The Legend of Thunder and Lightning


This is part 3 of my Cambodian Literature Series. The previous two parts are Cambodian Romeo and Juliet and Folktale for the Shrimp. Below is my translation of this particular tale.

Since time immemorial, deep in the jungle in a land known as Cambodia, lived a hermit of immense power. The hermit had three disciples, a human prince named Vorak Chhun, a celestial nymph called Moni Mekhela and a giant prince named Ream Eyso. All three disciples were very determined and hardworking students. They were also very competitive, always trying to one-up one another.

When the hermit felt satisfied that all three students had learned all he had to offer, he called them to his side. He gave each an empty glass, “take this glass and come back to me tomorrow with it full of morning dew.” He said, “The first to return will win a prize.”

And so Vorak Chhun, Moni Mekhala and Ream Eyso left, each with a glass in hand and a determination to win. Both princes went to sleep, thinking about waking up before the other to collect a glass full of dew. Moni Mekhela, on the other hand, went looking for a meadow. She then laid down her handkerchief on the grass beneath tree leaves to absorb the dewdrops. She went to sleep near her charge.

In the early morning of the next day, both princes made their way into tree groves. They plucked leaves and squeezed them, tiny drop by drop into their glasses. At the same time, Moni Mekhela woke up in the meadow. She reached for her handkerchief, rolled it up and squeezed over her glass. She soon had her glass full of dew. She went to the hermit with her glass.

“You win.” The hermit told her. He transformed her dew into a magic crystal ball, studded with jewels. “Use this wisely,” he advised. The nymph thanked him and departed with her precious prize.

Much later, both Vorak Chhum and Ream Eyso arrived with their glasses full, thinking they had won. The hermit said, “Moni Mekhala was here before both of you.” As consolidation, the hermit handed Vorak Chhun a magic sword and Ream Eyso an ax. Both princes left, the human disappointed, while the giant was enraged.

Ream Eyso was still enraged when he decided to ambush Vorak Chhun, intending to take the prince’s sword. The two princes fought. At last, Ream Eyso defeated Vorak Chhun. He threw the prince’s body into the sea and took off with the sword. Determined to have the nymph’s prize as well, Ream Eyso took off for heaven, where he would find her.

Upon finding Moni Mekhela, the giant prince softened his demeanor. “I want to offer you congratulations,” he teased “May I see your prize?”

The nymph, who had never trusted the giant, kept her distance. She lifted her magic ball, “this is my prize.”

Ream Eyso said, “You aren’t skillful enough to master such a powerful object.”

“You question my skills?” the nymph threw back derisively, “you who squeezed dew from grasses and leaves?” she laughed at his humiliated face.

Furious over her mocking, Ream Eyso dashed toward her, “give me the ball and I’ll let you live.” He raised his ax, threatening to throw it at the nymph. Moni Mekhela rushed away, with Ream Eyso chasing behind. He then threw his ax at Moni Mekhela, narrowly missing her. When the ax hit the ground, heaven shook with a thundering sound. Moni Mekhela tossed her ball above her head; it emitted a flash so bright it momentarily blinded the giant, which allowed her time to escape into the clouds.

Ream Eyso raged on, “I will find you. I will chase you forever and ever.” He too went into the clouds.

On earth, rain began to fall.

And this, Khmers believe, was the origin of thunder and lightning.

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There are 12 comments.

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  1. Percival Thatcher

    When I was very little and afraid of thunder, my mother told me it was the sound of angels bowling in heaven.

    My dad told me that if I started counting when I saw the lightning flash, I could tell how far away the storm was by dividing the number of seconds between the flash and the thunder by five. The result would be the distance in miles that the lightning had struck.

    • #1
  2. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum

    Bowling, moving furniture…Thanks, @lidenscheng!  I’m so enjoying these.  Are there illustrations? Tapestry?

    • #2
  3. LC Member

    As performed by the Royal Ballet.

    • #3
  4. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum

    LC (View Comment):
    As performed by the Royal Ballet.

    Thank you, LC!  Gorgeous!

    • #4
  5. Kay of MT Inactive
    Kay of MT

    So beautiful!

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member

    Interesting origin story.

    • #6
  7. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA

    Thanks for this story.

    I love that the jealous giant was thwarted. I hate that he will continue to pursue.



    • #7
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    The sounds of the orchestra, the colorful costumes and the singing take me back to Bali. Beautiful and moving. Thanks, LC

    • #8
  9. Anamcara Member

    Thank you LC. This reminds me how much there is to love in human beings: stories to understand the universe, cleverness, wit, artistry in voice and instruments, beautiful use of the body in dance. Your post is a heartening gift on this somber Sunday.

    • #9
  10. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA


    • #10
  11. Zafar Member

    Nicely done!

    • #11
  12. Gumby Mark Coolidge
    Gumby Mark

    When I signed up for Ricochet I didn’t anticipate reading Cambodian folks tales.  It’s turned out that pieces like this have been an unexpected and delightful bonus.

    • #12
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