A Folk Tale from Thailand
The Birth of The Rose
The Thais do not believe in one god, but in a group of gods and goddesses who inhabit the earth. The gods and goddesses enjoy eternal happiness in their palaces among the clouds and are just as human as the earthly inhabitants, experiencing passion, love and anger just like ordinary people, except they do not feel the need for food, nor do they want clothes and riches like ordinary human beings. Moreover, the gods are endowed with divine powers, such as the ability to travel through the air, land on earth, and take the shape of whatever they desire. Some of the gods have divine powerful weapons and even magical powers.
A human being can be reborn as a god in an afterlife, enjoying much greater happiness than an earthly man can. In order to be reborn as a god, the human must be completely virtuous, perform many kind acts, give offerings to the priests and be good to all others. Evil men can be reborn in darkness after death or be born as lowly animals with many discomforts, for the Thais believe that life never dies. It passes on from body to body. It can be the body of other human beings, of animals and so on, depending on the person’s own acts on this earth. Acts are rewards or punishments in themselves and determine the future life. The highest reward for good and virtuous acts in this life, if one has to be reborn, is for a person to be born as a god in heaven. Therefore, there can be as many gods as people on earth. There are different ranks of gods, according to the quantity of virtuous acts that a person had performed.
At one time, the gods had a ruler named Suthep. He was surrounded by all the beautiful goddesses who danced around him. Now Suthep was still unmarried. He had no eyes for beautiful goddesses.
One day, something extraordinary happened to him. While all the beautiful goddesses danced gracefully in front of him, he noticed one who was the most attractive of them all. He fell in love immediately. He could neither sleep nor eat, constantly thinking of this beautiful goddesses whose name was Madhana. However, he could not think how to win her love.
At last, Suthep confided his secret infatuation to his charioteer who was very loyal to him. The charioteer responded that he would help his kind master. He tried to approach the goddess to talk to her, but she gave him no chance of making her acquaintance. She would not have anything to do with any man. Declaring himself defeated, he confessed his powerlessness to Suthep. However, he suddenly remembered a magician named Mayavin, who had the power to cast spells on all people, making them do his bidding. Mayavin was summoned to Suthep’s presence. The magician said that before he could start his magic on Madhana, he had to find out what had happened between Suthep and the goddess in their past lives to make the lady so uninterested in a powerful god like Suthep.
Mayavin closed his eyes and proceeded to penetrate into the secrets of their past lives with his magic trance. He then saw what happened in the past and told the king that his desire to marry Madhana could never be realized. He had been her enemy in her past life and had already loved her once. Suthep had once been a king and had fallen in love with Madhana, the daughter of his enemy. He had attacked the family’s kingdom and killed the royal family. Because of these past actions, Suthep would have no chance whatsoever to have her consent to marry him. However, Suthep insisted that Madhana be called to him. Whatever should happen next was up to him.
Mayavin then performed a magic chant and soon the goddess Madhana drifted into Suthep’s palace in a dreamy, lifeless trance. She was ordered by Mayavin to stop in front of the king. For some reason, Mayavin took pity on Suthep and told the king that he could cast a spell on the goddess to make her love him, but this spell would not last long. As soon as the spell was over, she would return to her own self again and despise him.
Suthep said he would not make her love him against her will and asked Mayavin to bring her back immediately to her conscious self. This Mayavin did, and then left the couple alone. Madhana awoke from her trance, alarmed to find herself in front of Suthep. She demanded an explanation.
“I love you and want to marry you!” he exclaimed.
“No, that cannot be,” replied the goddess. “There are other goddesses more beautiful than myself. Why not choose one of them?”
Suthep was angry with this response and finally said, “If you want to run away from me, you may go, but you must go down to earth. You cannot live here anymore in heaven. However, when you wish to return to heaven again, just tell me. I’ll go down to fetch you myself.”
The goddess replied, “Let it be so, but let me born on earth as a flower. Then I shall be very happy.”
“You may take the form of a very beautiful flower,” Suthep answered, “so that every passerby will desire to pluck you and kiss you.”
So the beautiful Madhana was dismissed from heaven and was born on earth as a lovely flower, henceforth known to men as a rose, the color of which was gorgeous to behold, with a fragrance that spread far and wide.
Submitted by Woralak Krutchaiyan, a Thai au pair living in Massachusetts, 2004