Treatises on Dance | ตำรารำ (Tảrā rả)

by Dechthewaporn Phakawan

The one and only Thai treatise on dance, a stunning collection of texts and illustrations dating back from 1790 onwards.

Thai dance cover

Type: e-book

Publisher: กรุงเทพฯ : กองวรรณคดีและประวัติศาสตร์ กรมศิลปากร (Bangkok: Literature and Fine Arts Department)

Edition: Courtesy of National Library of Thailand Call Number: 793.31 ผ124ต (digitized microfilms) | Translations from Thai by By Vimean

Published: 1923

Pages: 312

ISBN: 974-419-150-3

Language : Thai

ADB Library Catalog ID: eDAN-NLT1

Edited by ผกาวรรณ เดชเทวพร Phakawan Dechthewaporn for the digitized version, this gorgeous book is in fact a compilation of three different illustrated texts :

a) a collection of tempera [pigment emulsion] paintings, each one illustrating a dance posture or a character (including the Kinnaree) with a descriptive poem, allegedly commissioned by King Rama I (Phra Phutthayota Chulalok Maharaj, reigned 1782-1809) himself in the Wang Luang (Boran) Palace of Ayutthaya,

b) since some paintings had been damagned, 61 colorized images of dance positions were added under Kings Rama II and III, with additional poetic descriptions (this version was donated to the National Library by Princess Suda Sawan, one of the 58 daughters (and sons) of King Pinklao Chao Yuhua (the viceroy of Siam who reigned with King Mongkut),

c) patron of arts Krom Phraya Damrong Rajanubhab asked a painter to create drawings to be added to a special edition of the book for the 1923 royal cremation, and later on, till 1935, instructed photographers to capture two ballerinas, Ms. Lamul Yamagupta and Ms. Mallee Kongpraphat, while they were performing some of the painted positions.

"This dance book is the first to be published in Thai,"remarks the authors in the Introduction; "some points are still wrong, some are elusive due to lack of time. However, it is believed that this book will definitely bring three benefits: the promotion of Thai dance in this country and the whole world. Keep the Thai alphabet forever. Recipients of this book will celebrate the initiative of collecting and republishing these texts and illustrations."

More recently, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and Prince Chudadhuj Dharadilok kromkhun Phetchabun Intrachai have commented the collection and its connection to the technique of contemporary Thai Royal dancers.

This document is of special relevance to the history of Khmer classical dance, since

  • numerous Khmer Royal dancers and their descents had been held captive in Ayutthaya;
  • the Khmer Royal family, especially future King Ang Duong and future King Norodom, were familiar with the Siamese court etiquette and royal dancing, and were to bring back to Cambodia some of its aesthetics, postures and costumes.

In the Preamble, the origin of Siamese dance textbooks is described as such: "Since the treatises brought by the Brahmins to [Siam] since ancient times were lost after the fall of the Ayutthaya kingdom [1767], His Highness [King Rama I] has devised ways to restore the country's culture in various ways, including Khon-Luang drama (Nang Nai drama) to preserve and promote literary arts and culture. His Majesty therefore graciously invited the artist to paint various dance moves."

Originally, the 'treatise' or 'textbook' depicted "thirty-six ways of dancing", expressions of essential emotions, legendary scenes or characters [It was then much more succinct that elaborate Indian treatises such as the Natyashastra].

In a 1923 notice -- written by Professor George Coedes, then librarian of the Royal Library, "in consultation with Brahmin Kuppus Swami, the Sanskrit head teacher at the library, and with a translation into Thai by Puan Inthawong Prien, another librarian --, we read: "The wisdom of Thai dance has been inherited from India. Indians are a people who worship gods. and believes that dance is a science created by the gods Then be taught to people to know. in order to dance and worship sacred things and gods that bring prosperity to life. According to legends, Lord Shiva went to defeat hermits who behaved indecently. When the hermits died, Shiva danced to create a miracle. At that time the giant Muyakala Or (the demon Mulakni) came to help the hermits, and therefore they were trampled by Shiva, who continued to dance until the end of his stance.

"Later, Phraya Anantanakharat wanted to watch Shiva dance again, so he embraced ascetism. Lord Shiva then came to give blessings. and said that he would go on to dance to see the human world at Chidambaram, which is in the Madras state of India. By dancing a total of 108 postures, the people of Chithamparam therefore built a carved temple of Shiva's dance to be worshipped. The person who performed the posture this time was Phra Bharat Rishi, who was regarded as one of the great teachers of dance studies and was the old father or head of the hermit in the Wai Khru ceremony.

