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What is Hoon Phayon?

What is Hoon Phayon?

Have you ever dreamed of summoning and controlling your own legion of minions, ever-ready and willing to do your bidding? Well, in the world of sorcery, spells that allow you to do so have existed for centuries. Legends speak of spiritual adepts successfully turning the tides of war, with the judicious creation and application of automata imbued with life through wicha.

Hoon Phayon

A Hoon Phayon

is a puppet-like figure that has been brought to life through wicha. It is a common feature of Thai folklore. The first mention of it was in a Buddhist text, where they were referred to as “Bhuta Vahana Yanta
”.

 

In the past, they were crafted from natural materials, such as leaves, twigs, and flowers, before being consecrated through rituals.

As an example of this, the potent conjurer, Luang Pu Sook of Wat Pak Khlong Makham Thao

was able to turn tamarind leaves into wasps outside the royal residence of Krom Luang Chumphon (Sadet Tia)
, who was himself so impressed, that he became Luang Pu’s
disciple.
Luang Pu Sook of Wat Pak Khlong Makham Thao

 

Historical Accounts of Hoon Phayon

Thai Mythology

The word Hoon Phayon is derived from the word ‘Phayon’, or the act of imbuing an inanimate object with life through sorcery. These may be crafted by the spiritually adept in various forms, from robots to puppets, animals, deities, ogres, and the like. They may even take the form of vehicles.

Hoon Phayon were briefly mentioned in the Atthakathamahaparinipparn Soot

(a Buddhist text that was found after the passing of the Buddha). As the story goes, Phra Maha Kassapa Thera crafted Hoon Phayon, with the purpose of protecting the holy relics of the Buddha, as he was afraid that once he himself entered Nibbana, there would be no one with the requisite supernatural abilities needed to protect them.

 

Two centuries later, King Ashoka

came into the knowledge of the relics’ location. He wished to distribute the artefacts around the country, for devotees to revere and venerate. When he unearthed the underground chambers, they found the containers of relics being guarded by several Hoon Phayon each. They experienced extreme difficulty accessing the relics and had to request for Phra Inn, or the Lord of all Deities, to intervene.
Phra Inn, the Lord of the Deities on the Erawan elephant
Picture reference: kunchit jantana / Shutterstock.com

Only then were King Ashoka and his men able to disarm the Hoon Phayon, and retrieve the relics, relocating them to the grand stupas that he had built all over his Kingdom.

Ancient Indian Mythology

In the 12th-century Indian text called the Lokapaññatti

, the story of “Roma Visaya
” (“The Kingdom of Roma”) contains a similar, but slightly extended account.

 

The story is set during the reign of King Ajatasatru

(492 – c. 460 BCE) and tells of a group known as “Yavana
” who resided in the Kingdom of Roma. They were experts at creating automata to aid trade and commerce, agricultural tasks, as well as capturing and executing fugitives. These automata were known as Bhuta-Vahana-Yanta, or “Spirit Engines”. It was a treasured, if highly secretive, skill. Those adept in the art, were placed under constant surveillance by the King, and were not allowed to leave Roma, nor reveal the secrets to others. Those who did would be hunted down and slain.

 

Despite the brutal control measures, murmurs about the purported existence of these devices spread to King Ajatasatru’s kingdom and piqued the interest of a young artisan living in Pataliputta

. He resolved to acquire the skills he needed to craft them and produce them en masse.

 

According to the legend, he was able to manipulate the circumstances of his rebirth, opting to be reborn as a subject of Roma Visaya. He later married the daughter of the chief of the engineers and coaxed the daughter to reveal the secrets of the Engines. He then hatched a plot to smuggle this information home. As this warrants certain death, he instructed his son to retrieve his body once he is assassinated and transport it back to Pataliputta.

He wrote the instructions down on papyrus, and hid them in his thighs, sewing them into his very flesh.

Everything went according to plan. He was found beheaded and once the body arrived in Pataliputta, his son retrieved the blueprints. He followed them to a tee, building enough Engines, presenting them to King Ajatasatru to protect the Buddha’s sacred relics, which he had hidden in underground chambers.

Out of sight out of mind, these relics, along with their guardians gradually fell into obscurity through the ages.

