Arts for Charity Foundation (Mulanithi kusolsilp)
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<Classical theatre traditions>
During the past millennium the area now occupied by the Thai nation has supported a number of different classical theatre traditions, although only one -- the Khmer-derived country music and dance adopted by the Sukhotai and Ayutthaya dynasties of central Thailand -- was destined to develop into a national classical style.
<Early Southern performance styles>
The southern-style court dances and shadow theatre of the Malay peninsula kingdoms would appear to have been the first to evolve.
During the 8th-13th centuries AD, the Malay peninsula territories of what is now southern Thailand fell under the hegemony of the powerful Srivijayan empire of Sumatra, whose rulers initiated the practice of using female dance as an integral part of the ritual to enhance their powers and express the divine nature of their authority. Throughout the Srivijayan dominions the wife-dancer tradition was steadily adopted by lesser potentates, and in subsequent centuries competitor-states such as Sailendra and Mataram in Java developed related performance genres, commissioning local versions of the great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata as source material and cultivating the courtly music tradition of the gong-chime ensemble.
There is evidence to suggest that, under the influence of Srivijayan, Javanese and later Angkorian courtly performance, the rulers of kingdoms in what is now the Thai/Malay border area such as Ligor, Pattani and Kelantan developed their own classical music and dance styles linked to the devaraja or god-king ideology.
The exact nature of the classical dance-dramas which developed in the courts of southern Thailand between the 8th and 13th centuries is uncertain, but elements of a former country tradition are suggested by the extant folk genres Mak Yong and
Mak Yong is now virtually extinct, but during the past millennium the
Two related styles of shadow puppetry would also appear to have originated in the ancient court tradition of what is now the border area of Thailand and Malaysia.
The annexation of the southern provinces by the U-Thong dynasty of Ayutthaya during the 14th century brought to an end court sponsorship of Malay-influenced dance-dramas, and whilst the latter were destined to exert an important stylistic influence on subsequent central Siamese performance their development in the southern region henceforth became dependent on village and wat support.
<Central performance styles of the classical tradition>
What is generally regarded as the mainstream tradition of Thai classical theatre emerged in central Thailand at a later stage than its southern counterpart, primarily under the influence of the Khmer kingdom of Angkor. The music and dance practices associated with the Shaivite cult of the god-king had been introduced to the Khmer court by way of Java as early as the 9th century, leading to the commissioning of distinctive local reworkings of the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics for use as theatrical source material and the emergence of distinctive Indochinese variants of the Malay
Whilst no record exists of pre-15th century Siamese courtly music and dance, there can be little doubt that the god-king cult which sustained such courtly performance elsewhere in the region was flourishing amongst the Siamese ruling elite during the Sukhothai period, and it is most likely that even before their conquest and annexation of the Khmer kingdom of Angkor in 1431 the Siamese kings would have sought to match the status of their powerful neighbors in every way, including through the arts. Thus, the subjugation of Angkor and carrying of Khmer court dancers into Thailand probably accelerated devaraja or god-king ideology into Siamese court culture.
Whilst derived from Khmer models (which were in turn influenced by Javanese music and dance), Siamese court performance subsequently developed in a unique way changing over the centuries to suit Siamese tastes. As elsewhere in the region, local versions of the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata were also commissioned for use as source material alongside the Jataka (stories of the lives of the Buddha).
The female dance-drama Lakhon Nai (literally inner court play)is the most elegant and refined of the classical performance styles of Siam; its dancers enact stories from the Ramakien (the Siamese version of the Ramayana), from the Jataka and from local stories to the accompaniment of a piphat ensemble (see below)and a chorus of offstage singers. Clowns, who improvise their own dialogue, are traditionally the only male performers involved in the genre and are believed to represent and embellishment of the post-Sukhothai/Ayutthaya period.
