Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Conservation and Perpetuation of the Art of Dance for Worshipping Phra That in the Isan Region

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Conservation and Perpetuation of the Art of Dance for Worshipping Phra That in the Isan Region

Article excerpt

Abstract

The sacred chedi of northeastern Thailand are important centres of cultural and spiritual heritage. Once every year, the local communities gather together at holy ceremonies and perform dances to worship and respect the hallowed buildings and their surrounding areas. It is a quirk of modernity that the adaptations being made to harmonize the dances with current society are the very changes that are killing them. This research considers the background and current conditions of worship dances in northeastern Thailand to suggest a model for their future conservation. The investigation ultimately shows how cultural diffusion can ensure the continued existence of this priceless art form.

Keywords: the art of Thai dance, conservation, inheritance, worship, chedi, Isan region

1. Introduction

Dance is important for all people. His Royal Highness Prince Damrong Rajanubhab wrote that dance is a custom found in all nations in all languages and cannot be accredited to a specific place. Nevertheless, the methods of dance are specific to nations, although it must not be said that dance is merely a feature of human civilization, as animals can also dance. This is clearly visible in dogs, chickens and crows. When the mood is fitting, these animals dance, jump, strut and move their bodies in a number of different postures specific to their species. Philosophers researching data about dance have come to the agreement that dance has roots in the behavior of animals. When one sensation is felt as emotion, every other sensation will follow. If the emotion is strong and the individual does not suppress that emotion, it will be visible in an action. One example of this is a newborn baby. If the baby is in a good mood, it will dance and appear happy. If the baby is in a bad mood, it will cry and scream. The expressions of these positive and negative sensations of feeling are built until the procedure of dance is reached (Watcharasukum, 1987, p. 1).

Dance in northeastern Thailand is a part of ancient local culture that has two foundations. The first foundation is ceremonial dance, such as the Phi Fa Spirit Dance and the Rocket Dance Ceremony. The Phi Fa Spirit Dance is a dance to invite the Phi Fa spirit into the bodies of the dancers. The dance has characteristics similar to a comatose state, where dancers are half asleep, half awake. The Rocket Dance is a dance to ask for rain from the spirits but the emphasis is upon enjoyment and merriment. The postures in the Phi Fa Spirit Dance are from prehistoric communities, who used them to communicate with sacred relics. The Rocket Dance is a customary procession with defined postures and organized arrangement to make the dance beautiful and pleasing to the eye. This style is likely an evolution of the Phi Fa Spirit Dance. The second foundation is in Mor Lam (folk music) productions across northeastern Thailand. Investigation of the evolution of Mor Lam Phuen (a recital of local legends), Mor Lam Klon (a vocal 'fight'), Mor Lam Mu (folk opera), Mor Lam Phloen (a group narrative) and Adapted Mor Lam found that there has been an increased variety of dance postures and styles used in these productions over time, especially regarding the bodies of the dancers. In recent years, dance in Mor Lam productions has been influenced from backing dancers and bands in Thai country music, such as collective dance compositions and dances popularized by celebrities (Samlipan, 1997, p. 35-36).

The dance postures of northeastern people are natural. Their style of gesture is non-defined and they move their bodies and hands in a fashion similar to the grace of an insect. The jeeb is the hand position of Thai dance in which the tips of the thumb and index fingers touch to a point. In Isan dance, the jeeb has no strict style and often the fingertips do not touch. In the central region of Thailand there are a number of jeeb positions, each with different meanings, determined by the placement of the hands. …

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