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Nang Yai Wat Khanon National Museum, Ratcha Buri

Nang Yai Wat Khanon National Museum, Ratcha Buri

Internationally recognized Thai cultural heritage

The grand shadow play (Nang Yai) was regarded as a form of high class entertainment in former times, being a combination of several art forms: artistic pattern designs, handicraft art in making meticulous shadow figures, theatrical art, oratory art of composing narration and chorus, and orchestral music to complement all the tactile senses. The origin of Nang Yai can be traced back to the kingdom of Sukhothai. It represents high aesthetic values and reflects ancient wisdom. It was during the reign of King Rama V that Wat Khanon created nine episodes of a story cycle, comprising 313 well preserved shadow figures. Wat Khanon is the only temple with its own Nang Yai troupe which has been in continuous performance. The temple has played a significant role in the conservation of Nang Yai. Nang Yai has been presented for both domestic and international performance. Out of a serious concern about this precious national heritage, HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn set up a royal project to conserve these original Nang Yai shadow figures and requested a new duplicate set to be made for performances.

Nang Yai Wat Khanon National Museum is situated in a Thai traditional house and preserves the entire set of 313 shadow figures in their complete condition. Most of the figures represent characters from many episodes in the epic story of Ramayana, such as Hanuman presents his ring, Sahassa Kumar, the arson of the city of Lanka, the battle of Indrachit. Additionally, the museum provides not only an exhibition displaying the history and the making of cowhides, but also there is a performance from the Nang Yai troupe on Saturdays.

Nang Yai conservation at Wat Khanon is one of the six model communities awarded by the Asia Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO for its active role in preserving an intangible cultural heritage.