Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Over My Head - The Ramakian

Wax figures from a processional float - three faced figure depicts the Hindu Lord Brahama

In my first blog regarding the Ubon Ratchathani Candle festival, I wrote briefly about many of the wax figures and panoramas being from the "Ramakian" - the epic Thai classic literary work.  The "Ramakian" is based upon the ancient Indian epic the "Ramayana".  The plots are identical but in the "Ramakian" modifications have been made to include Thai style of dress, Thai geography, and a Thai sensibilities to the legends.  It is a complicated and very exotic legend of creation, heroes, villains, love and war - a little something for everyone.  Both the "Ramakian" and the "Ramayana" are epic sagas in the same magnitude, scope, as well as importance to culture as other epics such as "Beowulf", "The Song of Roland", "Odyssey", and "Gilgamesh".

In Bangkok at the Wat Phra Kaeo there are fabulous murals depicting scenes from the "Ramqakian".  Over a year ago I wrote a blog about these murals.

The "Ramayana" is believed to have been transported to Thailand and southeast Asia by traders.  The fact that a classic work of Indian literature would serve both as an inspiration and be absorbed into Thai culture is not surprising.  It seems to be an inherent trait of Thai culture to accept, tolerate, and incorporate different aspects of other cultures.  Just as Thai food is a sophisticated blend of tastes, textures, and sensations, Thai culture also reflects a long and varied assimilation of thoughts, traditions, and beliefs from different peoples.  Much of the process was precipitated and motivated by the many different wars of conquest and occupation in the region.  The Thai animist religion was absorbed into the Hindu religion which was absorbed into the current Buddhist religion to the point that beliefs, practices, and rituals of all three religions exist and flourish here in Isaan - indistinguishable from each other under the generalized identity of Buddhism.

Wax float with a large "Naga" along its side

In the Ramakian there are many fabulous mythological creatures - composite creatures that reside in the mythological Himmapan Forest.  The composite creatures are part one animal or human and part another animal.  There are Rhino, Monkey, Cattle, Fish, Bird, Crab, Naga (serpent), Crocodile, Canine, Horse, Lion, and Deer based creatures.  My personal favorite is the "Thep Kinnaree"

The "Thep Kinnaree" is the most beautiful creature in the Himmapan Forest.  It is one half woman, the top half and one half swan, the bottom half.  There are golden Kinnaree statues lining the road leading to the main terminal at Bangkok's international airport.  There are also many Kinnaree at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.  The male counterpart of the Kinnaree are "Thep Kinnanorn"- top half is a male human with the bottom half being a "Hongsa" - a mythological bird with a long beak.

The Himmapan Forest is located in the Himalaya Mountains below Buddhist heavens - not all that far from Thailand .  However us mortals can neither see, approach, or enter the forest which is unfortunate.  I would love to visit and photograph some of the exotic creatures there.

There are many depictions of Himmapan creatures in the art of India, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China and other countries in Asia.  There are many different creatures and many of them look very much alike.  In researching what sights I had seen on the wax floats at the Ubon Ratchathani I easily became confused and overwhelmed by the minute differences between some of the creatures - sort of trying to differentiate the meaning of some Thai words that due to the tonal aspects of the Thai language have 5 very different meanings depending on how the word is pronounced!  After awhile many of the different creatures started to look all alike.

I did find a very helpful and useful website to learn or at least to try to learn more about the Himmapan Forest and its mythological inhabitants.  It is well worth the effort to browse the website below"

The legends and creatures of the Ramakian as well as aspects of Hindu writings were heavily represented in the wax work adorning the floats created for the Ubon Ratchathani

Erawan the mythological 33 headed elephant - typically shown with only 3 heads

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