In Chapter 1 of this article we provided a brief discussion about the origin and importance of mythology and legends and also issues pertaining historicity arising from some of these myths. Many writers tend to pit myths and history at two antithetically extreme ends. Many historians also, for whatever reasons, assumed an innate obligation to remove all traces of myths from history when, ironically, there are as many historical falsities as there are historical values in myths.
Let us take the Xia Dynasty (2200 – 1760 BC) for example. Prior to the discovery of radiocarbon dating, the Xia Dynasty was dismissed as a Chinese fairy tale which now turned out to be a historical fact. On the contrary, it is not difficult to find many agenda-laden godly investitures that gradually turned a historical figure into some supernatural beings which, in their book “Myths: A New Symposium”, Schrempp and Hansen described it as borrowing the tropes of myths to elevate the authority and verisimilitude of the subject matter. It is also not difficult to understand the latter proposition given the fact that even history per se does not contain absolute truth but, at most, probable truth. Absolute truth must result in absolute certainty that is free from subjective interpretation and must unswervingly endure the test of time, for example, death. It makes no difference whether you are rich or poor, pretty or ugly, educated or illiterate, your ultimate destiny is death, an end-result that is absolutely certain and unchangeable.
Therefore, even with regards to critical history, other than death, no one will ever know the truth but for personal experiences. In an article published in the Journal of History and Theory, Heehs concluded that it may not be possible to categorically separate history and myths “because the two interpenetrate”. As Theravada Buddhists, we neither propagate superstition nor atheism but the middle-path reflected in Lord Buddha’s teaching. We adhere to the fundamental tenets of Theravada Buddhism, especially that of intelligence which underlies our dialectical approach that we invoked to allow our readers to draw their own conclusion based on competing information.
The Story Continues
Phlai Kaeo returned to Suphanburi as a novice of Wat Pa Lelai. His handsome appearance has won the hearts of many young girls who were seen waiting to see him during his morning ritual of “tak but” or alms round. They will fill his alms bowl with so much food. Similarly, Nang Phim Philalai also did the same.
One day, at the Wat Pa Lelai Temple, there was a sermon sponsored by Nang Phim Philalai which Phlai Kaeo was instructed by the abbot to deliver. That was when the three childhood friends met together again. Strongly attracted to the young handsome novice and unable to restrain her affection, Nang Phim Philalai removed her shoulder cloth (sabai) and offered it to the novice. Khun Chang who was all along attracted to Nang Phim Philalai quickly removed his headdress (Pkama) and placed it on top of her shoulder cloth and openly asked the novice to give them the blessing that the two will come together as a couple. Nang Phim Philalai was deeply offended by Khun Chang’s unsolicited advancement.
Khun Chang felt the threat of Phlai Kaeo’s presence and he also sensed Nang Phim Philalai’s affection towards the latter. Therefore, Khun Chang pestered his mother Nang Thepthong to go forth and ask Nang Sri Prachan for him to marry Nang Phim Philalai. Khun Chang even brought along with him the “sin sot” or dowry which was usually negotiated after a woman’s parents had agreed to the marriage proposal. However, Nang Phim Philalai vehemently objected that proposal.
Subsequently, Phlai Kaeo disrobed as a novice and married Nang Phim Philalai. The couple were drown in love and could not bear to be separated from each another. Despite Nang Phim Philalai’s marriage to Phlai Kaeo, Khun Chang has not given up on her and has been thinking about how to win her over. Coincidentally, at this time, Somdej Phra Panwasa received news that Mueang Chiang Thong, a small tributary of Ayutthaya Kingdom, generally believed to be in current north-eastern part of Chiang Rai province or the current Chiang Khong town, has defected and switched allegiance to Chiang Mai instead. Infuriated, Somdej Phra Panwasa contemplated sending an army to punish Mueang Chiang Thong.
Where exactly was Muaeng Chiang Thong?
