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Khon (โขน)

Thai. Classical dance theater, typically with themes from the Ramakien, performed by dancers dressed in rich embroidered brocade (fig.) costumes, each representing a character from the Ramakien. The human characters wear either a khon mask (fig.) or a chadah (fig.), and the dancers representing demons or monkeys wear masks in a variety of colors and shapes according to their character. A singer called phu phaak khon recites the story in verse while the show is proceeding on the stage. By means of a complex combination of mudra (fig.) and positions of the body, different situations, thoughts and feelings are expressed. Every hand position has, in combination with the position of the body, referred to as ram tha, an exact defined meaning. The Sanskrit word mudra, usually translated as ‘hand position and also applied in Buddhist iconography, literally means seal’ orprint’. Only experienced Khon adepts are able to distinguish the many gestures and their nuances. In Khon, officially all roles  including the female parts are played by men. The complete version of the Ramakien consists of  311 characters and an uninterrupted performance (fig.) would last more than a month. Miniature models of khon masks are a popular collector's item and souvenir (fig.). In Bang Pa-in, in Ayutthaya province, is the Khon Learning Centre (fig.), known in Thai as Ahkahn Rian Roo Reuang Khon (อาคารเรียน-รู้-เรื่องโขน), literally Learning About Khon Building, a museum that houses a collection of large decors used on khon stages, as well as of khon masks, costumes, rajarot and stage props, and educates visitors on anything about this classical dance and its theater. On the outside, the pillars on the balcony of the building front are decorated with figures of the Ramakien. In Cambodia, Apsara Dance (fig.) is the Khmer equivalent of Khon, and is named after the Apsara (fig.), i.e. female divinities or nymphs that perform as the celestial dancers of the Tavatimsa Heaven. Pronunciation ‘khoon’ and sometimes transcribed khohn or kone. See also National Theatre.