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Phra Abhai Mani

Part One : The Two Brothers


ONCE upon a time, a certain prince whose name was Sudasna ruled over a small but prosperous country. He had two sons : the elder, fifteen years of age, was called Phra Abhai Mani, and the younger, aged thirteen, was called Sri Suvarna. Realising that they had reached years of discretion, and were ready to have knowledge instilled into them, so that they might later rule the principality rightly and justly, he summoned them into his presence and addressed them thus :

"My sons, one day you will rule over this country. It is meet that, like those princes of old, you should acquire knowledge which will enable you to protect your inheritance. So you must seek out learned men from whom you may receive instruction in such subjects as will be useful to you hereafter."

The two young brothers bowed to their father, and signified their intention of obeying his will. After receiving further words of fatherly advice, they took their leave of him.

In those days, wise and learned men lived the lives of hermits, jealously guarding the treasures of their knowledge in the fastnesses of the forest or in the distant villages. By dint of much effort, and after fifteen days' travel through the jungle, Phra Abhai Mani and Sri Suvarna succeeded in finding two ancient professors worthy of their consideration. One, as a notice on his door announced, taught the gentle art of flute-playing, and the other the sturdier science of self-defence. Phra Abhai Mani dicided without any hesitation that he would learn to play the flute, while Sri Suvarna chose self-defence. The only difficulty was that neither had brought with him the hundred thousand tamlueng of gold which each professor seemed to require in exchange for his instruction, (for in those days before there was popular education, teachers were entitled to demand their price!). However, on explaining the matter to the venerable old men, the latter kindly agreed to accept a ring of each as fee : they knew that the boys were of noble descent.

The two pupils made rapid advance in their studies. The professor of music took Phra Abhai Mani to the top of a mountain to play his flute, and what he learned was no common kind of flute-playing. When he played, all the wild animals in the forest-even tigers and elephants-forgot to eat and came to listen, enraptured by the magic notes that came out of the musical instrument. Within seven months, Phra Abhai Mani had completely mastered the art of music, with which he could charm the hearts of men and lull them to sleep or make them fall in with his desires. His instruction finished, the professor handed him back his ring : he desired no payment from a pupil such as Phra Abhai Mani. So Phra Abhai Mani, full of gratitude, took leave of him and rejoined his brother, who had likewise completed his course. Sri Suvarna now knew all there was to be known about military tactics and could handle any weapon with infinite skill. He had also been handed back his ring on completing his studies. There was nothing to prevent the two brothers from returning to their father's palace with all due speed.

On their arrival, they went straight to the hall where Sudasna was giving audience. As soon as the Prince saw his sons, he beamed with pleasure, and called them to his side. At once he began to ask how they had fared. But when he heard how his elder son has been learning to play the flute, and his younger son had spent his time wielding common weapons, his pleasure turned to anger, and, stamping his royal foot, said in his rage

"I do not wish to hear any more! Music! Music is fit only for hired minstrels and entertainers. Why, even the women in my palace can learn to play music. And a knowledge of common weapons is suitable only for common sol-diers. What have the sons of princes to do with such things? You have both put me to shame. I cannot let you stay in my palace. I ought to drive you out. You have been away a whole year, wasting your time, and then you come to annoy me with your foolish talk.

The Prince rose, still moved with anger, and strode into his private chamber.

The two brothers were surprised and grieved at their father's unaccountable wrath. Phra Abhai Mani said to Sri Suvarna, "Our father is angry with us, and has driven us out of his palace. If we have to go out into the world alone, shall we not starve?" Sri Suvarna replied, "You need not be afraid, my brother. As long as there is life left in us, we shall continue our journey, and perchance we shall find some town or village where we can seek shelter. We are armed with knowledge, so what is there to be afraid of?"

Thus the two brothers decided to set out on another journey into the wide world. They disguised themselves as common travellers, and started on their way. The elder brother had his flute, and the younger took a stout stick. They passed through fields and meadows, skirted mountains and valleys, walking all day and taking their rest at night. They ate fruit growing wild in the woods and on the plains. Finally, after more than a month, they reached the sea coast. There by the shore, which echoed with the waves of the sea, they sat down in the shade of a tree to rest their weary limbs.

