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Burroughs Battles III: 
The Battle of Lodidhapura Clearing
by Alan Hanson 

Burroughs Battles III: 
The Battle of Lodidhapura Clearing
by Alan Hanson
There are only Pnom Dhek and Lodidhapura in all the world.” Thus did Fou-tan relate to Gordon King the belief of those few thousand lost souls who live deep in the jungles of Cambodia. Believing as they do, warfare must be a limited thing, never decisive or final. For should Pnon Dhek consume Lodidhapura on the battlefield, all of Pnom Dhek would ask the same question uttered by Fou-tan. “Against whom else might we make war?

The basis of war in this Asian jungle is not the soldier; it is the elephant, the war elephant. The kings of the two cities each have thousands of them and their soldiers go into battle on them and fight from their backs.

If time really does exist deep inside this hidden forest, then there was a major battle fought there sometime during the first part of the year 1929. We’ll call it the Battle of Lodidhapura Clearing, although it certainly was not the first such battle fought on that ground. Numerous others there marked the ageless conflict between Pnom Dhek and Lodidhapura. If there was anything unique about the battle we read about in Burroughs’ Jungle Girl, it is that an outsider, an American, not only saw the battle, but also fought in it. Having won the boundless gratitude of Lodivarman, Gordon King found himself in the service of Lodidhapura, the commander of 500 Khmer warriors.

A battle to avenge a woman’s honor
Down through the ages, it took no great political crisis to bring the war elephants of Pnom Dhek and Lodidhapura to the battlefield. In 1929 the cause was a woman’s honor. “Beng Kher comes with a great army to avenge the insult to his princess,” were the words of a fatigued messenger to the captain of the gates of Lodidhapura. When Fou-tan had been his captive earlier, Lodivarman had tried to rape her, and for Ben Kher only the blood of many men could expiate the act.

A thousand elephants soon filed through the colorful streets of Lodidhapura and out into the jungle. Northward they went, carrying upon their backs grim archers and spearmen, among them Gordon King. Coarse and grim and silent, the men sat in their howdahs, their burnished cuirasses and ribboned spear shafts glimmering in the sunlight as it filtered down through the jungle growth above them. Booming drums and blaring trumpets announced the approach of the army to the enemy.

The armies converged at the appointed place, a great clearing that for ages was the battleground whenever Pnom Dhek attacked Lodidhapura. Both sides understood that the battle was to be fought according to age-old customs. The first encounter must occur in the clearing. Should the Lodidhapuran line be broken, Lodivarman and his men would retreat to the city to make their final stand. Should they turn back the elephants of Pnom Dhek, the Lodidhapurans could purse the enemy through the jungle or not, as they chose.

Tactics were also governed by tradition. Khmer warfare consisted primarily of individual encounters between elephant crews. Flanking, surprise attacks, and the like were not allowed, the confining nature of the jungle and the size of the elephants making such movements impossible anyway.

The bloodlust of men and elephants
The battleground was about two miles in length, with the two armies lining up on the northern and southern sides of the clearing. They three-quarters of a mile between them was slightly rolling and nearly devoid of vegetation, as it was regularly used for training war elephants. Here the warriors of Lodidhapura awaited the coming of the enemy. The stink of the elephants, the smell of leather, and the ever increasing boom from the approaching enemy’s drums all served to stir up the bloodlust in men and elephants alike.

In orderly fashion, the elephants of Pnom Dhek entered the clearing and lined up opposite those of Lodidhapura. The only preliminaries were the blaring of trumpets from both sides, and then the lines advanced on each other. All sense of discipline disappeared as the elephants broke into a trot and battle cries came from 10,000 throats. As the two lines approached each other and the bowmen loosed their arrows, the battle cries gave way in volume to the cries of the wounded, both men and elephants. Gordon King earned the respect of his men at once by sending his javelin through the cuirass of an enemy officer.

When the two lines finally came together, the force of the collision overthrew a score of elephants. The battle then resolved itself into a series of individual encounters, as warriors on both sides sought to maneuver their elephants to provide an advantage in hand-to-hand combat. At times, a wounded and maddened elephant would bolt into the jungle with warriors jumping from its back rather than risk near certain death as the elephant stampeded through the undergrowth.

King’s experience must have been typical of the individual warriors in the battle. One arrow grazed his arm while a dozen others glanced off his helmet and his cuirass. Savage faces flashed all around him. Blinded by sweat and choked by dust, the American thrust out at the enemy with his javelin. It seemed to King that he could not survive in the vicious melee, but the advancing elephants of his own men eventually began to push the enemy back. The Pnom Dhek line gave and then held again, losing a little ground with each give and take.

An American becomes a Cambodian king

Finally, the line of Beng Kher gave way completely, and the elephants of Pnom Dhek turned and streamed to the north on well-worn jungle paths. Lodivarman chose not to send his elephants in pursuit. Gordon King, however, still filled with the excitement of battle, urged his elephant into the jungle after the enemy. In doing so, he was to witness the mortal wounding of the king of Pnom Dhek. Beng Kher was struck down not an enemy spear but by the knife of one of his own men. Bharata Rahon, desirous of both Beng Kher’s throne and his daughter’s hand, plunged his knife into the neck of his king, sending him tumbling from his howdah to the ground below. Gordon King stopped to comfort Beng Kher and even transported him to a place of safety to recuperate, but the wound proved fatal in the end.

The Battle of Lodidhapura Clearing was in itself a decisive victory for Lodidhapura. However, subsequent events were to bring a generation of peace to the cities. Beng Kher’s death and Gordon King’s marriage to the princess Fou-tan resulted in King becoming the new monarch of Pnom Dhek. With the American having previously won the undying gratitude of Lodivarman for curing his “leprosy,” a bond of friendship existed between the two Khmer kings. No doubt, during the remainder of their respective reigns, when the war elephants of the two cities came to Lodidharpura Clearing, it was to compete in spirited games and not to battle to the death.

— the end —

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