry of Education, Phuen Khun Boromrajathirat sabab buhan tae (The Myth of Lord Boromrajathirat, the truly ancient version), Vientiane: The Literature Department, Ministry of Education, 1967, pp. 44-8.

     10.  Ibid, p.66-147.

     11.  Sila Viravongs, "Thao Hung Thao Cheuang" in Thao Hung Khun Cheuang, Weeraburut song phang khong (the Hero of the Two Sides of the Mekong River Banks), Bangkok: Phikkhanet Printing Center, 1995, p. 102.  Here is the Lao original verse.

    ກູອຍູ່ສ້າງກົ່ງທ້າວເສວຍຣາດ   ເງຶນຢາງ Since I have ruled Ngoenyang,
ໃຜໄປ່ຈາຄຳຫລອນດັ່ງສູ             ຝູງມ້ອຍ No-one, but you, dared to utter arrogant words.
ໂອມນາງຣູ້ຈາຜວນ                                      ຕ້ານເຕົບ   ສັນນີ້ He who marries my daughter must be of her race;
ບໍ່ໃຊ່ເຊື້ອລູກຂ້ອຍຈຶງແທ້            ກ່າວຄວນ No-one else has the right to speak thus.

     12.   Thanongsack Vongsackda, "Rocket Festival" in Muong Lao Magazine, July -August 1999), pp. 28-35.

     13.  These two stories retold by Thanongsack Vongsackda are a bit different than the versions presented in Chapter 2:  Lao Myth.   For comparative purposes please refer to Chapter 2 in this course.

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                                      Phadaeng Nang Ai

Phadaeng Nang Ai is a tragic love triangle story of King Phadaeng, Princess Aikham, and the Naga Prince, Phangkhi.  The story tells of Princess Aikham, the daughter of King Ek-Thita and Queen Sida of the ancient Khmer Empire.    She fell in love with King Phadaeng of Phaphong city.  Their secret love was never recognized, as King Phadaeng failed to win the rocket contest in Bun Bangfai, the rocket festival organized by the Khmer king.  At the same time, the Naga Prince Phangkhi was deeply in love with Princess Aikham without her knowledge.   During the rocket festival, he came in disguise as a young man to take a glimpse at her beauty.   Later, he came in disguise as a white squirrel wearing a bell to attract her attention.  Seeing the squirrel, Aikham wished to have it as her pet, but she ordered the court hunter to shoot it for her with a poisoned arrow.  (The storyteller told us that it was a fatal slip caused by Aikham and Phangkhi's karma in their past lives.)  The squirrel died, but he made a wish that his meat be deliciously aromatic and plentiful for all to enjoy.  So, Aikham shared the meat of the squirrel with everyone in her city, save for the widows as they had no husbands to work for the king's army.  When the Naga King Suttho received the news of his son being killed by the Khmer hunter, he led the naga army to kill everyone in the Khmer kingdom, particularly those who had eaten the squirrel meat.   For those who did not eat the meat, the Naga King left them alone.  Phadaeng heard about this disaster and came to rescue his lover, Princess Aikham, but in vain.   The Naga King threw his tail to wrap the princess and pull her down to live in the Badan, the naga city.  Phadaeng ended his life.  He became the ghost king and organized a ghost army to fight for Aikham in Badan.  The battle went on and on until Indra came to stop the fight and told everyone involved to wait for the next Buddha, Phra Si-aan, to judge as to whom Princess Aikham belonged.

Most people would think that the Naga Prince Phangkhi had no right to Aikham as he came to the scene later than Phadaeng, but the storyteller related an episode of Phangkhi's karma in his past life as a mute.  He was married to Aikham, who was born as Amkha in her past life.  However, in that life, the mute was married to Amkha only in name.   He refused to have any intimate relationship with her.  When he took her to see his parents in another village, he left her in a fig tree.  Deserted in the middle of the forest, Amkham decided to drown herself in a river.  But before doing so, she made a vow that the mute would repay for his abandoning her in his lives to come.  She wished that he would meet the same fate in his lives to come.  So, when the mute was born as the Naga Prince Phangkhi, Aikham ordered him shot by the hunter.  Phangkhi died in a fig tree in Aikham's palace.

In relating the past lives of Phangkhi and Aikham, the storyteller also recounted the story of Phangkhi's father, Suttho Naga King before he established his naga city in Badan underneath the Mekong River.  Suttho Naga lived in Nongsae with his friend Suwan Naga.  Later, they had a great fight becaue Suttho Naga became suspicious that his friend was not loyal to him.  The battle went on until Indra, the great celestial being, sent Vissukamma to stop the war and to punish the two naga by sending them away to remake the courses of the river.  Suwan Naga went to Nan River (situated in the present day northern Thailand).  Suttho Naga went to the Mekong River and stayed at the city called Sattanakhanahut (the area of the Mekong River along the present day Nongkhai, Thailand and Vientiane, Laos).  The entire folk epic is translated in English.*  Here is an excerpt from Phadaeng Nang Ai : a Translation of a Thai-Isan Folk Epic in Verse, translated and edited by Wajuppa Tossa, Lewisburg, PA:  Bucknell University Press,1990.