A number of Thai scholars and historians have disputed the location of Mueang Chiang Thong as being in Chiang Rai and argued that it should instead be in present day’s Doi Chom Thong district in southern Chiang Mai. In fact, this argument sounded more logical when we were to look into the number of wars Khun Phaen has fought with Chiang Mai. If Mueang Chiang Thong was located in Chiang Rai then Khun Phaen could have avoided the main forces of the Chiang Mai army by marching his troop from Suphanburi through Nakhon Sawan, Mueang Kamphaengphet, Mueang Rahaeng, Mueang Thoen to Phayao and entering Chiang Rai.
However, it was said that Khuan Phaen fought numerous wars with Chiang Mai but without directly attacking Chiang Mai. This again aligns with historical records because albeit in constant war with Chiang Mai, the Ayutthaya Kingdom has never conquered Chiang Mai (1259 – 1892). Chiang Mai only became part of Siam (now the Kingdom of Thailand) in 1893. Therefore, if Muaeng Chiang Thong was indeed in current Doi Chom Thong district in Chiang Mai, then Khun Phaen’s army constant encounter with the Chiang Mai army on his way to Mueang Chiang Thong will be justified because from Mueang Thoen he had to cut through Lamphun and march his troop down the Ping River to reach Doi Chom Thong district in the southern part of Chiang Mai.
However, it is not the endeavour of this article to delve into the historical location of Muaeng Chiang Thong but suffice to provide a skeletal background for our readers’ imagination.
Khun Chang Hatched His First Plot
When Somdej Phra Panwasa was briefed about Mueang Chiang Thong’s defection and the strength of Chiang Mai’s army, he deeply regretted having executed Khun Kraipon and procrastinated as to who he should send to lead his army against the enemy. Immediately, Khun Chang seized the opportunity and told Somdej Phra Panwasa about Khun Kraipon’s son, Phlai Kaeo. Khun Chang depicted exaggerated stories about Phlai Kaew’s invulnerability in the hope that Phlai Kaeo will be summoned to service which will then separate him from Nang Phim Philalai and preferably get killed in war. Indeed, Somdej Phra Panwasa summoned Phlai Kaeo to the service and appointed him as Commander of the Royal Army to punish Mueang Chiang Thong.
A Dream Fulfilled
It was Phlai Kaeo’s dream to be an army commander like his father Khun Kraipon. Therefore, despite being newly-wed, he took his mother Nang Thongprasri and his wife Nang Phim Philalai and set out to Ayutthaya where Somdej Phra Panwasa officially appointed him the Commander of the Royal Army, presented him with a sword and armour. He was also raised to the title Khun Phaen.
A Vow and the Bodhi Tree Ritual
As Khun Phaen began raising his army and preparing to set out for war, Nang Phim Philalai became depressed and worried. One morning, Khun Phaen prepared offerings to a Bodhi tree outside their house and summoned the angels of forest and asked that if he should die in war, let that Bodhi tree die too but otherwise the Bodhi tree shall grow strong. He then turned and told his wife Nang Phim Philalai that the Bodhi tree will let her know about his life and death and, thus, she has nothing more to worry about.
A Long Journey of War
Khun Phaen marched his army through Nakhon Sawan, Mueang Kamphaengphet, Mueang Rahaeng (presently the Tak district in western Thailand) and Mueang Thoen (currently Lampang province) to Mueang Chiang Thong. Many battles were fought between Khun Phaen’s army and the Chiang Mai’s troops as he pushed his way towards Muaeng Chiang Thong.
It was said that Khun Phaen has not lost a single battle which won him the title of Undefeatable Warlord. Many stories have infused the battles with alchemy and wizardry but we are not going to repeat them here but suffice to mentioned herein that, amongst other things, it was said that Khun Phaen was able to win every battle because of an ancient Thai “Khong Kraphan” sorcery and his ability to summon warrior spirits to help boost fearlessness among his soldiers. That was also why mountains of enemy’s bodies paved his path to Muaeng Chiang Thong.
Khun Chang’s Second Plot
There are at least two different versions of story as to what happened whilst Khun Phaen was away from home. Since we had introduced the Bodhi tree ritual above, we shall continue with the Bodhi tree version here. However, to satisfy our readers’ curiosity, we will also provide a brief account of the other version later on.
