ORIGIN OF SANGKEN

Long, long ago, when the earth was as young as a newborn babe, it looked so irresistible from a far that the Khunphes and Nangphes of Maung Sang themselves were tempted to leave their home in order to feast upon the earth. They flew down past the six heavens and wandered around for days, eating the fruits of the soft earth and inhaling its sweet fragrance. Having done that, they grew heavy and lost a great deal of their godliness. Try as they might, they could not lift themselves off the ground and therefore became earthbound. They could not even see the first heaven from where they now stood. By and by the memory of their lost home grew dimmer and dimmer untill all was forgotten. From being mighty Gods they became earthlings. Chow Khunsang the chief God was the sole exception, for he was able to fly but only to a certain limit. He flew as far as Maung Phe or Paradise, which was one level short of his home. Chow Khunsang could do little else but acclimatize himself to his new surroundings. He learnt the language and customs of Maung Phe and his sharp intellect and hard work propelled him to great heights and he became a respected member of society. Jealous over his popularity, the Gods married him off to the sister of Chow Khunkiew, the God of misfortune, misery and disease. In due course, Chow Khunsang and his wife had four daughters, the celestial maidens named Kholaka, Maholaka, Nandalak and Tat-Thilaka. Chow Kesey, the king of Maung Phe and the other members of the royal council considered Chow Khunsang a threat, for he overshadowed them with his brilliance. It was no secret the Chow Khunsang, being from the highest realm, had super intelligence and could solve all problems no matter how complicated. There was no one equal to him where knowledge was concerned. Chow Kesey took Chow Khunkiew into confidence aid asked him to help in killing Chow Khunsang Bound by loyalty to his king, Chow Khunkiew tried his best to kill his brother-in-law by showering him with misfortune, misery and disease but to no avail. Chow Khunsang was proving to be a tough adversary. One day, while Chow Khunsang was present at the king’s court, a discussion was going on regarding the functioning of the universe. “The earth is stationary. It is the sun that moves around the earth. That is the universal truth,” Chow Kesey declared. Although Chow Khunsang was not invited to participate in any of their discussions, he could not remain silent on something he knew for certain was untrue. “It is the earth that spins and moves around the sun and not vice versa,” he interrupted. The king and his council were taken aback. How dare an outsider correct them on’ things they had taken for granted all along? They argued with Chow Khunsang, but he stood firm by his statement. “Why not witness the movement of the stars with our own eyes Instead of arguing amongst ourselves?” Chow Kesey said. It was creed upon that they would meet at a special place from where the entire universe would be visible to them. Not wanting to take any chances, Chow Kesey summoned the stars. “I command you to move when I give you the signal,” he ordered. The stars knew it was futile for them to disagree with the Gods although it was against their very nature. When the time approached, all the Gods gathered to witness the working of the universe. Chow Kesey gave the signal as planned and the sun and stars moved, much to the amazement of Chow Khunsang and the delight of Chow Kesey and the other Gods of Maung Phe. Chow Khunsang realized It was a plot to humiliate him, for he alone knew the truth. However, being an outsider and with the entire council opposing him, he remained silent. Ailbough Chow Kesey had won the first round, he still harboured a grudge against Chow Khunsang and wanted to get rid of him. He knew that it would not be an easy task for him to do so, for Chow Khunsang was all-powerful and indestructible. The combined efforts of Chow Kesey and Chow Khunkiew to kill Chow Khunsang having come to naught, they decided to resort to treachery. Chow Khunkiew asked his nieces to find out the secret behind their father’s supremacy. “My hair is unique,” Chow Khunsang had once told his daughters. “One single strand if tied to the Khanchak will be sufficient to kill me. Nothing else will.” The four maidens had known the secret for a long time and saw no harm in revealing it to their uncle They even supplied their uncle with a strand of their father’s hair, not knowing the consequences of their action. Chow Kesey now waited for a chance to get into an argument with Chow Khunsang. He invited him to sit in the council and air his views regarding the astrological method for predicting rain. When Chow Khunsang had spoken at length on the subject, Chow Kesey interrupted him and said his calculations were wrong. Chow Khunsang insisted he was right. Neither of them was willing to concede to the other, so they both came to an agreement that the matter could only be resolved by a third party. Chow Kesey thought it was a good opportunity to settle a score and so he said, “We’ll go down to earth and ask the wise Chow Pingya for his opinion. The one whose prediction is proved wrong will lose his head.” Chow Khunsang agreed to the proposal. They both came down to earth and found Chow Pingya busy ploughing his field. Introducing themselves, the two Gods explained the purpose of their visit and asked Chow Pingya to be the judge. Chow Pingya through his own calculations came to the conclusion that Chow Kesey was right. Chow Khunsang had to admit defeat and accordingly had to forfeit his head. Armed with the secret knowledge that the daughters of Chow Khunsang had given him, Chow Kesey was able to behead Chow Khunsang with the celestial axe ‘Khanchak’ tied with a strand of his own hair. When the severed head fell on the ground, it radiated extreme heat and energy, causing a fire so great that it consumed everything in its vicinity. The fire raged Uncontrolled till the Gods of Maungsang had to be called to put out the blaze. The Gods kept the severed head Suspended in the air, but the intense near from it evaporated on the clouds and there was drought. They then immersed it the ocean thinking the waters would cool it, but the heat evaporated the entire ocean and e land was parched and the fishes and all the sea creatures were burnt to a crisp. Nothing the Gods did could contain the destructive nature of Chow Khunsang’s head. The only ones who could withstand the intensity of heat emitted from the head were his daughters, for they were of his blood. The king of Maungsang ordered the four errant daughters of Chow Khunsang to take the responsibility of holding their father’s head in their hands, so as to save the world from destruction and also to atone for their sin. They attached the head of an elephant named Elawon on the body of Chow Khunsang and gave him a new lease of life. Meanwhile, the severed head being the origin of heat radiated such tremendous heat that none of his daughters could hold it for more than a day. When each day ended, the head was passed on to the next daughter. This continued for an eternity and since one heavenly day is equal to one earth year, as soon as the head of Chow Khunsang is passed from one daughter to another, a new year is born. Chow Khunkiew on his part resented the fact that the Gods of Maungsang had resurrected his archrival and brother-in-law Chow Khunsang. He sought to kill the elephant headed God by spreading misfortune and disease through all the realms. So committed is he to his mission that Chow Khunkiew is to this day tirelessly working towards his goal. Because of his constant threat to mankind, the Theravada Buddhist community seek the protection of the Lord every New Year. On this day, the statues of the Buddha are taken out of the temples and placed in a specially constructed shrine where they are showered with scented water with the help the ‘lungkong’ or water fountain. Scented water is also poured over the Bodhi tree, the ropes of holy manuscripts, and the hands of monks, the hands and feet of elderly people and over one another. This festival is called ‘Sangken’ and is celebrated on the New Year day to invoke the blessings of the Buddha for peace, harmony, good luck, good health and protection from the evil influences of Chow Khunkiew.
Written by: Nang Tertia Namshum Sandhu
Shared by: Chow Kensan and Chow Hunseng