When most people think of Thailand, they think of all of the exotic animals that can be found here. There is a plethora of birds, monitor lizards, monkeys, and tigers, and it is impossible to talk about this part of the world without bringing up the elephants. Many people travel to Chiang Mai just to spend some time with these majestic creatures, but if you do come out here to do that, please make sure you do your research first, and find the places that treat the animals well.
And yes these types of animals all exist out here, and in the short time I have been here, I have been able to come across most of them as well as some that you would expect to see in other parts of the world as well, such as horses, water buffaloes, cats, and dogs. Yes, there are plenty of dogs all over the place. Someday, I will have to do a post dedicated to the soi dog epidemic, but that is not what this post is really about.
One of the reasons I became an English teacher was because of my love of mythology. I have always been fascinated by the stories that were told by the greatest of mythology, but more importantly the mythical creatures that I have come across throughout my travels. I knew that there was a mythology associated with Thailand that takes from both Hindu and Buddhist traditions, but it wasn’t until I made it out to Chiang Mai that I was able to fully understand that rich history behind this mythology and how it is still ingrained within the culture of Thailand.
Nagas can be found at most temples as the guardians to the images of Buddha. They appear as large snakes, sometimes with more than one head, and even though the legend tells of these creatures being born from the Hindu deity, Kadru, their legend is more associated with Buddha himself. When Buddha first reached nirvana under the boa tree while looking out at a river, he was protected from any interruptions from one of these creatures. It is the reason why many of the temples have them at their entrances. Beyond this, they are also associated with the Thai New Year when people will have the biggest water fight anywhere in the world. It is believed that the spraying of water into the air will appease these beasts and they will pop their heads out the many rivers, and the ocean to squirt water in the air and allow for a very rainy season.
The brother to the naga would be the garuda. This is the mythical beast most associated with royalty in Thailand, and is a part of the actual seal of all official documents. It is a creature that basically has the head and arms of a man, but the rest of his body is that of a bird. As far as the stories go, there is only one garuda, and he is the half-brother of all the nagas. They both have the same father, but the garuda’s mother was Vinata. The two creatures fight in an eternal battle with each other with the garuda consuming as many nagas as he can come across.
Though the brothers have some sibling rivalry to content with, they both are mortal enemies of the yaksha. This creature can be found at numerous temples and as stone statues in front of people’s houses. They carry around clubs and cause havoc wherever they go. They are considered demons and they are most closely related to the ones that Buddha had to contend with during his lifetime. They appear in many of the tales across Thai classical literature, and even though they take on the role of the antagonist in many of the stories, they are not always evil.
There are many other creatures that can be found at many of the wats and temples all across Thailand, and they each add a specific flavor to the culture of this country that gives the world a unique and varied mythology. It triggers my imagination, taking it to places that will allow for me to create stories and campaigns for games, and I am happy to be able to learn more about this culture, not only from its beautiful landscape and food, but also from the collection of stories that it has told.