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 Home > About Thailand > The Arts > Masks



The smell of candles and incense and chants in Pali combined to make the atmosphere sacred at an ancient ceremony held at the National Theater recently. With senous faces and attentive eyes, in the ceremony, with all attention centered on what was happening on stage.

The annual ceremony was held by the College of Dramatic Arts to pay homage to masters of performing arts in various fields. The ceremony has been faithfully observed for such along period that no one seems to remember how it originated.

On the stage were dozens of masks arranged in order of their importance. On top were masks representing the heavens, comprising Siva, Narayana and Brahma. Next were the divine musicians, Vishnu, regarded the master of all craftsmen, and Ganesha, the God of Arts. Representing the earth were the giants, monkeys and male and female characters of the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Indian literary classic Ramayana.

The disciples came to pay their respect to the art masters represented by the masks. As they paid homage, they asked for forgiveness for any offences they had made both knowingly or unknowingly.

The highlight of the event was the putting of masks on the disciples. Craftsmen were given the mask representing Ganesha was given to followers of the performing arts.

No two masks had the same features, but it was this difference that distinguished each mask. The white-faced Siva, for example, wore a gourd-like crown, while Narayana wore a victory crown. Brahma, with his four faces all painted in white, wore a two-tiered victory crown, while Ravana came with two heads, one with a face in three shades of gold and the other green, each head wearing a victory crown.

The ceremony ended only when all the disciples had been masked. The ritual gave masks a significant role in the artistic circle, as representatives of art. masters since ancient times.

The masks representing the characters in the Ramakien are classified according to their importance. Ravana is regarded as the most important of all the characters as the epic is about him; therefore the College of Dramatic Arts has never presented a masked drama, or Khon, that centers on Ravana being killed in battle. It has become a Thai tradition through generations not comply with the tradition is believed to face premature death.

The importance of masks as the masters of Thai folk arts is well underlined in the minds of Thai performers. To them, the masks are the center of faith and play a leading role in creating pride in Thai identity, like the one witnessed in the ancient homage-paying ritual held recently a the National Theater.


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