The wooden puppet show is one of the most common traditional performances in Thailand—if not in Asia. But nothing can be on par with Hoon Luang, or the royal puppets, which is considered that highest class of puppets in Thai culture.
Hoon Luang is the term uses to call the highest class of Thai puppet played and showed only in the royal court. Besides bigger in size in comparison to other types of Thai puppets, Hoon Luang involves intricate artistic details—from colorings to elaborate puppet outfits—and sophisticated puppetry technique you won’t find from any other Thai puppets. Appendages of a Hoong Luang puppet are controlled via 16-20 strings running from tips to toes, imitating human arm and leg movements.
The history of Hoon Luang can be dated back to the ancient Ayutthaya Kingdom, in which Hoon Luang play had been widely performed during royal events. Sophistication in Hoon Lunag’s making, playing and preserving, as well as the dissolution of the Office of Performing Arts in the reign of King Rama VI, have forced the popularity and exposure of Hoon Luang to decline over the past century. It could be saying that almost ninety percent of our generation has never seen—or probably never heard of—Hoon Luang in a lifetime. A collection of Hoon Luang from different courts and palaces were left abandoned and in despair condition until, since the past few decades, a handfull of artists led by respected Chakrapan Posayakrit and supported by the Department of Fine Arts, dedicated their expertises to give a new life to these Hoon Luang, which are now on display at the National Museum Bangkok. Some artists even went further to old journals and inscriptions and recreate new Hoon Luang, which are now showcased at selected auspecious events.
The Department of Fine Arts came to realize the prestigious legacy of Hoon Luang so that it has started a project to recreate these intricuate puppets all over again. Kamol Karnkitcharoen, a Hoon Luang expert from Petchaburi has been commissioned on a task that has become the grandest duty of his lifetime. Three Hoon Luang puppets created under this project will be showed to the public for the first time at the royal funeral of His Majesty King Bhumibol. For the first time in many years, this prestigious puppet show will be staged in public.
A notable part of the royal funeral of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej is a series of entertainments to perform during the royal funeral ceremonies. According to traditional Buddhist-Hindu beliefs in Thai culture, royal funerals shouldn't be all about mourning but should also celebrate the return of god-like kings to heaven, as well as their legacy left on earth.
Many of us are aware of the late King Bhumibol’s talents in different fields, but only a few art history buffs know about Manohra ballet, the first Thai-style ballet in history co-composed by His Majesty. It all started when King Bhumibol Adulyadej paid an official visit to the Phattalung province in 1959.