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Phuang Malai: Thai Floral Garlands

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




John Thomson: Pictures of Old Siam

“His [Thomson’s] photographic style can be perceived from the beauty of his works. Back then when all he had was natural light, he still managed to get the beautiful photographs”

(Paisarn Piemmettawat, the exhibition’s organizer’s assistant)

John Thomson: the crown prince of Siam (Rama V)

John Thomson photography: the crown prince of Siam (Rama V)

John Thomson Photography

Recently I’ve come across an interesting article in the Bangkok Post. It is about a photo exhibition of the Scot J. Thomson, born in 1837, who was one of the first photographers in the Far East.

young Siamese prince

A young Siamese prince

The National Gallery on Chao Fah Road in Bangkok now shows 60 of Thomson’s black and white photos of old Siam. These photos were taken in 1865 – 1866. The exhibition is called “Siam Through The Lens Of John Thomson”. It started on 10. January and runs until 28. February 2015. You have free entry to this exhibition.

Siamese nobleman Racha Chaya

Siamese nobleman Racha Chaya

The photographer arrived in Bangkok on 28. September 1865. Thus, the exhibition marks the 150th year since his arrival in Siam.

Siamese Buddhist bonze.

Portrait of a Siamese monk, 1865

While staying in Siam after living and travelling some other places in Asia like Ceylon and Malaysia, Thomson took photos of the King of Siam, members of the royal court but also of ordinary people. Hence, he also documented village life.

L0055805 Siamese boatman, Siam [Thailand].

A Siamese boatman with his oar.

 

siamese teenager with topknot

A Siamese youth with traditional topknot

What is special about Thomson is that he was the first (Western) photographer to be allowed into the Grand Palace and to take photos of King Mongkut, Rama IV. The King was very much impressed with his skill of taking photos.

800px-Thomson_King_Mongkut_of_Siam-762x1000

King Mongkut, Rama IV, in European attire, 1865

 

L0055542 The 1st King of Siam, King Mongkut, in state robes, Bangkok

King Monkut in traditional Thai attire and regalia of royalty, 1865

Hence, there is a very special picture of a procession taken in front of Wat Pho because the situation was that the King called everyone to stay still so that Thomson could take photos of this event. In fact, this is a rare picture of a historical moment that displays the greatness of Thai tradition.

king of siam and procession

The king and his procession in front of Wat Pho

What is more, Thomson also took photos of the city of Bangkok and Ayutthaya.

the chao phraya river as seen from the main spire of Wat Arun

The Chaophraya river viewed from Wat Arun

thomson_1

The pictures in this post are all taken from the Wellcome Library, London. They also have more photos of Thomson’s travel to other parts of East Asia.

Well, the exhibition is over but there is now a new book called ‘Siam Through the Lens of John Thomson’ published by River Books. If you are interested in history, old Siam and John Thomson’s photography, I strongly recommend you check out this work 🙂

Yours, Sirinya