|THE GREAT SHADOW
Story by Tasanee Yawaprapas
Pictures by Nivet Jiralertpongchai and
Nang Yai, or great shadow
play, is a dying classical Thai
art. But hopefully not for good, for efforts are being
made to revive this fantastic performing art form.
A Nang Yai performance involves manipulating puppets
made of cowhide in front of a backlit white screen with
musical and narrative accompaniment. The performance is
so beautiful that during the reign of King
Rama II of the early Rattanakosin
Period, it is said that the play shook the whole city.
This prompted master craftsmen of the Royal Court to create
a set of Nang Yai puppets which they called Phra
Nakhon Wai, or Shaking the City. Made 180 years ago,
the puppets were used for royal functions and special occasions.
Nang Yai performances were
suspended in 1960 after a fire at the National Theater damaged
some of the puppets. The great shadow play lost its popularity
as time went by, and the remaining puppets were left unattended
at Bangkok's National Museum.
To honor His
Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej on the occasion of the
50th anniversary of his accession to the Throne in 1996,
various government agencies and the private sector have
joined forces in launching a project to restore the Phra
Nakhon Wai set of Nang Yai puppets. A total of
28 master craftsmen and artists of the Fine Arts Department's
Traditional Arts Division are participating in this restoration
Before starting the restoration work, a ceremony was held
to pay respect to teachers and worship dieties in accordance
with Brahman tradition. The ceremony was also meant to boost
the morale of the Nang Yai artists and craftsmen.
Materials and tools used to create Nang Yai puppets
include cowhide, rattan, chisels of different sizes, a whetstone,
scissors, a hammer, a large wooden chopping block, wooden
and stone mortars and pestles, fresh Momordica leaves, soot,
pencils, various colors such as red, blue, green and white,
Chinese ink, paintbrushes, glutinous rice flour, brushes,
a napkin a bucket, molds, acetate plastic, and ink.
To create a Nang Yai puppet, acetate plastic is used
to make a mold. The Nang Yai Conservation Project
involves restoring 352 puppets and making another 100 to
illustrate the war between Sattasul and Wirunchambang,
adapted from an episode of the Ramakian,
the Thai version of the Indian classic Ramayana.
The project began in December 1994 and will continue until
May 1996, in time for the Golden Jubilee celebrations which
will run through December 1996.
The Nang Yai Conservation Project will not only
contribute to the revival and conservation of the Thai shadow
play, but it will also promote craftsmanship in making the
puppets needed for this ancient performing art. Both are
Thai national heritage that must be passed on to the next