. . . Lord Suttho Naga led more than one decillion naga,
Flowing along the Mekong, the river source,
Flowing along the great river, they altered shapes of banks and shores;
The gushing and spurting water created rapids and still deep water trails.
Flowing, flowing, was the water from the yonder river.
The supreme Naga King was leading his naga   
To clear away obstacles--boulders, rocks, and cliffs.  
Clearing their way, many water ways they passed;    
Smacking their tails, they created various creeks and cascades.  
Falling from the boulders, the water flowed to flood the Mekong;    
Still, the throng of naga altered the wide river by excavation.    
They went through many levels of steep cliffs and boulders,  
Curving streams, channels, and narrow waterways.       
Whirled around in the winding waterways, they reached rock castles
Where the naga crumbled stumps and boulders in pieces.
Clearing away, they reached great boulder cliffs;

In pieces, they shattered the great boulders with their tails.                      

Overflowing current created striking waves and whirlpools;
The great mountains and cliffs were whipped down in pieces.   . . .  
Phya Naga (Suttho) extended  many lines of fine naga thereafter.
Thus many naga were born to the city of Sattanakhanahut,
Where Suttho ruled to make it flourish.   
To the north was the great Nong Sae empire;     
His entire kingdom extended southward to the sea. . . .  
The queen to his right was by the mighty king .
She gave birth to a baby Phangkhi, the precious naga offspring;

This naga prince grew to be as a beautiful as a painting. . . .                            

(Episode 12 pp. 53-4)

. . Suttho Naga King excavating the great river
Discovered many things, flourishing in the area.  
The things discovered were called water things or "Nathi Khong;"  
The river's been called "Mae Nam Khong," or Khong River since then.

(Episode 13, p. 55)    


Glossary Notes: naga refers to a Thai/Lao mythical serpent endowed with magical power;  Mekong River is called Mae Nam Khong;  mae means mother, nam means water, mae nam refers to river; nathi means river; khong means things;   To Lao people,  Mekong River means the river full of things.

phadaeng_cover.jpg (36451 bytes)


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                                           Thao Hung Epic

The 2000 Edition of Thao Hung Thao Cheuang Epic


Cheuang (also written as Cheung, Chieang, Thao Chreuang or Khun Cheuang) is the name of a partly historical, partly mythological figure in the traditional oral traditions and literary works such as Thao Ba Cheuang Legends, the Chronicles of Thao Cheuang, the Writings of Chieang, and other works. The title "Thao" or "Khun or Ba" was given to the prince of a city state. These traditional legends occur throughout the Mekong Basin subregion, from the Tai and Shan peoples, to the north in Yunnan Province and the Shan State and among the Tai speakers in northern Vietnam, as well as in north and northeastern Thailand and to the southern borders of the Lao PDR. The legends are also found in the oral traditions of the Mon-Khmer speaking peoples in the region, which recount the heroic deeds of the powerful leader who unified the various city states and provided for the freedom of the Mon-Khmer peoples.

The writings of Chiang, or the Chronicles of Thao Chiang, are found in fragments and various forms, usually on palm leaf manuscripts, but few copies of the complete epic written in the Lao script have survived to the present day. Those who have read or heard the writings find them difficult to read and understand. Some feel that they use earthy language and ancient styles are not enjoyable or conducive to read. It is clear that these legends have not been recited or read in temple ceremonies or in the homes as the other legends. "Sin Sai" and "Kalaket" have been popularly used in the oral tradition. The Cheuang stories are not well known among the Lao population, because the epic length stories did not survive to the present day on the palm leaf manuscripts stored in the temples and homes within the country. In fact, a great number of these palm leaf manuscripts from several provinces were confiscated by marauding armies. According to the national project "Preservation of Lao Manuscripts Programme" from 1989 until present, no epic poems about "Thao Cheuang" written in the Lao language have yet been inventoried, and only a few shortened versions have been inventoried in the sacred Pali script. Only very short poems in the Lao language called "Lam Chiang" have been inventoried, which are chanted back and forth with the accompaniment of drums in the annual rocket festival.

[Note: Thus far 400,000 bundles of palm leaf manuscripts (fascicles), totaling 6,000 titles, have been inventoried throughout the country in all but two provinces. In these two remaining provinces, Xiengkhouang and Huaphan, all the temples and the palm leaf manuscripts were destroyed during the aerial bombing during the war for liberation from 1958 until 1972].

Thus it is impossible to find complete written records of the epic poem on palm leaf manuscripts for comparison with the document copied by Maha Sila Viravongs in 1942 from the original palm leaf manuscript, a 300-leaf set inscribed in ancient Lao script found in the National Thai Library in Bangkok. No additional research has been done by other Lao scholars since the discovery of the manuscript in 1942. Thus copies of the original manuscript from the Thai library along with the original notes of Maha Sila Viravongs were the primary sources used by the research team to make the research for this publication as complete as possible.

As explained above, there are many versions of the Thao Cheuang writings scattered in many geographical locations and likely written over many centuries. They were recopied in the temples and added to as the versions were handed down over the centuries. This modern publication is an adaptation based on the invaluable epic-length composition of the great poets of the later Xiengthong period (from the 13th and 16th century, preceding the Luangprabang Kingdom). As explained in the compiler's preface these famous poets remain anonymous. According to Lao tradition, the composers' names were rarely recorded, although the names of the scribes who copied the manuscripts are preserved.


