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Artistic Depiction of Thai Mythology, Part 1

Nark Puggsee
Nark Puggsee
THE MYTHOLOGICAL literature of Thailand provides a wealth of material for creative artists, especially when it comes to strange animals. Much of Thai mythology is derived originally from early Indian Brahminism, the precedent of today's Hinduism. However, the telling and re-telling of the stories for centuries in this country, has given the myths a distinctly Thai character. Most of the mythical animals seen in Thai art or old literature live in the mythical Himapan Forest, which is located high in the Himalayas in the India-Nepal border area. The forest is just below the Buddhist heavens and is invisible to the eyes of mortals, who may not even approach it.

Because these animals only existed in the form of literature, Thai artists have had great fun in translating them into visual art. Using both the names of the creatures and what descriptions do exist as clues, they reveled in the opportunity to translate them into fanciful graphic portrayals. Some bold Thai artists have even gone so far as to create totally new animals for the forest, and then invented their own names for them. Following are some examples of these creative endeavors:

Nark Puggsee - "Nark" is the Thai pronunciation for naga, the snake or serpent-like creature previously described. "Nark Puggsee" could be translated as "snake-bird". One version of the story about the origin of this animal is that it was a creature so powerful that it could transform itself into whatever form it preferred. While in the form of a monk one time, it misbehaved, and was consequently turned partly into a naga, a form it could no longer change. By associating this story with the meaning of "not-monk", there resulted the practice of referring to young men as "nark" on the eve of their ordination into the monkhood.

Nork Puggsin
Nark Puggsin
Nark Puggsin - This creature us quite similar to the Nark Puggsee, except that its body has no human parts. The second word of its name suggests that it is something more than an ordinary bird, more like a "great" bird; one with genuinely strong wings, and some sort of crest. It also has a swan-like lower tail, since it should be as much at home on the water as on the land or in the sky.

Norasee - "Nor" refers to a male being, while "naree" would be female, as shown here. In this context, "see" stands for "singh", a lion or fierce meat-eating animal. The entire name can be translated as a creature who is as fierce a fighter as a lion. The figure may be male or female, and it may have claws or hooves.

Asoora Puggsa - The first word can be translated as "giant". This mythical creature is a non-human being who is an enemy of the gods. His reason is that one of the gods, Pra-Intr, drugged him and threw him out of heaven, to that the gods alone could occupy the place. Every year, when the "kae" flower blooms, Asoora Puggsa thinks again of heaven and fights to return.

Thep Norsingha - This creature appears in many old paintings. Its upper part is human, while the lower part is like an animal, either a deer or a singh (lion), although it always retains a long tail in either case. When the figure is female, the lower part is like a deer, when it is sometimes called :"Upsoraseeha".

Panorn Maruek - This mythical creature is said to have begun simply as a monkey, but the passage of time and the re-telling of stories gradually changed him into what you see here. The female version of this animal has the name: "Panorn Maruekkee". The linguistic origins of the second word in its name suggest a deer like creature native to the forest or jungle. Sometimes it is drawn with lion-like claws, although its upper body still retains the original monkey form

Pranorn Puggsa - "Pranorn" means monkey, and "Puggsa" means bird, and this illustration shows a creature which is half monkey and half bird. The upper monkey half is richly attired and carries mangoes in one hand and rose-apples in the other. It has a long monkey tail, but with a bird's plumage just beneath it

These magical combinations of ancient myths and literature with the creative inclinations of the artists, have resulted in a marvelous assortment of creatures which characterize that special blend of mythology and realism which is such an important part of the art of Thailand.

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