While Ravans exploded at home for Dussehra, the week in Bangkok began with a performance of ‘Nang Loi’ (Floating Lady) performed by the Khon troupe of Thammasat University. Khon is the Thai classical dance performed to the one story of Ramakien, the Thai Ramayana. The performance was dedicated to the late Mr Kukrit Pramoj, whose book ‘Loi Chiwit’ (Many Lives) I wrote of last week. ‘The Bangkok Post’ of October 7 said that the performance was a tribute to Mr Pramoj as the troupe’s founder “on the occasion of being recognised by UNESCO as an important world personality and the 100th anniversary of his birth”.
Mr Pramoj was noted for playing Tosakan (Dasakantha or Ten-headed One, another name for Ravana).
An advisor to the Thammasat-U troupe is quoted saying that Mr Pramoj “established the troupe in 1966 at a crucial time – a time when Thailand was under threat of Western cultural influences, modernisation and socialism.” The article further says that Mr Pramoj’s idea “was to form a link between the younger generation and the monarchy through Khon performances…he targeted Thammasat students in particular because he realised these people were to become senior-ranking officers in the future.”
‘Ramakien’ in Thai means ‘The Virtue of Rama’, Prince of Ayodhya. I'm told that the Thai Ramayana is closest to Bengali Ramayanas; understandable, given the eastern arc of Asia. I saw ‘Nang Loi’ last year, a fabulous production featuring Benyakai, a Thai niece of Ravana and this year, I saw the episode ‘Suek Maiyarap’, The Battle of ‘Maiyarap’, sorcerer and guardian of Lanka, a Thai nephew of Ravana.
The production was as brilliant.
Both productions feature Sri Hanuman as the action hero. In ‘Nang Loi’, Ravana orders Benyakai to assume Sita’s form and float as if dead past Rama’s camp so that he will be demoralized and go away. But Hanuman wonders how a corpse can float upstream and orders her funeral. At once Benyakai flies off the fire (literally, on wires).
‘Suek Maiyarap’ highlights Hanuman’s emotional meeting with Macchanu, his son from that fish-lady Suvarna Machha, remember, who guards the waters around Lanka? And very recently at a rare close-up shared with outsiders of royal Khon outfits, in a talk-demo by the Thai Textile Society, I was charmed to discover that Khon’s important silk-zardozi dhotis in crimson and gold are made by special order in Varanasi: flower motifs for Rama, flames for Ravana.
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture firstname.lastname@example.org