If we talk about Thai performance arts, most people would think of Thai dance, Khon (Thai drama dance), and Lakhon (Thai drama), but there’s another type of performance art that we are proud to present, called “Nang Yai”. In ancient times it was performed on royal occasions and only upper class people could watch this type of show but these days it is possible for everybody to see it.
“Nang” refers to the buffalo hide or cowhide which is tanned and perforated, then made into characters from the Ramayana. “Yai” means large in Thai, so “Nang Yai” means “Large shadow puppet.”
The performance technique of Nang Yai is a “shadow play” that narrates the story through song. The people (mostly men) who hold the puppets dance while displaying the shadow play through a translucent screen. Those who hold the puppets representing the characters of Ravanna or Yaksha characters dance and act harshly while those holding Varana characters (monkeys attaining the shape and valour of the gods and goddesses who created them) dance and act like monkeys.
Even though at present Nang Yai is not as popular as in the old days, some places preserve this valuable art form and there are still three Nang Yai groups in Thailand. These are:
1. Nang Yai Wat Khanon, Ratchaburi
2. Nang Yai Wat Ban Don, Rayong
3. Nang Yai Wat Sawang Arom, Ratchaburi
Nang Yai Wat Khanon, Ratchaburi has been selected by ESCAP (the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) as one of six villages that has performed outstanding work in restoring abstract art and cultural forms, showing how important Nang Yai is and how worthy it is to preserve. So, when traveling in Thailand, don't miss the opportunity to watch a Nang Yai show.