If we compare these writings with the sojourns of a person, they have traveled far and endured many obstacles in order to survive until the present day. They were rediscovered in 1942. But it was not for another half century that they were brought back to the homeland. The Thao Hung-Thao Cheuang writings have been called the great epic of the Lao nation, the greatest work of its kind in Southeast Asia. Finally the Lao people have the opportunity to enjoy these great writings and poems, and appreciate both the aesthetic value of Lao poetry and its historical importance in the literature and culture of the region. This adaptation of the Thao Hung - Thao Cheuang Epic into modern prose is the result of a unique cooperative effort which includes both senior researchers and a new generation of researchers, all from differing educational backgrounds. The team leader is Douangdeuane Bounyavong, a noted researcher and writer, who is experienced and recognised internationally as an expert in ancient Lao literature and culture; Sompha, Vikysak, lecturer of the Lane Xang literature era at the National University of the Lao PDR; Qthong Kham Inxou, a well known modern poet and writer, who is the deputy editor of the national literary magazine, Wannasin, published by the Ministry of Information &Culture. He has worked closely with the team leader for the past ten years on the Thao Hung-Thao Cheuang Epic. Two senior advisors, Maha Bounyok Senesounthon, who is an expert of ancient Lao language and literature and advisor for the "Preservation of Palm Leaf Manuscript Programme;" and Acharn Sommai Premchit, Associate Professor of the Social Research Institute of Chiangmai University, Thailand. Special advisors include Dara Kanlaya and Outhine Bounyavong, well known authors in the Lao P.D.R.

In the name of the National Library of the Lao PDR, and the director of the National Project for Reading Promotion, I consider this work to be an important catalysing force to start the momentum for continued efforts towards Lao literature preservation, as this publication increases the visibility of our invaluable cultural heritage in the form of ancient Lao literature. Building up a society of readers who appreciate written as well as oral literature is the mandate of the Lao National Library and also an important goal of the National Project for Reading Promotion. Our first step is to produce quality written works for the general population, both young and old, and to publish these works in sufficient quantity for distribution throughout the country.

This publication of the 20,000 lines of the Epic Poems in the original style is printed page by page alongside the modern prose adaptation. Its completion has been a challenging endeavor, and hopefully will invite the critique of readers and researchers alike. Such critique would demonstrate that this publication has achieved its goal by catching the interest and attention of the readers along with their appreciation of the value of this pioneering work. Thus in the name of the National Library and the National Project of Reading Promotion, I would like to encourage all readers to provide feedback and critique to the project team, in order to improve and advance the work of further research of Lao literature and culture. This complete and enjoyable rendition of the epic poems, with adaptation into modern prose, will be published in two volumes, each approximately 400 pages. Without the support of the Toyota Foundation of Japan, especially the continuing encouragement of the Programme Officer for Southeast Asia, Mr. Shiro Honda, to undertake this research endeavor and without their invaluable support, it would not be possible for this literary treasure to materialise, and subsequently take its rightful place among the literary treasures preserved and enjoyed by the Lao peoples in modern times. On behalf of the Lao people, I would like to express my gratitude to the Toyota Foundation, and sincerely hope that the team of Lao researchers and the National Library will receive assistance from the Toyota Foundations for further research and adaptations of Lao literature.

Vientiane May 2000
Kongdeuane Nettavong
Director, National Library
Director, National Reading Promotion Project

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Authors' Prefaces of Thao Hung Epic

by Douang Deuane Bounyavong and Maha Sila Viravong

Compiler's Preface to the 2000 Edition

The story of Thao Hung or Cheuang is a historical literary work which provides vivid information about the ancient society and has also become an excellent part of the literary heritage of Laos, because its poetry is quite different from any that I have ever studied before. This poem is correctly composed according to the Vijjumali versified rule of Pali prosody, which is why I named it "konvijiumali" (Vijjumali poem).

Apart from the version composed in verse, there is another prose version of the Thao Hung Epic which is directly translated word for word from the Pali text, but its context is a little different. The poetry version is, however, very melodious, and so it is considered a major work of Lao literature.


     The Discovery of the Thao Hung or Cheuang's Palm Leaf Manuscript

This major literary work was, for centuries, in feudal Siamese hands, and it was kept in the Bangkok Library, obscured from the public eye. In 1942 I found an original copy written on Baylane (palm leaves) in Lao script, in the literature section of the Bangkok Library. First, I had found a version written on rough paper in Thai script, in which was stated : "King Rama V of Siam, named Chulachomklao, ordered his secretary to copy out from palm leaves, Lao script into Thai script, the Thao Hung's story." Following this information, I tried to find the original copy of the Lao manuscript and when I found it and compared the Lao and Thai scripts line for line, I finally concluded that it was the same original copy. Of the two, the Lao manuscript is larger, covering about 300 palm leaves, and on the last leaf it is mentioned that "Sisunon of Vangban village wrote this Cheuang Kuang's story for the Lord Viceroy." So it seems that the Thais might have taken this palm leal manuscript from Xieng Khouang, where they fought against the Ho in 1876, during the reign of King Chulachomklao of Thailand.

Vangban village still exists in Xieng Khouang, under the name Banban or "Ban Village. Atter going through its contents, I decided that the Cheuang Story written on baylane was a precious work of Lao literature which was, due to circumstances, lost from Lane Xang soil. If it had not been discovered, it would certainly have remained in obscurity, and the people who speak the Lao language would have had no chance to enjoy their own literature. I therefore worked for one year to accomplish the transcription of the entire story of Thao Hung. Luckily, at that time I was an employee of the Bangkok Library, having, escaped arrest by the French in Vientiane for my involvement in the resistance movement, so I had enough time to copy it down and keep it in a safe place. Later on, I wanted this literature to be made widely available to the public, so I proposed this to Somdeth Maha Viravongs who was then the Sangha Prime Minister of Thailand.  Because he was also a Lao monk from the northeast of Thailand, he was very interested in Lao literature. So he immediately approved and agreed to publish it, and it was distributed on the occasion of the funeral ceremony of the four theras ( senior monks ) in Ubol Province, in 1943. It was, therefore, the first edition of Thao Hung, or Cheuang's Story, written in Thai script.

