Photo: Chakrabhand Posayakrit's Painting
Ancient Costumes of the Tai Race
From ancient times, the fertile land within the boundaries of present day Thailand had been home to several ethnic groups which had integrated to form the fabric of our nation. Traditions and cultures had thrived in fascinating variety, from the misty mountains of the north to the sunny seashores of the south, from the lush basin of the Chao Phraya River to the plateaus of the northeast.
Tonight, we shall attempt to capture what we can of their essence in the recreation of dresses and processions indigenous to the four main regions. Such spectacles as will be presented in the first part of our show tonight, could be seen as late as the 19th Century during the Early Rattanakosin (Bangkok) Period.
The Central Plain
The New Year Day of the old Thai calendar year is known as Songkran which falls in the month of April. On this day hope and happiness, the ladies of the inner court are making their way to pay respect and receive blessings from a senior member of the royalty. The procession you are witnessing is led by seven ladies of royal birth whose attendants carry exquisitely-crafted accessories denoting their mistresses’ exalted ranks. Two indispensable requirements for the occasion are perfumed water and a piece of material. The water will be used for pouring on the hand the senior personage in an age-old tradition of respect, and the material will be offered as a symbol of loving homage. Today, Songkran is internationally known as “the Water Festival”.
In the 4th month of the lunar calendar, there is a merit-making celebration called “Boon Phra Ved” featuring night-long chanting of the sacred and melodic Maha Jataka Verse. This epic verse relates the story of Prince Vesandon whose life was the embodiment selfless charity and who, in his next incarnation, was enlightened as the Lord Buddha. In this scene, the governor of a northeastern sub-region is making a journey to officiate at the merit festival in a procession bearing a long piece of painted cloth tell the story of the prince. Known as the “Vesandon cloth”, it will be presented as gift to the temple. Northeasterns are known for their love of lively music and dance. On this occasion, the mood happiness and fun is enlivened with songs from pi kan, the eloquent wind pipes of the region. The procession is colorful with villagers of various ethnic tribes such as Pu Tai, Tai Soh and Tai Kalerng.
This is a procession from the court of Chao Phraya Nakon Sri Thammarat, the historically prominent governor of the main sub-district of the south. His court shone as the center of governance, culture and art of the southern region in the 19th Century. The time in this scene is the 10th month of the lunar calendar. The occasion is the merit-making procession known as “Hae Hom Rup” in which food is borne to the temples to be given as alms to monks. The belief is that the spirits of ancestors would enjoy the double benefit of tasting the food and gaining the merits. Taking part are some citizens of Muslim origin in colorful sarongs - the women wearing long-sleeved lace blouses.
The royal court of Chiang Mai was rich with sophisticated culture and traditions that evolved from the region’s long and romantic history as a proud northern kingdom. Seen here are members of the royalty and their retinue going to “Ngarn Boon Yi Peng”, the annual religious function which takes place in the cool breezes of November, the 12th month of the lunar calendar. The courtiers and citizens as well as villagers of various Tai-Laos origins clad in ethnic costumes turn out to join the procession carrying paper lanterns, decorated candles and other paraphernalia for the ceremony.