Chapter 8: Lao Historical Chronicles



Historical chronicles, legends, myths, and folk epics are closely related as they all are believed to be true accounts at some point in time and as they also deal with real places, real people, and real objects.  In the previous chapters, we already presented legendary heroes under "Lao Myth" and "Lao Folk Epics."  Thus this chapter will present historical chronicles (ພື້ນສືບ--phuen sueb) relating to places and religious stories.   Thus, the legend of Vientiane, The Casting of Phra Bang, and Siikhottabong are stories to be presented in this chapter.

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The Legend of Vientiane1

Once there was a peculiar city because it was surrounded by thorny bamboo bushes which became the city walls, protecting it from any enemy.   The city was then called Phainaam (ໄຜ່ຫນາມ--phai means bamboo; naam means thorns).

At that time there was a city ruler named Phya Fa-ngum. He was the most powerful king during that time.  He had led his army to subdue many cities.   Once, after one of his battles, he led his army to Phainaam, intending to seize the city under his control.  However, there was no way for his army  to enter the city.    So he thought of many ways to take over the city, but nothing seemed to work.  It took them more than ten days to try to overthrow the city, but they still could not do anything.  Once they thought they would burn the city down, but they felt sorry for the women, children, and the elderly.  These people took no part in the war, but they had to suffer its consequences.

Phya Fa-ngum then came up with a brilliant plan.  He ordered his subjects to wrap the bullets and the arrowheads with gold sheet.  Then, he ordered them to shoot those bullets and arrows at the bamboo bushes around the city.  After that was done, he led his army back to his city.

The people of Phainaam, seeing that Phya Fa-ngum's army retreated, came out to conduct their lives in their usual ways.  It was so happened that some of the people saw the arrowheads and bullets covered with gold.  These people then spread a rumor that there were gold arrows and bullets stuck to every bamboo around the city.   Upon hearing the rumor, both the common subjects and the rulers of the city took no time to reason or to think of the consequences.  They all went to cut down every bamboo bush, searching for gold.  Finally, the city had no walls for protection.

Once all the city walls were cleared away, Phya Fa-ngum's spy sent a message to Phya Fa-ngum, informing him of the news.  Phya Fa-gnum then led his army to take over Phainaam easily, as the city gate was already opened, welcoming their enemy.  Since then, the city was no longer called Phainaam.

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The Casting of Phra Bang2

Long, long ago there was a revered saintly monk, Chunlanaga, who was endowed with magical power.  Wishing to make Buddhism a long lasting religion of 5,000 years, the monk went all over Sri Lanka (Ceylon) to persuade people to contribute to a ceremony of casting a Buddha image.  The ceremony was to be held under the patronage of the King of Sri Lanka, Lord Indra, and other celestial beings, Brahmins, and ascetics.

Once agreement was reached, Chunlanaga started collecting from the people, silver, gold, copper, and brass wares as well as other ceremonial and worshipping necessities such as flowers, candles, incense-sticks. When the appointed time came, the patrons of the ceremony picked up the materials collected and dropped them into the melting pot.  After the process was finished, the newly-cast Buddha image was named Phra Bang (phra, in Lao, is a pronoun referring to a Buddhist monk or a Buddha image, and bang means "thin" or "little.").  The celebration was held and lasted for seven days.  The "buddhaphisek," ceremony (the religious ritual held during the casting of Buddha images) conducted by a number of senior monks was held on the night of the full moon.

Because of the auspicious day of the "buddhaphisek," ceremony, the Phra Bang was endowed with great magical power.  It was so powerful that all creatures on earth and in heavens must worship Phra Bang.   The saintly and revered monk, Chunlanaga brought with him five valuable and magic crystals from the shrine where the ashes of Buddha were kept.  He planned to put those five objects in the body of Phra Bang.   But while the chanting and praying of the Buddhist monks was going on, the first crystal went flying towards the Phra Bang and sank itself into the Buddha image's forehead; the second one rested in the Buddha image's chin; the third one, in the right hand; the fourth one, in the left hand; and the last one stayed right in the center of the image's chest.   So, that concluded the casting of Phra Bang, but the fame and reputation of sacredness of the Buddha image has been spread out all over the land.

Many centuries later, the King of Inthapattha City, Cambodia, went to Sri Lanka to ask for the Phra Bang Image to be brought to his city.  Many generations went by and then the Phra Bang was removed from Viengkham City to Muang Sua (elsewhere in this course, this city is spelt "Chawa;"  it is now Luang Phra Bang, the Royal Capital of Laos) by King Suyachakkapatti Phenepheo, the King of Muang Sua.

