thai dancers

Thailand: Temple (Lakhon nai) dancers

thai dancers
Thai temple dancers

General description Female and male temple dancers, each standing on a wooden block. Both dancers are in the characteristic dancer’s pose with their fingers in the highly curved positions typical of this type of dancing.

Female doll

Dimensions 20.0 cm x 9.0 cm x 7.0 cm

Date when acquired 1990s

Original Date Unknown

Source Thailand (K.J. Doll)
Bought by Elizabeth H. from Thailand

Body Material on a wire (?) frame. Her long black hair is folded in a bun at the nape of her neck.


thai dancers
Thai temple dancers


She has on a silver brocade skirt (sampot sara-bhap) with pleats at the front which are fanned out at the waist. This is held in place by a belt made of gold material with a round brooch covered with splinters of stone or glass (?).
She is also wearing a silver brocade cape (same material as the skirt) folded narrowly at the waist and then opened out over her chest. The cape covers both shoulders and falls as a cloak almost to the backs of the doll’s heels. There is a red sequin on each side of her chest and then a row of sequins down the back of the cape with a single red sequin in the middle. The lower part of the cape is made of the same type of material but instead of silver it is orange with gold. Blue sequins are in this area. Gold braid runs along the edges of the cape and around the orange areas. There are eight long greyish beads sewn sticking outwards from the bottom of the cape.
Around the neck of the cape is a collier made of two stripes of braid separated by a strip of red material with silver threads. Blue sequins have been sewn on this. The inside of the cape is covered with red material.
Hidden underneath the cape, the doll is wearing a red sleeveless top made of the same material as the underside of her cape.
Her gold and orange striped shoes have long pointed toes curled up at the front.

thai dancers
Tiered headdress or khon chada


On her head, the doll is wearing a tiered headdress (khon chada) in gold studded with imitation diamonds. On the left of the headdress are two hanging ornaments made of orange material. A red flower is attached above these. This arrangement may represent the hanging garlands of flowers worn by female dancers.
Two wide golden bracelets are around her wrists.
Around her neck, she has a silver necklace holding a diamond-shaped pendant covered with irregularly-shaped pieces of glass (?) with three sequins hanging from it.


thai dancer
Tiered headdress or khon chada

Male doll

Dimensions 24.0 cm x 9.0 cm x 8.0 cm

Date when acquired 2004

Original Date Unknown

Source Thailand
Bought at a flea market in Göttingen, Germany


Material on a wire (?) frame. He has short black hair.



The male doll’s costume consists of a chong kraben (three-quarter length red trousers with gold braid around the cuffs worn under a black and gold brocade skirt. The cloth of the skirt is gathered and threaded between the legs) and a long-sleeved top made of the same brocade as his chong kraben, with gold braid around the cuffs. On his shoulders are curved stiffened pieces of yellow- and gold-striped material that stand up to his ears with red tufts coming out of the tops of them.

thai dancers
Belt and sashes

The dancer had a silver brocade belt around his waist with three gold brooches on it: two diamond forms on his hips and a round one in the middle. Three sashes are hanging down from the silver belt at the front. The upper two-thirds of each sash made of a pink and silver brocade and the lower third is plain red. Yellowy gold braid is sewn around the pieces of material and silver sequins are sewn on to the material with red beads in the middle.
His gold- and yellow-striped shoes have long pointed toes curled up at the front.


The man like the woman has on a tiered headdress (khon chada) in gold. A red flower is attached on the right by his ear.

thai dancers
Brooch with chains of office

He has a red collier around his neck with sequins (again with red beads) and a narrow white braid round the edge edges. A white braid goes behind a diamond-shaped pendant (kse-sangvar ) on his chest down to the diamond-shaped brooches at his waist and then up around his back to his neck again. This criss-crossing braid represents the chains of rank typically worn by men at court.

Background information

Dance in Thailand is the main dramatic art form; it can be divided into two major categories classical dance and folk dance. Thai classical dance developed in the temples and the court, though it was originally derived from Khmer classical dance culture which the Thais acquired after conquering the Khmer in 1431 CE. Apparently, an entire ballet corps was part of the Thai booty. This type of dance was considered as a symbolic link between nature, the earth and the realm of the gods.

The two major forms of Thai classical dance drama are khon and lakhon nai. The khon is a masked dance drama based on the Thai version of the Indian Ramayana epic. Lakhon nai dancers do not wear masks, but instead jeweled crown headdresses, called ‘khon chada‘ are worn as seen in these dolls. Like khon, lakon nai dance has also a narrative content, which comes from a variety of legends. Lakhon nai is believed to be a contraction of lakhon nang nai or ‘theatre of the women of the palace”. Traditionally, lakhon nai was danced solely by women, who took on both the male and female roles. The male doll is most probably doing lakhon nai phu chai, a male variation of this type of dance.

As can be seen with these two dolls, lakhon nai dancers wear extremely flamboyant and bright costumes. The costumes are made of intricately embroidered cloth, broad sashes, and bejeweled belts. Ornaments, such as bracelets, necklaces, armlets, and rings add further detail to the costume. A single flower is worn by all male dance roles as seen in the male doll.

Each dance displays intricate patterns of motion through hand, arm, and body movements. The hands and feet are the most important part of the dancer because the positions signify many meanings. In both these dolls the hand and foot movements are emphasized. When performing, Thai dancers hold their bodies upright from the neck to the hips. They move up and down using only their knees, and stretch to the rhythm of the music. The arms and hands in Thai dancing are held in curves at different levels (as shown in both these dolls). The beauty of the dancers depends on how well these curves and angles are maintained in relation and proportion to the whole body. There are traditionally 108 basic movements or steps. The simple movement of a single finger or an expression on the face is considered one dance step. Thai dancers are trained from childhood and require years of training in the intricacies and subtle meanings of each movement before they are judged expert enough to actually perform.

Although these two dolls have been photographed together, male and female lakhon nai dancers do not dance together in reality.

Source(s) of information (accessed 30th January, 2012).; and , (accessed 20th February, 2012)

(4.8.1 and 4.8.2)


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