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 Tuesday, November 07 2006 @ 01:37 AM GMT+7

Khon, classic theatre and dance

Thai cultureRoyal Ballet of Thailand Khon is an art form halfway between theatre and dance, which varies according to the different regions of the country. One of the most refined and elegant dance forms, Khon is the performing art par excellence. The scenes enacted are episodes taken from the Hindu epic The Ramayana.

In 1767 AD, with the fall of Ayutthaya, almost all the works of Thai literature were lost. King Taksin of Thonburi composed a lakhon version dealing with the adventures of the white monkey Hanuman and story of Phra Ram's son, Mongkut. Then the first monarch of the Bangkok period, King Rama I initiated the task of collection all available materials from the surviving sources and in 1798, with chosen court poets, composed the most comprehensive literary version of the Ramakien.

The scenes enacted are episodes taken from the Hindu epic The Ramayana. The Floating Lady Totsakan, king of the demons, has learned that Rama’s army is gathered at the foot of Mount Hematiran. Deeply troubled and determined to avoid a confrontation, he has worked out a clever plan, commanding his niece Benyakai to transform herself into Sita’s corpse and to let herself by carried by the river to Rama’s camp. When Rama and his brother Lakshmana go down to the river to immerse themselves in its waters, Rama catches sight of the body of Sita, his wife, and is overwhelmed by suffering. Hanuman, the monkey warrior is not fooled so easily and suggests cremating the body to prove its authenticity. When the flames envelop it, Benyakai is unable to bear the heat and is forced to turn back into a demon and fly skywards. Hanuman gives chase, and she is finally captured

The Battle with Kumpakan Totsakan commands Kumpakan, one of his younger brothers, to lead the demon army against Rama who, hearing the news, orders Sukrip to attack Kumpakan. The latter challenges Sukrip to show his strength by uprooting a giant tree. Sukrip accepts the challenge, but the effort exhausts him and he is then beaten. Kumpakan gathers him up and drags him to Longka. When Rama hears what has happened he commands Hanuman and Ongkot to hasten to save Sukrip.

Costumes, The khon characters are elaborately dressed, from head to toe, with each piece of ornament and headdress specifically named and assigned to a particular character. For instance, royal characters wear special types of crowns and attire. The dress and the manner of the khon dance have their origins in the ceremonial game of chak nag which literally translates as 'pull the Multi-headed serpent'. These performances, which celebrated coronations, usually involved parades in which a seven-headed serpent was pulled by hundreds of performers dressed as demons, soldiers, deities and monkey soldiers from the Ramakien epic.

Rama VI and the revival of the Khon.
The arts thrived during the reign of King Rama VI who was himself an artist and writer. He paid particular interest to the khon and classical dramas. Towards the end of King Rama V's reign, the young crown prince organized and trained a group of royal guards, who were mostly the sons of noblemen and high-ranking civil servants, for khon performances. The prince revised some of the verses and directed the performances for several important state functions.

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