Centuries later, during the Mauryan Empire (273-232 BC), King Ashoka, who knew about the existence of these relics, wished to recover and house them in stupas all over his kingdom, enabling his devout subjects to revere and venerate them. However, when he and his men unearthed the chambers, the bhuta-vahana-yanta sprang to life, and a fierce battle ensued. They were only able to retrieve the relics after a long struggle, and with significant help from others. [Sarah L. Higley, “Alien Intellect and the Roboticization of the Scientist,” Camera Obscura 14.1-2,40-41 (1997):132-133].

 

Modern Day Legends

Belief in the powers of Hoon Phayon is deeply rooted in the traditions of Thai sorcery. The amazing stories of their exploits, as well as their esoteric methods of creation, have been handed down for generations.

Tamra Phichai Songkram prescribes the complex methodology and process for crafting Hoon Phayon for warfare. Even the renowned tale of Khun Chang and Khun Paen

mentions Hoon Phayon (refer to the tale of Khun Chang Khun Paen), detailing how they used them to turn the tides of war whenever they were faced with a seemingly insurmountable force of enemy troops.

 

In a more modern context, there exists the well-known legend of the Thai Admiral Phra Zhao Borom Mawong Therphra Ong Zhao Ar Pha Kiattiwong Krom Luang Choom Phorn Khet U-dom Sak

(the son of King Rama V), or otherwise known as “Sadet Tia
”, which means the Father of Sailors. He was a disciple of Luang Pu Sook of Wat Pak Khlong Makham Thao
.

 

When the Japanese Imperial Navy crashed into Thailand during World War II, Sadet Tia was residing in Sairi Beach in Chumpon province. He defended Sairi Beach by creating more than a hundred Hoon Phayon in the form of ships. When the Japanese navy saw these illusions, they beat a hasty retreat, opting to instead invade Thailand via Manaw Bay, Prachuap Khiri Khan province.

The Character of Hoon Phayon

See Also

Hoon Phayon are usually fashioned in the likeness of a particular person, animal, angel, and even giants and deities. There are no rules governing the form that they should be made in. The figure of choice, however, should be appropriate for the intended purpose of the Hoon Phayon.

For example:

Various kinds of Hoon Phayon, each shaped like an entity or person.
Hoon Phayon in the shapes of animals.
Hoon Phayon made in the likeness of angels and giants

These figures may be made from a wide variety of different materials, including grass, leaf stalks, vines, rattan, leaves, wood, candles, thread, fabric, clay, terracotta, stone, tiles, bricks, mortar, and even gold, silver, and other precious metals. The real source of their power, and the true thing that binds all of them together, however, are the slightly more morbid elements incorporated into them, such as holy thread of funeral shrouds from a dead body, a noose from a suicide victim, or even nails and wood from a coffin. It is believed that there is intrinsic, magical energy in these materials, and these energies may be harnessed to imbue or focus the resulting Hoon Phayon with potent supernatural abilities.

Spells versus Technology

The realm of spirits and the unknowable was a vast and scary concept for most primitive civilisations. The ability to fashion and conjure their own complicit guardians to protect them from danger occupied a large segment of concern for ancient sorcerers, who were often charged with the safety and health of the people they served.

Spiritual adepts of yore had created Hoon Phayon to assist the owner, much similar to a robot, to carry out tasks that he finds difficult or impossible to carry out, for safety reasons, as well as to explore uncharted territories.

In this 21st century, technology has often replaced the need for the arcane, achieving through science, what magic sought to do.

From our research, it has become increasingly apparent that the masters of yore only resorted to the crafting of Hoon Phayon as a means to the same end.

There is, however, nothing on this planet that will protect us more than making merit and doing good deeds. This is in fact, the best “armour”. Performing unvirtuous deeds, one will be harmed no matter the amount of protection he carries with him.

Attana hi katam papam
attajam attasambhavam
abhimatthati dummedham
vajiramva’smamayam manim.

 

Dhammapada Verse 161: The evil done by oneself, arising in oneself, and caused by oneself, destroys the foolish one, just as a diamond grinds the rock from which it is formed.

 

Footnotes:

  1. The reference of Hoon Phayon can be found in the book titled “Pali Literature: A History of Indian literature: Buddhist and Jaina literature” by K.R. Norman, published by O. Harrassowitz, 1983.

 

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