Ever since Khun Phaen went to war, Nang Phim Philaiai missed her husband so much that she gradually became seriously ill with high fever. Medicine and herbs did not do her any good. On the verge of death, her family brought her to consult the abbot of Wat Pa Lelai. The old abbot performed an ancient Thai ritual known as “sedeokhrok” signifying a cycle from sickness to death and then rebirth whereby she was given a new name Nang Wanthong by the abbot. In other words, Nang Phim Philalai has died and Nang Wanthong was born.
Note: This traditional Thai ritual is not an exorcism ritual as it is frequently misunderstood. It is a complicated ritual that cheats death and changes an individual’s destiny which may be for the better or worse depending on the individual’s subsequent behaviour and acts after the ritual as well as the expertise of the master who performed the ritual. It could have dire consequences as depicted (albeit erroneously) in the horror movie “The Coffin”, starring Hong Kong movie star cum singer Karen Mok, if it is not performed properly by versed monks.
Her fever began to subside after the ritual and Nang Wanthong gradually recovered. During that period, Khun Chang has visited her frequently and asked to take care of her. His offer was rejected by Nang Wanthong. However, Khun Chang somehow came to know about the Bodhi tree ritual and he instructed one of his loyal servant to scatter poisonous herbs around the tree daily until the tree dies.
It did not take too long for Khun Chang to kill the Bodhi tree and Nang Wanthong was overwhelmed by the sudden death of the Bodhi tree which she related it to the death of Khun Phaen. Khun Chang then went to see Nang Wanthong’s mother, Nang Sri Prachan, and asked her to make her daughter available to him or risk her being declared a widow under the law.
The version of the Legend of Khun Phaen that does not contain the Bodhi tree ritual instead stated that Khun Chang brought an urn of bones and tricked Nang Wanthong and Nang Sri Prachan into believing that Khun Phaen was dead.
It has to be noted that, unlike depicted in many contemporary made movies, in ancient societies, whether in Asia or Europe, women were considered chattels under the law. They are owned by their parents and husbands before and after marriage respectively. During the Ayutthaya era, a woman’s parents have full right to decide what they wanted to do with their daughter. Therefore, upon the “death” of Khun Phaen, Nang Wanthong was reverted as chattel of her mother whereby, seeing Khun Chang was rich and serving the King, Nang Sri Prachan forced Nang Wanthong to marry Khun Chang.
Khun Phaen Married Princess of Chiang Thaong
Khun Phaen and his troops stepped over piles of enemy’s bodies on their way to Muaeng Chiang Thong. However, when they reached Muaeng Chiang Thong they somehow refrained from all killing. The army of Muaeng Chiang Thong did not put up a fight instead prince Saen Khamman ordered the opening of city gate and ushered in Khun Phaen and his troops.
Khun Phaen was received with honour by the prince of Muaeng Chiang Thong and he also came to know that it was not the intention of Muaeng Chiang Thong to switch allegiance to Chiang Mai but for Chiang Mai’s army threatening to invade Mueang Chiang Thong. The prince and his wife Nang Sri Ngenmuang were grateful that Khun Phaen had shown understanding for their predicament and had not used force against them or the villagers. They presented to him their beautiful daughter Nang Lao Thong as an assurance of their allegiance to the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
Khun Phaen and Nang Lao Thong got married in Mueang Chiang Thong. He stayed there for a short period to allow his soldiers to recuperate before he reorganised his troops and marched his way jubilantly back to Ayutthaya. On his return journey , Khun Phaen and his troops did not meet any resistance or ambush from the Chiang Mai forces.
What drama will unfold with Khun Phaen bringing his beautiful new wife Nang Lao Thong back to Suphanburi and what will be Khun Phaen’s reaction to find his wife Nang Phim Philalai married to Khun Chang?
To read more, please keep a look out for our upcoming article “Thai Myth: The Legend of Undefeatable Warlord Chapter 3”.
