Story & Trivia
The Mekong - A River full of Things
The Mekong travels a long way – 4800 kms, before flowing into the South China Sea in Vietnam. A truly international river it has given rise to a wealth of folklore.
The Lao people call the Mekong, Mae Nam Khong; mae means mother, nam means water, mae nam refers to river; khong means things.
Phadaeng Nang Ai is an epic in verse form which speaks of the formation of the Mekong River.
The Naga is a mythological serpent with great powers among the Lao people. They believe that that there is a great Naga city underneath the Mekong waters.
The Kuva Lake or the Nong Kasae Segnan, in Tibet, is the source of the Mekong River. Also in Tibet, people believe is the source of the Nan River which flows into Laos. In ancient times, the Kuva Lake was large and surrounded by tall evergreens. None it was said could walk around this large lake. The waters were home to dragons and great variety of plant and aquatic life.
Nong Kasae was home to two great dragons who were good friends - Souttoranark and Souvanranark. They had a great number of followers. Both helped out and visited each other.
Once King Soutto went on a hunt and killed a large elephant. They believed that lots of hair/spines was to be found only on large creatures. But the elephant in spite of the thin hair was large. As they always did, King Soutto sent a large part of the meat to his friend. A delighted King Souvanranark thanked him.
One other day King Souvanranark went on a hunt. In spite of a large party and a lot of time, they could hunt down just a porcupine. As was their way, the King got the meat divided up equally and had it sent along to King Soutto. Along with it, he sent the porcupine skin, hair and quills as it was so beautiful.
King Soutto saw all the hair and quills and imagined the porcupine to be a large animal. The meat he saw was a disappointingly small quantity. Unfortunately, in his ignorance, he assumed that King Souvanranark had cheated him by sending less meat. He refused the gift and had it sent back in spite of the pleading by the people who carried it. King Souvanranark was asked to come over the following morning with an explanation.
King Souvanranark, on hearing of this was amazed that his friend would suspect him of unfairness. But, he decided to go the following morning and explain for he was sure King Soutto had no clue to the size of a porcupine.
King Soutto in the meantime gathered his people and explained why he thought his friend was unfair. Though his people knew that an elephant was larger than a porcupine their fear kept them from explaining the truth to their King.
When King Souvanranark came and explained, King Soutto got angrier.King Souvanranark expressed his amazement that King Soutto could think he had been unfair. But, King Soutto was in no mood to listen and left. King Souvanranark returned home not knowing how to resolve this. Soon a message came from King Soutto asking him to prepare for war if he still maintained his stance about the porcupine meat. King Souvanranark was left with no option but to gather his troops and prepare for a fight.
In seven days, King Soutto and his magical dragons moved into King Souvanranark’s territory. This churned up the lake bed. Then King Souvanark ordered his troops to attack. The Kuva area became cloudy – nothing could be see – birds left – scared animals hid or left – creatures died – the lake bed was cloudier than ever – seven days passed.
Indra the King of Gods got disgusted at the trouble caused to all creatures, especially the smaller ones and so he cast a spell. The two dragons stopped fighting. He explained to King Soutto about the smallness of the porcupine. The King was repentant and the two dragons became good friends again.
As repentance for the turmoil they had caused, Indra asked King Soutto to carve out the river Mekong from Lake Kuva to the Sea. King Souvanark had to carve out the River Nan.
They left to do their jobs. Once complete, King Soutto went to the Mekong River along the present day Nongkhai, Thailand and Vientiane, Laos. There he established a Naga city called Souttankhanahut under the waters of the Mekong.
In memory of the hatred in which the rivers were formed, locals say that if the waters of the two rivers are mixed in a bottle or a container – it will burst!
Thailand’s Naga Fireballs
The Naga under the Mekong asked the Buddha to ordain him as a monk. He refused for there was no meaning in an animal becoming a monk. In spite of this the Naga became a great devotee of Buddha.
For three months after the monsoon begins, it is the Buddhist Lent when the monks spend their time meditating. The Naga too followed this practice. His home was deep inside the Mekong waters.
There was a couple which fished everyday in the Mekong. This disturbed the Naga who was meditating during Lent. He asked them not to fish, but meditate. They followed his advice and meditated. At the end of Lent an extraordinary thing happened – orange-pink balls of fire seemed to float up from the Mekong disappearing into the sky!
Even today this happens and thousands come to watch, believing, that it is the Naga shooting fireballs celebrating the end of Lent.
The Nine Tailed Dragon
In Vietnam, before flowing into the South China Sea, the Mekong splits into nine tributaries or “tails” getting the name “Nine tailed dragon”. This creates a huge fertile delta, perfect for growing rice.
1. The Mekong’s source is a mountain range in Tibet.
2. The Mekong runs through more countries than any other river in Asia. It flows through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
3. There are long-time disputes that continue today over where to build dams to best utilize the waters of this river.
4. It empties into the South China Sea through Vietnam.
5. The Mekong is used for transportation, fishing, power generation, and irrigation.
6. The huge Mekong delta is found in southest Cambodia and South Vietnam.
7. It is the twelfth longest river in the world.
8. It is easily navigable for large vessels and has popular ports along its course.
9. A project sought to better utilize the waters of the Mekong was taken on by the United Nations. The project was taken on to increase hydroelectricity using the power of the falls of the Mekong as well as improve the irrigation system and increase ease in navigation.
10. The Mekong is the border between Laos and Thailand.