What is the Story of Khun Chang Khun Paen?
When it comes to Thai Amulets and Thai Occult beliefs one of the most commonly asked questions I receive is “what is Khun Paen” or “can you please explain Khun Paen to me”? Generally this is asked by one who has come across the name when discovering Khun Phaen Amulets or Talismans on the internet. In order to explain the amulet we must first understand it’s origin.
The History of Khun Chang Khun Paen
The origin of the Khun Paen legend comes from a very Ancient Epic Poem of Thai Literature named Khun Chang Khun Paen. According to historical findings Khun Chang Khun Paen was an oral folktale told some time before the 18th century and by the turn of the century had become a popular form of entertainment in the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. By this time the oral tradition of the story evolved by incorporating the use of two wooden blocks which created various sonic rhythms providing a complimentary entertainment effect to the recitations.
Previously in 1767 the capital city of Ayutthaya was sacked by an invasion of the Burmese in which almost all of it’s Art, Literature and Historical records were destroyed thus leaving the Kingdom of Ayutthaya in complete ruin. After the foundation of Bangkok 15 years later, the Royal Court made great effort to retrieve any surviving remnants of historical text from it’s sacked libraries. Unfortunately no official manuscripts of the Khun Chang Khun Paen story had survived and so it was recreated from unofficial texts and oral recitations from the accounts of surviving storytellers.
In order to help oral preservation and to further add entertainment value, the story was also re-written in a poetical form known as Klon which is to render the story to fit in a syllabic and/or multisyllabic Rhyme Scheme (like a vivid Rap tale). As time went on music and dance was incorporated to further compliment the story which in turn helped evolve what was once a simple oral story into an entertainment production. It should be noted that as time went by King Rama II, his son and many academic consorts in the Royal Court also played a major part in developing many additional chapters.
Unfortunately there is no proven true account of the actual original story. Nor is there a definitive official version since countless adaptations have been created over the course of centuries. In 1917 Prince Damrong Rajanubhab printed an edited rendition which has since become the standard formal modern edition. In recent times one will find many performances and printed books of Khun Chang Khun Paen adhering to commonly accepted key chapters of the ancient story however each production or release will contain additional adaptations and scenes which helps create a unique experience to compliment their respective versions.
An quick overview of the story and main characters
The story is set in the 14th Century and chronicles a vicious Love Triangle involving the hero Khun Paen and the protagonist Khun Chang vying for the heart of the beautiful Nang Pim Phalalai. The bitter rivalry between the 2 men spans over 5 decades and embodies almost every genre with tales of Romance, Comedy, Horror, Magical Sorcery and much more all revolving around the the 3 main characters of the Love Triangle.
In essence Khun Paen is a poor yet dashingly handsome and intelligent warrior with great mastery of Ancient Thai Sorcery whilst Khun Chang is a fat repulsive man of great wealth and influence in the Royal Court. Their rivalry and actions spark decades of consistent chaos and mayhem in the the Kingdom of Ayutthaya causing much grief for Nang Pim Phalalai and many other characters including the King.
A key episode in the story is Khun Paen using dark sorcery to forge 3 specific weapons and accessories to assist in his revenge against Khun Chang: Maa See Mohk the Misty Grey Horse, Daab Fa Fuen a mystical sword that can draw and release lightening and the famously known Kuman Thong Spirit Child. It is told in most accounts that Khun Paen Fathered a child with his 1st wife Wan Thong, his 2nd wife Lao Thong and that the Kuman Thong was created from his pregnant mistress Bua Klee.
An important note on names is that Khun Paen was born with the name Phlai Kaeow however earns the title Khun Paen later in the story after a successful Military Campaign. Nang Pim Phalalai has her named changed to Wan Thong by the Abbott of her temple in belief it would enhance her luck. Much later in the story the biological son of Khun Paen and Wan Thong is born with the name Phlai Ngam and in the footsteps of his Father, he too learns Sorcery and earns the title of Pra Wai after a successful Military Campaign.
Regardless of the countless adaptations the ending is always the same in which the King asks Wan Thong to choose either man in a bid to try and end the feud. As both men have shown equal positive and negative points in their characters she is dumbstruck and cannot choose. This angers the King who then sentences her to an execution. A last minute plea for release by her son Pra Wai is accepted by the King however word does not reach the executioner in time thus the story ends in a very somber manner.