"After that, Lord Shiva danced again in the heavens for a typical recognition, with various gods joining in the music. And there is a hermit who recorded the dance moves to be taught to humans, a textbook on the science of singing and dancing. Such dances are called Kanthaphasat.

"Thailand was influenced by dance from India through the Khmer Empire, along with the adoption of culture, form of government, and Brahmanism. Especially the doctrine of the gods. who believed that the king was a deity. Therefore, there is a tradition of dancing to the King like a god. and the legends of the gods are performed, which is the origin of the theater."

In continuation, the treatise deals with minute descriptions of

Gestures and positions:

"They say the meaning of Shiva Nataraja lies deep in Hindu philosophy, because Shiva is known as the god who pushes the world into "orbit", also known as "rhythm", which is both the origin of life and destruction. The rhythm on which Shiva dances is the fastest pne, like the Thai song called Dandawa, meaning the rapid rotation of the world until its utter destruction.

"Dance terminology used in teaching and performing dances:

1. The part of the body starting from the waist down to the legs, feet, arms, and hands is collectively called the "square".
2. The part of the waist up to the head, including the arms, hands, is collectively called the "band".

"Principles and methods for explaining dance practice. Dance teachers specify to explain from the feet to the head. The details can be distinguished as follows:

1. The feet part: "jab". It is the tip of the toe jabbing to the floor and lifting your feet up.

2. The feet part: "tilted". It sends the foot back or to the side and then bends the knee and lifts the foot up, along with breaking the ankle inwards and tensing the tip of the toe as well.

3. "Tipping" can be practiced both while sitting and standing. There are three types: tipping on the back, tipping on the side (Tipping Sew) and tipping on the cross.

4. "Till": the use of the foot tip. (Joint between the base of the toe and the sole of the foot) touching the ground or using the heel to touch the ground, and raise the soles of the feet.

5. "Dotted": the use of the tip of the foot to touch ground and lift it up.

6. "Slap": the use of the nose and feet to slap the floor rhythmically, without lifting feet or legs or "squares".

7. "Compound feet" : squatting heels together, toes separated, the weight is on both heels.

8. "Dotted foot compound": squatting heels, overlap toes separated, the weight being on the back foot.

9. "Foot projection": it is a way to move your feet sideways, while fading away.

10. "Square": bend both knees according to the type of performer, when the weight is in the middle.

11. "Outdo": concentration on one side, the other hand folding the knee toward the body, The weight will be on the crouched knee.

12. The hand part: "Awa". The circle hand-arm motion.

13. The hand part: "lower band". The positioning of the hands at waist level.

14. "Upper band": the position of the hands that are raised from the middle of the body to the head.

15. "Hand": set the fingertips tight, fingers close together except for the thumb to be set straight towards the palm, along with bending the wrist towards the arm.

16. "Hand pleat": the incision of the middle finger, ring finger, little finger, and the index finger and thumb meet at the 2nd finger from the base of the finger, and open both fingertips with pleated hands. It can be performed according to three characteristics, namely, pleat upside down (hand pleat upside down), pleat upside down (upside down pleat), side pleat (hand pleat upside down). Pleat Lu Kaew is a special type of pleating, which is to slit the little finger, ring finger, index finger, all tight and bent middle finger down with the thumb touching the tip of the middle finger in a circle."

Some of the microfilmed paintings of dance positions.

17. Honglinla posture: change the position of the left hand that folds into the chest, comes to the lower waistband level (buckle), while the right hand is still facing up with a high elbow.

18. 'Holding back, thinking': the right hand forms a circle., with slightly bent arms, then the left hand stretches out with the arm held tight."

Tribute to Teachers

Known in Cambodian tradition as Sampeah Kru (Salute to Teachers), this is also an important part of the dance ritual in the Siamese Khon (dance and drama) tradition:

Stage 1: Pay respect to the teacher at the beginning of class, called "bow to the teacher". The senior teacher will set the day (Thursday is the day of the ceremony) and will invite the heads of important teachers such as Phra Bharat Rishi and Provost Phirap to set up in a suitable place with flowers, joss sticks and candles as well Subsequently, new disciples will be recruited according to their character type. (Phra-Nang-Yak-Monkey) and will hold hands for the first dance.

