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 Home > About Thailand > The Arts > The shadow Nang Yai


Story  by Tasanee Yawaprapas
Pictures  by Nivet  Jiralertpongchai  and   
Uthorn Sriphantha

NangYai2.gif Nang Yai

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 project.

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 generations.

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