by Tasanee Yawaprapas Pictures by Nivet Jiralertpongchai and
Yai, or great shadow play, is a dying classical . But hopefully not for good, for efforts are being made
to revive this fantastic performing art form.
Nang Yai performance involves manipulating puppets made of
cowhide in front of a backlit white screen with musical and
narrative accompaniment. The performance is so beautiful that
during the reign of of the early , it is said that the play shook the whole city. This
prompted master craftsmen of the Royal Court to create a set of
Nang Yai puppets which they called Phra Nakhon Wai, or Shaking
the City. Made 180 years ago, the puppets were used for royal
functions and special occasions.
Yai performances were suspended in 1960 after a fire at the
National Theater damaged some of the puppets. The great shadow
play lost its popularity as time went by, and the remaining
puppets were left unattended at Bangkok's National Museum.
Bhumibol Adulyadej on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of
his accession to the Throne in 1996, various government agencies
and the private sector have joined forces in launching a project
to restore the Phra Nakhon Wai set of Nang Yai puppets. A total
of 28 master craftsmen and artists of the Fine Arts Department's
Traditional Arts Division are participating in this restoration
starting the restoration work, a ceremony was held to pay
respect to teachers and worship dieties in accordance with
Brahman tradition. The ceremony was also meant to boost the
morale of the Nang Yai artists and craftsmen.
and tools used to create Nang Yai puppets include cowhide,
rattan, chisels of different sizes, a whetstone, scissors, a
hammer, a large wooden chopping block, wooden and stone mortars
and pestles, fresh Momordica leaves, soot, pencils, various
colors such as red, blue, green and white, Chinese ink,
paintbrushes, glutinous rice flour, brushes, a napkin a bucket,
molds, acetate plastic, and ink.
create a Nang Yai puppet, acetate plastic is used to make a mold.
The Nang Yai Conservation Project involves restoring 352 puppets
and making another 100 to illustrate the war between Sattasul
and Wirunchambang, adapted from an episode of the ,
the Thai version of the Indian classic Ramayana.
project began in December 1994 and will continue until May 1996,
in time for the Golden Jubilee celebrations which will run
through December 1996.
Nang Yai Conservation Project will not only contribute to the
revival and conservation of the Thai shadow play, but it will
also promote craftsmanship in making the puppets needed for this
ancient performing art. Both are Thai national heritage that
must be passed on to the next generations.