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 Home > About Thailand > The Land and its People > The History Arts and Literature of Thailand

The History Arts and Literature of Thailand

Taken form : The Cultures of Thailand


Now for arts and Literature. In the olden days, the arts and literature of Thailand served her religion. The classical style of architectre as revealed in her temples with their su perimposed roofs and glazed coloured tiles is no doubt structurally akin to the Chinese. However, gilding and other decorative arts are typical of the orientals. The gracefully tapering tiered roof of some of her architecture is evolved from the Cambodi an sikhara of the Hindu temple. Although this tapering roof structure is typical of Thailand and Burma, it differs in style which may be compared profitably. Cambodia has it too, but its style is a copy from Thailand within recent times.

Sculpture in Thailand was confined in the past to casting Buddha images. The carried this art to perfection both in technique and artistic expression. Some anci ent specimens of this art can be compared favourably with other nation's classical arts.

Painting in Thailand was also in the past confined to mural tempera painting within the temple buildings. The style was more conventionalised and achieved some artistic manifestations to a high degree, but it cannot be compared to sculpture which was a perfect artistic achievement.

Modern architecture sculpture and painting of Thailand are of Western style. But in order to carry on her artistic traditions as peculiarly her own and enriching humanity, the problem is to preserve her own classical arts as a source of inspiration for evolving her own modern arts with the progress of the times in order to preserve her own identity individual cultures suitably within the culture of a wider one.

The music of Thailand is akin to that of the Chinese. The Thai especially the scale of music is a diatonic one, with neither major nor minor in the sense of western music, but with a special diatonic scale characteristic of her own. Though music in the theoretical conception of Buddhism is not tolerated by the monks , by usage it is allowed in certain religions ceremonies. no doubt to promote religions emotions, and also on festive occasions.

Paying Homage to the Musical Teachers.

Dramalike her sister art, music also served religion. Its technique was of Indian origin, but the Thai evolved the arts peculiar to their own. The actions are very graceful, slow in motion but not unpleasant to sensible minds. Thai dramatic performance is called lakhon, a word of Indonesian origin, and is well known to enthusiastic lovers of this art both inside and outside Thailand. In former days, the people could only witness such performances in the compound of the monastery on festive occasions only. Nowadays many new types of dramatic performance are usually adapted or copied from the West and the popularity of the cinema takes the place of the classical ente rtainment. The latter may be seen only occasionally as performed by the artistes of the Department of Find Arts.

The literature of Thailand dates back to the 13th century A.D., when the present Thai or Siamese alphabet was formed. Owing to the havoc of time and tropical climatic conditions, the earliest works of literature that have survived are comparatively few. The earlier works were of a religious mature. They were written either in prose or verse. The forms were mostly written in poetical prose, while the latter in their earlier forms showed a likeness in their patterns to the unwritten or oral folk li terature, and they again may be compared in affinity to the Chinese. Later on through Indian influence, many rhythmic patterns were introduced and these in time came to the forefront against the background of the former through the influence of the educa ted class. The language used is more artificial as more and more words from foreign origins, especially Pale, Sanskrit and Cambodian, were introduced into the verses, while the former are more natural and still popular with the common people. However both achieved their technique and emotional arts in many of their works. The subjects of Thai prose and verse in the earlier works were mostly inspired by Buddhist literature and meant to serve religion. Later on more secular subjects relating to episodes of history, legends and indignous tales were introduced to serve dramatic art and reading. Of the two great epics of India, the Mahab harata and the Ramayana, only the latter was turned in its entirety into Thai verse in dramatic form, while only certain episodes were taken from the former. The Ramayana of the Thai version differs radically in detail from the original Valmiki version, but agrees here and there either with the Tamil, the Bengali, the Javanese or the Malay versions. No doubt this shows that at one time or other, there have been intermixtures of cultures going on among the S.E. Asians and with India to an appreciable de gree. The Ramayana is well known to the Thai people, especially in the Central and Southern areas. The Lao of the North-eastern area had a tale of Rama in their local literature, but they incorporated many of their local traditions and tales into the st ory, and in many places showed traces of Indonesian influence cue obviously to the once highly hinduized Cham people whose country Champa is now Annam. The Ramayana of the Thai version is one of the literary achievements in the language.

Within the last century, there has appeared a new type of literature written in prose which has become very popular with the public. It is a translation of those popular Chinese historical romances. The translation is complete from the dawn o f Chinese history down to the last days of the Ming dynasty. The Thai of older generations know the outline of Chinese history through these translations. One of them, the The San Kuo Chai You I or the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, has been very popula r and its merit, apart from the theme of the story, is the style of its translation. It is perfect and in the best prose style. The pronunciation of names of the various characters in this Chinese romances is Fukian, despite the fact that most of the Chi nese who came in later days were Swatow people. The Swatow dialect has one peculiar tone in its phonetic system; while the Thai language, although a tonal language like the Chinese, has not this tone. Nevertheless the Fukians pronounce this tone at a different pitch and the Thai have it too, hence Fukian dialect was used in the Thai language has six or probably seven pitch tones. but in theory there are only five tones. We know for instance the names of Liu Pei, Kwan-u and Tiohui.

In recent times Western literature has been in introduced into the country and there have been constant translations mostly through the medium of English. There has arisen in quite recent times too Thai novels and short stories in the Western style, Some of Shakespeare's works such as Romeo and Juliet, As You Like it. The Merchant of Venice were translated by King Vajiravudh, so also a number of English and French plays. Many of them were adapted and staged, giving an impetus to a new kind o f performance. King Vajiravudh also translated and dramatized, through English translations, a number of Sanskrit classical dramas, for instance, Sakuntala, Savitri. Through King Vajiravudh's genius and influence, a new era of Thai literature has evolve d and developed up to now.


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