Dressing Gods and Demons: Costume for Khon

Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles

Explore a selection of khon costumes, masks and jewellery from the ancient to modern era.

This collection celebrates the auspicious occasion of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s 7th cycle birthday anniversary on August 12th, 2016
Khon, one of the Thailand’s oldest narrative dance forms
Khon, dramatizes the Ramakien, Thailand’s best-known work of classical literature, which is one of several versions of the great Indian epic poem the Ramayana. Additionally, Khon is not only important for the entertainment purpose, it also serves key social, cultural, and political purposes by portraying loyal subjects whose ideal king, Rama always prevails in the struggle against evil.
The Ramayana
Known in Thai as the Ramakien, is thought to have come to the Siamese royal courts from the khmer(Cambodian) kingdom during the Ayutthaya period(ca.1350-1767), probably in the 15th century. The main characters of Khon are gods, demons, and kings. The story of Ramakien is mainly concerned about the war between Tosakanth, the demon king of Lonka, and Rama, the righteous crown prince of Ayodhya. The war began when the demon king abducts Sida, Rama’s wife, with the hope of marrying her. The characters of monkey appear as Rama’s army while Tosakanth has his family members lead his troop. In Khon, the masks distinguish the differences between characters of human, monkey, and demon.
The Early Forms of Khon
Many scholars believe that early forms of khon were simple recitations of stories by court Brahmans to the king and his courtiers. Over time, the storytelling became embellished with instrumental music, props, shadow puppets, and human performers personifying the celestial characters of the Ramakien.
Her Majesty Queen Sirikit organizing the revival of Khon
In 2005, when Her Majesty Queen Sirikit set about organizing the revival of Khon, She assembled a scholarly research team to discover what the costumes might have looked like in the past. After the historical evidence had been collected, specialists were selected to design new costumes to fit contemporary adults. This authenticity required re-establishing or expanding the weaving, embroidery, mask- and jewelry-making workshops necessary to produce all aspects of Khon costuming. 
Costume for Rama
Metal-thread, sequin, glass-bead, and gold-plated copper ornament embroidery on plain silk and silk and metal-thread brocade. The costume represents his status of the hero majesty and grace, the crown prince of Ayodhaya.

Above the waist is an embroidered jacket under a vest, curved shoulder pieces, an elaborate collar, and lavish jewelry. Like Sida, Rama wears stylized make-up and a tall, ornamental crown instead of a mask.

Below the waist Rama wears loose, straight-legged, calf-length trousers with deep embroidered hems under a draped brocade hip wrapper (phaa nung) that is padded at the sides, horizontally pleated in back, and vertically pleated in front. The trousers are partly concealed beneath embroidered silk hanging panels.

Jacket and Outer Vest for a Male God

Pendant for Male Dancer

Cross Body Sashes for Male Dancer

Belt Buckle and Belt for Male Dancer

Pair of Shoulder Wings (Epaulettes)

Set of Ornaments for Male Dancer

Costume for Sida
Metal-thread, silk-thread, sequin, and metal-strip embroidery on plain silk and silk and metal-thread brocade. Her attire is further embellished with an embroidered collar and sparkling bracelets, rings, pendants, anklets, and belt. Instead of a mask, she wears a towering, bejeweled gold-metal crown and stylized makeup.

A long, embroidered, upper-body garment that combines cape and shoulder cloth.

Over a simple base consisting of a snug bodice and wrap skirt, Rama’s wife, Sida, wears a front-pleated brocade hip wrapper (phaa nung) worn like a skirt.

Pendant for Female Dancer

Cape for Sida

Cape for Sida

Collar for a Female God

Another collar for a Female God

Set of Ornaments for Female Dancer

Pair of Bracelets for Female Dancer

Belt Buckle and Belt for Female Dancer

Cross-Body Necklace for Female Dancer

Costume for Mangkonkan
Metal-thread, gold-metal bullion, sequin, glass-bead, and plated- copper-ornament embroidery on plain silk and silk and metal-thread brocadeMask: paper, sawdust, glass, gold leaf, paint  Mangkonkan, nephew of King Tosakanth, is a demon prince fighting against Rama and his ally Hanuman.  His demonic nature is defined by his distinctive green mask and crown, and the grotesque face embroidered onto his “armor.” Although he is a minor character in the Ramakien, Mangkonkan has a featured role in the Episode of Prommas, which was staged in 2015 and for which this costume was made.

