Research work on Thao Hung Epic by
Maha Sila Viravongs: Comparative Study of the Political Ideology Expressed in
Thao Hung Epic
Douang Deuane Bounyavong
Researcher on Lao Literature and Textiles
Maha Sila Viravongs Library
This paper has two parts. The first focused on the research work done by Maha Sila Viravongs during the 1940’s. How he came to discover the palm leave document of this great historical Epic of Thao Hung at the Thai National Library in Bangkok where he lived in exile. The original manuscript comprised of more than 300 leaves tied together into bundles. When Maha Sila found the bundles of palm leaves, they were not in good condition enough to be readable. Maha Sila spent almost a year to read the work and transliterated into Thai script. He has tried to arrange line by line of the story in poem pattern and found out that the poems were composed of many kind of verses. As many pages were missed, the story was not completed, so it could be not comprehensible by readers. When he returned to Laos later on, Maha Sila went toward his work and discovered others versions of Thao Hung story. Once he understood the complete story, he was trying to fill up the missing part by adding his own poem. This very missing part is about the birth of Thao Hung and his brother. Therefore Maha Sila made up the story about the birth of the twin brothers: Thao Hung and his elder brother Thao Huing.
The second part is a comparative study of the political ideology expressed in the epic. It focused on the interaction between the neighbor kingdoms, the customs and believes of people, the ideal quality of the political leaders and the factors involved in the legitimacy process of the kingship and role and duty of political leader. The study referred to: the Atom –Buranji. "From the earliest time to the end of Ahom rule," the Xieng Tung (Chiangtung) chronicle of Tai'Kheun in the Shan state of Myanmar, the Yonok or Xieng Sene (Chiangsene); chronicles of Lanna and the Khun Borom of Lanxang.
This approach to anthropological and historical study referred to local documents of different sources enables us to understand better some aspects of the history such as the very close relationship between the indigenous and Lao-Tai' ethnic who is newcomer, the intercultural exchange among them in the period prior Indian influence etc. The Ahom Buranji composed in local language told us that the God or Lord of Thunder has sent his two nephews to rule the earth and govern T'ai people. This legendary ancestor' s story is similar to that of Lao-Tai ethnic in Lanna and Lanxang kingdom. The comparative study found that the T'ai in Ahom or Asam state of India , the T'ai Kheun in Shan state of Myanmar, the T'ai Lao in Laos and Thailand worshiped the same God or Lord of Thunder by scarifying elephant, cow and water buffalo. There are also other common deities and local spirits.
The interaction among neighboring kingdoms based on the marriage between the crown prince and prices of other state. It was also found that the intermarriage between a brother and half sister or a relative 's member (second cousin ) among royal families are widely practiced. It is clear that this intermarriage is a very important factor involved in the extending policy of conquest, territory annexation. A person of ordinary rank who became a son in law of a powerful king could make himself a legitimate heir or seized directly or indirectly the throne. The daughter of a political leader or princess enjoyed her role of peacemaker as well as conflict and war cause. This social value role of ruling class women reflected in other daily life such as the followings: the equal right of inheritance for both male and female descendents, the female medium spirit for workshop ceremony and protected spirits. Our local chronicles and legends portrayed this women's role in accordance with historical documents.
For the cultural characteristics of South East Asian people, it is interesting to include the knowledge in horoscopy. Indigenous and Lao-T'ai people believed in the prediction of future by an examination of the chicken leg bone. In a ceremony called Riak-Khuane in Asam a Su-Khuane in Laos, one can note that the boiled chicken is placed among others foods and offering items. When the shaman or the elder folk who presided the ceremony ended his prays, the bone of the chicken leg and mouth would be carefully examined and the specialist (shaman) will predict the future of the Sukhuane's owner. The Ahom Buranji and Thao Hung epic, both semi local chronicle semi legendary documents, elaborated this custom if they were composed by the same hand. The interpretation of dreams and omens seemed to be one of the powerful means to legitimate the kinship. Its influence among Lao-T'ai people still continued to persist up to present time.
Yes, there is any doubt about Lao-T'ai believes. The God named Lord of Thunder who reigned in his realm came into communication with people through the medium spirit. The ruler or political; evader was considered as a descendent of this God or Thaen. In the early period of state formation, the rulers of brother kingdoms originated from the same family. They were brothers and cousins. Being descendent of Thaen means to be invincible. In this early period of political centralization, the local ruler had to lead by himself any kinds of construction works such as irrigation canals, bridges, city wall, palaces. The greatness and authority of the king necessitated in a number of labor force and population who will contribute by paying taxes for the wealth of the kingdom. The content of teachings and advices given by Lord of Thunder or by the king to their subjects, showed that the rulers had to apply a policy which much satisfy his population. This is quite interesting to note that the capital punishment did exist in that time. It was prescribed against male culprit who raped or robed or usurped women's properties. Punishment of culprit women is remarkably less severe than the male case. Comparing with the contents of the Thai Thammasat (14-18 century) and the royal Orders of Burma (from 13th century) it was found that the tuning point in this matter is very concerned with political and social role of women.