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Craft l Culture l Fruits l Games l Nang Yai
Nang Yai (shadow puppet show)

“Nang Yai” is one of Thailand’s traditional dramatic art forms that combines a number of different artistic crafts into one. In terms of visual arts, the elaborate and detailed traditional design of the characters ore first drawn by a master artist. Then the design is applied onto a piece of leather and painstakingly etched into almost lace-like proportion. The pieces are then mounted onto sticks and they are then given life by a master puppeteer in a classical drama performance complete with live Thai musical ensemble and a singer to provide the narrative.

“Nang Yai” is believed to have originated since the Sukhothai era, but existing evidence goes back to the Ayuttaya period during the reign of King U-Thong, when it was considered a very popular dramatic art form.

Each “Nang Yai” performance consists of a theatre (stage, screen & lights), the puppets, musical ensemble, narrator, voices for each character, puppeteers, story and performance techniques.

The puppets are normally made from cow hide perforated into various characters. Some of them are as high as 2 metres and over one metre wide. They are divided into 7 categories according to their pose and role.

The Story… Before each performance, there has to be a “Wat Khru” ceremony to pay respects to the teachers of the art form. With ritual background music by the ensemble, the ceremony called “Berk Na Phra” is performed. This is followed by a prologue, a popular one being the “Chab Ling Hua Kham” story. This tells of two monkeys - one black, one white. The black monkey always gets up to mischief, causing constant problems and fights. Despite the white monkey’s attempts to teach him to behave, he never listens, and in desperation, the white monkey ties the black one up and takes him to the hermit. There, the hermit teaches him to turn over a new leaf and unties him. The two monkeys then become good friends.

The purpose of the prologue is to attract the audience by the rousing music and the comic dialogue, and at the same time provides a moral of the triumph of good over bad. The prologue is then followed by the main performance, usually an episode of the Ramayana.

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