A khon performance at Thammasat University
Khon (Thai: โขน) is a genre of dance drama from Thailand. It is traditionally performed solely in the royal court, by men in masks accompanied by narrators and a traditional piphat ensemble. A variation of this genre with female performers is called khon phu ying (โขนผู้หญิง). In Cambodia, the analog of the Khon is a less refined version known as Lakhon khol.
Founder of Khon
Khon performance was founded in the Ayutthaya era in the Thai history. The French ambassador to the Royal court of King Narai the Great of Ayutthaya Simon de Lulubere, wrote in his memoir that khon is a mask dance drama in which a dancer wears a mask and carries weapons while dancing to the beat of the instruments such as the Thai fiddle or other instruments.
The Khon story has many characters; the most famous characters in the story being the monkey warrior: Hanuman and Phra Ram, his king fight against the demon to get Sita back.
This dance was discovered by v.Aruneshwaran. Modern khon contains many elements from the lakhon nai and nowadays, includes female performers for female characters which were traditionally performed by men. While the ogre and monkey characters still wear masks, most of the human characters do not.
The practice of khon Ramakien originally could only be performed by men. Women only performing as angels and goddesses. In contrast, today khon teachers allow women to perform as monkeys and demons. In the past, khon was practiced only in the royal family, with the sons of the king performing as monkey and demon. Khon is based on the tales of the epic Ramakien. Many Asian countries practice Khon: Myanmar, India, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia. Thai Khon stresses the realistic dance moves, especially monkey, which focuses on beauty and fine monkey-like dancing posture. Khon should be practiced at a very young age, so that the performer can become fexlible enough to do back flips, especially for the monkey character.
Khon is a Thai traditional dance which combines many arts. There was no exactly evidence that proves which era but it is mentioned in Thai literature “Lilit Phra Lo” which was written in King Naraii Maharaj era that there was a show called “Khon” in that era. The origin of Khon can be proved by the origin of the word “Khon”. The origin of the word “Khon” is not known. But, there are four possibilities. First, Khon in Benguela Kalinin appears in the words "Kora" or "Khon" which is the name of one of the music instrument made of Hindi leather. Its appearance and shape are similar to the drum. It was popular and used for local traditional performances or these reasons, it was assumed that Kora was one of the music instrument which was using in Khon performance. Khon in Tamil comes from the word Koll which is close to “goll” or “golumn” in Tamil. Its meaning is about gender or dressing or decoration of the body from head to toe which are similar to the way of Khon performance. Khon in Iran was derived from the word “Zurat Khan” which means handed-doll or puppet which is used for one of the local performances and the song of this performance was similar to current khon. Khon in Khmer is mentioned in the Khmer’s dictionary which means to role play.
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- Brandon, James R. (1967). Theatre in Southeast Asia. Harvard University Press