An an­cient princess still haunts Pyay

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - KHIN WYNE PHYU PHYU – Translation by Khine Thazin Han

SHE was known as Princess Thon Pan Hla, or “pretty flower”. And cen­turies af­ter her death, the vil­lagers are still scared of up­set­ting her spirit. In Pyay, 200 years older than an­cient Ba­gan, fables of royal in­trigue are not un­com­mon. Leg­ends about the old King Naga Naing and Queen Pan­htwa are the stuff of chil­dren’s bed­time sto­ries, mix­ing ter­ror with de­light and fact with myth.

But for those who still live near the an­cient Pyu-era cap­i­tal of Thayekhit­taya – roughly 8 kilo­me­tres (5 miles) out­side of Pyay in Bago Re­gion – the leg­end of Princess Thone Pan Hla has a last­ing legacy.

Leg­end has it that the princess shone like gold in the morn­ing. The princess of an­other king­dom near what is now Nat­talin in Bago Re­gion, Thone Pan Hla was promised to wed King Dut­tabaung, the grand­son of the great King Naga Naing. She se­cretly loved the hand­some king, and looked for­ward to their bond bring­ing peace through­out the realm.

But the king’s con­sorts were jeal­ous of her beauty, and con­spired against her. They told Dut­tabaung that her love­li­ness was a magic trick, and that in fact she re­sem­bled a hor­ri­ble ogre. In a cruel play on her name, they con­vinced him that she even as­sumed her true form three times a day: “three times pretty” in­deed.

Be­liev­ing them, the king had her driven from his door sight un­seen. Stricken with self-doubt, the princess paused on the way home to dig in the swampy ground with her bare hands to see her face in the wa­ter. Mean­while, King Dut­tabaung re­alised his er­ror and set af­ter her.

Thone Pan Hla died be­fore the king could reach her, pin­ing away in a for­est. Heart­bro­ken, he built her a tomb on the spot where she died, hous­ing her loyal ser­vants in a vil­lage around it. The vil­lage was named Ko Gyi Myoke – “where the body is buried” – in the an­cient land of Mhaw Zar.

Af­ter her death, the princess is said to have be­come a nat. Vil­lagers be­lieve that if her spirit is ac­corded the proper wor­ship and respect, good health and boun­ti­ful har­vests will fol­low. But the penalty for dis­re­spect­ing the princess is lep­rosy

Sayadaw U Thi­lasaya of Let Thay Yay Kan monastery, lo­cated about 1 mile from Ko Gyi Myoke vil­lage, said, “Nats and ghosts don’t re­ally go with monks, though our Bud­dha did speak of them. Far be it from me to up­set peo­ple’s be­liefs. I heard these bed­time sto­ries my­self when I was a child. No­body speaks ill of Princess Thone Pan Hla, par­tic­u­larly around Ko Gyi Myoke vil­lage, where the burial mound can still be seen.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, the princess hates un­truth. An­gered by a rich woman whose slan­ders caused the death of her hus­band’s lover, which must have struck a nerve, she laid waste the vil­lage by drought about 100 years ago, and its in­hab­i­tants were scat­tered.

The nat shrine, along with ru­ined pago­das and monas­ter­ies, some old houses and a wrought-iron statue of the princess, are all that re­main of Ko Gyi Myoke. Dur­ing the Bud­dhist Lent, vil­lagers from Mhaw Zar and Mu Htaw vil­lages col­lect do­na­tions to fund a cer­e­mony of wor­ship for Thone Pan Hla, held on the eve of the full moon day of Waso, said 60-year-old Daw Hla Kyine of Mu Htaw vil­lage.

“I’ve been mak­ing of­fer­ing to the nats all my life, like my mother be­fore me. More peo­ple came to the cer­e­mony then, and of­fered more things,” she said. “But the vil­lage girls still bring good weather by mak­ing a wish.”

Thon Pan Hla’s shrine re­mains an ob­ject of de­vo­tion for nat wor­ship­pers.

Let Thay Yay Kan (fin­ger­nail pond) is where the princess clawed at the mud to see her own reflection.

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