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Once long ago, in the central part of Laos, there was a poor couple who had a son named Thao Sii.  Thao Sii was quite clever, but mischievous.  So the parents decided to have Thao Sii ordained as a novice.   After being a novice for eight years, he asked for permission to leave the monastery.  When he became a lay man, his title was changed to Xiang.  Xiang Sii realized that his parents were growing old so he wanted to take care of them in return.

However, his parents were concerned about Xiang Sii's future.  So they decided to take Xiang Sii to the city ruler.  They wanted Xiang Sii to be the king's servant and to do whatever the king wished him to do.

The king ordered Xiang Sii and other men to go to the forest to collect resin from dipterocarpous trees.  Because Xiang Sii looked thin and weak, his friends asked him to cook for them instead of collection resin.  One day while the sticky rice was being steamed, Xiang Sii went to cut a branch of a black kapok tree to make mai kadaam (ໄມ້ກະດ້າມ--a spatula for stirring the sticky rice after it is steamed).

When the rice was cooked, he poured it onto a pannier and began to stir the rice to cool it off a little before keeping it in the bamboo box.  But he became much alarmed because the sticky rice turned black when the spatula touched it.4

Being afraid that his friends would know about it, Xiang Sii immediately ate the entire pannier of black rice.  After he finished that black rice, a miracle took place.  Xiang Sii's body changed.  He became a big strong man!  He might have been as strong as many elephants.

To test his own strength, Xiang Sii reached up to pull down a great big dipterocarpous tree.  To all his friends' awe and amazement, the tree was bent down.

Now in the city of Vientiane, there were many elephants invading the city, destroying houses and hurting people.  The people, faced with dire danger, were running for their lives.  The king of Vientiane called for an assembly of noble men and ministers for consultation.  He ordered them to go search for a brave person to conquer the elephants.  The king promised to give a reward to the conqueror; "whoever could conquer the elephants, I shall give my daughter's hand in marriage."

Upon hearing the announcement, Xiang Sii hurried to the woods to cut a black kapok tree to make a giant club and headed for Vientiane.  Once there, he bravely brandished his giant club,

chasing the elephants out of the city.  All elephants but one ran away from the city.  Xiang Sii fought with the leader of the elephants for three days and three nights before it gave in.

After conquering the elephants, the king called Xiang Sii to claim his reward.  He arranged a wedding between his daughter, Nang Kheowkhom, and Xiang Sii as promised.  The king also sent Xiang Sii and his wife to rule a city called Muang Sikhot.  Since then the city of Muang Sikhot has been called "Muang Sikhottabong" and the new king Xiang Sii was called, "Phya Sikhottabong."

Later, a jealous minister went to inform the king in private, saying that, with his miraculous power, Phya Sikhottabong may one day overthrow the King of Vientiane.   The gullible Vientiane King easily believed such slander.  Thus, he told his daughter to find out about what made Phya Sikhottabong have extraordinary strength and how he could be conquered.

Nang Kheowkhom pretended to be so sweet and loving that Phya Sikhottabong was deceived.  He told her all his secret because of his love for her.

Once the king of Vientiane found out the secret, he invited Phya Sikhottabong to visit him in Vientiane.  He arranged a special room for his son-in-law as well as a special toilet with hidden mechanical lances.  Once, Phya Sikhottabong sat down to relief himself, the hidden lances sprang out to hit his anus and went through his throat.

After Phya Sikhottabong was killed, his body was floated down the river on a raft.  When the people of Muang Sikhottabong caught sight of their dead king, they became so frightened.  The people mourned and cried for their king for seven days and seven nights, recalling the king's great deeds. They also recalled that Phya Sikhottabong ruled the city justly and peaceably. 

And so the story was told and retold until it has become the story of Muang Sikhottabong in Khammuan region in Laos to this very day.

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Notes to Chapter 8: Lao Historical Chronicles

     1.  The story is adapted from obmkol5rklbf (Moral Tales) by Maha Chan Inthuphilaat, Vientiane: the Ministry of Education,  nd.  The stories in this collection have been prepared in lose leafs for reading Lao lessons by Mr. Arthur Crisfield and his students from Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASI)1987.

     2.    Adapted from "The Casting of the Pra Bang," in Legends of the Lao, a Compilation of Legends and other Folklore of the Lao People, by Xay Kaignavongsa and Hugh Fincher, [United States] : Geodata Systems, 1993, p. 63.

     3.  Adapted and translated from Duangkhai Luangphasi, Sikhottabong, Vientiane: Longphim haeng lat (The State Printing Press), 1990.

     4.  Xiang Sii was actually frightened that the rice turned black because it could be a bad omen.  It is believed that when one cooks white rice, it is not supposed to change color.  If it does change the color to red, yellow, black, or other colors besides white, it means there is going to be a disaster.

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