The Thai and Lao scripts are, however, contradictory on some points, particularly the first part dealing with Thao Hung's birth and his father's funeral ceremony. This was perhaps because some palm-leaves were torn and others broken. In addition, somebody else might have written in the missing parts, thus accounting for the discrepancies and contradictions between them. The fascicle published in Thai script does not mention Thao Hung cultivating rice in the field, because the revising committee cut it out, due to some contents in this part not being suitable for disclosure at that time.

But, in this publication, I kept the contents as they were and considered it wonderful and interesting that the Lao folk literature tells of customs in rice cultivating, hunting and fishing, while other stories do not. When there was a contradiction between the Thai and Lao scripts in the first part, it made me doubtful, so I had to search for another copy.  Many years had passed before, at last, I found one at the Library of the Ministry of Cults in Vientiane. It was written in the Dhamma script (sacred script) called Lam Cheuang or Phuen Thao Cheuang (Thao Cheuang's Legend), translated word for word from Pali in prose. It also consisted of eleven phuk fascicles, each of which had 24 palm leaves.  There is also a mention that "Venerable Buddhaghosacarya was the preacher of Thao Hung's story who would be born in the future, that is, in mini-era 480 or 1118 A.D., while the poem fascicle has no indication of the date it was composed. At the end of the Dhamma script fascicle, there was no mention of Thao Hung making war against Tumwang kingdom only his return from the kingdom of Pakan. Furthermore, it is mentioned at the conclusion that Thao Hung or Cheuang's story was derived from the story of Migapadavalanjana, the story of a man born from the footprint of a big wild animal. This story was included in Camadevi's story composed by the Venerable Bodhiramsi of Xiengmai in Pali language in approximately 1517 A.D., during the reign of king Tilok (or Bilok), the king of Chiangmai who ruled that kingdom contemporaneously with the reign of king Vijularaj of Xiengthong (Luang Phrabang). Venerable Bodhiramsi tells us that the Camadevi's story was originally written in Chiangmai dialect and in poetry, and that later on it was composed in Pali language with the addition of some Buddhist stories.

The Dhamma script fascicle that I found in the library of the Ministry of Cults might have been translated in Laos, because it is written in Lao and was probably composed at the same time as the story of Phra Keo (Emerald Buddha Image) and Phrabang by the Venerable Phra Aryavangso just a few years after the reign of King Vijularaj or Luang Phrabang. So this Cheuang translation was probably done by Phra Aryavangso too. The original characters' names here were written in their Pali forms, for instance, the name of Nang Meng was amended to Manggala kanya, and Nang Ngom to Manggu kanya, ('Manggu' means 'hunchback', although, in fact, Nang Ngom was not a hunchback at all). Nang Oua was amended to Urasadarattaga, while Nang Amkha became Anggacandanasobhita. Thao Hung was written as Yikularucirakumar ('rucira' in Pali means luminescence, beauty or brightness, and 'Yikula' means 'Thao Yi', because he was born in the month of Yi, or 'two, or second,' so he was sometimes called 'Yicheuang lun.' It, therefore, seems that the version written in Dhamma script originally derived from the poetic version just like the one I found in the Bangkok Library, but the translator adapted it to Buddhism so as to invest it with religious significance and thus broaden its appeal. Before that, people believed in animism, and drinking liquor in various ceremonies was a traditional part of Thaen worship in ancient times.

As to the problem of how the venerable Buddhaghosacarya could have foretold these events 480 years before Thao Hung's birth, it is impossible to answer. The translator might just have wanted to broaden the story's popular appeal by linking it to Buddhism.

Explanation of the Verse in the Thao Hung or Cheuang Epic

I found that the versification in the Thao Hung Epic is quite different from that of any other poetry in Lao literature that I have ever read. It is versified strictly according to the rules of Vijjumali prosody in Pali, which is why I named it Kon Vijjumali (Vijjumali poem ). Vijjumali means 'sky-line' or 'sky-lightning that occurs among the clouds'. The Thao Hung Epic is thus defined as a 'sky-lightning poem' because of its melodious versification using rhymes that 'flash' like lightning appearing amongst the clouds. For example :

A Lao 'sky-lightning poem'                      And its transliteration

ວ່າຈັກ ດັ້ນກີບຟ້າຍັງຝັ່ງ    ຈັກກະວານ Wa cak dan keep faa yang fang                     cakkawan
ຄືຄູ່ ຕົວຄາງຄາວຄັ່ງຕາຍ                ຕກໄມ້ Kue khuu tua khang khaow khang tai        tok mai
ຫນູຈັກ ສ່ງສະການໃຫ້ມາຫວນ      ເຫັນປີກ Nuu cak song sa kaan hai maa huan           hen piik
ນກເລ່າໄດ້ດູຫນ້າ                       ກໍ່ໃຊ່ເຮົາ Nok lao dai duu naa                                       ko xai hao
ຕກຄີກເບື້ອງຫົນຝ່າຍ                       ສະເທີນເຂີນ Tok khiik buang hon fai                                sa thoen khoen
ອາການເຂາດັ່ງເດີຍວ                       ຕູນີ້ Aa kaan khao dang deiw                              tuu nii
ຫວັງຈັກ ກຽວກົມຝັ້ນມາເກີນ           ການຫ່າງ Wang cak keiw kom fan maa koen              kaan haang
ຊັກຊ່ອງຊີ້ຖວາຍໄວ້                      ແວ່ນໃຈ Sak song sii thawai wai                                waen cai

The English Translation of the above is by Wajuppa Tossa

I wish to soar to the sky to find the universe.
I am like a dead bat fallen from a tree.
The mice won't come to the bat's funeral for they sight its wings;
The birds won't come either for the bat's face differs from them all.
The bat becomes a puzzling creature not belonging to any specie.
I feel just like the bat that is so perplexing;
I wish to be united with you but there is a barrier
That can be removed only with your approval.

