Mae Nak Phra Khanong (Thai: แม่นากพระโขนง, meaning “Lady Nak of Phra Khanong“), or simply Mae Nak (Thai: แม่นาก, “Lady Nak”) or Nang Nak (Thai: นางนาก, “Miss Nak”), is a well-known Thai female ghost. According to local folklore the story is based on events that took place during the reign of King Rama IV.
The story is about a beautiful young woman named Nak, who lived on the banks of the Phra Khanong Canal, and her undying love for her husband, Mak.
With Nak pregnant, Mak is conscripted and sent to war (in some versions of the story the war is against the Shan tribe, while others are not specific), where he is seriously wounded. While he is being nursed back to health in central Bangkok, Nak and their child both die during a difficult childbirth. When Mak returns home, however, he finds his loving wife and child waiting for him. Neighbors who try to warn him that he is living with a ghost are all killed.
One day, as Nak is preparing nam phrik, she drops a lime off the porch. In her haste to retrieve it, she stretches her arm to pick it up from the ground below. Mak sees it and at last realizes his wife is a ghost. Terrified, he tries to find a way to flee without alarming her.
That night, Mak says he has to go downstairs to urinate. He then runs away into the night.
Discovering her husband has fled, Nak pursues him. Mak sees her and conceals himself behind a Blumea balsamifera (Thai: หนาด; pronounced Nat) bush. According to folklore, ghosts are afraid of the sticky Blumea leaves. Mak then runs to Wat Mahabut temple, which a ghost cannot enter, as it is holy ground.
In her grief, Nak terrorizes the people of Phra Khanong, furious at them for causing Mak to leave her. However, Nak’s ghost is captured by a powerful exorcist. Confining her in an earthen jar, he throws it into the canal.
There are differing versions of the rest of the story. In one, an old couple new to Phra Khanong finds the jar while fishing; in another two fishermen dredge up the jar. Nak is freed when they opened it.
Nak is conquered again by the venerable monk Somdet Phra Phutthachan (To Phrommarangsi). The learned monk confines her spirit in the bone of her forehead and binds it in his waistband. Legend says the waistband is currently in the possession of the royal family. Admiral Aphakonkiattiwong, the Prince of Chumphon, also claimed to have had the relic. In alternative version, the monk assured Nak that in a future life she would be reunited with her beloved husband, and thus she voluntarily departed for the afterlife.
A shrine dedicated to Mae Nak is at Wat Mahabut. In 1997, the shrine relocated to nearby Suan Luang District of modern Bangkok.
A statue of Mae Nak and her infant form the centerpiece of the shrine. Devotees often make offerings, accompanied by a request for help, generally by women seeking easy childbirth or for their husband to be exempt from military conscription. These are usually lengths of colored cloth, wrapped around the trunk of the Bo tree. Other offerings include fruit, lotuses, and incense sticks left in different locations.
Toys for her child and portraits of the ghost are displayed in the shrine’s inner sanctum. A collection of fine dresses offered to her are displayed behind her statue.
Offerings are also made at Phra Khanong canal, where fish purchased live at markets are brought in buckets to the edge of the canal and freed. Stalls at the shrine sell toys, fish, lotus buds, incense sticks and garlands for those who wish to make an offering.
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