Nang Talung (Southern Thai Shadow Play)
Story of Nang Talung
According to the accounts of some people, in the old days the Thai
entertainment that was popular was Nang. This was later called "Nang
Yai" (literally, "big puppet") because there was "Nang
Lek" (literally, "small puppet") which was later called
"Nang Talung." It is still not certain whether Nang Yai or
Nang Talung appeared first.
Some people say that Nang Talung originated in the Fifth Reign (King
Rama V, reign 1868-early 1900's) and arose in the village of Ban Don
Maprao in Patalung province. So the Southerners called it "Nang
Don" after the precinct in which it originated. It is presumed
that it is now called Nang Talung because when it was performed in Bangkok,
the people of Bangkok saw that it was from Patalung province and proceeded
to call it "Nang Patalung." Later, the name was shortened
to "Nang Thalung," and finally it was shortened again to "Nang
Talung." Even today, the people of Bangkok still call it this,
but the Southerners abbreviate it as "Nang Lung" or, simply,
"Nang," like the people of the old days, because in the past
there were no movies. As soon as movies arrived, the Southerners called
them "Nang Yipun" ("Japanese Nang"). Such that if
one were to say they were going to watch a Nang Talung, they would say,
"Pay lae nang kan" (literally, "Let's go watch the Nang
together"). With just this much, they would be understood.
They say that Nang Don took the Javanese form and transformed it so
that it became Nang Talung, and it spread to other places. It is still
not certain if the Thai took the method of performance from the Javanese
of if the Javanese took it from the Thai, because the characteristics
of the Javanese shadow puppet theater are similar to the Thai in every
respect. The puppets of the Javanese tend to be a little cartoon-like
and are not as artistic as the Thai puppets. The musical instruments
of the Javanese shadow puppet theater tend to be Indian. On the other
hand, the Nang Talung stage of the Javanese is raised to the same height
as the Thai. For the screen, a piece of white fabric is used of the
same dimensions as that of the Thai screen.
Aside from this, the popular Javanese style of performing the Nang
Talung is similar to that of the Thai. Some people presume that Nang
Talung originated in Patalung province, and they say that it is likely
that it originated at Khao Ya Hong or Phaya Hong, Charat prefecture
in Patalung. There are some who mispronouce it as "Yaho,"
which causes people to mistake it for "Yaho" in Malaysia.
Therefore, there are people who believe that Nang Talung comes from
Malaysia or Java.
Aside from this, there are still several presumptions about the Nang
Talung which, in conclusion, cannot be summarized with any certainty.
Components of the Performance of Nang Talung
In the performance of Nang Talung there are usually several component
Nang Talung Troop
A single troop is called a rong (literally, "one structure").
It is composed of the puppeteer and members of his troop. The number
of people varies from troop to troop. The most important and indispensable
are the one or two people who pass the puppets to the puppeteer. There
is also one person who plays the tap (small drum), one person who plays
the glong (drums), one person who plays the pi (oboe), one person who
plays the mong (gong), and one person who plays the ching (cymbals),
and one person who plays the krap (wood blocks). Some troops also have
a mo sayasat (a person adept at casting spells).
In addition to playing music, the members of the troop also have the
task of transporting the musical instruments when they travel to perform.
Each person is responsible for their own instrument.
Every Nang Talung troop has a different number of puppets. There are
usually about 100-300 puppets that must be used. These include hermits,
Phra Isuan (Indra), narrator, local prince, giants/ogres, humans, clowns,
thieves, trees, vehicles, weapons, etc., and also assorted animals from
literary works, such as the lion, the tiger, Garuda, and the swan.
Nang Talung puppets are between 1-2 feet tall and are usually made from
cow hide or buffalo hide. Patterns are cut into the leather and are
painted very beautiful colors.
of Nang Talung
The musical instruments of Nang Talung that are important and can not
be omitted are as follows.
1. One glong (drum) which is covered with leather at both ends and is
about 8-10 inches wide, 10-12 inches long, with the end being smaller
than the middle.
2. Two tap (small drum) which are covered with very fine leather, such
as langur (kind of monkey) skin. The two tap are a little different
in size in order to produce different pitches.
3. One pair of mong (gong), one with a high pitch and one with a lower
pitch. Each mong is hung inside a wooden frame. The two mong are made
from bronze or brass.
4. One pair of ching (cymbals).
5. One pi (oboe).
Some troops also have a so-u (low pitched two stringed fiddle), so-duong
(middle pitched two stringed fiddle), or klui (Thai bamboo recorder).
Nowadays, a Nang Talung troop is composed of many members and more music
than in the past because each troop is trying to modernize the Nang
Talung and make their group unique among the troops. So they integrate
Western instruments such as: a drum set, melodica, or guitar.
The fact is that integrating Western instruments into the performance
unfortunately causes the original identity of Nang Talung to be swallowed
In addition there are some other components.
Characteristics of the Stage
In this picture of the stage of Nang Talung, one can see that the entire
front of the stage is composed of a screen. This is a typical element
of Nang Talung nowadays. On both sides of the screen are black speakers
which are used to project the sound. It can be seen that modern Nang
Talung is Westernized.
The Nang Talung stage is built so that the floor is at the height of
an adult's head. It is no less than ten sok (the distance from the fingertips
to the elbow, about half a yard) in width and has the same length. The
roof is constructed like a lean-to. The construction of the stage is
the duty of the sponsor of the event, who has to build it so that it
is secure and has auspicious characteristics. For instance, it is prohibited
to build the stage so that it is facing the West; so that it is connected
to tree stumps, trees, or the dikes of rice paddies; in a place where
water collects; within the boundaries of a cemetery; or between two
The Screen of the Nang Talung
The Nang Talung screen is made from thin, white cloth that is eight
to nine feet long. It is higher than the head of a person. On all four
sides of the screen there is a red cloth border attached that is about
four inches wide.
The Lantern of the Nang Talung
In the olden days, there was no electricity. They used an oil lamp,
for example oil from the fat of a cow, buffalo, or coconut. Later they
used a box lantern or storm lantern. Nowadays, they use electricity
because they can also use it for sound amplifiers. If a Nang Talung
nowadays doesn't have electricity or generators, no one will perform
with them. Some troops need to have generators.
Traditional Order in Performing Nang Talung
When the Nang Talung troop is on the stage and ready to perform, there
is usually a common manner of performing, as in the following stages.
1. Perform the opening ceremony
2. Perform the overture song
3. Introduce the black monkey, white monkey, or the monkey with the
black head (nowadays, this is not very popular)
4. Introduce the hermit puppet
5. Introduce the Phra Isuan puppet (Indra)
6. Introduce the narrator puppet
7. Introduce the announcer puppet
8. Introduce the ruling prince puppet
9. Proceed with the story according to the text until daw
From : Discoveries about the Performance of Nang Talung
By : Thawon Anusiri, Prince of Songkla University-Pattani