NOTES: The above lines are from the Thao Hung Thao Cheuang text pp. 164-165.  In the original preface, the author did not provide the original Lao verse.  I inserted them as well as the English translation of the lines in the text to make it easier to understand.


i) The final word of the first line, which is a polite form, rhymes with a politeword in the third line (cakkawaan and songsakaan).

ii) The final word of the second line, where the stress falls on the second syllable,rhymes with a second-syllable-stressed word in the 4th line (mai and dai ).

iii) The final word of the third line, where the first syllable is stressed, rhymes with a correspondingly stressed word in the first line of the next four-line group (piik and khiik).

iv) The final word of the 4th line, which is a polite form, rhymes with a politeword in the second line of the next four-line group (hao and khao, khoen and koen, nii and sii).

Among the Vijjumali poems, there are many four-line stanzas which are versified according to Pali prosody, for instance:

A Lao 'sky-lightning poem'                      And its transliteration

ມາລາກອງກຶ່ງກ້ານ              ງາມຕູ maa laa kong king kaan       ngaamtuu
ດວງຫນື່ງແລຫລຶງດູ            ຊື່ນຊ້ອຍ duong nueng lae ling duu     suen soi
ຫອມຣົດທົ່ວຊົມພູ              ຖະຫນິດຍຶ່ງ    ເຣີຍມເອີຍ hom hod thoa som phu           tha nat ying hiam oey
ຂອບພະຄຸນເຈ້າຂ້ອຍ           ລື່ມລ້ຳສະເຫນໂຫ khob pha khun cao khoi       luen lam sa ne ho

This four-polite-line verse form is also found in the Chronicle of Khunbourom, presumed to be the first history of Lao legend, composed by Phra Maha Theplouang in 1520A.D., during the reign of KingVijularaj.  It is found in some parts of the Nang Tantai, or Tantra Story, too.  This verse form was very popular in the kingdoms of Siam and Lanna (Chiangmai) during the reign of King Naray, around 1630A.D., contemporaneously with the reign of King Souryavongsa of Vientiane.  It should be noted that the language used in the Thao Hung Epic is a Lao dialect of the north: e.g. the word Terng is used for Theng, and Len for Lin.    Besides, there is the word Yia, which is the same as the Lao Chiangmai word. At the end are used the words Kio, Kide:, Kida'.y, or Jam. The latter is a very old word that cannot be understood by common people nowadays. There are also Khmer words in this epic, such as:

Tu: from Khmer as Tru: means beautiful as in: Ka: konkaempa:n-joyjobtu: 
Khan = Khmer as Khal means vigilant, respect, (Thukki: pkambolathedma:khan)
Suan = Khmer as Srual means laugh (Siansuanphomsianhua humpa:k)
Phom = khmer as Prom means blow (Khaokophompi:keokomkonkom:sian)

Here we can also find some words used in current Thai language, such as :

Thun ( under) (Sensamcha:nna:chon yu:thun)
Kha:nkha:o (khikhu:to kha:nkha:o khanta:ytokmay)
Sabpan (quick) (Lak timhu: se: nsin sabpan)
Khamnab (pay respect) (Khaokodoy khamnab a: jya: panomva:y)
Ken (deer) (Hen h y sat mu:kua:ngfa:ken)


The word 'Khon' or 'Khnon' means, in ancient Thai law, "tax" or "market", or, as it used to be called,' a:ko khnon ta la: t'.  Muang Xiengban was a market centre wherethey levied a lot of tax, so it is mentioned:


"The distance way over Li was there gained all plenty of tax"

In addition to the language mentioned above, there are also Pali and Sanskrit, particularly Sanskrit. The traditions and ritual ceremonies mentioned in this epic deal with Phidam, Phithaen and the rite of inviting Thaens to the earth, where there is a balancing drink for destiny, and so on. There are also the gatherings in the caves, still practised nowadays by people in some villages of Xam Neua Province.

It is, therefore, probable that the Thao Hung Epic was written by a scholar from the north region, judging from the example of Vijjumali verse, a style abstracted from Saravilasini verse, which was very popular during the reign of King Vijularat of Xiengthong (Luang Phrabang).

The first part of the copy written in Dhamma script

It begins with the prayer to Lord Buddha: "Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa." And it is mentioned that Maha Buddhaghosacarya created and circulated the book called  'Vangsamalini', consistang of many stories of past and present. After this, he was going to preach stories of the future.


Thus it began: "Evam paccupannanidanam dassetva . . . Aham means: I, named Buddhaghosacarya, who have already preached about the present, am now going to preach about things to come. So you should all pay heed to my words."

In Culasakraj (mini-era) 480, the Year of Tao Set, Khun Chomtham was born of Lavacakkadevaraja. At that time there was also born, of Sucucirapabbacula Rajaname, Thao Hung, who ruled from the throne of Chayanakhone (present-day Chiangrai).

What tribe did Thao Hung belong to?


