The most famous ghost story in Thailand is the tale of Mae Naak Pra Khanong แม่นากพระโขนง. This horror story is said to refer to an incident in the time of King Rama IV who reigned in Siam from 1851 to 1868. The story is that Mrs. Naak died in childbirth while her husband Mak was away at war. But when he returned he found her there with her child. Neighbors were killed who tried to warn Mak that his wife and child were ghosts. Mak accidentally learned the truth and managed to flee. Mae Naak chased him until she was subdued by a priest who was an exorcist who encased her in a bone fragment of her forehead which he kept in his sash. It is said that this is now property of the Thai royal family. In 1899 Anek Nawikamul, a Thai historian, investigated and wrote an account to set the record straight. Nevertheless, for decades one of the most popular personages in Thai culture was Nang Naak whose selfless devotion surpasses even her death. To this day women seeking easy childbirth make offerings at a shrine in the Suan Luang District of Bangkok [see (above) the picture of her shrine in Wat Mahabut near the Pra Khanong Canal]. More than 20 films and TV versions, as well as one opera, have been made of this romantic ghost story.
The story of Mae Naak Pra Khanong has everything that Thai people love. It is a lurid ghost story; Nae Naak murders her neighbors in a vain effort to prevent them from exposing her real nature as a ghost. It is a tender love story about the supernatural lengths romantic love might go. It is about people who really lived – and, importantly, died. On top of that, the story has royal connections having been retold by no less than Prince Damrong, a son of King Mongkut (Rama IV), whereby the relic possibly came into the possession of the Palace. Just as significantly, the story’s satisfactory ending involves Mak taking refuge in a Buddhist temple, and a Buddhist priest capturing the ghost and (in one version) pacifying her by promising her reunion with her husband. Aside from the story, traditions have developed that encourage continued veneration of Mae Naak Pra Khanong as a granter of petitions.
There are countless ghosts on the loose and in literature, but Mae Naak beats them all.
NOTE OF THANKS This blog essay is our 427th as we conclude our 8th year online with weekly essays from northern Thailand. November 1 begins our 9th year.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.