The View on Khun Chang Khun Paen in Thai Society
Khun Chang Khun Paen is an Iconic National Treasure of Thailand. A core reason for it’s ability to thrive with popularity for centuries is that it’s an Ancient Epic of immense genuine entertainment value that also documents a plethora of factual Thai Cultural attributes. It’s adaptability also seals it’s appeal across all age groups and articulate preferences of the nation.
Generally the first exposure to the tale will come in the form of it’s original poetic form during early schooling years which would include Children’s Book adaptations, School Plays and Family discussions. From there one will undoubtedly discover the story in many other forms such as Traditional Theatre Troupe performances, Classic & Modern Songs, Animations, TV Series and Movies to name a few.
Is it a tale based on factual people and events?
Whilst there is no actual credible proof that the story is based on real characters the story does contain many factual events in Ancient Thai History and real geographical locations as well as temple names. Most Academics and Scholars of Ancient Thai Culture would deem it as an Epic loosely based on some factual stories intertwined with immense Fantasy to produce an incredible and articulate tale. For most spiritual practitioners of Thai Occult the answer would be that the characters and events are mostly if not entirely factual and that it is ultimately up to oneself to decide on whether the Fantasy parts are real.
Khun Paen Sorcery
Khun Paen was reputed for his Sorcery which he learnt from senior Monks and Guru Masters at a young age. He had mastered the ability to read Sanskrit scriptures and Pali language during his time as a novice monk and used alot of his charm magic for mischievous deeds. Within time he also became a master of war and protection spells to assist his military campaigns and vengeance against Khun Chang.
His story of Sorcery revolves mostly around the following subjects of Ancient Thai Occult:
- Maha Laluay – Great Bedazzlement of Targets
- Kong Grapan Chadtri – Warrior of Invulnerability
- Maha Sanaeh – Great Charm
- Sadaw Klon – Unlocking Doors
- Kuman Thong – A Golden Child Spirit Guardian
- Kuab Kum Phi Prai – Revering Ghosts
These occult subjects actually existed before the tale of Khun Chang Khun Paen was created therefore it should be noted that they are not born from the legendary tale itself. Also these Occult subjects are still practiced today, some of which have a recorded history that greatly out dates Khun Chang Khun Paen.
Khun Paen Amulets and Talismans
The first record of Khun Paen featured as a Talisman dates back a Century ago when Phra Pim or Votive Tablets of his image were discovered in Suphan Buri. It is often very difficult to distinguish the difference between these Khun Paen tablets and that of the Buddha since the Khun Paen versions were modeled off the Buddha image tablets of Ancient times.
Votive tablets are thought to be the precursor to smaller clay block style amulets and as time went by many Occult Masters began to alter the original image to give clear definition of Khun Paen. Various designs depict a sword or two protruding from behind his back whilst others will feature him embraced by 1 or more female consorts. Some contain an image of the Kuman Thong and lastly some will contain all these design elements.
The ingredients used to create Khun Paen Amulets and Talismans can be broken into 2 major varieties the 1st being powdered herbal concoctions mixed with Auspicious “clean” materials such as incense ash, clay and stones. The other variety will contain a mixture of “clean” and Auspiciously “dirty” material sourced from human corpses and soil from Cemeteries.
Depending on design, ingredients and incantations used, the main power traits Khun Paen amulets and talismans can invoke are Great Charm and Popularity that can be used across many fields such as Business and Attraction of the opposite sex, Protection and Aversion of Calamity and Invulnerability in the field of Physical and Mental Battles.
It should also be noted that Occult Subjects and Amulets revolving around Khun Chang and Wan Thong also exist and have their own unique twist on Charm, Protection and Wealth endowment.
In conclusion Khun Chang Khun Paen is an incredible Epic that should be read or viewed by all those interested in Classic Thai Literature and/or Occult belief. Understandably Thai language presents a major hurdle for foreigners so as a suggestion I recommend the last English translation published which is “The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen” by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit. Also recommended is a Thai film adaptation titled “Khun Paen: Legendary Warlord” which should have English subtitles available on the DVD.
For those interested in Khun Paen Amulets & Talismans I can honestly say they are a staple in my personal collection. A quick google search will reveal a plethora of positive testimonies and incredible stories from Thais and Foreigners alike. As always be wary of dodgy claims and products. ThaiSorcery.com has recently obtained a few made by Ajarn Hom Mongkonthip and will be releasing them soon so stay tuned!!