Thailand is located at the meeting
point of the two great cultural systems of Asia, Chinese
and Indian. In everyday life, Chinese culture has mixed
very well with the Thai, whereas in Thai court culture,
which has been based mainly on Buddhism and Brahmanism,
India has exerted a strong influence. Thai culture can
be divided into 3 aspects: linguistic culture, court
culture, and traditional culture.
Court culture refers to the conception of beauty,
perfection and harmony in the fine arts, including painting,
sculpture, architecture, literature, drama and music.
In the old days most of these originated in or received
the patronage of the royal court and nobility. Most of
the works served the Buddhist religion. Their styles were
influenced by the Indians through the Mons and Khmers,
and then were blended and developed in unique forms recognized
Read more about Thai Culture Shows
Culture : Painting
||Classical Thai painting
is mostly confined to mural paintings inside Buddhist
temples and palaces. They are idealistic and the
themes frequently depicted are those related to
Buddhism, such as the Buddha's life stories, stories
of the three worlds (heaven, earth and hell), and
also those concerning customs and traditions. The
subjects of the paintings reflect different purposes:
to beautify and dignify the places of worship, to
promote Buddhism, and to educate people through
Culture : Architecture
Apart from the royal palace buildings, classical
Thai architecture can be found in monastic monuments,
pagodas and temples which have been the focal points of
Thai community activities for centuries.
Admitting Indian, Khmer and other influences such as Chinese
and Burmese, Thai architects developed their own distinctive
style of sloping multitiered roof-tops and soaring pointed
towers, intricately ornamented with carved wood and stucco,
gilded lacquer work, mother-of-pearl inlay, Chinese porcelain
fragments and colour glass mosaic. Under the tropical
sun, these buildings give out an artistic harmony of flamboyance
Examples of Thai architecture are seen in Wat Phra Kaeo,
Wat Pho, Wat Suthat, the Grand Palace, etc.
Court Culture : Sculpture
Phra Buddha Chinnarat
|Thai sculpture is concentrated
on Buddha images that rank among the world's greatest
expressions of Buddhist art. As a result, it is
widely believed that the Buddha images in Thailand,
from the Chiang Saen Period (11-13th c.) to the
present Rattanakosin or Bangkok Period, are so numerous
that they far outnumber the population of the country.
Made in wood, metals, ivory, precious stones and
stucco, they have been created to represent Rattanatrai
of Buddhism, i.e., Buddha, Dharma (the Buddha's
doctrine) and Sanga (Buddhist clergy).Among the
most beautiful Buddha images in Thailand are Phra
Buddha Chinnarat in Wat Mahathat (Phitsanulok province)
and Phra Buddha Chinnasi in Wat Bowon Niwet (Bangkok).
Culture : Literature
In the early days, Thai literature was concerned with
religion, royalty and aristocracy and hardly anything
Hanuman (left) & Thossakan
in the Ramakian
| They were written in verse of various
patterns. Then, in the early 20th century, King
Rama VI made a revolution in Thai literary history.Prose
has become a favourite form of writing among Thai
writers since then, and common life scenes have
been depicted in their works. One of the most important
Thai literary pieces is the Ramakian, an
epic derived from the Ramayana of India.
Culture : Drama
A khon scene from
In the purely classical
form, Thai drama and dance are indivisible. The
techniques of dancing are of Indian origin, but
Thai people evolved them to be much more graceful
and slow in motion.
Thai dramas include renowned khon (the
masked drama), lakhon (a less formal dance
drama with movements more graceful than khon),
nang yai and nang talung (shadow
plays) and hun (marionettes). In former days,
dramas were normally performed only in the royal
courts and noble mansions. Ordinary people could
enjoy such performances only on festive occasions
in the compound of a Buddhist monastery.
Culture : Music
Thai classical music uses the diatonic music
scale. The instruments are of four kinds: Those of plucking,
drawing, percussion and woodwind. Apart from drama, Thai
classical music is played in some religious ceremonies,
traditional rites and on festive occasions.
By traditional culture we mean customs concerning
agriculture and human relations, and the art of making
daily necessities such as utensils, clothing and basketry.
The basis of the Thai customs and traditions lies in the
family, whose structure is of bilateral descent. Like
the Chinese and some other Asian peoples, the young are
taught to pay respect to and follow the admonitions of
parents, elders, teachers and Buddhist monks who, in the
old days, formed a highly educated class.
When speaking about traditional Thai culture, what cannot
be left unmentioned is the wat or Buddhist temple
and monastery combined. After Buddhism had been spread
throughout Thailand for hundreds of years, the primitive
animist belief of the Thai people was assimilated by the
Buddhist one. The wat became the centre of the village.
It was the place where people received education, attended
rites and ceremonies, and observed feasts and festivals
all the year round.
Nowadays, due to the rapid advancement of technology,
the traditional Thai way of living, especially in the
big cities, has inevitably changed. However, it is still
preserved to a large extent in the faraway rural areas
where modern civilization has failed to penetrate.
Related link: Thai Tradition & Festivals of Praying for Rain
The Thai language, or Phasa Thai, basically
consists of monosyllable words, whose meanings are complete
by themselves. Its alphabet was created by King Ramkhamhaeng
the Great in 1283 by modelling it on the ancient Indian
alphabets of Sanskrit and Pali through the medium of the
old Khmer characters. After a history of over 700 years,
the Thai alphabet today comprises 44 letters (including
2 obsolete ones), representing 20 consonant phonemes,
and 15 vowel signs, denoting 22 vowels, diphthongs and
As Thai is a tonal language with five different tones,
it often confuses foreigners who are unused to this kind
of language. For example, they have difficulty in distinguishing
these 3 words from each other : "suea" with
a rising tone, "suea" low tone and "suea"
falling tone which means a tiger, a mat and clothes respectively.
Like most languages of the world, the Thai language is
a complicated mixture of several sources. Many Thai words
used today were derived from Pali, Sanskrit, Khmer, Malay,
English and Chinese.
(For more information about the Thai language,
see Speaking Thai and Romanization
System of the Thai Language sections.)