According to the Yonok Chronicle compiled by Phaya Prajakit-koracak, who collected historical data from the North Thai Annals, Thao Hung was also khown as Khun Cheuang, and was of Lanna (Laocok) stock, descended from King Lavacakkadevaraja, the founder of this dynasty in 638 A.D., exactly the same year as the foundation of Culasakraj, mini-era of King Anuruddha in Burma. Khun Cheuang was a son of Khun Chomtham, king of Pukam Yao ( Phayao Province (formerly under the jurisdiction of Xiengrai Province).  He was born in the Year of the Rabbit in mini-era 461 (1099 A.D.), but according to the Dhamma script, Thao Cheuang was born in 480.

I myself think that Thao Hung, or Chuang, belonged to the Khom or Mon race, which was the same tribe. This opinion is approved and supported by the following evidence:

- From 657 A.D., the Khom extended their power and territory to the north, as mentioned in Camadevi's Story, written by the venerable Bodhiramsi relating that in 661 A.D., the Khom king of Lavo (Lopburi) sent his daughter Nang Camadevi to become ruler of Haripunxay (Lamphun). Thao Mahantayot, Camadevi's son, ruled this kingdomuntil 740 A.D., while his younger brother, named Indravoraman, was the ruler of Khelang (Lampang) in the same period.

- In hilly areas around Phayao, the Thai archaeological excavation team discovered varieties of stone implements, such as mortar, pestle, roller, etc. These show characteristics of the Mon arts. The Thao Hung Epic clearly tells us that Thao Hung, and particularly his wife Nang Ngom, were of Khom race, as mentioned many time in the poem praising his wife's beauty:

"As if she had descended from the sky
Her beauty equalled Cheuang's;
Though surrounded by beautiful girls,
The Khom's daughter was the most beautiful of all."

"In this epic, Nang Ngom's mother is referred to as Nang Meng. The word 'Meng' means 'Mon'. In addition, there is a verse:

" . . . closely lay down with Nang Mon"

I therefore concluded that the words 'Meng' and 'Mon' are the same, while the words 'Khom', 'Khem', 'Khmer' and 'Khmen' are also the same. In addition, also found in this epic are the words, "Group of Khom Khem H. "  In the chapter dealing with Thao Kua, ruler of Pakan Kingdom, he sent Nay Math to seek help from Aiy Hath, chief of the hill tribe of Phulot, and Aiy Samma-heng, chief of the Phuthum, as his allies, and both men went to Thao Jum's side, because he was Thao Hung's uncle. This seems to indicate that Thao Jum was of the same ethnic stock. The hill and mountain people are of Mon-Khmer origin. Thus, Thao Hung and the people of Ngeun-yang were certainly at that time Mon or Khom, because those people considered themselves of the same race. The Charay, one of the mountain tribes, still worship Cheuang's spirit and consider Khun Cheuang to have been their former king.  A local story of Thao Hung or Cheuang, written in Dhamma script, mentioned that the story was abstracted from Migapadavalanjana, that is, the story of a man born from a deer's footprint, which is the same as Camadevi's Story, written by the venerable Bodhiramsi of Xiengmai in Pali. Venerable Bodhiramsi tells us that he wrote the story on the basis of a great epic which he transcribed into Pali from a local dialect. I therefore understand that Camadevi's and Thao Hung's stories are likely to be from the same origin, because it is mentioned in the former that Nang Camadevi, Phaya Muang Khom's daughter from Lavo, came to be the ruler of Muang Lamphun, and she was a widow with two sons, namely Thao Mahantayot, the elder, and Thao Indravoraman. Indravoraman played a very important role in the struggle against the Lua, the indigenous people. The same context is also found in Thao Hung's story, where Thao Hung's mother, Nang Chom, was also a widow with two sons.

The terms Chom and 'Chain' may mean the same, in which case Nang Chom (or Nang Chain) was not actually the name of a person, but merely indicative of a woman of the Chain race, which came from the same ethnic stock as Mon-Khmer.  It is. however, understood that Thao Hung's Story written in Dhamina script. although compiled on the basis of the poetry version, was not completed as the poem was. The Camadevi Story was also compiled on the basis of a great epic in local vernacular. It can be concluded that the great epic is the same as Thao Hung's story written by a Buddhist monk, so both stories were influenced by Buddhism.The history of Sipsong Panna (Xieng Houng ) and the Shans' history of Senvy, however, both claim Thao Cheuang as their king. In fact, it is not surprising, because everyone wants a brave man to be his hero. In other words, a group of weak people want to depend on a group of brave people, and that is why considered Thao Hung their king.  Regarding the date of compilation, that of Camadevis and Thao Hung's story is quite different.  This is not so important because both authors might have composed the stories at different times, and perhaps they collected the information and data in different periods; or perhaps they each wanted to claimtheir story as the older.  As to the problems of which race the author belonged to, how the story was conceived, and where it came from, al~ these problems are not so important. The most important point I want to make, is that Thao Hung or Cheuang's story is a masterpiece of Lao literature, because it was composed in the most melodious Lao poetry.

Vientiane, February 1986
Translated by: Sisaveuy Souvanny and Maha Sila Viravongs 
Edited by : Assistant - Professor Sommai Premchjt
Preface for the first edition of 1988.

Author's Preface to the 1991 Edition

The Thao Hung Epic is one of the masterpieces of Lao literature. There exist various versions, but the most complete and perfectly composed account is the one represented by 300 bundles of palm-leaf inscriptions found by Maha Sila Viravong in the Thai National Library in Bangkok in 1941. Maha Sila had transliterated this version into modern Lao language in 1942, and it was only in 1988 that the Ministry of Culture published the masterpiece in one volume.

