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The Ramayana Masks in South East Asia & Mask of Asia

The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, classical epics from India, influenced southeast Aryan people’s lives for longer than 3,000 years. It became a shared culture of this region among other indigenous faiths, beliefs, and culture that had been established in this area: The belief in ancestral ghosts or supernatural beings, the way of life, the house-building method, the food, the funeral, or even holy animals – like frogs. As seen as a scratch on kettle drums – artifacts used in rituals famous in the iron age 2,000 – 3,000 years ago. When the Indians made contact by sea, the shared culture that was spared from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata had influenced the governmental structure. Religious faith and belief through art and culture that rooted and mingled with the indigenous religions. Many thousands of years later, the trace of the mutual civilization built on the Ramayana is still alive today in Naug Yai, Shadow Plays, or Nang Talung, or masked dancing, which are known by various names in Cambodian, Myanmarese, Laotian, or Indonesian languages. This phenomenon created the endless evolution of art, which can be seen in exquisite Thai crafts, the making of Khon masks, or crafting the Khon costumes. Moreover, Kohn masks are also used in tattooing rituals.

Thousands of years have passed since the Indian civilization, and its long-standing commercial relationship came to Southeast Asia. The Indians had brought fleets of merchant ships over the sea to the archipelago and the fertile land known as “Suvarnabhumi.” To establish a commercial relationship, the Indians also tied the two nations together with a marriage between them and the states’ royalties, enlarging the great nations’ influence. For example, the birth of the Dvaravati Kingdom, which has its center at U Thong, a 2,500 years old Kingdom.

The birth of Funan State that written evidence showed an Indian Brahmin named Koundinya traveled to the land Mekong River Delta and married an indigenous leader named Lui-Ye. Ever since the 2nd-century CE., this land had grown in power; its borders had reached Khmer to the Gulf of Tonkin and the Chenla Kingdom. The Chenla and the Champa Kingdom was established. The birth of Tharay-Khit-Taya or the Pyu Ancient City had assembled the large and small ethnic groups in the Pagan Kingdom. The pinnacle of the Srivijaya Empire’s prosperity had created enormous wealth for the islanders from the Indochinese Peninsula to Indonesia and the Philippines.

The Indians have not only brought wealth to Suvarnabhumi, but they also brighten the prosperity of civilization, arts, tradition, beliefs, and faith to the people in the area.  Especially epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, or pieces of literature: the Puranas and the Vadas, which are means of communication to the gods in Hinduism. The laws and order were based on the Manusmriti, an ancient legal text. They also brought the architectural knowledge behind grand architectures like Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. And the literature expertise in Pali and Sanskrit language which came along with Buddhism. The faith and belief that intertwine with the characters in the Ramayana result in the citizens’ exception of Lord Vishnu’s avatar in the name of Rama – the guardian deity sent by the gods.

The Ramayana Plays and the Shared Culture of Southeast Asia

Almost 3,00 years have passed, and the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are still in the hearts of Southeast Asians. The differences in the development and preservation, and the names result from each royal court’s effort, which relays different messages from the kings to his people. Especially in Thailand, consistent literacy development has been continued ever since ancient times to the Sukhothai Kingdom, and the Ayutthaya Kingdom. The oldest evidence showed that Khon was performed in the reign of King Ramathibodi II (1457 CE.).

The stories from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are the foundation of the art and cultural development in Southeast Asia, which could be seen in many forms – architectures, sculptures, murals, even performing arts or elaboration art like the Khon mask, for example. This ancient civilization from India has continued through the Ramayana to Southeast Asian lands and islands – Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Masks in Ancient Rituals (Mask of Asia)

A  9,000 years old mask, which is in the collection of Moshe Dayan, the infamous former defense minister of Israel, is clear evidence of faith. The mask is assumed to belong to a past state leader who wore it when on duty or a mask put on the face of a passing king before burial. It goes along with the same narration from the excavation, which believes that wearing masks would protect the departing spirit’s purity. The masks that emerged worldwide are the objects of concealment, protection, or supernatural representation. Mysterious energy could be sent through the masks to the wearer that take the role of a communicator in a ritual or a community activity – from curing a sickness, blowing away bad fortune, or communicating with the world of spirits. Thus, in Asian culture, wearing a mask represents a god of nature and ancestors or legendary creatures, which is a supernatural realm in Asian culture.

Nowadays, even if masks’ role in rituals and beliefs has decayed, they are still a part of cultural expression. In many countries that have revived their performing arts, a mask still acts as a holy object filled with spiritual power indistinguishable from a sacred statue in places of worship. For example, the Kolam masks from Sri Lanka; the Theyyam masks from the Kerala state; the shaman masks from the Indochina islands; and the mask from the ethnic groups in the northern part of Laos and Vietnam. Moreover, many countries have developed their masks to enhance their creativity and entertainment – like Ramayana masks.



อ้างอิงภาพแหล่งที่มา :

การแสดงรามายณะ สมัยใหม่ ประเทศอินโดนีเซีย (ภาพซ้าย)

การแสดงรามายณะ สมัยใหม่ ประเทศอินโดนีเซีย (ภาพขวา)

หน้ากากรูปหน้าคนชิ้นแรก อายุราว 9,000 ปีก่อนคริสตกาล
ขอบคุณภาพจาหหนังสือ : World of Mask