The body is removed to the temple on the day of the funeral. Within a few days of death an orchestra plays almost continuously from dawn. Every effort is made to dispel sorrow, grief and loneliness by music and fellowship.
After the monks have been ceremoniously fed, mourners circle the funeral pyre. Following further religious rites, the pyre is communally set alight, first by monks, then by family, finally by friends. The corpse is thus consumed by flames amidst a common hope that the deceased, object of such merit-making and affection, will be reborn into a higher existence, to renew another individual life cycle towards the ultimate Buddhist goal of personal perfection.
When speaking of Thai culture, one must distinguish between its two principal but complementary and mutually-reinforc-ing aspects : classical court culture which includes Buddhist art and popular or village Court culture Painters, writers, dancers, sculptors, architects, musicians and skilled craftsmen were considered legitimate spoils of war and were normally transferred from enemy palaces to conquerors’ courts.
In Ayutthaya, actors and dancers were maintained purely for kingly and aristocratic pleasure. Thai artists and architects were responsible for building and decorating palaces, temples and shrines within conventionally acceptable forms and styles. Unlike their Western counterparts, they were not expected to display revolutionary originality or radical inventiveness.
Early literature was primarily concerned with religion and until 1850 was in verse form. Indian poetic styles provided the patterns for Thai verse which was written exclusively by the aristocracy or royalty - the
only leisured, educated classes able to do so. The first known Thai literary work, the Tribhumikatha (The Three Worlds - Hea-ven, Earth and Hell) was a Buddhist cos-mology written by King Lu Thai of Sukho-thai. The kingly tradition of authorship was continued well into the Bangkok period by two Chakri monarchs, Rama II (1809-1824) and Rama VI (Vajiravudh, 1910-1925), both distinguished poets and stalwart patrons of Thai arts.
Much court-inspired art later devolved into simpler forms - for example, classical drama into comic folk operas - to become part of the popular culture. Today, the Thai cultural mosaic retains its original character
but is more varied, particularly in regional folk dance and music where differences are very apparent.
Most classical Thai art originated in or under the patronage of royal courts. It is an amalgam of the finest cultural traditions of Asia blended into a whole and stamped by artistic genius into unique forms instantly recognizable as Thai. Classical culture also encompasses Buddhist art as represented in temple architecture, decorative murals and Buddha images. Popular culture was village-centred and dealt with planting and harvesting cycles and the basic needs of daily life. Its arts included the creation of utensils, clothing and basketry items.
Court culture reflected the formal, exquisitely complex structure and etiquette of Thai royal palaces with their heavy Indian influence. Popular culture, its predecessor, was concerned with age-old village realities and the simple rites associated with birth, death and the cultivation of crops. Whereas classical poetry, literature, drama, painting, sculpture and architecture expressed religious and intellectual impulses and entertainment was considered to be of secondary value, village culture, despite its religious and moral overtones, was meant, above all else, for entertainment.
But to speak of both in the past tense is only to describe their origins and development ; both are very much alive today.
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Article Added on Sunday, January 10, 2010
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