History of The Khon By Seree Vangnaithum
The Khon is one of the oldest of Thai dancing art forms, dating back to the 14th
Century. From the very beginning it has proved to be a dance from which is very popular and highly regarded by the people , because of its unique
characteristic. In its original form the khon was a composition of different performing arts including the grand shadow play, the ancient "Chak Nak" and
the classical martial art. Since its conception the khon has undergone much development and revision in the manner of performance, the dialogue, the
songs, the music ( widely known as "Pleng Na Part"), and the Instrumentation.
At first, khon was performed outdoor to celebrate important events thus
acquiring the name "khon klang plang" meaning an open air khon. Since then it has been performed for many different occasions and under different
conditions and under different Condition, making use of the latest theatrical techniques. But the one feature of the khon which has never been changed is the use of the masks. These masks are built so as to identify the
different dramatic roles. Most of them completely cover the head of a performer so that all the speaking and
singing has to been done off stage. Even later on, when as a s result of a long process of evolution, Some characters such as Pra Ram, Sida, Gods and Angels
Wear Crowns instead of Masks, all the Khon Players Still perform muted, with the speaking being done for them off stage by other persons. A few comic parts however, do their won speaking.
For some reasons the only story that has proved appropriate for the art of the
khon is the legend of Ramakien. Other stories have been tried but have failed the test of time. The Thai version of Ramakien was derived from the Indian "Ramayana" which is known
world wide . But much of the Thai Culture has been injected into the origin version so that careful observers will find the Ramakien very different. With only the essential chronological
events and the main dramatic personalities faithfully preserved. By comparison the version is much longer and includes many more fantastic happening than the Indian one.
Within the Thai version itself there are also many different and altered episodes. For the khon performances, short episodes are chosen, according to the occasions. The popular episodes include "Pali Instruction of His
Brother" Maiyarapana's Spell on the army " The ramawatan Series" and lastly the episode of The Judgment of Mali-Waraj which is being performed for the public at the National Theater by the Fine Arts Department.