Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Star Stories of Thailand

There was a very poor old couple who lived in a forest. All they had was a little brown rice and a hen and seven chicks. One evening a monk camped near their hut. The old folks were worried, because it was the custom that they should offer the monk some food in the morning (the monks did not eat after noon.) By placing some food in the begging bowls which the monks carried around, people acquired merits which would benefit them in future lives. And so this couple wanted to give the monk the very best food that they had, but they were very poor. In the end they decided that they only thing they could offer him was their hen. The hen overheard this, and was very sad. She took her chicks aside and told them that they must look after themselves from now on. Very early the next morning, the old man killed the hen and began to roast her to give to the monk. The chicks were so overcome with grief that they threw themselves onto the fire so that they might always be with their mother. The seven chicks were reborn as stars in the sky, and they are called Dao Look Kai.

Another constellation story from Thailand is about the stars which we call the Big Dipper. This time of year the Big Dipper is low in the northern sky but still easy to spot. According to the people of Thailand, we are looking at a crocodile. This comes from a story about a very wealthy old man who hid all his money buried in the ground in front of his house. After he died, he came to his wife in her dreamworld and told her where the money was and to give a sizable amount to the temple. While his wife was digging up the money, a lot of people said they saw a giant crocodile circling the house, as if to protect the property. As the boat, with the wife and money proceeded to the temple to present the gift, the crocodile was said to lead the procession. People said that the rich husband had been reborn as that crocodile. And to reward him for his generosity, he was reborn as a constellation of a crocodile in the sky! He is called Dao Ja Ra Kae. When people see him they are reminded to do good in this life and they will be rewarded.

The third story from Thailand is about the brightest star in our night sky, Sirius. This bright star has long been referred to as the dog star, and in Thailand it is the sleeping dog star, Dao Mah Lap. Some elder Thai folks say that it is also called Dao Jone , the robber star and that children born at the time this star rises will likely become a member of a robber gang! They say that when this star is in the night sky, dogs fall fast asleep and are not easily wakened, making the life of the robber much easier. In October, Sirius does not rise until very late at night, around 3am but if you are up then, it is such a bright star it is very easy to see even close to the horizon. If you are up that late and see Dao Mah Lap, you might also try waking up your dog!
Copyright © 1999 Kathy Miles and Charles F. Peters II

[All too often when we think of mythology, we think of the Greek and Roman myths we hear about in school. And indeed, in astronomy, most of the constellations are named after such myths. But people from every culture have looked to the sky and it's nice to hear about what other people thought about then they looked up at the night sky. This week, we will visit Thailand. Three of their best star stories are about constellations which are visible in our night skies now. They are the Pleiades, Sirius and Ursa Major.

Rising in the east this time of year is a small compact group of stars called the Pleiades. They are so compact that you could cover the area of sky they reside in with your outstretched fist. The Pleiades are known as the seven sisters by many cultures. The japanese word for Pleiades is Suburu, and if you look at the emblem on a Suburu vehicle, you will indeed see the seven stars. In Thailand the Pleiades are seen as the Seven Chucks. The really strange thing is that only 6 stars can be seen with the naked eye, yet nearly every culture tells stories of 7 stars! The story of the seven chicks is told like this.]


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