Taking khon's intangible cultural appeal to Unesco

Taking khon's intangible cultural appeal to Unesco

Khon performers put on a show on National Children Day in Bangkok. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)
Khon performers put on a show on National Children Day in Bangkok. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)

Thailand has proposed the traditional khon masked dance, known for its elegant costumes and versed dialogues, for inclusion on Unesco's Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

The iconic performance art is the first of five national cultural icons the government will suggest to Unesco each year until 2021.

Unesco urges its member countries to safeguard the world's intangible cultural heritage, which it says includes practices, knowledge, skills and instruments associated with culture and traditions.

After putting khon forward this year, muai Thai kickboxing, traditional massage, the nora dance drama and a traditional Thai meal set will be proposed in the following years.

"One reason we choose traditional khon first is it perfectly shows Thai cultural wisdoms," said Culture Minister Vira Rojpojchanarat.

Her Majesty the Queen is a major supporter of khon and associated art forms, including costume design.

First performed in the ancient Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya centuries ago, khon is a form of drama based on the Hindu epic Ramayana narrating the battle between Rama, an avatar of Hindu god Vishnu, and Ravana, who kidnaps Rama's wife.

The Thai version of Ramayana is mainly told through khon performance with most characters wearing elaborate costumes, including masks, and dancing in various postures to show their feelings and actions.

The artists behind the scenes who make the costumes and the performers who talk, sing, play and perform all exhibit a high understanding of Thai culture, Mr Vira said. The Department of Cultural Promotion will ask Unesco to certify khon as an item of intangible cultural heritage, he said.

The government has reacted to Unesco's call for cultural preservation by giving full support to a new law related to cultural heritage.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also preparing to make Thailand a member of the Unesco-sponsored Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which has about 150 members.

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