THE CENTURY-OLD royal puppet has been revived to perform at the Royal Cremation of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej on October 26.
The puppets will be performing for the public for the first time in 150 years, since the reign of King Rama IV. The newly made puppets, based on the ancient method by artisans at Fine Art Department, will be highlighted as an age-old tradition performed during royal cremations since the Ayutthaya period.
“The tradition disappeared after the reign of the King Rama IV , however they were revived during the reign of King Rama IX. HRH Princess Sirindhorn has ordered to preserve traditions at all public performances for the Royal Cremation. The tradition first reappeared during the royal cremation of the Princess Mother in 1996,” drama expert Chaovalit Soonpranon, who is the chairman of the performance committees for the Royal Cremation of the late monarch, told The Nation.
Along with the royal puppet show, there will be a khon mask dance, shadow play, traditional Thai lakorn (play) with modern art forms of live orchestra and ballet based on the late King’s compositions on three stages. There will be a theatre adaptation of the monarch’s popular literature “Mahajanaka”.
The public performances will portray the greatness of the monarch. The traditional shows are meant for the general public and signal the end of the official mourning period at the same time.
The Fine Arts Department, with help of young puppet expert Kamol Karnkitcharoen, has played an important role in keeping alive the art form since last year. “The art form preservation process with four main characters – Phra (actor), Nang (actress), Yak (demon) and Ling (monkey) – was being prepared last year with the hope of performing in front of the King Bhumibol. Unfortunately, he passed away last October,” Kamol said.
“This show will be the first public performance after the preservation process was done early last year. We are grateful to be able to revive this almost extinct heritage and perform to pay our greatest respects and honour to our beloved King Bhumibol who has preserved our arts and culture throughout his life. This will also preserve our heritage for the next generation too,” Kamol, 40, said at the rehearsal at the National Theatre.
Based on the Ramakien epic, three traditional khon mask dramatists will for the first time manipulate with synchronised dancing the three-metre puppet with 20 strings to stage the 20-minute prelude, followed by the performance of Hun Khrabok (the small puppet manipulated with hands). The puppeteers with assistants hold the five-metre wooden puppet dressed in gorgeous costumes hidden behind the moveable wooden stage, while audiences will only see the beautiful puppet dancing.
Breaking the tradition of the royal puppet show being performed only by men in the court, Ancharika Noosingha, 43, became the first Thai woman to preserve this art form.
“As they are heavy with complex strings, the puppeteer requires skilful manipulation while synchronising dancing with the puppet. When I perform, I myself become like the puppet,” Ancharika, who has been training for a few months, said.
“With this rare performance, we gratefully perform in order to deliver the soul of our beloved monarch to the heaven,” Pairoj Thongkumsuk said with tears in his eyes.