According to scholarly studies, the Thao Hung Epic was written sometime between the mid 14th to mid-16th centuries by a royal poet of the Lane Xang Dynasty. It was composed with three perfect patterns of Lao verses of 20,000 lines. The subject of this masterpiece is the greatness of a courageous king whose influence was hard upon the Mekong banks and Mekong basins during the period of 10th through 12th centuries. This epic reflected the society of that dynasty in such various aspects as beliefs, traditions and rituals--such as spirit cults, wedding ceremonies, funerals and costumes, etc.--which one can trace in many regions of Laos to this very day.

Many centuries have passed, but one could say that the ways of life, tradition and ritual ceremonies about weddings and birth, death and funerals, largely remain as before. Some have been modified by religion, modernization and communication. Yet people still embrace many of the old customs, living productive lives as tillers of the soil as well as hunting, fishing and producing household utensils for themselves. Through history they have participated in wars, sons and husbands often abandoning families for battlefields.

The study of traditions and rites in the masterpiece of the Thao Hung Epic shows how Lao society existed, to include the people's intellect, behavior and ideology within the confines of that particular ancient period. This contemporary analysis will contribute new components to both Lao history and anthropological research. It will also help to establish the identity of Lao culture among this and future generations while at the same time appreciating and promoting it.

Compiler's Preface to the 1988 Edition

The story of Thao Hung or Cheuang is a historical literary work which provides vivid information about ancient society and has also become an exquisite part of the literary heritage of Laos because its poetry is quite different from any that I have ever studied before. This poem is correctly composed according to the Vijjumali versified rule of Pali prosody--the study of poetic meters and versification--which is why I named it 'Konvijjumaly' (Vijjumali poem).

Apart from the version composed in verse, there is yet another prose version of the Thao Hung Epic which is directly translated word for word from the Pali text, but its context is a little different. The poetry version is, however, very melodious, and so it is considered a major work of Lao literature.

It was written in the Dhamma script (sacred script) called Lam Cheuang or Phun Thao Cheuang (Thao Cheuang's story), translated word for word from Pali in prose. It also consisted of eleven volumes, each of which had 24 palm leaves. There is also mention that "Venerable Buddhaghosacarya" was the preacher of Thao Hung's story--that is, a monk who would be born in the future, in mini-era 480 or 1118 AD, but the volume of this poem has no inscription date showing when it was composed.

At the end of the Dhamma-script volume, there was no mention of Thao Hung making war against Tumvang, only his return from the Kingdom of Pakan. Furthermore, it is mentioned at the conclusion that the Thao Hung (or Cheuang's story) was derived from the story of Miggapadavalanjana, the story of a man born from the footprint of a big wild animal. This tale was included in Camadevi's story composed by the Venerable Bodhirangsy of Chiangmai in Pali language in approximately 1517 AD, during the reign of King Tilok (or Bilok), the king of Chiangmai who ruled that kingdom contemporaneously with the reign of King Vijularaj or Chiangthong (Luang Prabang). Venerable Bodhirangsy tells us that the Camadevi story was originally written in Chiangmai dialect and poetry, and that later on it was rewritten in Pali language with the addition of some Buddhist stories.

A summary of the story is attached to each version of the preface, but it is not included here as it is almost the same as the story presented in the text of this chapter.

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Summaries of Tamnan Phraya Cheuang, the Northern Thai Version

The legend of Phraya Cheung or Thutiyawangsamalini to give its Pali title, was written by Phra Buddagosacharn in about 1661 B.E.  The original palm leaf manuscript is made up of 11 fascicules and came from Luang Phrabang, Laos.   

1st fascicule related that Phraya Cheung was the son of Phraya Chormaraja of Muang Chai Nakorn also known as Muang Kha-chai.  His royal mother was Lady Chorm-muang.  Phraya Cheung had an elder brother whom his father installed as ruler of Muang Kha-chai.   Phraya Cheung also known as Phraya Ji Cheungrur was installed as Uparacha Saen Muang (deputy ruler).  Phraya Cheung had an auspicious elephant called Chang Phankham.  He had a friend called Aeng Khorn.   He had an uncle called Phraya Sim, the ruler of Muang Ngern-jang.  Phraya Sim had two daughters, Lady Ongkha-maung and Lady Armkha-janhorm.  He had an aunt who ruled Muang Chiang-khruu.   She had a daughter, Lady Ngorm-muan, who became the royal concubine of Phraya Cheung.

2nd fascicule.  There was a country called Muang Pagan (not Pagan Burma, but Vietnam).   The lord who ruled over it was Phraya Kwa.  He had a daughter called Lady Ok-kaew (Uk- kaew).  He also had a nephew named Aengka who was the ruler of Muang Jort-nam-rong-hin.   Aengka was a young man who wanted to marry the daughter of Phraya Sim of Muang Ngern-jang.  He had sent gifts to her father and asked for her hand in marriage three times, but Phraya Sim refused.  Phraya Kwa and Aengka were offended.  In about 1684 Phraya Kwa and Aengka raised an army and laid sieze to Muang Ngern-jang of Phraya Sim.  Muang Ngern-jang called on Phraya Cheung to their aid.

3rd fascicule.  Phraya Cheung went to the aid of Phraya Sim his uncle.   He went to Muang Chiang-khruu to give the news to Lady Ngorm-muan, his beloved.    Muang Chiang-khruu performed a sukhwan (a blessing) ritual for Phraya Cheung and gave him support with men and arms, twenty elephants, twenty horses, twenty swords, and 51, 000 soldiers.  Then, they proceeded to Muang Ngern-jang.