Stage 2: when the apprentices had reached a certain extent can be shown as a supporting factor will perform a ceremony to pay homage to teachers, starting with the song Na Phat, which is a song that is considered important and sacred. At this stage, the annual Wai Khru Ceremony may be performed. which must prepare a place for sacrifice and invite senior teachers which has received the right to perform the ceremony And at the end, the adult teacher will be the important head cover for each disciple, along with Prasat Phon Mongkhon. At this stage, it is called the “Covering Ceremony”.

Stage 3: pay homage to the teacher when the disciple has the ability to become a teacher and pass on knowledge to the next generation of disciples. Only adult teachers who have been granted permission to conduct the ceremony to be a leader in paying homage to teachers this time The ceremony at this stage is called the "delivering ceremony", continuing the ceremony after the crowning ceremony. In which the practitioner of the ceremony assumes that a monk will perform a ceremony to cover the teacher's head. as well as giving art weapons, arrows, Phra Khan and performance equipment to students. Pupils receive various weapons. Teacher Prasart Phra Mongkol. And when allowed to be a teacher, the ceremony is completed.

Stage 4 : Wai Kru at the beginning of class in front of the highest prayer is the face of Phra Pirap. It is the highest level in music and dramatic arts. Those who will learn must have knowledge.There are qualifications, seniority, appropriate, then an adult teacher will teach. Before teaching, the ceremony must be performed with complete sacrifices. Complete the ceremony to pay homage to teachers according to the textbook first. Then proceed to the Na Phat dance pose of Lord Pirap.

Determining the date and time of the "auspicious time" on Thursday, the waxing moon of the double month: Paying homage to teachers on Thursday because it was influenced by Brahmanism Because Thursday is Teacher's Day because it was born from 19 teaching hermits. - Wai Khru ceremony, popularly performed on the waxing moon of an even month (according to astrology, it is regarded as a full day, a symbol of abundance and success, the even month is an auspicious month, even the month is considered auspicious, and the odd month is a fragment).

Khon masks used in the ceremony to cover the pupils: a) Hermit Buddha mask (Phra Bhat Rishi The first human teacher is the composer of dramatization according to Brahma's devotion) b) Phra Phirap mask (Phirapha is a ferocious appearance of Shiva. who gave birth to the dance posture) c) Tered is the headpiece of the Rachatree drama. which is regarded as the oldest drama another thing The crown can be used with the male body or the female body, so the crowning has the meaning of knowledge of both gods and goddesses which is the main character of Thai classical dance."

The Kru Ceremony

"Royal ceremony: the chairman is in charge of the ceremony to pay respect to Khru Khon drama. There are two types of people who can perform the Khon Khon ceremony:

Type 1: those bestowed with Thai traditions considered as a principle dating back to ancient times that the King is the patron of all arts. When there is no teacher in that branch, the King may assign or bestow any person to perform his duties. And those who have received the royal acknowledgment can continue to teach other people.

Type 2: those who have received the blessing from the teacher who performed the original crown ceremony, which must be a male artist acting as a monk, at least 30 years of age, having been ordained, well-behaved, moral, and respected by all disciples There were five key performers of the Khon Khon ceremony in the Rattanakosin period:

1. Kru Ket during the reign of King Rama III to the beginning of King Rama IV,
2. Teacher Plan during the reign of King Rama IV to King Rama V,
3. Phraya Nattkanurak (Thongdee Suwanaphat) during the reign of King Rama V to Rama VI,
4. Luang Wilaswongngam (Rum Intaranat) during the reign of King Rama VIII to the present,
5. Mr. Arkhom Sayakhom in the current reign.

In the year 1982, Mr. Arkom Sayakhom, who was the chairman of the teacher family ceremony, died suddenly without assigning the leading role in the Wai Kru ceremony to anyone. Including during that time, many of the teachers who were bestowed to cover and continue the Phra Phiram dancing poses gradually passed away. The Fine Arts Department therefore requested His Majesty the King to preside over the Wai Khru Ceremony in order to perform the royal ceremony, as well as asking for a royal bestowing for Phra Pirap on the same occasion. Thursday, October 25, 1984, was set as the day of the royal ceremony, which and filmed as evidence for further study."

In 2022, an exhibition on Thai Traditional Dance at NLT featured the book:

Photos by SoPack

  • Another version was posted by TK Park (Valuable Books) here.

Tags: dance, mudras, dancers, choreography, Royal Ballet of Cambodia, Siam, Thailand, Indian dance, Indian influences, King Norodom I

About the Editor


Dechthewaporn Phakawan

ผกาวรรณ เดชเทวพร Phakawan Dechthewaporn is a manuscript curator and a literature and arts editor at the Thailand Fine Arts Department.