Legends related to music and instruments were once numerous and extremely diverse from one region to another or even from one village to another. But today they are being lost along with ancient musical traditions. A few rare publications mention it and the notebooks of some traditional musicians may soon enrich this section.

The French ethnomusicologist Jacques Brunet has collected some of these legends that we take the liberty of bringing back here as they are so precious.


The pin and the Shiva's dance

"One day, in the distant past, Shiva wanted to give the world a dance lesson. At that time, he went down to India, which is the center of the world. Then Brahma's wife began to play the pin, Indra played the khloy flute while Vishnu played chhing cymbals and his wife Lakshmi sang. This orchestra made Shiva's dance in an admirable way. This is why pin have existed since the most remote times. "(from Meas Run, former musician at the Royal Palace of Phnom-Penh).

In : L'orchestre de mariage cambodgien et ses instruments. Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient. Tome 66, 1979. pp. 203-254.


The term "pin" should be understood here as "string instrument(s)" and not "harp" because for the Khmers, it symbolizes the "purely" Khmer cordophones through which their soul can express itself, namely the tro khmer, the kse diev and krapeu, with the exception of cordophones of Chinese origin such as the khim zither and the tro. It also excludes the pin peat ensemble which, although its name includes the term pin, does not consist of any cordophone. To be more precise in the analysis of this legend, the term pin probably defines the monochord zither since it is the instrument played by Shiva when he is represented as the god of dance. However, it should be remembered that pin derives from the Sanskrit word vīṇā which in classical India referred to the zithers and the harp, then from the pre-Angkorian Khmer viṇā which refers only to the harp.


Instruments imitating nature

In the legend of "Neang Kakey" that farmers used to tell from the song written by King Ang Duong (1796-1859), the singer of King Prohmtoat (Brahmadattha) had played pin to make the Garuda who had kidnapped Queen Kakey suffer. In King Ang Duong's text, it is said that Kânthan (Gandhanta) played the pin without delay, and then began to sing the "Bât Kham Van*". Kânthan, a royal servant, knew, besides playing the pin, how to sing and metamorphose. Musicians generally bring back the "phleng khmer" type of music in its present form to the time of King Trâsâk Phaem.  

* This song with a Thai name corresponds to the song "Bat Piek Phaem", "Sweet words" from the Cambodian repertoire.


Here is this legend told by the musician In-Kompha, from the village of Kompong-Luong (Kandal Province): "When he was only a farmer, King Trâsâk Phaem used to listen to the sounds of the forest and the cries of animals: frogs, cicadas, bullfrog toads, crickets and all the animals you can hear around you. He also liked the whistling of the wind and the rumble of thunder. When he ascended to the throne, he soon became very sad, alone in his palace: he regretted his old job very much and dreamed only of the singing of the birds, the cry of the monkeys and all the animals of the forest. One day, he decided to gather the scholars of his palace and ask them to create instruments capable of imitating the cries of the animals he heard in nature. In order to please him, the scholars began to invent various instruments to meet the King's wish. For example, they made the pey ar to imitate the crickets' calls, the khloy to imitate birds' songs, the tro khmer to imitate the sound of the wind, and the skor to imitate the sound of thunder. At that time music was played to imitate the sounds of nature, and it was only later that other scholars perfected and diversified the instruments to become what they are today. »



Another legend testifies to the ability of purely Khmer instruments to imitate nature. "One day, the dignitaries of a village wanted to listen to something pleasant to the ear like the beautiful sounds that can be heard in the countryside. They asked people in the rice field if they could imitate the sounds around them, because the dignitaries wanted to give a big party and wanted to hear harmonious sounds throughout the banquet. The farmers then consulted each other and decided to imitate with their bodies the various sounds they were used to hearing. Two musicians, wanting to imitate the sound of the storm, sat down and with their two hands struck their knees in cadence. Another musician took a leaf from a tree and, putting it in his mouth, made the birds sing. A fourth musician took a piece of wood and rubbed it with his arm to imitate the sound of the wind. Finally, a fifth began scratching the bark of a bamboo tree as if to make the monkeys sing. Everyone admired this music and the dignitaries who were there, finding this method pleasant but impractical, immediately made skor, tro, pey ar and chapey whose sounds were close to those they had just heard, so that they could continue without fatigue. This is how the "phleng khmer" was born (from the musician Ta IM in Antassom, Takeo Province).

In : L'orchestre de mariage cambodgien et ses instruments. Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient. Tome 66, 1979. pp. 203-254.