Now it happened that the three sons of a Brahmin always came to play at that spot. All three of them could boast exceptional skill. The first, Mora, could build big boats out of straw. The second, Sanon, could summon the wind and the rain. The third, Vichien, was an expert archer who could shoot seven arrows at the same time and make them all hit the target. It was not long before they came across the two strangers sitting under the tree, who immediately re-vealed who they were. The three Brahmins were delighted with their new-found friends, as the latter were with them. They eagerly exchanged information and ideas. Talking of their respective experiences, they marvelled greatly at the fact that Phra Abhai Mani had done no better than to learn how to play the flute. Quite frankly, they could not under-stand how this could possibly be of any use. "How can music serve, save for serenading women?" they argued.Phra Abhai Mani then explained: "Music has many uses, and is like a gem that is worth a city's ransom. Now, for instance, if I play on this flute, men and beasts, and even angels, who hear the melodious notes will forget their anger, will become soothed and eventually lulled to sleep. Yes, music certainly has great charms. If you do not believe me, let me play to you." So saying, he lifted the flute which his teacher had given him, and started to play. Exquisite notes came forth from the instrument, notes of such a plaintive and tender quality as to pluck the heartstrings, forming a melody which was sweet and soporific. The three Brahmins were entranced and soon fell fast asleep. It was not long before Sri Suvarna fell under the same spell. So Phra Abhai Mani sat alone, making immortal music as melodious strains flowed from his magic flute.

Now, there lived in the those parts a mighty giantess of the sea,whose name was Pisua Samudr. She lived in a palatial cave at the bottom of the ocean, but sometimes came up to see what was going on in the world of men. At that particular moment, she had come up to catch fish for her supper, when she heard enchanting music coming from the shore. She was drawn to it by a spell she was unable to resist, and, creep-ing stealthily to the beach, looked to see whence it came. She saw a handsome youth playing on a flute, and, at first sight, fell completely in love with him and desired him for her own. Acting dn impulse, she strode to where Phra Abhai Mani was seated, and with a force like that of the wind picked him up in her hand. She then ran, plunged into the water, and headed for her cavernous home, with Phra Abhai Mani safely in her grasp.

It was remarkable that Phra Abhai Mani survived this ordeal. The shock of being seized by a giantess and taken into the depths of the sea might have killed any ordinary mortal, but not Phra Abhai Mani. He merely fainted. When he recovered, he found himself in a large and well-appointed cave, and lying on a bed of rock. Beside him sat a beautiful young woman. However, Phra Abhai Mani was not deceived. He knew that it was merely the giantess reduced in size and transformed into human shape, to deceive him into thinking that she was a human being and to allay his fears.

Pisua Samudr tried all her charms on this youth whom she loved, but to no avail. Phra Abhai Mani was rude to her, calling her names and pushing her away from him. This he kept up for a long time, seeking only a means of escape from the cave, in order to rejoin his brother from whom he had never been separated. But finally, despairing of any means of escape, and Pisua Samudr becoming more importunate, he agreed to comply with her desires, on condition that Pisua Samudr would swear never to make a meal of him, as she might do because she belonged to the race of giants who were extremely partial to human flesh. This oath the giantess solemnly swore by all the gods. So Phra Abhai Mani took Pisua Samudr as his wife, to her great joy.

Curiously enough, the course of this strange love did run fairly smooth. Although, he could not leave the cave, Phra Abhai Mani was well looked after by Pisua Samudr, who gave him everything he desired. In course of time a son was born to them a normal human child, to whom they gave the name of Sin Samudr, "Treasure of the Sea." When the child grew up, he began to show remarkable attributes inherited from his parents; he was handsome like his father, and was an amphibian like his mother. He was perfectly at home in the water, and would spend hours swimming, diving, turning, playing with mermaids, without going to the surface. Pisua Samudr thought herself in heaven, so happy was she. It was only Phra Abhai Mani who yearned for the world he knew and for his brother whose fate he did not know.


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