THE LEGEND OF THE MAHA NAGHKON.1
MANY hundreds of thousands of years ago, when P'hra Atheitt, the Sun-god, was nearer to earth than he is now, and the city of the gods could be seen with mortal eyes, — when the celestial sovereigns, P'hra Indara and P'hra Insawara; came down from Meru, the sacred mountain, to hold high converse with mortal kings, sages, and heroes, — when the moon and the stars brought tidings of good-will to men, and wisdom flourished, love and happiness were spread abroad, and sorrow, suffering, disease, old age, and death were almost banished, — there lived in Thaisiampois a mighty monarch whose years could hardly be numbered, so many were they and so long. And yet he was not old; such were the warmth and strength and vigor imparted by the near glories of the P'hra Atheitt, that the span of human life was lengthened unto a thousand, and even fifteen hundred years. The days of the King Sudarsana had been prolonged beyond those of the oldest of his predecessors, for the sake of his exceeding wisdom and goodness. But yet this King was troubled; he had no son, and the thought of dying without leaving behind him one worthy to represent his name and race was grievous to him. So, by the advice of the wise men of his kingdom, he caused prayers and offerings to be made in all the temples, and took to wife the beautiful Princess Thawadee.
At that very time P'hra Indara, ruler of the highest heaven, dreamed a dream; and behold I in his sleep a costly jewel fell from his mouth to the lower earth; whereat P'hra Indara was troubled. Assembling all the hosts of heaven, the angels, and the genii, he showed them his dream, but they could not interpret it. Last of all, he told it to his seven sons; but from them likewise its meaning was hidden. A second time P'hra Indara dreamed, and yet a third time, that a more and more costly jewel had fallen from his lips; and at last, when he awoke, the interpretation was revealed to his own thought, — that one of his sons should condescend to the. form of humanity, and dwell on the earth, and be a great teacher of men.
Then the King of Heaven imparted to the celestial princes the meaning of the threefold vision, and demanded which of them would consent to become man.
The divine princes heard, and answered not a word; till the youngest and best-beloved of Heaven opened his lips and spake, saying: "Hear, O my Lord and Father I have yearned toward the race thou hast created out of the fire and flame of thy breast and the smoke of thy nostrils. Let me go unto them, that I may teach them the wisdom of truth."
Then P'hra Indara gave him leave to depart on his mission of love; and all the hosts of heaven, knowing that he should never more gladden their hearts with his presence, accompanied him, sorrowful, to the foot of Mount Meru: and immediately a blazing star shot from the mount, and burst over the palace of Thaisiampois.
That night the gracious Princess Thawadee conceived and became with child, and the P'hra Somannass was no longer a prince of the highest heaven.
The Princess Thawadee had been the only and darling daughter of a mighty king, and still mourned her separation from her beloved sire. Her only solace was to sit in the phrasat of the Grand Palace, and look with longing toward her early home. Here, day after day, she sat with her maidens, weaving flowers, and singing low the songs of her childhood. When this became known abroad among the multitude, they gathered. from every side to behold one so famed for her goodness and beauty.
Thus by degrees her interest was aroused. She became thoughtful for her people, and presently found happiness in dispensing food, raiment, and comfort to the poor who flocked to see her.
One day, as she was reposing in the porch after her customary benefactions, a cloud of birds, flying eastward, fell dead as they passed over the phrasat. The sages and soothsayers of the court were terrified. What might the omen be? Long and anxious were their counsels, and grievous their perturbations one with another; until at last an aged warrior, who had conquered many armies and subjugated kingdoms, declaring that as faithful servants they should lay the weighty matter before their lord, bade all the court follow him, and approached his sovereign, saying: —
"Long live P'hra Chow P'hra Sudarsana, lord and king of our happy land, wherefrom sorrow and suffering and death are wellnigh banished! Let him investigate with a true spirit and a clear mind the matter we bring for judgment, even though it be to the tearing out of his own heart and casting it away from him."
"Speak," said the King, "and fear not! Has it ever been thought that evil is dearer unto me than good? Even to the tearing out of my heart and casting it to dogs shall justice be rendered in the land."
Then the sages, soothsayers, and warriors spake as with one voice: "It is well known unto the lord our King, that the Queen, our lovely lady Thawadee, is with child. But what manner of birth is this that she has conceived, in that it has already brought grief and death into the land? For as the Queen sat in the porch of the temple, a great flight of birds that hastened, thirsty, toward the valleys of the east, when they would have passed over the phrasat were struck dead, as by an unseen spirit of mischief. Let the King search this matter, and put away the strange thing of evil out of our land, lest it make a greater sorrow."
When the King heard these words, he was sore smitten, and hung down his head, and knew not what to say; for the Queen, so gentle and beautiful, was very dear to him. But, remembering his royal word, he shook off his grief and took counsel with his astrologers, who had foretold that the unborn prince would prove either a glorious blessing or a dire curse to the land. And now, by the awful omen of the birds, they declared that the Queen had conceived the evil spirit Kala Mata, and that she must be put to death, she and the fiend with her.
Then the King in council commanded that the sweet young Thawadee should be set upon a floating raft, and given to the mercy of winds and waves.