Every year thousands and thousands of tourists from all over the world visit the ancient city of Suphanburi, Thailand, which is approximately slightly more than a hundred kilometres away from Bangkok. The province has a rich history dating as far as 3,500-3,800 years back but its prominence was actually established during the Ayutthaya kingdom (1650-1767) as an important border town engaged in many historically significant battles. Therefore a Thailand tour to the ancient city of Suphanburi will usually include visits to the U-Thong National Museum named after the founding king of the Ayutthaya kingdom, Don Chedi Monument dedicated to King Naresuan who defeated the Burmese, and iconic temples such as Wat Pa Lelai and Wat Kae that were both built some 500-600 years ago and played vital roles in the history of Suphanburi. Many Thai mythology and legends are also directly associated with these two temples and among the many is the Legend of the Undefeatable Warlord.
The Undefeatable Warlord is also one of Thailand’s most prominent God of Charm, Luck, Wealth, and invulnerability whose root is also traced to this ancient city. He was said to have studied and mastered the art of inner-path in both Wat Pa Lelai and Wat Kae. Furthermore, legends and poems pertaining to the Undefeatable Warlord Khun Phaen are among the most celebrated Thai literature which are hitherto widely taught in schools. Sacred objects, including statues and amulets of Khun Phaen are also highly sought after. Almost every amulet producing temple would inevitable produce Khun Phaen amulets and the most popular ones happened to originate from Wat Ban Krang which is also located in Suphanburi province.
Purpose of this Article
In this article, we seek to explore the story of Thailand’s most prominent legendary and controversial character – Khun Phaen the Undefeated Warlord – who is hitherto most revered as the God of Charm, Luck, Wealth, and Invulnerability. We endeavour to assess and evaluate all materials including historical artefacts and traces pertinent to Khun Phaen and allow our readers to draw their own conclusion. Therefore, we will breakdown this article into several chapters whereby we will briefly explore the essence between myths and historicity and provide a narration of the story of Khun Phaen; we will attempt to analyse the facts derived from information collected and determine the position of Khun Phaen between mythology and history; and we will discuss what role Khun Phaen plays in contemporary Thailand and within Thai Buddhists community around the world.
Mythology and Legends
Mythology and legends are the most intriguing things that had accompanied mankind since time immemorial. These two subjects mirror the characteristics, values, and history of specific cultures. Myths and legends are often said to be created to reflect what a particular culture deems to be moral and ethical and thereby shaping its outlook and its way of life. Despite being a Theravada Buddhist society within the Suvarnabhumi region since 250 BC, the Ramakien which is deeply rooted in Hindu Ramayana myths underlies Thai mythology and legends saved those attires, weapons, topography, and constituents of settings are transposed and given a Thai flavour. The most often cited examples include those classic Ramakien and Khon dances also known as the “Masked Pantomime” created under the supervision of Rama I and Rama II respectively.
Although the Ramakien and Khon dances are said to provide Thai legends with foundational myth whereby numerous Thai Gods and Deities derived their origin, they are nevertheless not all comprising. There is simultaneously many other mythology and legends found in Thai literature that have no connection to the above two sources especially those that are inextricably intertwined with local history. Archaeology is an important source for human outlook because any profound findings will change mankind’s entire chronicle and, therefore, it is not surprising there are many archaeologists and historians out there set to prove or disprove a particular myth such as the existence of Jesus Christ so on and so forth.
Importance of Mythology and Legends
Nonetheless, mythology and legends are taught in many schools throughout the world as they preceded philosophy, science, and even religions, thus, they are primary sources reflecting cultures and are used to impart the values, virtues, morality, and temperance amongst many other things which in turn collectively forms the foundation for studying literature of a particular culture. For example, in order to study and understand Shakespeare, one may need a certain level of understanding of Greek mythology. Similarly, without a firm understanding of Ramakien, it is difficult for one to understand the religiopolitical ideology and culture of the Thais.
Whilst most myths are products of imagination and creativity developed by numerous authors throughout the ages and which contents may hence be incoherent, however, there are some that may contain historicity. Historicity is sometimes used as a nexus to connect past and present or simply describing the actuality of characters and events of historical existence. It is also this value of historicity within myths that oftentimes add controversies to certain myths and history just as in the case with the Bible, the Christ myth theory, and of course, the main character of this article – the Undefeatable Warlord Khun Phaen.
