The Goddess and the Ogre
A Cambodian Legend
Once upon a time, long ago, a hermit lived high atop a mountain in Cambodia. People rarely saw him, but people talk. And so word spread that the hermit possessed magical powers.
Many wanted to learn his secrets, and among those was the lovely goddess of water, Manimekhala. She was nimble and brave and powerful. She knew how to swim through both water and air. But Manimekhala wished to possess still more knowledge.
And so she swam through the air to the hermit's hut, and there she said, "Will you be my teacher, please? I shall be an attentive and respectful student."
The hermit looked at Manimekhala, nodded and said, "I will teach you what I know."
Now, before the lessons began, the ogre known as Ream Eyso, a terrible giant who frightened everyone, decided that he too wished to possess magical powers. And so Ream Eyso climbed the mountain and with his enormous claws, he knocked upon the hermit's door. When the hermit answered, Ream Eyso bellowed, "I need to know your magic. Be my teacher."
"Will you pay close attention to all that I teach you?" the hermit asked.
"I am Ream Eyso," the ogre roared.
The hermit nodded. "And will you respect my rules?"
"I am an ogre. I'll do as I wish!"
"Very well, I shall be your teacher," the hermit said, for you see, he did not care that one of his students was a goddess and the other an ogre. He simply wanted to spread knowledge to everyone who wished to learn.
And so the lessons began.
The hermit taught potions to heal and potions to harm, spells to chase away or summon spirits. He taught the goddess and the ogre how to dance like fireflies, how to send their magic missiles anywhere, to follow anyone. He taught them to breathe in wisdom, to breathe out the words of dragons and angels and demons. He taught them to transform matter, silence noise, summon joy and sorrow. He taught them to silence everything, to disarm enemies, to shatter illusions.
Ream Eyso and Manimekhala learned quickly, though sometimes the ogre's passions gave him trouble. When the hermit taught them how to send flames from the tips of their fingers, the ogre transformed his to rope, and in a fit of fury, he cast that fiery rope at the goddess, ready to lasso her.
But Manimekhala was passionate, too, and she knew how to summon her reason, how to be patient, how to be wise, and so she calmly waited for that rope to strike, and just before it reached her, she softly chanted the spell to transform matter, and whoosh, that flame turned into a cloud of smoke.
The ogre screeched, "I'll teach you…" and he summoned a wild wind, but Manimekhala simply turned that wind backwards, and as it roared toward him, he lost his calm; he could not remember a single spell.
But Manimekhala had only kind intentions, and so as that tornado struck, the ogre's clothing exploded into thousands of flower petals, and the fragrance of those flowers scented the heavens and earth with new vitality.
The hermit only smiled and continued the lessons—teaching his students secret amulets and love charms, healing chants and the inner spirit of rivers and hills, stars and moons, harvest weather and wild plains.
One day the hermit announced that he had taught them all he knew. "You have learned well. Tomorrow you shall take a test."
"Anything you say, master," said Manimekhala.
The ogre grumbled, for he did not like to take tests. "Test me at your peril."
But the hermit ignored the threat and handed each of his pupils a glass. "Take this and return tomorrow. Your glasses must be filled to the very top with dew. Whoever returns first with a full glass will win a prize."
"Hah, that's simple," the ogre laughed, but Manimekhala said nothing. She was listening. And she was thinking.
"Now go," the hermit said, and the ogre and the goddess departed.
The ogre hurried home. He was tired. Studying exhausted him. Besides, he was sure he could win. He climbed into his giant bed, planning to wake before dawn and collect the first class of dew. He smiled to himself. "No one can outsmart an ogre!"
Soon he was fast asleep, snoring so loudly the heavens trembled.
Meanwhile Manimekhala swept down the mountain towards a large meadow. There she placed an enormous cloth upon the grass. Then she lay down upon that cloth, humming as she closed her eyes to sleep. She chanted quietly, "Sprinkle this cloth, fair morning dew/As you fall to earth when the day is new."
