(On Thai Mythology)
Perhaps the most popular realm in Thai mythology, Himapan Forest is the invisible woodland believed to exist in the Himalayas, in the India-Nepal border, just below the equally legendary Buddhist heaven. The fabled forest is home to a great number of mythical beasts that have become symbols of exemplary Thai traits. Some of such fabulous creatures are described below.
Garuda: Royalty and Supremacy
Half human and half bird, Garuda has the torso and arms of a man and the head, wings, tail, and feet of an eagle. The king of all birds is the favored mount of Vishnu, a deity shared by both the Hindu and the Thai faiths. The Thai people honor Garuda as a symbol of royalty and supremacy. In fact, he represents the Thai monarchy or government, and an artist’s rendition of the majestic creature appears on Thai bank notes and on the royal flag of Thailand.
Nok Hasadee: Ambivalence and Balance
A gigantic elephant-headed bird, Nok Hasadee inhabits the tangled, thorny rattan-cane areas of Himapan, where he patiently waits in camouflage for ungulates—his favored prey. During heavy rains, especially when he is neither furious nor famished, Nok Hasadee fancies making noise by playing an enormous khawng wong yai or, simply, smelling the scent of the forest with his proboscis. This is the reason many Thai natives, especially those of the Central Plains, view thunderstorms as one of Nok Hasadee’s destructive pranks. Nevertheless, they describe him as a paradoxical character—playful yet lonesome, childlike yet predatory.
Kinnari: Gracefulness and Elegance
Half human and half bird, Kinnari has the head, torso, and arms of a beautiful woman and the wings, tail, and feet of a swan. Her voice is enchanting and her gait graceful. She is sometimes depicted playing a khryang ditt, making her a patroness of dance, poetry, and music. Many Thai parents encourage their daughters to emulate the gracefulness and elegance of the swan lady. A favorite subject of artists, the graceful form of Kinnari appears frequently in sculpture and murals.
Pranorn Puggsa: Agility and Dexterity
The Thai folk derived the name of this creature from the Thai words pranorn (monkey) and pugg (bird or birdlike). Pranorn Puggsa has a monkey’s head, torso, and forelimbs; the lower body of a bird; and a prehensile feathered tail. Ambidextrous, he is excellent in climbing trees, moving from branch to branch with agility. Pranorn Puggsa fancies mangoes and apples. People describe him as “the tireless and spirited inhabitant of Himapan Forest.”
Rajasi: Grandeur and Magnificence
People depict Rajasi, the king of fierce forest mammals, as a lion whose mane, tail, and paws are burning with golden flames. Most inhabitants of Himapan Forest dread the lion king not for his slyness but for his splendor. Although Rajasi symbolizes grandeur and magnificence, many Thailanders, especially those who are living in the North, blame him for the forest fires.
Naga: Comfort and Safety
A multiheaded serpent whose main head sports a beard and wears a typical pointed Thai crown, Naga inhabits the densest part of Himapan Forest. It is a half sibling yet a sworn enemy of Garuda. Naga is a familiar motif in Thai architecture, featured frequently on stair handrails of many temples. Thailanders regard the serpent as a symbol of comfort and safety.
Kinnon-nua: Swiftness and Serenity
Partly human and partly artiodactyl, Kinnon-nua has the torso and arms of a muscular man and the antlers and lower body of a deer. The swift creature roams Himapan Forest seasonally, safeguarding the realm’s endangered fauna and flora and promoting serenity. Whereas the satyr of Greek mythology plays the panpipe, Kinnon-nua plays the pi chawa. The sylvan Thai native will readily regard him as a symbol of nature.
The Last Leaf
Mythology doesn’t have to be Greek all the time. Other cultures have also their respective mythological worlds inhabited by metaphorical characters.