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Thailand – The many faces of Ramayana

By Veena Thoopkrajae Thai PBS World March 29, 2023

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Ravana, the demon king, will take centre stage in Ayutthaya and kidnaps Sita – the most beautiful woman in Ayodhya. (Photo/Ayutthaya Tourism and Sport)

Ram, Sita, Laksmana, Hanuman and Ravana from Laos, Indonesia, India, and Thailand are about to come together in Ayutthaya – a former capital of Siam – for the International Ramayana Festival 2023.

From March 30 to April 3, the International Ramayana Festival – or the “Khon Krungsri” in Thai – will return to the ancient city of Ayutthaya tocelebrate its 4th birthday. The highlight is the Ayodhya Ramayana procession, which will take place on the streets of Ayutthaya on April 6.

Woranut Bhiromhakdi, a gorgeous Thai actress, will lead the procession as Sita, the beautiful woman who sparked the epic battle between Ram and Ravana.However, the focal point is the procession itself which showcases all the characters from the Ramayana in elaborate costumes and on decorative floats.

“We haven’t organised the Khon or Ramayana procession in a century, and the Ayodhya Ramayana procession will be the largest of its kind in 130 years,” said Surat Jongda, deputy director of Bunditpatanasilpa Institute, who is in charge of the production design. “We took inspiration from King Rama V and King Rama VII’s white elephant processions, so expect the most elaborate and spectacular parade from Ayutthaya’s streets into the heart of the ancient city.”

The Ramayana procession, according to the production designer, is divided into angel and demonparades, representing the good and the bad.

Written by Valmiki around 500 BCE in India, theRamayana follows Prince Rama’s quest to rescue his beloved wife Sita from the clutches of Ravana with the help of an army of monkeys. From medieval times until today, the story has been popularizedthrough theatrical presentations in various forms and spread across and beyond India.

The Ramayana arrived in Thailand during the Ayutthaya Kingdom, so the name Ayutthaya was derived from Ayodhya – Ram’s birthplace – and is known locally as Ramakien (the Glory of Ram). The Khon Masked Dance is the best-known dramatic performance telling of Rama’s glory, and has been listed on the UNESCO Representative List of Humanity’s Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2018.

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Ravana and Ram square off on stage in the Ayutthaya Historical Park. (Photo/Ayutthaya Tourism and Sport)

Valmiki’s epic has also reached other shores where itis known by various names. In Laos, it is known as “Phra Lak Phra Ram”, after the two brothers Laksmana and Ram, while in Indonesia, it is recognised as “Kakawin Ramayana”. To relate the Ramayana drama, each nation has developed their own performance form. Visitors to the International Ramayana Festival in Ayutthaya will have the opportunity to see Ramayana and traditional dramatic performances from other countries.

The outdoor venue at the ancient temple of Wat Mahathat takes centre stage, presenting Khon Masked Dance, sword fights, and Ramlila from India to name a few. Admission is free and performances run from 6pm to 9pm.

A food and craft fair will add a mouth-watering experience and fun to the International Ramayana Festival.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World, Thailand March 29, 2023

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