The next day, before sunrise, Ream Eyso woke and quickly strode into a grove of tamarind and myrtle trees. There he plucked leaves, and these he pinched and squeezed. He grinned as he watched the dew trickling into his glass, drip by drip.
"I shall win!" he crowed, tramping through the forest, careless of the creatures who scrambled to move out of his way.
Now Manimekhala also woke at dawn. She opened her eyes and reached for the cloth beneath her. She sighed, "Lovely dew of the morning…" as she rolled the cloth into a ball and squeezed the moisture into her glass.
Moments later she hurried to the hermit's hut, careful not to spill a drop of her full glass.
The hermit greeted her, "Ah, Manimekhala, you've won the prize. Here it is." He handed her a beautiful glass ball studded with sapphires and rubies. "Guard this wisely, goddess, for as you have learned, it is a powerful tool."
"Thank you, my teacher. And thank you for being a wonderful teacher, guide and friend. I promise to use the magic wisely." Then she departed, the precious gift in hand.
Moments later, the hermit heard the heavy tread of the ogre at his door, and when he opened it, the ogre said, "Aha, here is my glass of dew. I win!"
The hermit shook his head. "I'm afraid the goddess was here before you."
"Impossible! I must win! I worked hard!"
The hermit nodded. "You too shall have a prize." And he handed the ogre an axe of solid gold.
"I like gold, but what prize did the goddess win?"
"The goddess possesses the magical glass ball. She has promised to use it wisely."
The ogre roared. "That cannot be. I want the magical ball, it should be mine…" and he stormed out of the hut, offering not a single word of thanks or a farewell. "I will find Manimekhala. I shall possess that ball!"
Now Ream Eyso stormed through the heavens until he spied the goddess sitting among the angels and dragons. He hurried to her side. He smiled, almost tenderly. With all his might, he tried to soften his voice. "Good and wise goddess, I offer congratulations. Please, may I see your prize?"
Manimekhala was no fool. She did not trust the ogre. He had never before been charming or kind. She took a few steps backward and lifted the ball above her head. "Here it is. See how it sparkles—you must admit it is magnificent."
The ogre tried to laugh. "Goddess, you haven't the skills to use such a powerful gift."
She shook her head. "Ah, ogre, you squeeze dew from tamarind leaves, and yet you question my skills?"
Now the ogre could not contain his passionate fury,
and he rushed forward, raising the axe over his head. "Give me that
ball! Hand it over, or I will destroy you."
Manimekhala raced away, and the ogre began to chase her, crying, "You will never escape me…"
But Manimekhala swept through the air, faster and more graceful than the ogre. Breathless with the chase, he raised his axe and tossed it with all his strength at her, and as it whirled through the empty sky, the goddess picked up speed.
"You cannot harm me," she called as the axe narrowly missed her and hurtled downward, down, down, down.
When that axe landed, the heavens shook with thunder.
Now Manimekhala tossed the magical ball above her head, and as she did, it radiated a streak of light so bright, the ogre was blinded.
"Cruelty will never overcome goodness," Manimekhala called as she flew higher still.
The ogre howled. "You can’Äôt get away…" but he was rubbing his eyes, and by the time he could open them and see again, the goddess was hidden in a blanket of thick, white clouds.
"I will chase you forever, and I will catch you…" Ream Eyeso bellowed, and he raced towards the clouds. He reached out, and when his fingertips touched the edges of the clouds, a heavy rain began to fall.
And to this day, at the end of every dry season, the people of Cambodia offer fruit and flowers, music and dance in exchange for the rains to nurture their land. In a ceremony they call buong suong, they dress in velvet and brocade, wearing the golden tiara of Manimekhala or the frightening mask of Ream Eyso. As they dance, the people listen for the thunder of the axe as it hurtles across the sky. They smile at the sight of the radiant flash of the magical ball. And they recall the tale of the never-ending chase and of the goddess whose goodness and patience outwitted an ogre.