The Story Begins
The story was set out during the reign of King Ramathibodi II also known as Somdej Phra Panwasa (1473-1529) in the province of Suphan (now Suphanburi) where all the three main characters, Phlai Kaeo (later Khun Phaen), Sri (later Khun Chang), and Phim Philalai (later Nang Wanthong) were born. Phlai Kaeo was the son of Commander Khun Kraipon and Nang Thongprasri. He was handsome and clever. Sri’s father was Khun Srivichai and his mother Nang Thepthong. He was born bald and albeit coming from a rich family, Sri was crass. Nang Phim Philalai was the beautiful daughter of wealthy merchant Pansorn Yotha and Nang Sri Prachan. The trio were childhood friends.
It was a period where the Ayutthaya Kingdom was in intense war with Chiang Mai and Lan Chang. The province of Lan Chang was ceded to French Indochina in 1946 under the Washington Accord in exchange for Thailand’s admission to the United Nations and today it forms part of Laos. The story also provided a rich insight into traditions, customs, culture, beliefs, and the way of life of Thais in general and the people of Suphanburi and Kanchanaburi (then Kanburi).
Khun Kraipon Executed
One day, Somdej Phra Panwasa suddenly wanted a herd of wild buffaloes and ordered Khun Kraipon to set up a ranch. Khun Kraipon was a warrior who was versed in the art of inner-path and war but, however, lacked the skill in herding wild buffaloes. Therefore, when he tried to herd those wild buffaloes into the ranch, they became frightened and ran amok. Khun Kraipon became frustrated and angered whereby he then used spears to thrust and killed many of those buffaloes whilst the remaining surviving buffaloes fled into the forest. Somdej Phra Panwasa became very angry and ordered Khun Kraipon and family to be executed. Upon receiving the news of her husband’s execution, Nang Thongprasri quickly took Phlai Kaeo and went into hiding in Kanburi.
There is a temple called Wat Khun Krai at Tambon Bang Pla Ma, Amphoe Bang Pla Ma, Changwat Suphanburi, built to honour Khun Phaen’s father.
Phlai Kaeo Ordained in Wat Som Yai
In Kanburi, Nang Thongprasri single-handedly brought up Phlai Kaeo who could not forget his father. He practised the skills his father taught him with the ambition of becoming a great army commander like his father. Phlai Kaeo was ordained in Wat Som Yai in Kanburi province. The temple was renamed Wat Yai Dong Rang in Buddhist Year 2525. The abbot of Wat Som Yai, Luang Pu Boon, imparted to him the secrets of the inner-path and moulded in him a strong foundation in the arts of sorcery. An ancient monument indicating Phlai Kaeo’s progress is still being preserved in the temple today.
After graduating from Wat Som Yai at the age of 15, Phlai Kaew was sent to further his learning and practice at Wat Pa Lelai Woravihan in Supanburi province and later to Wat Khae, also in Supanburi province.
Tens of thousands people have visited Wat Khae and most are amused by a large tamarind tree, measuring approximately 10 meters around the base inside the temple. A huge hornet sculpture sits under the tamarind tree. Devotees can be seen doing prayers and making offerings but, ironically, not many people know the essence of the giant hornet and the tamarind tree.
Actually, Khun Phaen has used the leaves of that Tamarind tree and turned them into hornets capable of attacking enemies which inspired the temple to build the sculpture of a giant hornet under the tree. Therefore, making prayers and offerings to the hornet symbolise a plea for help to subdue and/or defeat one’s enemy.
Childhood Friends Reunited: Love, Jealousy, and Plots Unfolded
Tragedy did not just befall Phlai Kaeo’s family. Shortly after the execution of his father Khun Kraipon, Sri’s family was robbed by bandits and Sri’s father Khun Srivichai was also killed. Almost during the same time, Nang Phim Philalai’s father Pansorn Yotha too died from a deadly fever after returning from foreign cities. The three childhood friends all became fatherless at almost the same period of time.
