Khon Dance Mask

Khon Dance Mask

Mask of traditional Thai dance drama

Also see: FAM tour of Thailand

The mask is perhaps the most important characteristics of the Khom, for through it more than any other agency one distinguishes the variety of roles

Bridhyakorn and Yupho, The Khon

A Khon Mask studio at Bhutesavara, Samut Songkhram, Thailand

A Khon Mask studio at Bhutesavara, Samut Songkhram, Thailand

Khon is a dance drama genre from Thailand. It is traditionally performed solely in the royal court by men in masks accompanied by narrators, singers along with traditional orchestra. The orchestra mainly consists of xylophone type instrument, gongs and drums.

A celestial Khon Mask

A celestial Khon Mask

A demon Khon Mask

A demon Khon Mask

The singing is accompanied by off stage chorus, which also recites narratives and dialogues. Majority of the stage performers can not recite dialogues because of the elaborate mask.

Traditionally it was a all men show with men playing both men and female roles. But in recent times women are also part of the traditional dance drama.

Since traditionally it was a all men affair the performance evolved into a very rough and vigorous from of dance involving gymnastics. In spite of the vigor  and roughness the Khom dancers still maintain their grace and expressiveness.

Mask forms the integral part of the Khom dance drama and they pay a leading role in identifying the characters in the traditional Thai dance drama.

Incidentally not all the Khom dancers were mask. Originally all characters, excepting those playing goddesses, female human and some female demons. But today characters playing Gods and male human have discarded the mask but continue wearing elaborate crowns. Demon, monkey and animal characters continue with the mask.

Phra Phikanet(Lord Ganesha) Khom Mask

Phra Phikanet(Lord Ganesha) Khom Mask

The Khom mask making continues today in the same process as it was done centuries ago. The mask are made out of a special paper known as koi, the same paper used to write Lord Buddha’s teaching.

15 sheets of this paper are glued together, with rice flour glue, and are placed inside a plaster mold. After drying the mask is cut out of the mold and extra layers of paper mache is used to cover up the cuts.

Lac is used for the relief work on the the mouth ears and eyebrows. Buffalo skin is used for ear flaps. Facial details are painted out and the gold leaf and fake jewels are added to the crown.

The Khon Mask is broadly classified under five categories:

  1. Demon
  2. Monkey
  3. Celestial
  4. Human
  5. Animal

The most popular among these is the demon mask, distinguished by the colour, facial expression and crown type. Demon mask is often distinguished with bulging eyes and open mouth displaying set of teeth. Monkey mask are second popular and are distinguished by the colour, facial expression and crown type.

Khon Mask key chains

Khon Mask key chains

Although the celestial and human characters in Khon dance no longer use mask but the mask makers still make this as mementos and souvenirs. The animal mask still forms an integral part of Khon Dance.

Apart from being used in traditional Thai dances the Khon mask are a prized artifacts for tourist visiting Thailand.

The mask are mounted on wooden stands for easy display and even smaller size mask comes at a lower price. Khon Mask key chains are authentic souvenirs from Thailand.

The most popular Khon dance drama is Ramakian (Thai version of the Indian epic Ramayana). The most important scene is the battle between Phara Ram (Lord Rama) and the king of Lanka Totsakan (Ravana).

Khon dance of Ramakian (Ramayana) at Asiatique, Bangkok

Khon dance of Ramakian (Ramayana) at Asiatique, Bangkok

It shows Hunuman carrying Rama against the masked Ravana, while Lakshman (Phara Lak) assists his brother Rama. Hunuman wears an animal mask while Ravana adorns the most ornamental demon mask. Rama and Lakshman are without mask but the mask is adequately compensated by elaborate crowns.

Note: I visited Thailand as part of a FAM trip organized by Tourism authority of Thailand (TAT) and Thai Airways.

Special Thanks:

  • Aso Lori (TAT, New Delhi) and Sajid Khan (Thai Airways, Kolkata)
  • My fellow FAM participants Amit Sachdev (Unique Air Travels), Sanjay Kr Kothari (Just Holidays), Vandana Arya (Gainwell Leisure Holidays), Piyush Banerjee (Discovery Holidays), Asif Alim (Neptune Holidaays) and Nandini Gangully (T2, The Telegraph)

 

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