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Thread: Thai khon masks

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    Thai khon masks

    The khon is a traditional mask play in Thailand which implies the wearing of masks by performers. The story that has been used for staging of the khon is the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Indian epic Ramayana. Staged in its entirety, the Ramakien is an immensely complex story with 138 episodes involving 311 different characters and taking more that 720 hours of continuous performance.
    The mask is perhaps the most important characteristic of the khon, for through it more than any other thing else, one distinguishes the variety of roles.

    Khon mask of the Holy Hermit Rusi from the collection of the Bangkok National Museum.

    The mask reflects personality of the dancer through colour and various features. Each mask possesses individual characteristics of shape, decoration, colour and facial expression. The mask designs of a demon are made to create a sense of ferocity and strenth, those of a human hero are majestic and graceful, and female masks are beautiful and gentle. There are also additional features for distinguishing the demon characters, such as the eyes which are of two types: bulging or crocodile. The mouths are also of certain types: clamping or snarling.

    A mask of Rama

    A mask of Thotsakan, the King of Lanka.

    A mask for Rama is always green, has delicate features, a faint smile to indicate his good nature, and a multi-tiered gold crown tapering to a spire. Thotsakan, the King of Lanka, generally has a green complexion too and the fierce expression of a snarling demon. He usually wears a crown with two tiers of faces, one of which represents his ten faces and a top one of a celestial face. Hanuman's mask is predominantly white but may have considerable ornamentation. His monkey helpers usually wear gold masks with bulging green-rimmed eyes and bright-red tongues.

    A mask of Hanuman

    Khon performer, photo courtesy Choo Yut Shing.

    In the making of these masks there are rules to follow because a slight error in colouring may easily lead to confusion. So the creation of the khon masks requires skilled workmanship. Masters follow conventions recorded in illustrated manuscript books and handed down fro generations by khon performers.
    The process of creating a mask begins with structuring of the model with clay. Then the model is pasted with paper tissue by using rice flour paste as the adhesive. Pasting-up is done until it reaches an appropriate thickness. The the pasted model will be left to dry in the sun. Once it is dry, the pasted paper is removed by cutting the model in half and sewing the two separated portions together. Then the blank paper mask is lacquered and painted. No enamel paints can be used as this would produce a shining surface on the mask which would make it unsuitable for stage plays. The mask maker uses only powder colour pigments. To add some special beauty to the mask its forehead frame is decorated with glass or ruby flakes. The more luxurious masks even use mother-of-pearl as the material for artistic patterns on the mask.

    The most important part of khon mask making is the enlivening of the mask with lively eyes. This process is considered to be vital and religious ceremony is called for at the time of adding the eyes to the mask.
    Divine and human roles no longer wear masks as well as women characters. But still there are more than one hundred different demon masks and more than 30 varieties of simian masks used in the khon nowadays.

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    Spirits and ghosts in the Kingdom of Thailand are part of every-day life and the people of this magical country are able to blend harmoniously their Buddhist faith with their long held belief in spirits.

    The Ruesi (known as Rishi in India) of Thailand are what can be termed as ‘Hermit Sages,’ their deeds can be found in the many legends and stories in Thai folklore, that appear through-out the Kingdom’s long and colourful past.

    They still survive today in modern Thailand, spending their time meditating and supposedly developing psychic powers, which with their collection of magical herbs, minerals, rarities and other paraphernalia they are believed to able to produce special love charms, spells and protective amulets.

    It is said that the Ruesi simply wish to help other beings to be happier in their individual lives, they achieve this by telling fortunes, producing rituals and spells to reduce bad karma and chase away evil spirits, they also offer protection from ones enemies, or even increase one’s luck and wealth.

    Most Rishi wear reddish brown robes, those that wear white devote themselves exclusively to healing medical ailments. This kind of Ruesi is known as Chi wok, named after the Rishi Chivaka who was the official doctor of the Lord Buddha, they are believed to be experts in orthopedic massage, and other matters, such reading and interpreting Horoscopes.

    Yantra tattooing and the Ruesi

    Almost all Ruesi are devotes to the ancient art of Yantra tattooing, (also called Sak yan or Sak yant).This specialist form of tattooing is the study and practice of Sacred Geometry in the form of Buddhist and Animist traditions. Thetattoos are said to possess miraculous powers to heal and protect the host. See more

    Some Ruesi (and Prahm) Masters may eventually become a “Rang Song” (a spirit medium) for the spirit Deity of Por Gae, (Por Gae was the ‘original Ruesi’ who is seen as the “Kroo” (master teacher) of all Yantra tattooing),

    It is believed that the Rang Song will allow the spirit of Por Gae to enter their body and take control of both their mind and body and in doing so allowing the deity to actually perform the tattooing or ceremony.

    In the case of a tattoo the spirit medium will at times wear a ‘Ruesi Mask’ covering their eyes and face whilst tattooing the Yant on the devotee. This renders the Master completely blind as far as seeing the tattoo is concerned, and is seen as yet another proof of the sacred magic of Por Gae, and Sak Yant Tattoos. After the tattoo is completed the mask is placed on the hosts head and they are blessed by the Ruesi.

    Ruesi Mask

    All Ruesi will have at least one Ruesi mask. The mask is an effigy of Por Gae and will have an open mouth with two big buck teeth sticking out of it The mask will also have a beard and long moustache and three eyes, with the third eye located in the center of the forehead.

    You can never address Thai culture without talking about its people’s belief in spirits and its own ancient western version of ‘Wizards.’ The difference for the majority of the people of Thailand while the Harry Potter characters are confined to print and the big screen here in Thailand we are all surrounded by them and they have a unique place in our society.

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