The male masked dance-drama or
Shadow theatre of the central Sukhothai-Ayutthaya tradition is represented by the now almost extinct
Also performed at Ayutthaya was a courtly form of rod puppetry known as Hun Luang (literally royal puppets), which probably developed under the influence of Chinese models and may thus be a form of great antiquity which dates back to the kingdom of Nan Chao. This genre, which used large (1 meter high)puppets to recount stories from the Ramakien, is no longer performed in Thailand. However, a derivative large-format rod puppet style known as
The piphat ensemble, which provides the essential accompaniment to all of the classical forms, is believed to have developed in conjunction with the courtly performance styles. It too is derived from the Khmer model and typically centres on percussion instruments, including various-sized graded gong carillons arranged on circular rattan frames (
<Northern classical theatre>
Mention should also be made of a third classical dance tradition associated with the northern kingdom of Lanna, which emerged contemporaneously with Sukhothai (13th century)to control a large region centred on what is now Chiangmai. There can be little doubt that this kingdom sustained its own courtly performance traditions, and elements of those traditions have been preserved in a variety of different dances and dance-dramas which have since become firmly entrenched in the northern folk tradition. In more recent times a consort of King Rama V (1868-1910)called Princess Dara Rasmi, who was descended from the former Lanna Dynasty, did much to preserve and develop the music and dance of this region, which still retains much of its original Burmese influence.
Best-known amongst the northern performance styles are the slow and stately female dances or Fon, variations of which are instantly recognizable from their use of colorful costumes and accompaniment by ensembles of regional instruments. They include the Fon Tian, a dance featuring candles which is believed to have been a sacred court dance of the Lanna kingdom, the Fon Leb, a dance by performers with long false brass fingernails, and the Fon Man Kamboe or butterfly dance. Male martial arts dances known as Fon Dab, Fon Choeng and Tob Ma Phab are also popular.
In addition to reviving and promoting the courtly dances of Lanna, Princess-Consort Dara Rasmi also commissioned new dance-dramas known as Lakhon Soh. Accompanied by the pi, these dance-dramas mainly recount Lanna folk tales.
<Folk music and dance of central and northeast Thailand>
As already noted, the folk music and dance of both the southern and northern regions are firmly rooted in former classical traditions. In contrast, both central and northeast Thailand maintain folk traditions unique to the local community, which developed in the absence of courtly sponsorship or stylistic influence.
As in neighboring Laos, rituals to propitiate the spirits, melodic recitation of stories inscribed on palm-leaf manuscripts ( an nangsu, literally reading a book)and the use of song by Buddhist teachers were all influential factors in the development of early forms of community entertainment in the central and northeastern regions, and during the first millennium AD various styles of singing with melodies derived from word tones began to emerge.
In central Thailand the predominant folk performance style takes the form of a dialogue between performers and is classified as phleng (song). Usually performed by groups of men and women or by individual man/woman teams to only a basic rhythmic accompaniment, phleng involves either memorized or improvised repartee between the principals. The most popular style found throughout the central region and Bangkok is
The northeastern region of Isan developed for many centuries under Lao sovereignty, and its community continues to share many forms of cultural expression with its neighbors across the Mekong River. Here, as in Laos, the most widespread folk performance genre is
Later styles of
Several other non-
<Ethnic minority music and dance>
Each of the hill tribe communities of northern and northwestern Thailand also preserves its own unique style of music and dance, which function in either a celebratory or a ritual manner, those of the Hmong and the Yao being particularly noteworthy.
<Popular theatre -
By the latter half of the 19th century new popular theatre styles were beginning to emerge throughout Southeast Asia in response to the needs of the growing urban population. The activities of the itinerant bangsawan theatre troupes from Malaysia were an important catalyst in this process, creating a ready market for more entertaining and realistic styles of theatre.
A new indigenous style of folk theatre known as Jikey developed during this period in the northern states of Malaysia under the influence of the Muslim chant known as dikir or
Does not exist National organizations responsible for preserving and promoting of traditional/folk performing arts support the performing troupes by providing them an opportunity to perform and demonstrate their performances, giving them awards, and giving them monetary support.
Dance: Ram, Rabam,
Traditional Music: piphat, mahori, Krueng Sai
Office of the National Culture Commission
1999 Sillapakarnsadang Khong Thai (in Thai).
Office of the National Culture Commission.
- Office of the National Culture Commission
Ratchadapisk Road, Huay Khwang
Bangkok 10320 Thailand
- College of Dramatic Arts
Rachini Road, Bangkok 10200 Thailand
Form of documentation: photograph, audio cassette, video cassette, Print and text
Available for viewing/listening
Traditional/folk performing arts are included in the education curriculum nationally at elementary level of all schools.
They are elective courses in some secondary schools, high schools, and universities.
There are colleges and universities which specifically provide courses on traditional/folk performing arts. These courses are available for Certificate, Bachelor's and Master's degrees.
Ms. Sudhasinee Vajrabul
Director, External Cultural Relations Division
Office of the National Culture Commission
Address: Ratchadapisek Road, Huay Khwang, Bangkok 10320, Thailand