Text and Photo by Pluto
If you take a boat from Ao Nang and you head towards the south, after having dubbed a couple of headlands, you will see coming to you the picturesque Railay peninsula and its mountains tightening it from inside, like a treasure chest, denying other access that is not from the sea.
Railay gives to the world two of the most beautiful beaches on the coast of Krabi: Railay West and Phra Nang Bay whose main features are their beaches, their sea and the rock formations, scenic glory of this province and so popular by climbers from all corner of the world.
Landing at Phra Nang Beach the first thing you notice, especially if hit by the sun, is the reddish colour of a mountain on the right, carved from nature as a work of art of Baroque architecture, with a central part of the base where you will see a cave.
This is the Phra Nang Cave, also known as the Princess Cave, and is characterised in addition to the normal stalactites and stalagmites, by the presence of an altar and numerous offerings of food, incense and all that is used around here to propitiate a spirit, but what stands out most is a large amount of wooden phalluses of all shapes and sizes.
The cave with its “comfort” is the home of a legendary princess, or rather, her spirit that the local fishermen are trying to propitiate thanks to the rich gifts to which we referred.
But who is actually this princess? What is the legend that makes it live and still worship today? Talking to some old fishermen, custodians of memory and traditions, you may discover actually more than one legend.
The Daughter of Tayomdeung
In a village of the current province of Krabi there lived a man named Tayomdeung, who craved a child who couldn’t have.
One day, in a last ditch attempt to fulfil his dream, he went to pray to the Dragon King, which would comply him with the promise that if he had been born a girl should have gone then in marriage to his son.
Finally came into the world a girl who was called Nang and which over the years grew to an extraordinary beauty.
Over time Nang grew and fell in love with the son of Tawaprab, another villager and Tayomdeung, forgetting the promise made, agreed the wedding with the groom’s family.
Was inevitable the rage of the Dragon King who, disguised as invited, brought disarray during the ceremony destroying everything in revenge for the insult.
A hermit who was passing over there tried to appease the fury of the Dragon King and failing to calm the situation, with a incantation transformed everything in rock. So it was that the house of the couple was transformed into the Phra Nang Cave, the wedding dinner became Susan Hoy, the fossil shells cemetery, other objects of the house were turned to the nearby islands of Mor, Tub and other surrounding and, finally, the Dragon King was changed into “Crested Dragon Mountain” the mountain range that runs along Klong Muang.
The fisherman’s wife
Phra Nang was the devoted wife of a local fisherman who, one day, didn’t return from the sea. His wife, distraught with grief, spent the rest of her life waiting for him inside the cave that will take her name and after dead her spirit was still waiting.
To propitiate its protection, local fishermen and boatmen paid homage to all those objects that are still in the cave.
The Indian Princess Sri Kul Dhevi
The myth perhaps best known, speaks of an Indian princess named Sri Kul Dhevi sailing in those waters to go and meet her betrothed. A tragedy wrecked his vessel, and with it his dreams, and, of course, the princess lost his still young life without having known the joys of marriage.
As always happens in these circumstances the spirit of the princess could not find peace and began to wander lost in those places so unfamiliar to her, disturbing or simply scaring the local fishermen, who had nothing to do but try to win her favour .
The cave became her dwelling and fishermen settled a house of spirits by ensuring to satisfy all her needs with offers of food, drink, flowers, candles, incense and a large amount of wooden phalluses, certain that the Princess, in sign of gratitude, would protect them from the threat of the sea, and would guarantee them a successful fishing.
During the tsunami the coast of Krabi has not suffered serious damage and casualties have been very few. An old boatman, that a few days after the terrible event, was ferrying me to the beach of Phang Nga told me: “You know, it was the hand of the princess who stopped the wave and saved Krabi.“