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The Battles of the Crocodiles : A legend from Thailand

Chamnongsri Rutnin Hanchanlash



Illustration : LittleLark


Just north of Central Thailand lies Pichit, province that grew from a riverside town dating back on less than 800 years.


Inextricable from the daily lives of its inhabitants is the River Nan that runs through it like a vein. The wide river flows slowly and silently throughout the year except for the months after monsoon when its current swirls and twists with breathless rapidity southward. Though the people of Pichit regard it as an inseparable part of their lives, they are awed by the grandeur and sense of the unknown that pervades this familiar, yet mysterious waterway, and, through the centuries, there grew a legend of the fearsome and seemingly inscrutable reptiles that populated the river – freshwater crocodiles.




Let us begin our story on this silent river one cloud veiled dawn long, long ago. An elderly couple was paddling their loaded boat from a northern part of Pichit. Their destination was distant Ayudhya, the great and glittering capital where they were to sell their goods. They had not gone far down the river when a handsome, nobly- dressed man hailed them from the river bank.


“Stop for me, old couple, I know you are going to Ayudhya. Take me with you part of the way. I shall paddle that heavy boat for you”


The kindly old man and woman took the tall stranger in their boat. They were amazed at his immense strength as he plied the paddle. An aura of mystery and power kept the curious pair from questioning him.


The boat reached southern Pichit with incredible speed. The stranger guided it to a deserted bank. Before stepping ashore, he handed the couple a small bag of turmeric powder.


“Thank you for your kindness. Take this and go away from here as fast as you can. Don’t look back before you reach that bend in the river. Scatter this on the water around your boat. Go now. Do as I say.”


The awed couple obeyed without questioning. When they did look back, they saw the stranger leaping into the river; and, before their unbelieving eyes, turned into a huge crocodile – more gigantic than they could ever imagined.

Within seconds the river was filled with crocodiles, all of them far smaller than the transformed stranger. They were inhabitants of this part of the great River Nan, the southern part. Thrashing their tails in rage at the intruder, they created a violent commotion in the water for miles around. None of them ventured near the boat, for the couple had scattered the turmeric powder around it.


A battle followed. And, in no time the intruder had either killed or driven off defenders of the southern territory. It is said that the river foamed red with blood and that the tremendous noise and emotion drew Pichit people to the riverbanks to watch the strange sight.




In dark cool depth of the river lived, Tao Pan Ta, Lord of Thousand Eyes, sovereign of the southern river. As he lay in his great cavern, this lord of crocodiles was disturbed by turbulence of battle up above. He saw bloodied water and dismembered heads and limbs of his minions. Darting to the surface, he confronted the aggressor who called out to him:


“So, is this Tao Pan Ta, Lord of a Thousand Eyes? Is this he who rules over these degenerate beasts? Is this the shameful ford whose tribe kills animals and people with senseless cruelty? You, Lord of a Thousand Eyes, you take evil pleasure in killing. I am Tao Kojorn, Lord Traveller of the northern river. My tribe keeps the precepts of virtue. I am here to put an end to your evil reign.”


The infuriated Lord of a Thousand Eyes wasted no words. The two giant crocodiles engaged in a bloody combat. The struggle was said to continue for seven days and seven nights. At the end of the seventh night, the wicked Lord of a Thousand Eyes was mortally wounded. With his last breath, he cried:


“You shall die. My brother will revenge my death.”


And so it was that the next adversary of victorious Lord Traveller was Phya Pan Wang, Prince of a Thousand Caves, younger brother of defeated Lord of a Thousand Eyes. The truth to tell, he was but an arrogant 'playboy’ of a crocodile. And on match for the mighty Lord Traveller of the north. It was soon clear that the young crocodile of the South was to be loser in the terrible combat.


Just then, the guardian spirit of the southern river thought it was time to intervene. He felt that it was his duty to protect the young Prince of a Thousand Caves who was – after all – a living being in domain under his guardianship. Invisibly, he took his place right above the monstrous head of the exhausted young crocodile. The Prince of a Thousand Caves’ waning strength surged, and he fought with renewed strength and unaccustomed skill.


The wise Tao Kojorn, Lord Traveller of the north, noted the surprising change, and rightly guessed its cause. He addressed the invisible guardian spirit:


“Oh, Celestial one. Help not this evil beast. Abandon him to the fate he deserves.”



Illustration : LittleLark


At this, Phya Pan Wang, Prince of a Thousand Caves, -- shouted back:


“Come, come Tao Kojorn! With my strength and power, what would I need from a guardian spirit.” Hearing the young crocodile’s arrogant reply, the guardian spirit abandoned him to the mercy of Lord Traveller.

Within minutes the combat ended with the victory of the righteous northern crocodile and the death of the Prince of a Thousand Caves. With his powerful jaws, Lord Traveller decapitated his antagonist. He placed the huge head on the river bank as an offering of homage and gratitude to the celestial spirit who permitted him victory.


To this day, there stands a spirit house that is believed to mark the legendary spot where the decapitated southern crocodile’s head was placed.

His mission accomplished, Lord Traveller, Tao Kojorn made his way back to his own kingdom in the north. But things did not end well for this noble king of crocodiles. He died from wounds sustained from this renowned battle against the crocodiles of the south. Sadly, with his death came the decline of the northern crocodile tribe. These crocodiles grew to neglect the precepts of virtue that they had once so strictly observed under their former lord, Tao Kojorn. They terrorized the river, preying indiscriminately on animals and people.


Until the day came when the people of Pichit turned to crocodile hunters in order to rid the river of these beasts. Their number reduced rapidly, until today few crocodiles are found in the fertile province of Pichit where River Nan still maintains its important place in the peaceful lives of the people.

 









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