Khon, masked dance drama in Thailand marks_1
  • Manage No, Sortation, Country, Writer ,Date, Copyright
    Manage No EE00000025
    Country Thailand
    ICH Domain Oral traditions and representations Performing Arts Social practices, rituals, festive events Traditional craft skills
    All over Thailand, Khon is well-known and recognised as a sophisticated dramatic genre. The centre, in terms of training, performance and artistic excellence, is Bangkok. This is because the tradition evolved as part of the court culture in the capital cities of Ayutthaya, and later in Bangkok, where Khon dancers were trained in the royal court and the households of the noble class, and performed in royal ceremonies. Outside Bangkok, Khon is currently taught and performed in formal and informal educational institutions in many provinces throughout Thailand. The 12 regional Colleges of Dramatic Arts are responsible for teaching a common curriculum which aims to maintain the high standard of training and performance. In addition, there are no fewer than 50 universities, schools, government and private spaces that provide Khon training and performance. Some Khon masters also give private training to students in different parts of the country.
Description Khon is a highly-refined performing art that combines multiple artistic elements: musical, vocal, literary, dance, ritual and handicraft. It may have combined features of ancient genres: court ritual, martial art, and the shadow play. It tells the story of Ramakien – the localized Thai version of the Ramayana epic. Its many episodes depict the life of Rama, his journey in the forest, his love for his wife Sita, his army of monkeys, the fights with the army of Thosakan (Ravana), king of the giants, and his final victory. The dancers wear elaborately embroidered costumes. The giants and monkeys all wear masks that cover their entire head. The colours and shape of each mask are unique to each character. The drama is enacted through dancing, accompanied by a piphat classical xylophone ensemble, singing, and narration. Each major type of characters has a distinct mode of dance expression. The dance postures and movements, the music, and the repertoire have been handed down from generations since the 15th century. The masked dance performances form part of social practices such as royal cremation, cremation of high-ranking persons or revered monks, and celebration of sacred sites and temples. Dancers, musicians, craftsmen and other members of Khon community annually perform a ceremony to honour Khon masters of the past, teachers, and deities. During this ceremony, new members are initiated into the community. Khon performance is continually evolving with new interpretations, and the adoption of modern technology for stagecraft, whilst retaining its traditional intensive dance training and ritual.
Social and cultural significance Khon's plots and relationships among characters in each episode exemplify and reinforce the respect for those of higher age and status, mutual dependence between leaders and followers, men and women, bravery and honour of rulers, and the triumph of good over evil. Khon performances depict the glory of Rama, the hero and incarnation of the god Vishnu, who brings order and justice to the world. This theme underlines the cultural and moral significance of the monarchy as the unifying force of society. Rituals and ceremonies associated with Khon are vital in maintaining the sense of continuity with the past. It is an unbroken tradition to stage Khon performances as part of royal cremation. In annual ceremonies of Wai khru, Khon artists and related craft specialists gather to make offerings to spirits of past masters. Their sense of unity and community is forged during the ceremony.
Transmission method Traditionally Khon was transmitted in the royal or princely courts, and households of dance masters. The transmission today takes place mostly in education institutions. However the actual transmission of knowledge adheres largely to traditional methods. Boys and girls begin training when they are about eleven years old. They are then selected to specialise in the roles of males, females, giants, and monkeys based on their physique. They first learn the fundamental postures, stances, gestures and movements by imitating the masters and practice strenuous exercises to build strength and agility. The masters closely watch, and carefully correct the positions and movements, as if to ‘mould’ the bodies to attain ideal grace. It takes eight years of full-time training to master the corpus of dance repertoire, and to become a fully - qualified dancer. In addition to regular classes, students participate in Khon production. It is during the preparation that masters train students to perform roles, aesthetically and dramatically, on an intensive, one-on-one basis. The transmission of the classical Piphat xylophone music and singing is mostly institutionalised, but there are more informal, local troupes that may train their own musicians in households of the masters, and gain experience during performances. Khon dance and musical knowledge is imbued with sacred meaning, and acquisition of significant or sacred knowledge is marked by relevant rituals. For the related craft specialists, the transmission may take place in formal education institutions, or private workshops and households, as dramatic craft specialists can train and work more independently than classical dancers.
Community The majority of the population generally regard Khon as a national heritage. Khon communities consist of different categories of people. Firstly, there are the professional artists who perform and teach, including the National Artists and dance masters, artists in private companies, and independent artists. Secondly, there are the dance teachers who train professional and amateur dancers in the Bunditpattanasilp Institute (state colleges of dramatic arts), schools, universities, and other cultural institutions. Thirdly, there are related artists and highly-skilled artisans, such as traditional musicians, mask makers, costume makers, jewellery makers, designers, and technicians involved in production. Fourthly, patrons and sponsors who range from business corporations, cultural foundations, to individual sponsors. Khon tradition is also sustained by the spectators from all walks of life, local and visitors, who enjoy performances in theatres, festivals, ceremonies, public and private events in all parts of the country.
Type of UNESCO List Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
Incribed year in UNESCO List 2018

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