Sawasdee Torn Chao (good morning) everyone!
Have you ever been to the Grand Palace or other temples in Thailand and witness the paintings on the wall that depicts a story with an army of monkeys, angelic looking humanoids with golden armour and green giants/ demon with swirly batons?
If you like the fantasy worlds of JRR Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings or Homer’s The Odyssey, there’s a high chance that you may be interested Ramayana as it is just as grand, or perhaps even more epic than both.
Ramayana is amongst the largest ancient epics in global literature. There are 24,000 verses which are allocated into 7 books and consisting of approximately 500 chapters. Ramayana is not simply a fairy tale story, it also provides teachings that story’s correlates with themes that revolve around the Hindu religion’s perception of ideal characters in society. Each chapter and story the ideal king, brother, wife, valiant soldiers and noble heroes.
As it is originally from India, there are many versions of Ramayana in the multiple Indian languages. Furthermore, there are also Thai, Burmese, Filipino, Indonesian and Malaysian adaptations of the tale. The Thai version of Ramayana are known to the Thais as Ramakien.
Rama is the main protagonist of the epic, the son of the Dasharatha, the King of Ayodhya (also the name of the ancient holy city of India and also Thailand’s ancient capital, Ayutthaya). Rama or Phra Raam (in the Thai Version) is considered the mortal god and the 7th reincarnation or avatar of the Hindu God, Vishnu.
The tale begins from where Rama’s beloved wife, Sita, the reincarnation of the goddess Lakshmi and offspring of Mother Earth herself, was kidnaped by the primary antagonist of the tale, the great demon king of Lanka, Ravana. In the Thai and Indian text, Ravana is an extremely powerful green demon/ giant (asura/ rakshasa/ yaksa) with ten heads/ faces and ten arms. In the Thai version, Ravana is popularly called Totsakan.
The story follows a war raged between Rama’s and Ravana’s armies and generals. Rama’s forces are often complimented by his Vanara generals/chiefs. Vanaras are the people of the forests and depicted with monkey-like features. The most notable vanara is Hanuman, one of the tale’s most ideal loyal subject to Rama. In the Thail version, he is depicted as an albino white monkey hero who plays a dominant role in the search for Sita and various battles. Hanuman is an extremely powerful being who can enlarge himself.
The Thai retelling of the Ramayana can also be found in the form of Khon (pronounce as Koan). Khon tells the story of Ramakien in a stage-like performance, with actors portraying characters wearing extravagant and colorful outfits accompanied by vocal narration of the story. These dances and performances are considered an sacred art form, therefore the practices and putting on the masks before a performance require a proper ritual of respect. With most of the cast wearing masks that represent each unique character, the dances focuses on the realism of movements and expression, especially with the monkey characters.
In ancient times, Khon was only to be performed by the royal family. Moreover, the performance of Khon are reserved only for men whilst the women were allow to perform as angels and goddesses. Today, the general public may also be trained in the arts and women are also allow to perform as monkeys and the demon/ giants.
Once you start to notice the picturesque of Ramakien, you will start to notice a lot more of it around town, in temples, perhaps even at the Suvarnabhumi on your way to your respective home countries.
So put on that observant eye and happy discovering guys.
From all of us at Chao Hostel.