Phuang Malai: Thai Floral Garlands

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One of the most beautiful and artful things in Thailand is the Phuang Malai (พวงมาลัย). This is the Thai traditional garland which is the most common of all the country’s floral creations. These traditional garlands range from simple to highly complex arrangements and are placed as offerings on shrines, temples or are given to special guests as a sign of respect. What is more, the Malai is also frequently used on auspicious occasions.

Phuang Malai

Phuang malai garlands being constructed in Pak Khlong Talat flower market, Bangkok (photo: Irene2005, wikimedia.org)

Phuang Malai garlands being constructed in Pak Khlong Talat flower market, Bangkok (photo: Irene2005, wikimedia.org)

The Thai garlands are created by stringing various flower combinations together that depends on seasonal blooms and on the artist’s imagination. The mixture usually includes one or more fragrant flowers like jasmine and rose buds.

Thai garlands at Bangkok Pak Khlong Talat (photo: Deror Avi, wikimedia.org)

Thai garlands at Bangkok Pak Khlong Talat (photo: Deror Avi, wikimedia.org)

It is said that the first recordings of this kind of Thai floral art dates back to the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). He mentioned fresh flower garlands in his work about the “Royal ceremony in 12 months”. Later in the Rattanakosin Era, the Thai flower garland became an important ornamental ceremonial object on special occasions.

Worshipped elephant at Wat Kham Chanot near Ban Dung, Thailand (photo: Mattes, wikimedia.org)

Worshipped elephant at Wat Kham Chanot near Ban Dung, Thailand (photo: Mattes, wikimedia.org)

There are different kinds of Malai pattern. For example, there is ‘Creature Malai’ which means that the floral arrangement has the shape of an animal. Then there is the ‘Chained Malai’ which is made from rounded Malais connected to form a chain and similarly, there is the ‘Braided Malai’ which means that two rounded garlands are connected and decorated with a pine-shaped malai on each end.

A Malai (photo: Garland in Thai culture, FB page

An artful Malai (photo: Garland in Thai culture, FB page)

In the ‘Vine Malai’ the garlands are arranged in a vine shape. A garland is a ‘Laced Malai’ when silver and golden threaths are inserted inside and outside the wreath. A special Malai is the orchid one which means that only orchids are used to create the garland.

Thailand Bangkok Pak Khlong Talat flower market (photo: ovedc, wikimedia.org)

Floral arrangements at Bangkok Pak Khlong Talat flower market (photo: ovedc, wikimedia.org)

In Thai culture, the Malai is commonly used as an offering, a gift or souvernir. Thus, we can generally distinguish between three main uses of these garlands which are Malai chai deaw (มาลัยชายเดียว), an offering to show respect at a shrine or temple, for instance. Then there is Malai song chai (มาลัยสองชาย), this is when a traditional Thai garland is given to and draped around the neck of a person to emphasize the importance of that person.

Pak Khlong Talat - flowers and vegetables market, nightime, Bangkok (photo: Deror Avi, wikimedia.org)

Pak Khlong Talat – flowers and vegetables market, nightime, Bangkok (photo: Deror Avi, wikimedia.org)

Finally, there is also the Malai chum rui (มาลัยชำร่วย) which is a souvenir malai. This is a small garland given to people as a souvenir. Thus, Malai chum rui may be compared to the lei in Hawaiian culture. Today, the Malai may also be a fashionable accessory (though many Thai people dissapprove of it). For instance, Thai fashion designer Rotsaniyom use small floral garlands for shoe decoration.

The Rotsaniyom Malai collection uses traditional Thai flower garlands as shoe decoration

The Rotsaniyom Malai collection uses traditional Thai flower garlands as shoe decoration (photo: Rotsaniyom, FB page)

At the Bangkok International Fashion Week 2015, I also spotted some interesting and edgy interpreations of the Thai floral garland. Caption this.

Edgy incoporation of the phuang malai at the BIFW 2015 (photo: Amat Nimitpark)

Edgy incoporation of the phuang malai at the BIFW 2015 (photo: Amat Nimitpark)

A hairstyle and face decoration inspired by Thai floral garlands, BIFW 2015 (photo: Amat Nimitpark)

A hairstyle and face decoration inspired by Thai floral garlands, BIFW 2015 (photo: Amat Nimitpark)

Phuang Malai as an edgy fashion accessory BIFW 2015 (photo: Amat Nimitpark)

Phuang Malai as an edgy fashion accessory BIFW 2015 (photo: Amat Nimitpark)

Summing up, we may say that Phuang Malai has various forms and functions in Thai culture. In my opinion, it is the most versatile, elaborate and amazing Thai art form. Hence, next time you’re in Thailand, get yourself some nice flower wreaths 🙂

Yours, Sirinya

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1 Response

  1. 1. May 2017

    […] had amazing designs, but they were all made out of real flowers. In Thailand they are known as Phuang Malai. “They are placed as offerings on shrines, temples or are given to special guests as a sign […]

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