Is She Pallava Princess from South India?
According to the chronicles and legends of Lanna, Chamadevi was a strikingly beautiful woman who nevertheless enjoyed a fair measure of personal misfortune. To begin with, she was apparently pregnant but unmarried at the time she was appointed Queen of Lamphun – indeed, this unfortunate condition may have been one reason her father, the ruler of Lopburi, sent her away.
Legend recounts that Chamadevi had at least one other serious personal problem. In her childhood she had stepped across a burning lamp placed in front of a revered Buddha image in her father’s city. In punishment for this sacrilege, fate cursed her with a serious – but really serious – body odour problem. To be specific, though gorgeous to look at, Chamadevi’s distinctive odour could be detected over a distance ‘measured by three elephant trumpets plus seven beatings of a gong’. The chronicles are very specific about this, calculating that an elephant can be heard over a distance of three miles, whilst the sound of a gong “of medium size” travels for about one mile. Hence, Chamadevi’s offensive odour could be detected from a distance of sixteen miles!
Chamadevi’s journey upstream from Lopburi via the Chaophraya and Ping Rivers took about three months. Unfortunately, most of the sites associated with her journey in legend have now been submerged by the waters of the Phra Bhumibol Dam above Sam Ngao. At one place on the Ping, later known as Ab Nang (Lady’s Bathing Place) she stopped for a day to bathe in a waterfall. As the legend has it, the odour of the queen polluted the waters and attracted a number of vultures which mistakenly thought an elephant had died in the vicinity. These vultures perched on a high rock overlooking the fall, and were later turned into stone, becoming a permanent feature of the Ab Nang skyline.
Tradition notwithstanding, Chamadevi’s personal odour cannot – surely – have been as bad as is recounted. After all, she had managed to become pregnant before she left Lopburi, and no sooner had she arrived in Lamphun than the local Lawa chieftain, King Luang Viranga, fell in love with her. We are told that Viranga was a widower who lived on the slopes of nearby Doi Kam, a small hill in the vicinity of the present-day Chiang Mai International Airport. Viranga, attracted by the queen’s beauty, sent emissaries to Lamphun requesting her hand in marriage.
At this time, again according to legend, the Lawa were a fierce nation of head-hunters as well as being – by some accounts – cannibals. Moreover, they were dark-skinned non-Buddhists. Chamadevi, the beautiful, pale-skinned (if malodorous) representative of Mon civilisation and Buddhism, could not tolerate the thought of marriage to the Lawa chieftain. Fortunately, at this stage she was still pregnant, so she sent a message to Viranga that she would accept his suit only after the birth of her child, and when that child had been weaned.
In the event, Chamadevi gave birth to twin sons, both “healthy and handsome”. She named them Anantayot and Mahantayot. In course of time they reached eight years of age, but still the wily queen declined to wean them. Eventually Viranga lost patience, and calling together his Lawa subjects he stormed Lamphun, determined to possess the object of his desire.
The Lawa forces, who were stronger than those of the Mon, managed to cross the defensive moats and climb the high walls of the city. Once within the inner fastness, they wasted no time opening the main gate for King Viranga to make his triumphant entry, mounted on a war elephant.
At this point Chamadevi’s twin sons appeared, riding an extraordinary elephant with blackish-purple skin and green tusks which – not surprisingly – rejoiced in the name of “Blackish-Purple”. At the command of the twins, this prodigious beast forced back Viranga’s elephant, causing the terrified animal to bolt through the northern gate. During this debacle, Viranga was caught between his elephant and the city wall, as a result of which his leg was broken. From that time forth, Lamphun’s northern gate was renamedPratu Chang Si, or “Elephant Crush Gate”.
Unfortunately for Chamadevi, “Blackish-Purple” soon died, and when news of this reached Viranga, he determined to renew his assault on Lamphun. In a further attempt to fend off the Lawa chieftain, the queen requested a truce at which she promised to marry Viranga if he could throw a javelin from the top of Mount Pui, near Chiang Mai, to any place within the walls of Lamphun – a distance of about 30 kilometres. Viranga, ‘whose lust for the queen’s beauty had grown stronger’, readily agreed, and summoning all his supernatural powers climbed to the summit of Mount Pui to try his skills.
By the agreement worked out at the truce, Viranga was allowed three attempts to throw his javelin to Lamphun. On the first attempt the Lawa chieftain hurled his javelin at the heart of the city, but it fell just short of the walls, creating a huge crater known today as Nong Sanao, or “Javelin Swamp”.
This amazing feat so terrified Chamadevi that she determined to sap Viranga’s strength through trickery before he could make any more attempts. Accordingly, whilst the Lawa chieftain was resting on Doi Pui in preparation for his second throw, Chamadevi sent him a gift of a hat she had made with her own hands. Of course, this was no ordinary hat. It was made from the cloth of the queen’s petticoat, embroidered with gold and silver, and dyed a delicate shade of red… Viranga should have sensed trouble – but, of course, he didn’t!
In the words of the chronicler: ‘as is well known throughout Southeast Asia, the dignity and spiritual power of a man is particularly concentrated in his head. A dishonour to his head will cause him to lose his spiritual strength. And the most potent threat to masculine power is the petticoat or other undergarments of a woman, particularly a menstruating woman’.
No sooner did Viranga see the hat than he rushed forward and proudly put it on his head. Immediately his supernatural powers began to melt away. His second javelin failed to get anywhere near Lamphun, landing a mere five kilometres away at the foot of Doi Suthep, where its impact created another “Javelin Swamp” near the settlement of Ban Tindoi. In despair, the ailing chieftain threw his third javelin high in the air, tore open his clothes to expose his chest, and allowed the falling weapon to pierce his chest.
Defeated by Chamadevi’s wiles, Viranga was laid to rest on the summit of a nearby peak with his face towards Lamphun, so that even in death he would gaze towards his beloved. With him died the spirit of Lawa independence. Never again would his people attempt to subdue or expel the Mon – or, later, the Thai. Instead they came gradually to embrace Buddhism and to acknowledge the authority of Lamphun, becoming loyal subjects of Haripunchai. And this is what the legend of Queen Chamadevi is really about – the triumph of guile over strength, of city over the forest, of settled rice-growing peoples over the hunter-gatherers of the wild.
Text by Donald Wilson; Photos by David Henley & Pictures From History – © CPA Media