Culture of Thailand

From Academic Kids

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The Big Buddha statue in Koh_Samui, Thailand.

The Culture of Thailand is heavily influenced by Buddhism. Other influences have included Brahmanism, conflict and trade with Southeast Asian neighbors such as Laos and Myanmar, and repeated influxes of Chinese immigrants.

Contents

Arts

Thai visual art was traditionally primarily Buddhist. Thai Buddha images from different periods have a number of distinctive styles. Contemporary Thai art often combines traditional Thai elements with modern techniques.

Literature in Thailand is heavily influenced by Indian culture. The most notable works of Thai literature are a version of the Ramayana called the Ramakien, written in part by Kings Rama I and Rama II, and the poetry of Sunthorn Phu.

There is no tradition of spoken drama in Thailand, the role instead being filled by Thai dance. This is divided into three categories- khon, lakhon and likay- khon being the most elaborate and likay the most populist. Nang drama, a form of shadow play, is found in the south.

The music of Thailand includes classical and folk music traditions as well as string or pop music.

Religion

Thailand is primarily a Theravada Buddhist country, with minorities of Muslims, Christians, Mahayana Buddhists, and other religions. Thai Theravada Buddhism is divided into two main orders, the Thammayut Nikaya and the Maha Nikaya. All Thai Buddhists are under the legal authority of the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, currently Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara Suvaddhana Mahathera. A recent reformist group, Sante Asoke, is legally forbidden to describe itself as Buddhist.

Prior to the rise of Theravada Buddhism, both Indian Brahmanic religion and Mahayana Buddhism was present in Thailand. Influences from both these traditions can still be seen in the present day. Brahmanist shrines play an important role in Thai folk religion, and the Mahayana Buddhist influence is reflected in the presence of figures like Lokesvara, a form of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara sometimes incorporated into Thai iconography.

Cuisine

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Thai seafood curry

Thai cuisine is famous for the blending of four fundamental tastes:

  • sweet (sugar, fruits, sweet peppers)
  • spicy hot (chilies)
  • sour (vinegar, lime juice, tamarind)
  • salty (soy sauce, fish sauce)

Most of the dishes in Thai cuisine try to combine most, if not all, of these tastes. It is accomplished by using a host of herbs, spices and fruit, including: chili, cumin, garlic, ginger, basil, sweet basil, lime, lemongrass, coriander, pepper, turmeric and shallots.

Sport

Muay Thai (Thai boxing) is probably the most popular spectator sport in Thailand. The other main indigenous sport is takraw, which is similar to volleyball, but played with the feet and a light rattan ball. There are several version of the game with differing rules. Professional football in Thailand is in its infancy, although the English Premiership has a large following.

Customs

One of the most distinctive Thai customs is the wai. This gesture of greeting, farewell or acknowledgment comes in several forms, reflecting the relative status of those involved, but generally it involves a prayer-like gesture with the hands and a bow of the head.

Physical demonstrations of affection in public are common between friends, but less so between lovers. It is thus common to see friends walking together holding hands, but couples rarely do so except in westernized areas.

A notable social norm holds that touching someone on the head may be considered rude. It is also considered rude to place one's feet at a level above someone else's head, especially if that person is of higher social standing. This is because the Thai people consider the foot to be the dirtiest and lowest part of the body, and the head the most respected and highest part of the body. This also influences how Thais sit when on the ground -- their feet always pointing away from others, tucked to the side or behind them. Pointing at or touching something with the feet is also considered rude.

It is also considered extremely rude to step on a Thai coin, because the king's head is on the coin. When sitting in a temple, one is expected to point their feet away from images of the Buddha. Shrines inside Thai residences are arrainged so as to ensure that the feet are not pointed towards the religious icons- such as placing the shrine on the same wall as the head of a bed, if a house is too small to remove the shrine from the bedroom entirely.

It is also customary for one to take off one's footwear before entering a home or a temple, and not to step on the threshold.

There are a number of Thai customs relating to the special status of monks in Thai society. Because of their religious discipline, Thai monks are forbidden physical contact with women. Women are therefore expected to may way for passing monks to ensure that accidental contact does not occur. A variety of methods are employed to ensure that no incidental contact (or the appearance of such contact) between women and monks occurs. Women making offerings to monks place their donation at the feet of the monk, or on a cloth laid on the ground or a table. Powders or ungents intended to carry a blessing are applied to Thai women by monks using the end of a candle or stick. Lay people are expected to sit or stand with their heads at a lower level than that of a monk. Within a temple, monks may sit on a raised platform during ceremonies to make this arraingement easier to achieve.

Marriage

Thai marriage ceremonies are generally divided into two sections: a Buddhist component, which includes the recitation of prayers and the offering of food and other gifts to monks and images of the Buddha, and a non-Buddhist component rooted in folk traditions, which centers around the couple's family.

In former times, it was unknown for Buddhist monks to be present at any stage of the marriage ceremony itself. As monks were required to attend to the dead during funerals, their presence at a marriage (which was associated with fertility, and intended to produce children) was considered a bad omen. A couple would seek a blessing from their local temple before or after being married, and might consult a monk for astrological advice in setting an auspicious date for the wedding. The non-Buddhist portions of the wedding would take place away from the temple, and would often take place on a separate day.

In modern times, these prohibitions have been significantly relaxed. It is not uncommon for a visit to a temple to be made on the same day as the non-Buddhist portions of a wedding, or even for the wedding to take place within the temple. While a division is still commonly observed between the "religious" and "secular" portions of a wedding service, it may be as simple as the monks present for the Buddhist ceremony departing to take lunch once their role is complete.

During the Buddhist component of the wedding service, the couple first bow before the image of the Buddha. They then recite certain basic Buddhist prayers or chants (typically including taking the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts), and light incense and candles before the image. The parents of the couple may then be called upon to 'connect' them, by placing upon the heads of the bride and groom twin loops of string or thread that link the couple together. The couple may then make offerings of food, flowers, and medicine to the monks present. Cash gifts (usually placed in an envelope) may also be presented to the temple at this time.

The monks may then unwind a small length of thread that is heald between the hands of the assembled monks. They begin a series of recitations of Pali scriptures intended to bring merit and blessings to the new couple. The string terminates with the lead monk, who may connect it to a container of water that will be 'sanctified' for the ceremony. Merit is said to travel through the string and be conveyed to the water; a similar arrangement is used to transfer merit to the dead at a funeral, further evidence of the weakening of the taboo on mixing funerary imagery and trappings with marriage ceremonies. Blessed water may be mixed with wax drippings from a candle lit before the Buddha image and other ungents and herbs to create a 'paste' that is then applied to the foreheads of the bride and groom to create a small 'dot', similar to the marking sometimes made with red ochre on Hindu devotees. The bride's mark is created with the butt end of the candle rather than the monk's thumb, in keeping with the Vinaya prohibition against touching women.

The highest-ranking monk present may elect to say a few words to the couple, offering advice or encouragement. The couple may then make offerings of food to the monks, at which point the Buddhist portion of the ceremony is concluded.


Funerals

Traditionally funerals last for a week. Crying is discouraged during the funeral, so as not to worry the spirit of the deceased. The corpse is cremated, and the urn with the ash is usually kept in a chedi in the local temple. The Chinese minority however buries the deceased.

pt:Cultura da Tailāndia

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