Manora - A Thai Legend
The great forest of the Himapan lies at the foot of the Himalayas. It is there that the king of the bird-people has his capital, the city of SuwanNakan, the City of Gold. The king had seven beautiful daughters, each petite and always dressed in silken glittering robes. His youngest daughter, Manora, was the most delicate and most beautiful of all the sisters.
Every full moon found the seven princesses flying through the night sky to a lake near the hermitage of a monk. It was here that they loved to take off their wings and tails and swim in the lake beneath the light of the full moon until the coming of the dawn. As the sun’s rays lit the eastern horizon with fire, they donned their wings and tails and merrily flew home.
One night, a hunter from the nearby kingdom of Pawnkala overheard the soft swishing sounds that no mere animal makes and investigated. Concealed in the brush and woods near the lake and the cave of the monk, he watched in wonder as the seven bird-princesses came down from the night sky in a joyous mood. He watched as they cast aside their wings and tails and entered the lake to swim beneath the light of the full moon. He found himself smitten by their ethereal beauty.
His name was Bun, a loyal subject of the King of Pawnkala, and the kingdom’s greatest hunter. Bun approached the monk who made his home the cave near the lake and asked how it would be possible to catch one of the kinaree and present her to his prince, the handsome Prince Sutone.
The hermit told him that the only way to catch such a fantastic creature of the air was to use a weapon of equal fantastic power. In this case, only the serpent noose of the King of the Snakes could capture a kinaree, a bird-princess. Bun was elated. Once, he had saved the life of the King of Snakes and the king had promised his aid should Bun ever have need. And so it was that Bun approached the King of the Snakes and borrowed the serpent noose. The King of Snakes lent it gladly and carefully taught Bun how to use the noose effectively. Bun waited impatiently for the next full moon.
When the time came, he concealed himself again in the brush and woods lining the lake shore with the serpent noose held ready. As the full moon raised high in the sky and bathed the lake in silver light, the bird princesses returned and cast off their wings and tails to frolic in the cool waters. As the princesses emerged from the waters onto the lake-shore to prepare to return home, Bun aimed carefully at the most beautiful girl and threw the noose. Manora was ensnared.
Fighting with all her might, she tried to win herself free but to no avail. The serpent noose held her captive as her startled sisters flew away in fear with heavy hearts. Bun retrieved the feathers of Manora and took his prize to present before his prince, Prince Sutone. Young and handsome, the prince immediately fell in love with Manora in all her delicate beauty and married her.
Despite the prince’s honest love and sincere caring, Manora was unhappy. Her heart yearned for the sky and the memory of her home in the Himalayas and the company of her celestial people in the City of Gold. She was like a bird in a gilded cage, and like any captive creature with the passage of time she began to forget what it was to be free. She came to love the prince after a time, a deep love, and forgot that she was truly a kinaree, a bird-princess.
It was then that war came to the kingdom of Pawnkala. As crown prince, it was Prince Sutone’s duty to lead their army. With a sad heart, he left his cherished wife Manora in the care of his parents, the King and Queen. Prince Sutone had an enemy in the royal court, the powerful Law Minister. For long the Law Minister had attempted to bend the prince to his will and manipulate him, but the prince was both wise and strong of will. The Prince was not to be manipulated. Hungry for power, the Law Minister saw the opportunity in the Prince’s absence.
One night, the King woke in a cold sweat from a horrible dream. He went to the Law Minister and asked him what it meant. The Law Minister made a show of carefully considering the import of such a dream, his eyes closed in concentration and looking very wise. Meanwhile, his mind raced as he quickly devised an awful plan. He opened his eyes and turned to the king and spoke seriously, Sire, I see death before you! This horrible dream is a sure sign that the spirits are angered with you. There is only one way out of such a fate, to make a great sacrifice of someone very dear to you. Manora. It must be Manora. There is no other way!
The King and the Queen were horrified and immediately wanted someone else to be sacrificed in Manora’s stead. The Law Minister adamantly insisted that the sacrifice must be Manora and no other. Manora heard all of this and made her choice. She approached the King and told him that she was more than willing to make such a great sacrifice to save the King’s life. Her only request was to give a farewell dance. To this, the king agreed with a heavy heart.
