Exciting news broke early in 2019 when Thailand’s Ministry of Culture announced that it was preparing to nominate "Nora", Southern Thailand’s cultural performance art, to be included in the list of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, under the title "Nora, Dance Drama in Southern Thailand".
Natthiti Ampriwan, a skilled photographer who owns a famous coffee shop at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, travelled to Tha Khae Temple in Phatthalung Province, to document the dances of one of the main families practicing Nora.
During the trip, he had the opportunity to witness a Nora ritual ceremony - an event that is not just an artistic performance but also a practice motivated by strong faith grounded in the local culture and values - something truly worthy of cultural heritage status.
Kriangdej Khamnarong, the Nora master at Tha Khae Temple, leads the dance ceremonies which have remained unchanged over many generations.
Phatthalung people who grew up with Manohra (Nora) performances know the myths and stories about the first practitioner of this dance form; 'Khun Pho Si Sattha, a descendant of the King of Phatthalung. Written evidence suggests that Nora was once called Chatri, and that it was an ancient dance art that delighted the royal court during the Ayutthaya Period.
The Nora ceremony, which is a performance to redeem a vow from a higher spirit, typically starts at dusk and continues until almost midnight. Folk music is played in the early part of the evening to call the villagers to come out and watch the performance. The Nora band will then play drums, Thai flute, gongs and cymbals, accompanied by hymns in the local dialect to inform the ghosts of ancestors and the village’s guardian spirits, before starting the ritual part of the ceremony. The performance finally ends with an entertaining show. The whole process goes on for 2 days and 3 nights.
Bananas are hung around the area where the ritual takes place to ward off any evil spirits and holy water is sprinkled around the area to protect the ceremony.
In Phatthalung Province, Nora at Tha Khae Temple is considered a center of ancient dance cultural heritage. In addition to the annual performances, there is also a programme to help pass on the knowledge of Nora to interested local youths during the holidays. Visitors can often witness these training sessions at the temple on weekend afternoons.