But the brave chief who should have executed the sentence, overcome on beholding her beauty and innocence, interceded for her with the council; and it was finally decreed that, for pity's sake, and because the Queen was unconscious of any evil, she should not be slain, but "put away," after the dreadful birth. To this the stricken monarch thankfully agreed.
In due time the Queen was delivered of a male child, so beautiful that it filled all beholders with delight. His eyes were as sunshine, his forehead like the glow of the full moon, his lips like clustered roses, and his cry like the melody of many instruments; and the Queen loved him, and comforted herself with his beauty.
When the mother was strong again, the infant prince being then about a month old, the sentence of the council was carried into effect, and the poor princess and her child were banished forever from the beloved land of Thaisiampois.
Clasping her baby to her breast, she went forth, terrified and stunned. On and on, not knowing whither, she wandered, pressing her sleeping babe to her bosom, and moaning to the great gods above.
Then P'hra Indara, king of highest heaven, came down to earth, assumed the form and garb of a Bhramin, and followed her silently, shortening the miles and smoothing the rough places, until she reached the bank of a deep and rapid stream. Here, as she sat down, faint and footsore, to nurse her babe, there came to her a grave and venerable pilgrim, who gently questioned her sorrows and comforted her with thrilling words, saying her child was born to bring peace and happiness to earth, and not trouble and death.
Quickly Thawadee dried her tears, and consented to be led by the good old man, who had come to her as if from heaven. From under his garment he produced a shell filled with food from paradise, of which she partook with ecstasy; and gave her to drink water from everlasting
springs, that overflowed her soul with perfect peace. Then he led her to a mountain, and prepared in the cleft of a rock a hiding-place for her and her child, and left her with a promise of quick return.
For fifty years she dwelt in the cave, knowing neither trouble nor weariness nor hunger, nor any of the ills of life. The young Somannass, as the good Bhramin had named him, grew to be a youth of wondrous beauty. The melody of his voice tamed the wild creatures of the forest, and charmed even the seven-headed dragons of the lake in which his mother bathed him every morning. Then again P'hra Indara appeared to them in the form and garb of the aged Bhramin; and he rejoiced in the strength and beauty of the young Somannass, and his heart yearned after his beloved son. But, hiding his emotion, he held pleasant converse with the Queen, and begged to be permitted to take the boy away with him for a season. She consented; and instantly, as in a flash of lightning, he transported the prince into the highest heaven, and Somannass found himself seated on a glorious throne by the side of P'hra Indara the Divine, before whom the hosts of heaven bowed in homage.
Here he was initiated in all the mysteries of life and death, with all wisdom and foresight. His celestial royal father showed him the stars coursing hither and thither on their errands of love and mercy; showed him comets with tails of fire flashing and whizzing through the centuries, spreading confusion and havoc in their path; showed him the spirits of rebellion and crime transfixed by the spears of the Omnipotent. He heard the music of the spheres, he tasted heavenly food, and drank of the river that flows from the footstool of the Most Highest.
And so he forgot the forlorn Queen, his mother, and desired to return to earth no more.
Then P'hra Indara laid his hand upon the brow of the lad, and showed him the generations yet to come, rejoicing in his prayers and precepts; and Somannass, beholding, stretched his arms to the earth again. And P'hra Indara promised to build him a palace hardly less grand and fair than the heavenly abode, a temple which should be the wonder of the world, a stupendous and everlasting monument of his love to men.
So Somannass returned to the Queen, his mother; and P'hra Indara sent down myriads of angels, with Phya Kralewana, chief of angels, to build a dwelling fit for the heavenly prince. In one night it was done, and the rising sun shone on domes like worlds and walls like armies. And because the seven-headed serpent, Phya Naghk, had shown the way to the mines of gold and silver and iron, and the quarries of marble and granite, the grateful builders laid the sign of the serpent on the foundations, terraces, and bridges; but on the walls they left the effigy of the Queen Thawadee, the beautiful and bountiful lady.
Then swift-winged angels flew to heaven, and, returning, brought fruits and flowers the most curious and exquisite; and immediately there bloomed a garden there, of such ravishing loveliness and perfume that the gods themselves delighted to visit it. Also they filled the great stables with white elephants and chargers. And then the angels transported Thawadee and Somannass to their new abode, the fame of which was so spread abroad that the great King Sudarsana, with all his court, and followers without number, and all his army, came to see it. And great was their astonishment to find again the fair and gentle Thawadee, who thus was reunited to her husband; and he took up his abode with her, and they lived together in love.
But the Prince Somannass built temples, and preached, and taught the people, and healed their infirmities, and led them in the paths of virtue and truth.
And the fame of his wisdom and goodness flew through all the lands, so that many kings became willing vassals unto him; but there came from a far-off country, where the heavens drop no rain, but where one great river suddenly floods the plains and then shrinks back into itself like a living thing, a king of lofty stature and exceeding craft. And the Prince Somannass was gracious toward him, and showed him many favors. But his heart was black and bad, and he would have turned the pure heart of the prince to worship the dragon and other beasts; wherefore Somannass changed him into a leper, and cast him out of his palace, and caused a stone statue to be made of him, which stands to this day, a warning to all tempters and evil-doers. And he caused the face of the great P'hra Indara to be carved on the north and on the south and on the east and on the west — so that all men might know the true God, who is God alone in heaven, Sevarg-Savan!
1 Translated from a MS. presented to the author by the Supreme King of Siam.