Maung Pauk Kyaing (ေမာင္ေပါက္က်ိဳင္း)
မအိပ္ မေန အသက္႐ွည္။” – Desapamauk of Texila
Maung Pauk Kyaing had been as student at the University for three whole years, but he had learnt absolutely nothing, because he was very lazy. At the end of the course of three years, other students bade farewell to their teacher, and returned to their respective homes, full of learning. Maung Pauk Kyaing also bade farewell and the teacher felt sorry for him. ‘My son,’ said the teacher, ‘you have learnt nothing so far, but try to remember the following maxims of wisdom, which are my parting gift to you:–
“If you walk on and on, you get to your destination.
If you question much, you get your information.
If you do not sleep and idle, you preserver your life!”’
So Maung Pauk Kyaing left the University for his home, but when he had gone some distance, he decided to go and see the wonderful city of Tagaung, before returning to his village. Tagaung was many miles away, and as he had no money he could not hope to travel on horse or cart. So, he traveled on foot, and although many days passed and Tagaung remained still far away, he never lost heart. At last he reached Tagaung, and he realized how true and valuable was the maxim – ‘If you walk on and on, you get to your destination.’
At Tagaung, he obtained some employment, although ill-paid. He spent his leisure hours in asking people many things about the city. He soon obtained the interesting information that the kingdom was ruled by a Queen, and not by a King. He wanted to find out why that was so, and after repeated questioning he discovered that the Queen had been married to several Kings in turn, but each King had mysteriously died in bed on the wedding night. Nobody now dared to marry the Queen, although the ministers, maintaining that it was more satisfactory for a kingdom to be ruled by a King, had declared that the man who would marry the Queen would be King. Maung Pauk Kyaing was glad to get this information, and he realized with gratitude how true was the second maxim of his teacher – ‘If you question much, you get your information.’
Maung Pauk Kyaing now marched boldly into the palace, and informed the ministers that he was willing to marry the Queen. He was duly wedded to her, and declared to be King. When he went to the royal bed-chamber that night, he took with him the stem of a banana plant, and hid it under the bed. He then got into bed and, pretending to be asleep, waited for the Queen, who came in soon after and fell asleep by his side. Maung Pauk Kyaing stealthily got up from bed. He put the banana stem in his place in the bed and, covering it with the blankets, he made it look as if it were a man sleeping. Then he hid himself from view behind a pillar, and awaited events. Some hours later, he saw a Naga-Dragon appear from behind the rafters, and slide down the pillar nearest the royal bed. The Dragon became very furious when he saw the form of a sleeping man by the side of the Queen, and he struck his fangs with all his might at the banana stem, but his fangs became stuck in it. Maung Pauk Kyaing rushed to the now helpless Dragon and killed him with one stroke of his sword. The Queen woke up and was stricken with grief, for the Dragon had been her secret lover for many years; it was the Dragon who killed her unwanted husbands, before Maung Pauk Kyaing. Maung Pauk Kyaing, in contrast to be doleful Queen, was in great joy, and he realized how true was the maxim – ‘If you do not sleep and idle, you preserve your life.’
The next morning there was joy all over the city at finding the King still living, but the Queen was furious with her husband. She bribed the servants not to bury the dead body of the Dragon, but to bring it to her room. She then sent for a huntsman and, swearing him to secrecy, asked him to tear off the skin of the dead Dragon; to him, she gave one thousand sliver coins as reward. She then sent for a seamstress and, swearing her to secrecy, asked her to sew a pillow out of the skin; to her, the Queen gave one hundred sliver coins as reward. The Queen herself took one of the Dragon’s man bones, and made it into a hairpin. Then she went to Maung Pauk Kyaing who was sitting in council with his ministers, and begged for a boon. Maung Pauk Kyaing, wanting to be friends with the Queen, replied, ‘I grant you the boon, my Queen, even before I know what it is.’
‘My Lord,’ said the Queen, ‘the boon is that you make a wager with me.’ Maung Pauk Kyaing agreed. ‘My Lord,’ went on the Queen, ‘I will set you a riddle, and I will give you forty days to find the answer. If, on the evening of the fortieth day from now, you can solve it correctly, you are to kill me; but, if you cannot, I am to kill you. And here is the riddle:
“For a thousand, he was torn,
For a hundred, he was sewn,
The loved one’s bone was made into a hairpin.”’
Poor Maung Pauk Kyaing! He was never a scholar, and he remembered with regret the years he wasted at the University. He asked his ministers, he consulted his wise men, he questioned all and sundry, but no one could tell him the solution of the riddle. Days passed, and Maung Pauk Kyaing lost all hope.
In his misery, Maung Pauk Kyaing forgot to send for his parents who lived in a remote village, or acquaint them of the fact that he had become King. But the parents heard rumours that their son had become King, and they set out for the capital. They arrived at the outskirts of the city on the fortieth day of the riddle. They rested under a tree and ate their meal which they had brought with them. But they were so excited at the prospect of seeing their son that they were unable to eat much, and so they threw away their food. They saw a male and a female crow come and eat up the food, and then to their surprise they found that they could understand what the crows were saying to each other. ‘We have had a royal meal,’ said the female crow, when she had eaten, ‘but I am afraid we cannot have such full meals every day. Dear husband, how are we to solve the food problem tomorrow?’
‘Do not worry, dear wife,’ replied the male crow, ‘for tomorrow Maung Pauk Kyaing will die; his body, cut in pieces, will be on the scaffold, and you and I can pick out his eyes. In fact, we shall feast on a King’s body.’
‘Why should he die?’ queried the female crow.
‘Because he cannot solve the riddle and this evening the time limit expires.’
‘You are very wise,’ the female crow said with affection and pride, ‘you know all the news. Perhaps you even know the answer to the riddle.’
‘Of course, I do,’ boasted the male crow. ‘The riddle refers to the Dragon’s body. His skin was torn off for one thousand sliver coins, the skin was then sewn into a pillow for one hundred silver coins, and one of his bones was made into a hairpin by the Queen herself.’
‘How do you know that it is the correct solution?’ asked the female crow.
‘I watched the Queen’s chamber that day,’ explained the male crow, ‘for I thought I would have an opportunity to peck out the Dragon’s eyes.’
‘What did you intend to do with his eyes?’ asked the female crow.
‘To give them to you to eat, of course,’ explained the male crow.
‘What a loving husband you are!’ said the female crow. Then the two crows flew away.
The old couple, after listening with bated breath to the crows, rushed to the palace, shouting, ‘The Solution, the Solution,’ which caused the guards to throw open the gates to them. They greeted their son with cries of ‘The Solution, we know the Solution!’ Maung Pauk kyaing was very happy to see them, but he did not believe that they had hit on the right solution, until they told him their story.
That evening, Maung Pauk Kyaing sat in council with his ministers, waiting for the Queen. The Queen came in, looking radiant with joy, for she thought that Maung Pauk Kyaing would not be able to give the correct answer to the riddle. ‘Are you ready die, My Lord?’ she mocked. ‘Or have your wise ministers told you the answer to my riddle?’
‘I will solve your riddle,’ replied Maung Pauk Kyaing, and gave the answer.
The Queen shook with fear for her life, but Maung Pauk Kyaing was magnanimous; he did not kill her but merely exiled her. Maung Pauk Kyaing proved to be an able ruler, and his people came to love him greatly.
Notes: The following story is one of the most famous Burmese folklores. Maung Htin Aung, D.Litt, translated it in 1948. It also appeared as “The Monster in the Bridal Chamber in Aarne and Thompson: Types of Folk-Tale”.