We were recently in Luang Prabang, Laos where the author spent quite a bit of time during the late sixties. Luang Prabang has been preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site which is a designation that has served the ancient capital of Laos very well. Until the 1900's, Laos was known as the Kingdom of Lan Xang, the land of one million elephants. In Lao the word for elephant is written phonetically in English as "Xang" which is comparable to the Thai convention in phonetic English of "Chang" as we spell it in The Elephant Story, i.e., Rueang (Story) Chang (Elephant).
Back at our home in Bangkok, the iconic "The Siam" hotel, we discovered a wonderful book entitled Lao Legends by Somsanouk Mixay, a well-known Lao author and beautifully illustrated by Madame Fleur Brofos Asmussen. Given the name of the ancient kingdom, it should be no surprise that there are a number of Lao mythical legends that involve elephants.
A most interesting legend is that of Nang Phom Hom (The Girl with the Perfumed Hair), the daughter of a widowed lady who gave birth to her following drinking water in the jungle that was contained in an elephant footprint. Actually, this legend is not unlike that of the conception of Buddha that was noted in our blog "Buddhism and Elephants in India" posted June 6, 2015. You may have never been lost in a rain forest jungle before, but water is a life or death concern. Therefore, even a pool of stagnant water can be compelling no matter what the consequences may be.
As Nang Phom Hom grew up, the children teased her as being the "daughter of the elephant." She set out to find the King of the Elephants to verify the story. The King of Elephants said she had to walk on his tusks to prove she was his daughter. If she failed, she would be put to death.
Needless to say, she prevailed.
One day, the King of Elephants went on a long hunting trip and left his daughter behind. During the period of his absence, she cut off a lock of her hair, put it in a box and floated it down the river in hope it might lead to marrying a charming young man. The box was picked up by a handsome young prince who happened to find her, marry her and with whom she had two children. When the King of Elephants finally returned home, he smelled the scent of humans and became enraged. They all fled and the King fell and pleaded for Nang Phom Hom to return before he died. His request was that she take his tusks upon his death and fling them into the river which she did. The tusks turned into a ship of gold and she and her family sailed away to head for the Kingdom of the prince.
There is another wonderful legend involving Nang Taeng Orn and a white elephant. In fact, the reverence for white elephants that Thailand has today may actually have originated in the Kingdom of Lane Xang.
There is another legend of Siho, the elephant with the golden tusks and magical powers.
There are a host of other magical tales of the imaginary world of ancient Laos. The Laos that we know today has one great treasure and that is the wonderful nature of the Lao people which makes it a fascinating place to spend some time.