Thailand's many classical art forms, famous for their elegance and gentility, have their roots firmly planted in Buddhist traditions.
Buddhism is prominent in Thai literature, and the teachings of Buddha, revered monks and Buddhist scholars are available everywhere. However, the most influential piece of classical literature is probably the Ramakian, based on the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana, the story of Prince Rama's search for his kidnapped Princess Sita. The Thais have adapted and stylized it into their own longer version.
One of Thailand's stunning theater productions is Khon, a traditional drama with masked human, monkey and demon characters recreating scenes from the Ramakian. More popular locally is Li-Kay, featuring extravagantly dressed players bounding through sets of melodrama and loony humor to a lively mix of classical and folk music. In the south, shadow puppet theaters are also popular. The cowhide puppets represent an art brought to the Malay peninsular by Moslem traders around 500 years ago.
Pop, rock and disco music are as pervasive in Thailand as they are anywhere, but many forms of traditional music are still popular. From grinding woodwinds resonating at Thai boxing matches to the soothing string instruments accompanying diners at upscale restaurants, traditional Thai music matches all moods. Classical Thai orchestras comprising up to twenty musicians play countrywide at festivals and fairs.
Art thrives in the kingdom, but what strikes a visitor most is the sheer beauty and elegance of traditional Thai architecture, particularly that of temples and other religious structures. Buddhism has an immense influence over classical sculpture and painting, but modern art is also well established.
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