THE MASTERS THE PERFORMING ARTS
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
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
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.