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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.



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