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Sabai or sbai (Khmer: ស្បៃ, sbai; Thai: สไบ, RTGS: sabai, pronounced [sābāj]; Lao: ສະໄບ), or phaa biang (Lao: ຜ້າບ່ຽງ; Thai: ผ้าเบี่ยง, pronounced [pʰâː bìa̯ŋ]) is shawl-like garment, or breast cloth worn in mainland Southeast Asia. Sabai is a woman's silk breast wrapper in Cambodia, Laos, and Central Thailand while in coastal Sumatra the same term is used to described as a shoulder cloth.:410 The sabai was derived from the Indian sari, the end of which is worn over one shoulder.:153
Sbai comes from a Khmer word that refers to any kind of thin and soft garment. In clothing, it specifically refers to shawl-like garment or breast cloth used mostly by women and to the lesser extent religious men in Cambodia. Sabai is a Thai word derived from the Khmer that refers to the same shawl-like garment.
There are related mythologies in the Khmer culture concerning the history of sbai, which was likely introduced during the Khmer Kingdom of Funan in the first century AD. The sbai is mentioned in the legends of Preah Thong and Neang Neak. In one scene, Preah Thong clings to a piece of cloth worn on the Nagini in order to make the journey to the Nāga's kingdom; that piece of cloth is a sbai. In that tale, the sbai is symbolic of the tail of Neang Neak, the Naga princess.
During the Khmer Kingdom of Chenla, the ladies-in-waiting of the palace were known to wear a shawl-like sbai over the left shoulder to cover the breast and stomach. Royal women wore a sava, a loosely decorated band of beads worn crosswise.
In Angkorian period, although it was common for men and women to be topless, however clothes for the upper body were worn: the bas reliefs of Bayon and Preah Khan temples depict women wearing a shawl-like sbai while religious male figures are adorned with stylised sbai. At Angkor Wat, there are depictions of topless Apsaras holding sbai connected to their sampot, while the northern wall of Angkor Wat depicts a group of ladies wearing long sbai holding various offerings.
For men, especially Brahmin and Buddhist monk, the sbai called sbong sbai trai chivor, and is considered the robe of Hindu and Buddhist monks. For women, sbai can be freely used and in different ways such as to wrapping it around the body, covering the shoulder, and commonly covering the breast and stomach over the left shoulder. Different styles of sbai are used by Cambodian women based on their preferences and traditions.
Nowadays, sbai is most often used in traditional Khmer weddings during the rite of Preah Thong Taong Sbai Neang Neak (English: 'Preah Thong holding on to the sbai of Neang Neak') which represents the legend of the foundation of Funan and where the groom holds on to the bride's sbai as they go to their room. The groom also wears a sbai.
Figures wearing sbai depicted on Bayon temple
Figures wearing stylised sbai depicted on Angkorian temples.
Group of ladies wearing long sbai depicted on northern gallery of Angkor Wat, compared with an artist's drawing
Queen Ang Mey and her daughters wearing sbai in the 1800s
It is common for Lao women to wear sabai as it is considered traditional clothing. A sabai can also be worn by men in weddings or when attending religious ceremonies. The type of sabai typically worn by Lao men often has checkered patterns. Sabai can also be a long piece of silk, about a foot wide, that is draped diagonally over the chest covering one shoulder with one end dropping behind the back.
Archaeological evidence from a Mon Dvaravati site depicts five ladies playing instruments and wearing what seems to be a piece of fabric hanging from their shoulder which is quite similar to sabai.[original research?]
Thai women wearing sabai at Jim Thompson House
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- Khmer Traditional Wedding
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