Khon Drama, commonly called the "masked-play", is a dance dramatization of the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Indian Ramayana epic, a moral tale concerning the struggles of Prince Rama and Hanuman's monkey army against the forces of evil.  Developed in the 16th century, it was traditionally only performed on special occasions for the Royal Court.  Today, it can be enjoyed by everyone.

Originally, all roles, both male and female, were performed only by men.  Consequently, a very rough and vigorous style of dancing and acrobatics developed.Although, at times, much exertion is required, the dancing is still very graceful and expressive.  Today, female roles are played by women.

The Khon drama is a series of dances, with characters wearing brilliantly crafted masks displaying different emotions or characteristics.  Each Khon mask is distinctive, and all are splendid examples of traditional Thai decorative art.  Through the different colors and unique features of each mask, one can identify the specific roles that include demons, monkeys, humans and celestial beings.

Originally, masks were worn by all performers except those playing the parts of goddesses, female humans, and some female demons.  Today, only the dancers portraying the demon and monkey roles wear masks.  Nevertheless, the unmasked actors keep their faces expressionless, communicating solely through a complex vocabulary of hand gestures and body movements .

Adding to the colorful visual display are extremely rich and flamboyant costumes made of intricately embroidered cloth. Ornaments such as bracelets, armlets and rings further create a picture of incredible splendor.

The story is told in verse by an off-stage chorus who sings and recites the dialog. Music is provided by an orchestra consisting of traditional instruments, usually five percussion pieces and one woodwind, as well as small cymbals, gongs and drums.  The audience can usually tell what is happening by the music which is being played, as the tunes are indicative of specific actions and emotions.  For example, there are 'walking tunes', 'marching tunes', 'laughing tunes', 'weeping tunes', 'anger tunes' and so on

Picture From Robert Lancione