Back Hanging Panel for a Demon

Set of Front Hanging Panels for a Demon

Set of Front Hanging Panels for a Demon

Waist Sash for a Demon

Costume for Hanuman
Silk-thread, metal-thread, sequin, and glass bead embroidery on silkMask: paper, sawdust, glass, gold leaf, paintMonkey general Hanuman is King Rama’s right hand in the fight to free Rama’s wife, Sida, from the clutches of the demon King Tosakanth. Hanuman is both a comic and a heroic character, often in the thick of the battle scenes that provide much of the action in khon.

He is instantly recognizable by his white mask, with its open mouth and gold coronet.

Embroidery Samples
Gold-metal bullion embroidery on silk. These and all the other items in this case were embroidered by students who were learning the techniques and styles required for khon costume.

Embroidery samples

Border for a Female Dancer’s Cape

Trouser Cuff

Front Hanging Panel for Phra Lak

Armor Panels for a Demon

Embroidery at the SUPPORT center
Since 2001, master craftsmen and experts have been commissioned by Her Majesty the Queen to design embroidery in traditional style for new khon costumes and provide technical training for embroiderers. This revival effort, which began with nine embroiderers working at the SUPPORT center at Chitralada Palace in Bangkok, has now spread to a number of other workshops and employs a much larger population of workers.
Hip Wrappers (phaa yok)
Silk and gold-metal brocade.   Modeled on hip wrappers made for the court during the reign of King Rama V, these were woven in Neun Thammang, Nakhon Si Thammarat province, southern Thailand, products of the revival instituted there by Her Majesty the Queen.
Rama fighting Tosakanth
Khon mask and headdress are designed for each specific character; therefore they distinguish two opposite characters in an obvious way. A headdress is usually for only male royal or noble character.
Dressing Gods and Demons: Costume for Khon
The exhibition will be on view from 4 August 2016 to May 2017 in Galleries 3 and 4 of the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles (QSMT). The museum is in the Ratsadakhorn-bhibhathana building in the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok.
Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
Credits: Story

Thanks to the following organizations and individuals
for their assistance in the creation of this exhibition

Bureau of the Royal Household
Office of His Majesty’s Principal Private Secretary
Office of Her Majesty’s Private Secretary
Crown Property Bureau
The SUPPORT Foundation of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand
Bureau of Grand National Treasure
Royal Khon Committees
Fine Arts Department
Office of National Museum
National Library of Thailand
National Archives of Thailand
Bangkok National Museum
Chao Sam Phraya National Museum
Wat Phra Kaeo Museum
Bangkok Bank Public Company Limited
Wat Yai Suwannaram, Phetchaburi Province
Ovation Studio Company Limited
Be Our Friend Company Limited
D-63 Company Limited
1000 Ponies Company Limited
Phrakru Watcharasuwannathon (Lokchub Dhammajoto)
Chirayu Israngkun Na Ayuthaya
Thanpuying Charungjit Teekara
Thanpuying Supornpen Luangthepnimith
Thanpuying Oranuch Israngkun Na Ayuthaya
Jaranthada Karnasuta
Karoon Chandrangsu
Opas Sayasevi
Anan Shooshod
Sahabhum Bhumtitterat
Admiral Sampao Polathorn
Thanpuying Indira Polathorn
Pensri Keawmeesuan
Ratanavudh Vajarodaya
Srirat Wattanalumleard
Napaporn Loussinwattana
Pramate Boonyachai
Weerathamma Tragoonngoenthai
Anucha Thirakanont
Wasan Puengprasert
Chai-anan Sontipong
Chaiyong Ratana-Angkura
Jirat Subpisankul
Peerapong Pongprapapan
Anantasak Kuldilok
Atittaya Toprasert
Kannasamon Kamuta
Somsak Ritpakdee
Yutthanawarakorn Saengaram
Olan Kok-o
Acting Sub Lt. Watcharachai Pluemjitplang
Chai Meejumras
Samrerng Sri-am-oum

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.