The Legend of Nang Oraphim and Thao Pajit

The classic love story between Nang Oraphim (นางอรพิม) and Thao Pajit (ท้าวปาจิต) is a widely known Thai folktale (some even consider it a non-canonical Jataka tale) with many different versions. The story as told in Khorat province is based on the town of Phimai where locals have declared the ruined Meru Brahmathat stupa as the cremation site of the villainous King Brahmathat.

Some locals take the story one step further and believe (incorrectly) that the name Phimai is derived from the phrase phi maa (“My brother has come!”) that Nang Oraphim yelled when she knew she was about to be rescued. True believers also think that the two headless and limbless late 12th- or early 13th-century statues found inside Prang Brahmathat at Prasat Phimai are Nang Oraphim and Thao Pajit. Historians are quite sure they are Khmer King Jayavarman VII and one of his consorts.

two statues of torsos in Phimai National Museum

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The king of Angkor Thom (in present-day Cambodia) told his son, Thao Pajit it was time to get married and sent his soldiers out to find beautiful women for him to choose from. But the prince rejected them all. So the king asked an astrologer to help them find the right woman and he prophesized that the future princess was presently in the womb of a farmer who had a halo over her head.

Thao Pajit searched far and wide across the Khmer kingdom for a haloed woman and found a very pregnant one working in her rice field at Ban Samrit (12km west of Phimai). The prince didn’t tell her who he was or why he had come, but he took up residence in the village. Soon after, she gave birth to a girl named Oraphim.

Fourteen years later Nang Oraphim fell in love with Thao Pajit and he revealed his true identity. He told the family he would go home and soon return to Ban Samrit with a grand procession to accompany Nang Oraphim to Angkor Thom where they would marry.

While Thao Pajit was gone, Brahmathat, the ruler of the Phimai region, heard about the beautiful Nang Oraphim and wanted her for himself, so his soldiers brought her to his palace. The clever Nang Oraphim asked the king to wait until her brother returned so he could attend their marriage, and the king, suspecting nothing, agreed.

Thao Pajit soon returned, and when he heard what had happened he went to Phimai in disguise, claiming to be Nang Oraphim’s brother. She was thrilled to see him, crying out, Oh, phi maa! (“My brother has come!”).

The happy and eager king threw a huge party that night in preparation for his marriage the next day. Sitting aside him, Nang Oraphim served him liquor until he passed out. Then Thao Pajit beheaded the king and the two lovers fled to Angkor Thom, escaping King Brahmathat’s furious soldiers.

Thao Pajit married Nang Oraphim and the pair returned to rule Phimai. The new king and queen built a huge crematorium in the city and gave King Brahmathat a royal funeral.

view of stupa from below
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