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Thailand Art – Khon Mask Papier Mâché


The Ramayana is one of the greatest epic poems of the Hindu religion, comparable to what the Iliad represents for western civilization. The authorship of this literary work was credited to Valmiki, an Indian sage who had probably compiled it between the years 500 and 100 B.C.E. At the time of the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1351-1767), the poem was translated from Sanskrit into Thai, and it Thailand, is known as “The Ramakien”. However, all versions produced during this period were destroyed in 1767, when the Ayyuthaya Kingdom was sacked by the Burmese army. A new version was redacted thirty years later, under the supervision of King Rama I.

“Ramayana” means “Rama’s journey” in Sanskrit. The poem recounts the adventures of Prince Rama and his quest to rescue his wife, Sita, who was abducted by the demon Ravana (Toksakan). The story opens with a description of Rama as a youth in the Kingdom of Ayodhya and his encounter with Princess Sita, with whom he falls madly in love. A plot forces Rama into exile, with the princess, and he is joined by his brother Lakshmana. After Sita’s abduction, Rama sought out Lanka, the city of giants, where she was being held captive. During this quest, Roma was aided by Hanuman, a mischievous ape who offered Rama his help and protected him from danger. After many unexpected events and a great, epic battle, the two lovers reunite, and are married by Shiva.

The Ramakien is an integral part of Thai culture, and it finds expression in Thai literature and theater, as well as in popular culture. The characters and the scenes, from the most comic to the most farcicle, are well known to all Thai people. Many musical and dance performances, plays, and works of art contain references – generally direct references – to The Ramakien.

After being translated into Thai, The Ramakien was the subject of a great many graphical and theatrical depictions. Unfortunately, nothing remains from Ayyuthaya period, as the city was destroyed by the Burmese. However, when the new capital was rebuilt, the kings of the Chakri dynasty quickly commissioned many illustrations for The Ramakien, which was considered a unifying force in Thai culture. Furthermore, it wasn’t by chance that the kings of the nascent Chakri dynasty named their kingdom “Rama”. Rama, who was an avatar of Vishnu, and therefore, of divine origin, is also the one who, after enduring many trials and tribulations, restored peace and stability in the kingdom, just as the Chakri kings had done during the Rattanakosin period.

One of the illustrations that went down in history was created by Wat Phra Kaew, at the Grand Palace. The iconography established by these frescos, which were created at the end of the 19th century, laid the foundations of subsequent depictions of The Ramakien, and is still used in schools to illustrate the poem. While remaining loyal to its original scenes, Watta had taken several liberties in his depictions, keeping in mind that although tradition matters, his depictions are destined to evolve as well.

Khon Mask Papier Mache

Thai Khon Mask has been originated since in the ancient time, the beginning of Ratanakosin era and have been very flourishing in the era of King Rama 6, which is the golden period of literature and dancing art in Thai history. The head gear of khon and other Thai dances considered as high class things, so artists and people worship the Khon mask, and not step over or even walk nearby. And that is why we always keep Khon mask in the high level place.

Khon Mask Making

Nowadays, the artists who make the Khon Mask Papier Mache have remained very less compared to the past from the last generations. According to this trend, we would say that the number of artist is going less because of different reasons. The cast of each Khon Mask, whether it be that of the demon king Tosakanth, hermits, monkeys or mythological characters, is based on a clay model. Once the clay model has dried, it is neatly covered with “papier mache” made of Sa rice paper and placed out to dry in the sun. The “papier mache” mask is then cut in half and removed from the clay model, before being sewn together again. “Papier mache” is pasted over the stitches and left to dry.

With a cutter, the mask maker scrapes the “papier mache” surface until it is smooth and an additional layer of “papier mache” is applied. Once dried, the hardened black sap of the lak tree is heated until it is pliable and immediately applied on protruding features such as the eyebrows, ears and the elaborate headdresses. Yet another layer of “papier mache” is applied and the face is sandpapered. A paint brush is dipped in the lap sap and highlighting lines are painted on the mask. Depending on the character, gold leaves and colored glass add glitter to the headdress or ornaments. The final step is the painting of the mask with acrylic paints. If it is a demon mask, fangs made of pearl shells are attached on both sides of the mouth. A skilled craftsman will normally have about five or six masks in different stages on the go at one time.

Thai Artist Master Samran Katejumrong

Samran Katejumrong has been originated to inherit and sustain this art treasure. He dedicated to maintain Khon mask, which is one of the ten Thai artistries to be strong and sustainable because this is Thai entity. Samran Graduated from The Center for Education Karnjanapises, Bangkok (Painting & Khon). He is a specialist in Khon mask, ancient Khone mask, for both medium and big sizes, so that there are many people support him and his art work.