Historical Ties India and Thailand

  • By Wanna Sudhit
  • September 2003

Dance, language        

Thai literature and drama draws great inspiration from Indian arts and legend. The Hindu epic of Ramayana is as popular in Thailand as it is in India. Thailand has adapted the Ramayana to suit the Thai lifestyle in the past and has come up with its own version of the Ramayana, namely, the ‘Ramakien’. The greater part of this epic as you well know is concerned with the war between Rama the righteous king and Ravana or Thotsakan the king of Thotsakan the king of demons. The great battle was sparked off by Ravana’s abduction of Rama’s beloved consort Sita.

Two of the most popular classical dances the ‘Khon’, performed by men warning ferocious masks, and the ‘Lakhon’, performed by women who play both male and female roles draws inspiration primarily from the Ramakien. Percussion instruments and Pi Phat, a type of woodwind accompany the dance.

The ‘Khon’ is a masked dance drama, which mainly features stories from the epics especially the Ramakien – which is about the war between Rama and Ravana, who each mobilized a great number of troops and combatants, from the monkeys and demons respectively. The story is adapted to the Thai environment. Its performers must conform their steps and poses to the recitations and songs of the chorus and the music of the small orchestra.

In addition, there are shadow plays called nang-talung in Thai. This is a show in which shadows of pieces of cow or water buffalo hide cut to represent human figures with movable arms and legs are thrown on a screen for the entertainment of spectators. In India, this kind of show is called Chhaya nataka.

Thai language too bears close affinity with Indian An indication of the close linguistic affiliation between India and Thailand can be found in common Thai words like Ratha Mantri, Vidhya, Samuthra, Karuna, Prannee etc. which are almost identical to their Indian counterparts. Thai language basically consists of monosyllabic words that are individually complete in meaning. His Majesty King Ramkhamhaeng the Great created the Thai alphabet in 1283. He modeled it on the ancient Indian alphabets of Sanskrit and Pai through the medium it on the ancient Indian alphabets of Sanskrit and Pali through the medium of the old Khmer characters. Through a history of over 700 years, the Thai alphabet today comprises 44 letters (including 2 obsolete ones) representing 20 consonant phonemes, and 15 vowel signs, denoting 22 vowels, diphthongs and triphthongs. Like most world languages, the Thai language is a complicated mixture derived from several sources. Many Thai words used today were derived from Pali, Sanskrit, Khmer, Malay, English and Chinese.

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