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Masked Play


The Khon represents one episode from Ramakien . The performers wear masks and tall pointed headdresses which differ according to each character.
(c) ONCC

The Khon performers wear masks, crowns or tall, pointed head-dresses according to their characters. The play consists of narrations and dialogues, which are recited (not by the performers), songs describing the movements, and instrumental music which marks time for performers.

Reasons for selection

Khon or masked play is a classical form of Thai drama which has been used from ancient times to represent episodes from the Ramakien . So, the story and the characters in the Khon have become widely known among Thai people.

Area where performed

Central part of Thailand

Essential elements of the performing art

Music, Dance, Theatre

Detailed explanation

The Khon or masked play is a classical form of Siamese drama. Originally all the actors except buffoons and those who impersonated women wore masks of different shapes and colors which were conventional representations of the heads and faces of ogres, monkeys, men and gods. But later on actors playing the parts of men and gods too took to wearing crowns or tall pointed head-dresses instead of masks.

Masked plays have to make use of music, both vocal and instrumental. The instrumental music is provided by one kind of Thai orchestra called piphat . The performers act and move in accordance with music and vocal recited by narrator.

Formerly the text of the masked play consisted of narration in chabang and yani verses, and dialogue in rai yao , alliterative and rhyming lines of unequal length. The narrations and dialogues are recited and spoken, but not by the performers themselves since they wear masks which prevent them from doing so.

The Khon has been used from ancient times to represent episodes from the Ramakien which is based on the Ramayana , an epic composed by an Indian artist, Valmiki. In the Thai version, customs and ways of life of the Thai have been described instead of those of the Indians.

While attending a masked play one listens to poetry in the form of narrations, dialogues, and songs describing the movements of the performers, and instrumental music which marks time for the above, and sees acting of many types, which differ according to the class of each character, as well as the scenery.

Publication and textual documentation

Fine Arts Department, ed.
1989 Thai Culture (New Series: No.6)The Khon .
Bangkok: Fine Arts Department. In English.

YUPHO, Dhanit
1963, The Khon and Lakon.
Bangkok: The Department of Fine Arts. In English

Audio documentation

no information at present

Visual documentation

no information at present

Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion

Ministry of Culture

Fine Arts Department

Data provider

Ms. Sudhasinee Vajrabul
Director, External Cultural Relations Division
The Office of the National Culture Commission
Address: Ratchadaphisek Road, Huay-Khwang, Bangkok 10320, Thailand

(Revised in July 2004)
Ms. Darunee Thamapodol
External Relations Division, Ministry of Culture
4th Floor, ONCC Bldg., Ratchadapisek Road, Huay Kwang, Bangkok 10310, Thailand