4th fascicule.  On their way to Muang Ngern-jang Phraya Cheung sent the army on ahead to announce his arrival to Phraya Sim.  Phraya Sim, the uncle, provided a splendid welcome.  In the battle Phraya Cheung divided his army into four units--elephants, cavalry, chariot and infantry.  Each unit wore distinctive uniforms, clothes and headgear each of  a different colour, green, yellow, red and white.  Phraya Cheung himself went into battle in splendid uniform.  Phraya Kwa was defeated and died in the battle field.

5th fascicule.  Phraya Cheung did not kill Aengka, the nephew of Phraya Kwa.  He made him drink the water of fealty and swear an oath of loyalty to the king and then sent him to govern his old domain.  In return for his having engaged in battle on Phraya Sim behalf, the uncle gave his daughter Lady Armkha-janhorm to Phraya Cheung to be his concubine.  There were great celebrations in honour of the victory in Muang Ngern-jang.  Phraya Cheung then set out to return to Muang Pagan.   On his way, at the Mekong River he met a group of Lawa they paid homage to Phraya Cheung and gave him tribute.  Phraya Cheung made these Lawa his followers.  He proceeded to Pagan.

6th fascicule.  Phraya Cheung reached Pagan.  Lady Kwa, Phraya Kwa's wife ordered her daughter, Lady Okkaew, to receive him with gifts, and to do his bidding.  Phraya Cheung stayed a while in Pagan with Lady Okkaew as his concubine.   During that time the Phraya of Muang Witheharaj sent tribute and declared his friendship.  Phraya Chueng, while he was in Pagan installed Aw-khwang as its ruler.   Phraya Cheung adviced and instructed Aw-khwang.

7th fascicule.  After that Phraya Cheung instructed him on many subjects, for example, the seven aspects of the art of kingship, the oaths sworn by a king, and kingly behavior.   He then left for Muang Ngern-jang.  He passed the country of Suwannaphum and other cities.  The rulers of these cities offered him much tribute and submitted to his bidding.  When he reached Muang Ngern-jang Phraya Sim gave him a great welcome.

Phraya Cheung dwelt in Muang Ngern-jang for a while with his three queens.   Phraya Cheung installed Hernphai, his younger uncle, as the ruler of Lan Chang.   He installed Aengkorn as the Uparacha (deputy king) of Muang Ngern-jang Chiangmai.    As for the rulers of those countries who came and submitted themselves to him, he ordered them to send trees of gold and silver each year.

Phraya Cheung missed Lady Ngorm-muan and ordered his ministers to invite her to come to Muang Ngern-jang.  The ministers also humbly inform Phraya Cheung's mother about her son's duties and activities.

9th fascicule.  The royal mother of Phraya Cheung ordered the ministers to take gifts to Muang Chiang-khruu to offer to Nang Ngorm-muan and to invite her to go to Muang Ngern-jang.  The three royal concubines of Phraya Cheung graciously received Lady Ngorm-muan.  Phraya Cheung installed his royal mother as the ruler of Pagan.

10th fascicule.  The royal mother adviced and instructed her son Phraya Cheung then proceeded to Muang Pagan of which she had been appointed ruler.   Phraya Cheung recalled Aengka and the instructions he had given Aengka before he had gone to govern Muang Jort-Nam-Rong-Hin.

The elder brother of Phraya Cheung died.  Phraya Cheung ruled the country Muang Kha-chai for many years.  Phraya Cheung had many sons.  The prince named Rung Racha was born of Lady Ngorm-muan.  He went to rule Chiang-khruu.   Two princes born of Lady Ok-kaew went to rule in Muang Pagan.  The last sone born of Lady Okkaew went to rule Chiang-rung.  Phraya Cheung ruled over Muang Ngern-jang for 25 years.   He died at the age of 80 in Muang Pagan.  The two princes, his sons took his ashes to Muang Ngern-jang.  The fame of Phraya Cheung was known through out the land.

11th fascicule.  Phraya Witheharacha sent a royal Ambassador to express his friendship with Phraya Cheung.  There was at that time a city known as Meru Nakhorn Phraya Meruracha was its ruler.  He had a very beautiful daughter.   Phraya Cheung desired to make her his royal concubine.  He sent gifts to Phraya Meruracha and asked for her hand in marriage.  Phraya Meruracha did not approve and refused.

Phraya Cheung decided to go to war against him.  Phraya Meruracha asked for help from Muang Mithila which was ruled by Phraya Faruan, the father of Phraya Meruracha.  Phraya Cheung was defeated in this battle and died on the battle field.   Muang Ngern-jang became a dependency of Phraya Faruan and had to provide a yearly tribute of two thousand baskets of rice.

The story ends with the statement that in his previous birth Phraya Cheung had made offering of honey to a Paccoka Buddha which gave him the merit to be born as the great Phraya Cheuang in this life.

Nangsue pariwat cak khamphi bailan chud tamnan muang lae kotmai lanna tamnan Phraya Pariwat cak (Transcription of  palm leaf manuscripts on local legends and law in lanna--Phraya Cheung's Legend), Original transcription by Arunrat Wichiankheo and Srithon Khampaeng, editted by Dr. Prasert Na Nakhorn, Chiang Mai: Mahawittalai Chiangmai Book 1 and 2.., n.d, pp. 34.

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