Flowing from the Nine-Headed Serpent: Legends Found in Cambodian Literature

By Knappert, Jan | The World and I, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Flowing from the Nine-Headed Serpent: Legends Found in Cambodian Literature


Knappert, Jan, The World and I


Long ago, according to Cambodian oral tradition, Prince Thong, leader of the Khmer, led his people in search of a new land. They finally arrived at the shore of lake Anlong Reach (Tonle Sap), in the heart of present-day Cambodia. (The lake stood higher then than today, and water covered much of the region.) There the Khmer met the Nagas, the area's only inhabitants. The Nagas were supernatural beings, half human and half serpentine. They could appear as human beings and move around in human company, but they could also change themselves into snakes and escape underwater from their enemies.

Soon after reaching the lakeshore, Prince Thong encountered a company of beautiful maidens. Among them stood the most shining beauty the prince had ever seen. She was the daughter of Shesha (sometimes known as Vasuki), the Naga king. Her name was Lieuie (or Liewye). Of course, Prince Thong fell in love with her.

Now this was perhaps the lady's intention. Nagas rarely emerged from their aquatic habitat except to meet humans. In any case, she agreed to marry the human prince. Her father, who was ruler of all the land and all the waters, also agreed to the match. To provide the human immigrants with land to cultivate and live on, Shesha drank much of the lake's water, so the lake shrank to its present size. Vast stretches of land fell dry and soon were populated by people.

Successive generations of the kings of Cambodia all claimed descent from this original union of the immigrant prince and the Naga princess. Indeed, every Cambodian king was believed to maintain the country's prosperity by uniting mystically with the queen of the waters. Without this regular intercourse, there would be no water on the earth and no rice for the people. A tower was reserved in the palace precinct for the nightly meetings between the king and his divine consort, and a nine-headed serpent, the image of Shesha, became the emblem of Cambodia, the land of lakes and rivers.

Further tales of Cambodia's origin

By the early Middle Ages, Cambodia was a well-established kingdom (physically larger than the modern country) with an advanced culture and literature. Its written works profoundly influenced both Siamese and Laotian literatures. The oldest known inscriptions date from the eighth century a.d., with some composed in Sanskrit (praising the kings as incarnations of the gods Vishnu or Shiva) and others in Old Cambodian. Two literary texts, written on palm leaves long after their composition, recount significant oral traditions. They are the mythical cosmology Trai Phet (or Triveda in Sanskrit) and the epic Ream Kirti, the exploits of Rama (the ancient Indian hero who is also an incarnation of Vishnu). Libraries in Cambodian monasteries are also filled with Pali manuscripts dealing with the three major disciplines of Buddhist lore: abhidhamma (metaphysics), vinaya (doctrine), and sutta (rules of life). Many of these texts have been translated into Khmer (Cambodian) with numerous commentaries added.

The authors of these Pali didactic texts frequently end with admonitions for the reader to curb his earthly desires and pray to seek refuge with the Lord Buddha as living protector of the world, with the Dhamma (eternal law) and Sangha (worldwide community of Buddhist devotees). The age of these unsigned and usually undated texts is difficult to ascertain, especially in a religion where time is irrelevant and ambition and possessiveness frowned upon.

Some legends concerning the founding of the Cambodian dynasty appear to have historical credibility. They include reference to the mystical water goddess. According to one legend, an Indian prince (or alternatively a Brahman) arrived by a ship from the south, from either Java or India. His name was Kaundinya. (The name means "native of Kuhndina," which was the capital of a state called Vidarbha in south India.) Kaundinya was armed with a bow that he had received from Asvatthaman, son of Drona. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Flowing from the Nine-Headed Serpent: Legends Found in Cambodian Literature
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.