By the time Phlai Kaeo returned to Suphanburi, the trio were already all young adults. Nang Phim Philalai has grown up to be a beautiful young lady whilst Sri was bald and fat but has entered the royal service and conferred with the title Khun Chang. Despite the fact that his family was robbed, Khun Chang was able to amass great wealth and became a rich and influential person. However, he has also become selfish and insensitive.
Khun Chang has since childhood always liked Nang Phim Philalai and that affection has turned into a crush for the grown up beauty. With the return of Phlai Kaeo who has also grown up to be handsome and attractive, could the three childhood friends maintain that innocence and sincere friendship or…
To read more, please keep a look out for our upcoming article “Thai Myth: The Legend of Undefeatable Warlord Chapter 2”.
Most people who frequently visited Thailand would have the chances to come across amulets of a man and a woman hugging together. These figurines are usually presented in the form of nudity and are made of metal but there are those rare ones carved from wood as well. These amulets are called “YinTong” or “YinKu,” phrases originating from the language of Lanna or northern Thais albeit some textbooks suggested that it originated from Ngew or Thai Yai.
A Misrepresentation: Deliberate or Otherwise
Owing to the nakedness of those figurines many people inevitably associated them with sexuality. Indeed many amulet dealers would either deliberately or ignorantly misrepresent them as so to arouse curiosity and interest that cater to market demand. For those who are familiar with Thai myths, legends, and folklores it is not difficult to detect the lewdness and sexuality presented as selling points by these agents are actually partial and mixed-up representations of “Yee Per” and “Mae Per” which are total different things from “Yin Tong.” Yee Per comprises a pair of male and female naked figurines with their sexual organs exposed and amplified and they are used by practitioners for various rituals whilst Mae Per is a sole female figurine usually used as a complimentary subject in charismatic sacred objects. We will not be delving into details of Yee Per and Mae Per in this article but suffice to state briefly the marked and intrinsic differences between the three.
The Simple Truth
Every religion has folklore about the origin of mankind and Yin Tong is the Thai version. Contrary to sexuality and lasciviousness, nudity, in this instance, represents truthfulness, openness, and nothing to hide. It also represents the relationship between mankind and the nature and, together with the embracing couple, it signifies love and harmony. Many temples and guru monks have made and consecrated amulets of Yin Tong but the most renowned hitherto is still Luang Phor Somjit Sukkho of Wat Noi Nanghong. To correct the misrepresentation of sexuality and lewdness, Yin Tong made and consecrated by Luang Phor Somjit is dressed up in traditional Thai costumes.
Luang Phor Somjit made and consecrated Yin Tong statues and amulets according to the ancient Lanna scriptures with incantations of the power of love, harmony, great popularity, fortune, wealth and prosperity. Whilst Yin Tong originating from other temples share the same power to bring about love and harmony to people within a household, those made and consecrated by Luang Phor Somjit, through a special incantation, extend to all areas of activities beyond home. By virtue of being the master of Thai Phaedthi (Bagua), His Venerable has added both the eight directional and Yin/Yang charms into his creations. Therefore, Yin Tong made and consecrated by Luang Phor Somjit has the power to balance the two contrasting energies and bring about reconciliation and harmony between the two sexes as well as between the same sexes.
His Venerable once said: “When there is harmony, there will be peace and happiness. It is with a balance of energies that people prosper.” When Yin Tong is worshiped in the house it brings about harmony and love between husband and wife as well as among other members of the household; if it is worshiped in places of trade and offices it brings about fortune and prosperity to businesses. On the other hand, wearing a Yin Tong amulet from Luang Phor Somjit brings Yin Tong to wherever one travels, bringing the positive energies aforementioned with you.
The Correct Mindset
Effectiveness of Thai sacred objects originates from the faith of the believer in the specific sacred object. A channel of connection must be established and this requires a correct mindset. If you are wearing Yin Tong with a mindset full of bawdiness sold to you by some amulet dealers then you will certainly not be able to experience and enjoy the positive energies of love, harmony, prosperity and et cetera associated with Yin Tong. The reason is simple and it is because you are in the wrong channel. You will not get to watch the Last Blood on Pornhub, switch to Netflix!