Thai Puppetry has been apart of Thai culture and tradition for hundreds of years. The first puppet performance was called "Hun Luang" otherwise known as Royal Puppet. It first started during the Ayutthaya period, but only during royal functions or within the royal palace were these puppets performed. Later, during the reign of King Rama 4, "Hun Lek", or Small Puppets performed Niew Jeen (Chinese Opera) and the Ramayana along with "Hun Kabok" or Stick Puppet and Hun Lakorn Lek otherwise known as Traditional Thai Small Puppets became open to the public and performed widely all around the country. The puppets are unique because of its special lifelike characteristics combining many different kinds of traditional art forms.

Since the Ayutthaya period from the fourteenth century onwards, the Thai people have enacted dramas using four different types of hun luang (large court puppets), the hun lek (small puppets), the hun lakhon lek (small dance-drama puppets), and the hun krabog (bamboo rod puppets). Deities, demons, kings, mythological creatures, fair maidens, warriors, comic characters and modern-day people come alive in puppet theatre to re-enact epics, folklore and comedy for the Thai people. Educational and entertaining, the ancient themes always have a moral lesson, while the newly-created ones which are often performed as interludes, may inform the public about health and public welfare as well as provide another medium for political and environmental campaigns.

Many scholars believe that puppets, which are found throughout the world, were created during prehistoric times, first starting out as images of worship and later crafted as puppets to teach ancient humans how to combat the problems of life. As in most parts of the world, Thai puppet shows, known in Thai as hun, were performed at ceremonial festivals and, although the earliest historical mention of such festivals appears in the 10th century AD, puppet shows were probably the continuation of a much earlier oral tradition, which was passed on from generation to generation.

Developing from the khon (masked dance drama) which centres on the Ramakien, the Thai adaptation of the great Indian epic, the Ramayana, the themes of the hun shows later expanded to include the repertoire of Thai epics and folklore which were originally performed by court and local troupes. Thai historical documents and literature refer to khon, lakhon (dance dramas with narration), likay (dramas where the actors speak their own lines), nang (shadow plays using carved hide figures) and hun as popular forms of entertainment, which were staged side by side at religious or local celebrations.

These performance were also staged at funerals, being considered the highest honour that could be paid to the deceased. For westerners, any form of entertainment at funerals might be considered most inappropriate, since such events are normally solemn affairs. However, in most parts of Southeast Asia, these festivities are considered a form of merit-making for the departed. In actual fact, only members of royal families and high officials were able to afford such lavishness.


Thai puppetry includes both the two-dimensional puppets which are presented in shadow play both in front of and behind a brightly lit muslin screen, known by the genre name of SHADOW PUPPETS, and three-dimensional FIGURE PUPPETS in stage settings. The shadow play figures are collectively known as NANG (projected image), while the figure puppets are known as HUN (modeling).


Two kinds of puppets are being performed on the traditional Thai stage. The HUN KRABOK, half figure puppet, and the HUN LAKORN LEK, full-figure puppet. Other kinds known as HUN LUANG and HUN LAKORN exist as beautiful museum pieces, but are no longer used.

HUN KRABOK (rod puppet) may be loosely translated as "pole puppet". The name derives from the use of a short length of pole or pipe, traditionally bamboo but now replaced with other materials, as the puppet's main frame. Only the top half, head and headgear of the puppet is shown. Each hand is connected to thin rods for manipulation.


The puppet stage has an ornate backdrop, always flanked by doors through which the puppets make their entrances and exits. The bottom edge of the backdrop has a translucent screen which conceals the working puppeteer, and a sight screen stands some 50 cm. to the front of the backdrop. The puppeteer holds a puppet's body pole in his left hand and manipulates rods connected to its hands with the right hand. The movements mimic dance gestures of the classical dance/drama. A musical ensemble and singer sit back-stage. Speaking parts are by the working puppeteer.

HUN LAKORN LEK is a recent revival of an art form which had actually died out. Master Puppeteer Sakorn Yangkeowsod re-invented a full-figure puppet show with much development. His large troupe of family members now stage puppets which have sophisticated (and secret) joints, capable of lifelike gestures such as pointing fingers and articulated waist.


The puppets are fully dressed for their roles exactly representing human actors. Each major puppet is handled by three puppeteers, one for the body and right arm, one for the left arm and one for the legs and feet. The team actually dances as they perform and often do so in front of the sight screen in full view of the audience.

(this is a quote from a now defunct web page about Thai Puppetry)