The time came for Manora’s farewell dance. A bonfire was set at the ceremony site and Manora made her preparations. She dressed in the silken glittering robes that she had worn when she had first been brought to the palace. She donned the wings and feathers that had been kept with the clothes. Her eyes shown and her hair fell in a dark cascade and she looked once again like the sublime being that she truly was, more than merely human.
She began her dance on the platform before the bonfire, a dance so exquisite and so graceful that all who attended the ceremony watched in awe. With every gesture, every step, her wings grew and flexed and became stronger and memory returned. The music came to a climax as she danced toward the flames. Manora leapt into the flames and her wings spread. Soaring on the rising heat of the flames she took flight and flew away to her father’s palace in the laps of the Himalayas.
After a time, Prince Sutone led his country’s army back home victorious. Upon his return he was told of what had happened to Manora. The prince was furious and had the wicked minister thrown into the dungeon. Determined to find his love, the prince sought out the monk near the lake where Manora had first been found.
The monk confirmed that Manora had stopped there on her way back to her own people. She had left a ring behind for the prince. She had remembered who she truly was, a bird-princess. If the prince truly did love her, he would come and ask her father for her hand in marriage properly, as befitted her. The monk warned the prince that it would be an arduous journey covering seven years, seven months, seven weeks and seven days before he would reach his goal.
As additional aid, the monk gave the prince a monkey to guide him in his quest and gave him his blessing. The monkey led the prince on the long and hazardous journey through hills and jungles and forests. Finally, the prince reached the land of the bird-people within the forests of the Himapan. The monkey led him to sit and rest near a pool of water.
Giggling, a few bird-maidens approached the pool to fill their water jars. As they giggled and glanced surreptitiously at the strange man, they chatted gaily amongst themselves and the prince overheard that the maidens were taking the water for the final ablution ceremony of Manora to wash away the taint of human contact. The monkey advised the prince to slip the ring into one of the jars. This the prince did, managing to slip the ring into one of the jars without exciting the curiosity of the bird-maidens as he did so.
Manora had not forgotten Prince Sutone, and her heart quietly waited for him. When the water was poured over her during the ceremony, the ring tumbled into her lap. Her eyes widened with recognition and she took up the ring with joy. She queried the bird-maidens and learned about the handsome human man who had been near the water pool. Manora approached her father and announced that Prince Sutone had come to ask for her hand. She appealed to her father to hear Prince Sutone.
The bird-king had missed his youngest daughter terribly, and been outraged at what had befallen her. But she was his youngest, and her appeal touched his heart. He sent for Prince Sutone to hear what the human would say. The Prince came before the King and fell at his feet in a very deep obeisance. Prince Sutone professed his true love for Manora and requested her hand in marriage with the deepest of respect.
The king of the bird-people was pleased with the young man, but felt he must test the human’s sincerity. He insisted that if the prince truly loved his daughter, he would have to identify her. And so it was that all seven of the bird-princesses dressed in their silken glittering robes, all alike. They were seated in a circle around the human prince, stunning in their beauty.
At first, Prince Sutone was bewildered when he realized how alike the princesses were. The glittering robes and sparkling jewels dazzled his eyes as he studied each princess in turn. In his moment of despair, he noticed the ring that only one wore on the little finger of her left hand. His eyes looked into hers searchingly and he found his heart. He spread out his hand and pointed out Manora.
The prince had passed his test and the king of the bird-people threw a great celebration. The entire land rejoiced in honour of the wedding of the youngest princess, dear to her father the king and all of the people. And so it was that the king of the bird-people bid a hearty and fond farewell to his youngest daughter and her husband as they returned to the kingdom of Pawnkala. Time passed and Prince Sutone became king when his father passed away. The reign of King Sutone and Queen Manora was a happy and prosperous one. Each year, they would visit the land of the bird-people in the forests of the Himapan, joining the country of Pawnkala with the bird-kingdom with great bonds of love.