Faces behind Thai masks

Faces behind Thai masks

native traditions

Faces behind Thai masks

One of the most common forms of Thai art has been mask-making. For tourists who want to see the best of Thai masks, head to any of the night markets or floating markets of Thailand.

 In this hyper-connected age, the tradition of mask-making is facing the danger of extinction owing to pressures of fast-paced development. 

Khon masks are a part of costumes for performers of the classical dance-drama of Thailand, and Khon implies dance-drama. Khon mask-making took off in ancient Thailand. However, today, only a few Khon craftsmen are involved in the art form. The theme of the dance-drama is exclusively based on Ramakien, which is the Thai version of the Indian epic, Ramayana. A typical Khon show involves acting, dancing, singing, acrobatics and music. The mask is the most crucial aspect of the Khon drama since it helps one identify the characters. Once masks were worn by all the performers barring goddesses, women and female demons, but these days, only those performing the roles of demons, monkeys and animals don masks. 

Mask-making involves an exact process and is practised in the same way as it was in the past. Most masks appear identical barring a few differences. There are various stages to mask-making. The craftsmen begin with a plaster mould and 15 layers of papier-mâché are added. The glue used for papier-mâché is made of rice flour.

The paper used for making masks is known as koi paper that formed the medium for writing the manuscripts of pagodas containing the teachings of Lord Buddha. Craftsmen prepare a kind of resin from Sumach tree, which is cut into strips to make eyes, ears and eyebrows prominent on the masks. There are a number of other aspects to these masks like ear flaps prepared from buffalo skin, and tiara or the jewelled head ornament. The tiara is eventually decorated with gold leaf and fake jewels, and the face is painted. 

The process of mask making does not involve a single individual but a group of craftsmen in workshops. There are 200 to 300 types of masks that are broadly categorised into five segments — demon, monkey, celestial, human and animal masks. The most common variety of masks are the demon and monkey masks. There are over 100 demon masks, which are mostly painted in red, blue, white or green and contrasting colours are given to highlight the eyes, mouth and nose.

Demon masks have some interesting features with either wide open, bulging or partially-closed crocodile eyes. Demon masks have two kinds of mouth — clamping or snarling, and the strange features of the mouth are the presence of curving, tusk-like canines or fang-like canines.

There are five-star haunts in Hua Hin that conduct workshops on mask-making. At Cicada Night Market in Hua Hin, one can see a mind-boggling array of masks. If looking for a perfect gift in Thailand, look no further. Just loosen up your purse strings a bit and take your pick from the astounding variety of masks that can also adorn the living rooms of your homes.