This week in our series of Isaan folk tales, first published in 1965, we finally arrive to Ubon Ratchathani province with two tales: one about a very different kind of temple near the Mun River, and a story of an ungrateful son.
Story 15: The Temple of Many Architects
MOST TEMPLES ARE BUILT BY ONE ARCHITECT. HE MAKES A plan of what the temple will look like, and then the builders start to make it. But a temple in Ubol had two architects, and as a result it is very different from any other temple in the country.
One of Thailand’s most famous priests was named Promoone. He knew that the Thai people wanted to show their belief in Buddhism. One way to do this was to build temples. In Promoone’s time there was great competition in building temples. The winner, the man who built the most beautiful temple, would receive a prize from the king.
One time Promoone went to Ubol. When he was there, he had a dream. In his dream a priest said, “I know you want to build a temple in this town. The temple must be built on the banks of the Moon River.” Then Promoone woke up and his dream was over. The next morning he took a boat and went up and down the river until he found the land for his temple.
Promoone wondered what would be the best design for the temple. He decided to build a temple in the Cambodian style because many centuries ago the Cambodians had ruled over this part of the country. The builder began to work, but when he was about half done, his architect died. The plan for the temple was gone.
No one knew what to do. They had to find a new architect. Their next architect was a
German. He had his own ideas of how temples should be built, and so the part of the temple he planned looks like a German church, finally, a Thai style roof was added to the building. At last Promoone’s temple was finished, but it was now very different from any other temple in Thailand. Still, it was very beautiful. If you go to Ubol today you can see Promoone’s temple. It is named the Well Built Temple (or in Thai: Wat Supatanarnm) in honor of its architects.
Story 16: The Little Sticky Rice Basket
IF YOU GO TO THE VILLAGE OF TARD TONG NEAR UBOL YOU will see a strange chedi in the middle of a field. On the top of the chedi is a sticky rice, basket. That is a very strange thing to be on the top of a chedi. Here is why it is there.
In Tard Tong most of the people are rice farmers. They grow sticky rice. Every morning the people go to their fields to plow the ground, and to plant the rice. They stay in their fields until they are through working with the rice for that day. Sometimes it takes many hours.
Some people have to stay at home. They have to watch the children, and they have to make food for those in the fields.
In Tard Tong there were many families; but one was very small; it had only two persons, a mother and her son. The son was about seventeen years old and he was strong. So every day he went out to his mother’s fields to take care of the rice. One morning he left very early. He took his water buffalo with him, and he went to plow the fields. It was the time of the year to plant rice.
He worked for many hours until he was tired. The sun was hot and there were no clouds in the sky. Finally, he decided to rest under a tree. He thought, “Where is my mother? She should have brought me my lunch by now. She is very late today. I wonder why?” Because he did not see his mother coming, he decided to start working again.
By this time he was very angry. His mother was very late. It was past the time to eat. When his mother came, he looked at the rice basket and thought that it was very small. So he was impolite to her. She said, “Son, I am late, but here is your lunch. Stop working, and come and eat under this tree.”
Her son did not listen to her. He took a yoke from the buffalo, and ran to his mother.
Because he was so angry, he hit his mother on her head with the yoke. Then he grabbed the sticky rice basket which she had brought and went to eat it on the other side of the tree.
Meanwhile, his mother was dying. She said, “Forgive me, son. I am sorry I am late.
Although you may think there is only a little rice for you, I am sure it is enough.”
The son ate for several minutes, and soon he was full. Then he remembered hearing his mother’s last words. There was still lots of rice left in the basket. And he was full! He looked around for his mother, and he saw her lying on the ground. She was dead! Then he realized what he had done, he sat down and cried.
He did not know what to do, so his neighbors told him to go see a priest. The priest said, “Young man, you have been very evil. You must build a chedi at the place where you killed your mother. On top of the chedi you must put a sticky rice basket to show how silly your anger was.”
The young man obeyed the priest. He built the chedi. Every holy day he came to the chedi to pray to the Buddha. But his neighbors said he could never forget his evil. Even today, if you go to Tard Tong, you can see the chedi. The people call it the Chedi of the Little Sticky Rice Basket of the Killed Mother.